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Progressive Rock Interviews

Ray Bennett

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview With Ray Bennett from 2002
MSJ: How did you hook up with Flash?
I first met Peter Banks when he was with Yes, through Bill Bruford. This was in the very early days before they had a record deal or manager. Bill and I had been friends for a few years, we came from the same town and played in our first band together. Bill was sharing a flat in London with Peter, Jon Anderson and Chris Squire. I started hanging out there, sleeping on the floor. An art school refugee. I was looking for a band, going to Yes rehearsals and gigs, nightclubbing, and generally having a good time. So I got to know Peter then. Jon Anderson got me a gig with The Gun. They were a big deal at the time with some hit records. Very loud, an early heavy metal before that term was even used. Nice of Jon because he had never heard me play! Anyway, Pete saw me play bass in The Gun as Yes were on the same bill one night. This was in 1969. Later that year I came to live in the US. I stayed in touch with Bill, and eventually I heard that Peter had left YES. When I told Bill I was returning to England he mentioned that Pete was putting a band together. It was Colin Carter who got it started with Pete. They had been at it for a few months and I came along at just the right moment when the deals were about to be made. Flash became a band around August 1971.

MSJ: How about catching the Flash fans (who might not know your history) up. What bands did you work with before that group?
My teen years were mostly with that same band Bill Bruford and I started in. It was called The Breed - a Blues/ R'n'B/Soul band. Young English white boys doing their best! We lived in Sevenoaks ( in the Kent countryside - S.E. England). Bill was at boarding school and couldn't play all the gigs so we had to get someone else, but whenever he was around he exerted an influence on everything - like trying to get us to play jazz, which we did in a very simple way. Sometimes we played with both drummers - very cool for a young group! We were loud, energetic and popular - which was very encouraging. We starting off as a two guitar band and later added - and subtracted - horn players and keys. Looking back now, it was all quite an education for me. Our guitarist, Stu Murray, was very instrumental in getting it all going for us. He directed us initially in the direction of The Yardbirds, The Stones, R'n'B and Blues. His enthusiasm motivated me to play bass. I got the job because I was the youngest and the least experienced guitarist. I learned pretty quickly. The first time I met Bill he was playing the bass - with his thumb. The band was quite busy, playing a lot of gigs. It lasted about three years, but it seemed like a lifetime. Later on while I was art school I went to Spain to play in a bar for the summer with another local group, playing similar music - had a fabulous time. I hated to return to the gloomy UK . That was really my first Pro gig. By the time I decided to be a serious professional musician I'd already had quite a lot of experience. I'm always very grateful to that first band, it was a wonderful beginning.

Later, after art school (1969) I went through a lot of bands in rapid succession. I was then entering the music world in London and met lots of people very quickly. Yes, Greg Lake, Alexis Korner, Simon Kirke who was already with Free (later Bad Company), Tim Rice (who told me about his projects in the works with Andrew Lloyd Webber). I played with Roger Taylor who had a band then called Smile. Later, when he became drummer in Queen we met again when I was doing a Flash album. Queen were in the same studio just getting started. I also played with Carol Grimes in Babylon. She's a good bluesy singer and has some CD's out on Voiceprint. Babylon was supposed to tour with Blind Faith, then they broke up, so we were put on hold, and I moved on. Then I was with The Gun for a short time. Lots of changes that year.

When I came to the USA in late '69 I auditioned for The Blues Project and talked to John Hammond Jr., about joining his band, but neither one clicked and nothing happened, except I did realize I had no interest in playing blues anymore. This all turned out well because I was just starting to write seriously. It seemed very natural for me, and I spent most of that two year period in NY learning how and getting pretty good. Some of the songs later appeared on the FLASH albums. By then, of course, I was playing a lot of guitar again and experimenting with different tunings - always acoustic. I also played bass in a jamming band with some hippie acid heads. Being a non drug user ( a rarity then) it was quite an experience.

MSJ: Flash had an incredibly unique sound. I know it goes against most musicians' credo to describe their work, but do you care to give it a shot?
Flash just did what came naturally. We were not trying to create a sound or a style. I really cannot explain why a band becomes a particular thing. Obviously Peter was still doing the same thing he always did, which contributed to us sounding like YES, but it was just one of those lucky combinations where the creative juice came from everyone - plenty of it and plenty of energy. The end result just comes from everyone contributing their all.
MSJ: What about after the band broke up. What projects have you been working on since then?
That's a lot of history to cover. During the 70's - after Flash - there were reunions of various members in different combinations, all of which were very promising, but failed to take off. I think we abandoned each project too soon and there were personal, business, and contractual problems. Much fallout from Flash was evident. Some of these tracks - 1973 to 1976 - are on my archive CD, Angels & Ghosts. I still like them. During 1976/77 I had a solo project in NY which went well. While I was working on it I turned down a chance to join another new band - Foreigner. How could I know? The band worked hard, played a few gigs, got some serious interest and found management. We also recorded some good tracks, but the masters have long since been lost. There was a very cloudy end to that band even with a record deal on the table and good gigs coming up. Too long a story, but an eye-opener for me. I was also briefly in Pete Banks Empire (1977 ?) with his wife of that time, singer Sidonie Jordan. In 1978 I moved to LA and joined an Australian band signed to A&M. Strangely, one of the members owned a Rick bass which he insisted I play because it had once belonged to Chris Squire. Disco did that band in. Major labels were dropping new rock bands and signing disco acts. Other friends of mine had the same problem- Peter also, with Empire. By 1978 all the FLASH guys were living in LA. We considered a reunion in 1980, but it didn't happen. Peter and I played together again in a loose jamming band during 1980/82, just for fun in some LA. nightclubs. I also did some session work out there. The best known characters would be Nicky Hopkins, Johnette Napolitano and Jim Mankey (of Concrete Blonde). I started doing some bass teaching in L.A. I've done it occasionally since, when someone asks. In 1982 I went back to live in the country in upstate NY to be near my daughter after a divorce. I switched to playing electric guitar and formed a very good prog-rock band. It was the first time I just used my name and no band name. My agent nagged me about how tough it was to book progressive rock then and "maybe I should make it sound a little more heavy metal!" I didn't, I looked for a new agent. We recorded and gigged for a while, but there was no real business interest in prog rock anymore and I couldn't keep it together.

I also recorded some instrumental stuff at home with wild abandon. This was actually a big step forward, seriously liberating myself from the song-format - or any particular format. Hopefully it will emerge on CD one day. Definitely not rock. Some very wierd sounding haunted stuff, mostly guitar sounds. At the time I didn't consider it suitable for release, but I spent a lot of time doing it anyway and became very attracted to abstract music. Now it doesn't seem like such a strange thing to put out. I might include the band tracks of that period too. It was a good band.

Following that was a rather long inactive period for me as a performing musician, about five years. It wasn't my choice, I just wasn't fitting in very well so I withdrew to the home studio, which was very basic then. But I learned how to do a few tricks with tape players and all my other outboard gear - something I was always into - and that became my thing for a while. Bill Bruford, who was one of the few to hear this stuff, called these pieces "tone poems", which is rather academic. I thought of them as more organic, like mushrooms growing in the dark in the basement! All of this was a huge contrast to the frenetic activity of the 70's, but the music world was different. I expected to go on doing the same thing I always did, but life unfolds in it's own way. It was time well spent, though, and I was forced to change quite a lot. I practiced, went on long walks, read a lot of books and took up yoga. In the late 80's I jumped back in when I met bass player Percy Jones who lives in NYC. We were not compatible in our musical taste to work together, but it led to meeting other players, getting new bearings, and moving here. I got interested in having my own recording studio and opened one in 92'. I spent a lot of my time writing again and laying down tracks. It was a real business too. A very productive period musically. I also learned a bit more about engineering. Most of these tracks will make it to an archive CD one day. My intention was to make a solo album then, and I had the means to have full control over the process, but I was experimenting quite a lot and just felt like going on like that. So I kept on recording. I put some tracks from this period on Angels & Ghosts.

There were some bands along the way during the late 80's early 90's period. I always threw myself into the fray, but I never seemed to be ultimately satisfied with the musical outcome. I gigged around New York City and had some fun playing with friends, but I was still unhappy with the direction of music in general - and musicians - too. I even tried some blatantly commercial prospects (very 80's!), maybe just to see if I could do it. A complete 180 degree shift from prog rock. Fortunately, I never made any records doing that. I was never interested in being a gun for hire or looking for a name band to join, I became essentially a loner trying to find my own style. I didn't find it with a band, I found it in the studio by myself. I felt that the 80's were a step backwards for me - and for rock, (some would disagree I'm sure) but as the 90's went on I could feel a shift musically toward a broader picture again and I felt encouraged to go on just being myself.. I also started to think about Flash reforming when our albums come out on CD. It was a band I probably would have always stayed in - you know like The Who, The Stones, Rush or Yes etc, if that had been possible. It was regrettable that we broke up so impetuously. It almost seems like it was the band I was supposed to be in forever. Hard to describe why that is, but it seems some people are destined to do it like that. I never seemed to be satisfied with any other band. Having a solo career is great too, but it's a different experience - nice to have both.

But you have to believe it all works out for the best. I had used bands to fill in my blank spaces. I thought I couldn't do it alone and that I needed a band to create a style and make it complete. That was fine as a young musician, but I wanted to do more and I knew I could. I was precocious in some ways in my beginnings and now a late bloomer in other ways. I was literally forced to develop as a solo artist. I guess it all could have happened an easier way, but...this all led up to my solo album "Whatever Falls", which I'm very satisfied with. Finishing that changed my way of doing things forever. Going it alone you have to work harder and have more faith. Bill Bruford said to me when I told him I'd just finished a solo CD, - "it's about time !! " As the record was finished I hooked up with Voiceprint and made the deal to put it out. Amazing timing. They asked if I had archive material - Flash related stuff. I did, so I launched right into another CD. Right now I'm involved in promoting both CD's and making some plans for live gigs. That's all in the works, so we'll see.

MSJ: Do you stay in touch with the other members of Flash?
We hadn't been in contact since the early 80', but last year we all started talking again through website connections, and the talk led to discussing getting back together. Now it's become more serious. We are finding there's an interest in the band. So...we'll see. I'll keep you posted!
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Everything influences me one way or another. I think it's important to make a distinction between subtle influences and the more obvious passions that come and go. I think unconsciously we absorb a lot more than we realize. So it's best to follow what you feel. Your inner compass knows more than your head. So don't be swayed by current musical trends. They may - or may not - have any meaning for you. Your unconscious mind knows for sure. The thing to do is let it all sweep over you and remain true to yourself. You are attracted to whatever you are attracted to, and that's all you need to know. My early childhood in the UK was before rock or TV existed and these early times formed a broad attitude, I think. BBC radio was, and still is, very diverse and more than just music. It brought in the whole world. My father's piano playing - show tunes and Beethoven, became a part of everyday life. Music lessons at school. I learned to read vocal parts for the choir and played the recorder - old English stuff which kind of seeps into your soul. My older sister brought a lot of pop records into the house, from Elvis on. I liked The Shadows, twangy guitar stuff, Gene Vincent, and the Everly Bros. It was usually the song not the artist. I like a really interesting or unusual melody. Anything from anywhere, or from anyone, or any style, as long as it touches me. I'm still the same way now. I started guitar at 12 when The Beatles appeared. They were a huge influence on me. I was obsessed with everything they did. Singing, playing, all of it. I wanted to be a Beatle until I eventually realized I was never going to be one and I'd better think of something else ! From the time I started guitar I rejected all formal music study, but I had to keep doing it at school. Although I don't read music anymore, what I learned then proved helpful, and probably influential, later.

When I took up bass at 15. I copied Jack Bruce ( a big influence) and Paul McCartney. I also listened to jazz players. Charlie Mingus, Scott Lafaro, Miles Davis. Bill Bruford used to play me jazz records, Mingus and Bill Evans were my favorites. My girlfriend played blues records - Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed. I wasn't in love with Blues then, not like The Beatles, but I was intrigued, and it was a good way to learn improvisation. I also listened to classical records. In particular, Vaughan Williams and Beethoven. It's hard to name particular names in rock, I was affected by so much different stuff. The Beach Boys. All the Liverpool groups, The Who, The Kinks, all of it. It was an amazing passing parade, a huge variety of music. Hendrix was an influence from a melodic point of view, he was something very new then, very mature playing for a young rock guitarist, a nice original blend of melody and blues. I saw him play at one of his first gigs in England. No one knew who he was. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton, The Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Sam & Dave. I picked up a lot of bass licks from their records. Recently I've been inspired by jazz, particularly Miles Davis. I like the kind of jazz that comes from the soul, not the head. I don't like jazz that is served up as an intellectual statement. I'm also more and more appreciative of Bob Dylan. For lyrics of course, but music too. He's deceptively right, and timeless. I think Bob's a really good singer too.

MSJ: If you weren't a musician, what do you think you would be doing?
Difficult to answer, but I did go to art school, so maybe a painter? - or a writer.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
I don't like that movie. I thought it was really boring and not very funny, I've never been able to make it through to the end. I don't accept it as any kind of point of reference, it's too silly. I rarely like movies that try to depict Rock"n'Roll life, either for a spoof or for real. They are usually superficial, melodramatic and just inaccurate. Distorting the truth and historical accuracy is foolish when the real thing is far more interesting. Music, and the world of rock, is a lot more fun than Spinal Tap.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I don't listen to anything much If I'm in a serious recording or writing mode except my own music, but recently I bought Paul McCartney's "Driving Rain". First time in years I was moved to buy one of his albums. I heard "Back in the Sunshine" playing in a dept. store and really liked it, and then I realized who it was. I think there are some glaring problems with the songwriting here and there. It's as if he's forgotten how to do it, or doesn't care, but despite that, there's a great sound and feel to the album and something comes through that gets to me. I always dug Paul. He's so damn good and so soulful at times. "Let It Be" is one of my all time favorite songs. People forget that the Beatles could be very funky and soulful because their melodies were so strong and the tunes became the dominating factor. But they did it all. Hardly left a stone unturned for the rest of us! My general listening taste hasn't changed much over the years - just broadened a bit. I listen to jazz CD's - Cannonball Adderley, Monk, Coltrane, Bill Evans, John Scofield, John Mclaughlin, Milt Jackson. Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald. Duke Ellington. A good jazz radio station - WBGO. Also college stations, some web-radio. I still listen to the BBC via the web. In the Rock area I listen to Sheryl Crow, Jeff Beck, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, The Crusaders, Isley Bros, Steve Vai, ZZ Top, Sting, Tom Petty, Jeff Buckley. Blues - lately Muddy Waters. I like "authentic" sounding blues, not so much the rock variety. Blues is a part of me now in a way it never was, I have a feeling for it and get turned off when it becomes a sporting event, as it often does in the hands of some rockers. I really liked Stevie Nicks CD - "Trouble In Shangri- La" - some good songs and good singing there. I also have a lot of Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, and I always return to Classical music, Ravel, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended?
There's a lot of stuff in NYC. I saw the Flatlanders perform in Tower Records recently. Wynton Marsalis played a free concert outside at Lincoln Center the other night as I wanderd by on my way home. I went to see Bill Bruford's Earthworks a while ago, and I actually bought a ticket for that! It was nice seeing him in that jazzy intimate setting. Good players all. One show I really wanted to see a while back was Jeff Beck, but it was sold out. I saw Lucinda Williams at the Central Park Summer Stage most recently. I enjoy her honest straight forward approach. A nice bluesy country mix. She has that special "something" that makes it all work. And a good band.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 3 at
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