Boston's Johnny Ray who is best known as "The Cougar King" has been entertaining audiences for many years from Boston to Las Vegas. "The Cougar Kings" is his classic rock and r&b cover band that covers everything from Elvis to The Stones. "The Johnny Ray Band' is where he is able to mix his original music with music that is somewhat akin to a Tom Petty and John Mellencamp kind of vibe.
Ray has a new show in development called, "A.M. Gold" and will feature all the hit pop tunes from the great days of AM radio. It will include Ray and other male, female singers and performers with a band covering some of the greatest songs from 20th century pop culture."
Examiner caught up with Ray this week in Boston.
Examiner: Can you tell us about yourself?
Ray: "I was born in Boston and grew up a few T stops from Fenway park. I started singing in public when I was 12 and performed under age at bars all over the city back in the day with a new wave punk band called "Viper."
Although music is my first love, it has morphed into so many different realities for me. So the story may be more about how a singer has to learn how to become a business man to survive in a constantly changing playing field. It's a conflict that has not been easy to navigate. Which hat do I wear today? Not to mention, how does one age gracefully and continue working in a business where such value is placed on youth, image and marketability?"
Examiner: I know that you are in several different bands, but one comes to mind, the songs and music of Frank Sinatra. How did that come about?
Ray: " The gift of singing Frank Sinatra songs was handed down to me by my Father Cosmo Ni Castro from East Boston who was an innovator and a mogul in the Boston taxi industry. He earned degrees from B.U. and New England School of Law but chose a life as a singing cabby instead. Eventually he would run the three biggest taxi companies in the city. During his working years he was also a rebel and ahead of his time. My life in music and my success and failures in the music business has mirrored his tenacity and his rebelliousness and I owe him everything from my voice to my love of people and my drive and determination. My family ancestry on his side was filled with opera singers and classical musicians.
The Sinatra shows are a great departure for me. The music from that era was made for singers who love to sing. It is so open to interpretation and you really get to utilize the gentle inflections of your voice in a way that is almost impossible with a live rock band. Don't get me wrong, rocking out with a live band to packed rooms of people and being "the party" while hammering out covers from The Doors, The Stones, and Tom Petty is something I've loved doing since high school and my original music that I mix in is more reflective of that genre. But once again, it comes down to business and being diversified. I tell other musicians as well, the more styles you can play the more gigs you will have."
Examiner: What is one of your most memorable moments to date in this business?
Ray: "One of my favorite memories was singing with one of my heroes Peter Wolf from The J. Geils Band. By coincidence we had rehearsal spaces one door down from each other at a building in Allston. He was staying sharp during the beginning of his solo career and rehearsed pretty regularly. One night I was invited over by his rehearsal drummer Francis Devito. I'll never forget Peter's first words when I met him, "so your the guy with the pipes next door?" I told him what a huge fan I was of the J. Geils band and we jammed for about 45 minutes. We traded leads and background vocals with each other on songs that I used to sing in my bedroom when I was young. It was amazing."
Examiner: How is it that you are called The Cougar King?
Ray: "A girl once tagged me with the nickname, "The Cougar King" a few years ago at a show. The name stuck and I used the opportunity to develop the idea into a brand. First it was the band name, The Cougar Kings, then a show called, Miss Cougar Las Vegas, then a clothing line called, Cougar King Club Wear and finally the company to run it all, Cougar King Entertainment LLC."
Examiner: Las Vegas to Boston?
Ray: " The Vegas connection happened in the early 2000's when an entertainment buyer spotted me on a casino cruise ship in Boston Harbor and dragged me to Vegas and was able to sell my act out there. That's when the Sinatra thing really hit its stride and I knew I had another marketable product. My bi-coastal life in Vegas on and off stage in the ten years since is something I will write a book about someday."
Examiner: Your thoughts on the music business?
Ray: "When the royalty checks decline and the options for "live" performances dwindle it becomes a very level playing field for former rock stars and regular musicians who have been grinding through life with day jobs and playing in bands on the weekends. Or for that matter, showroom entertainers with moderate national recognition who have been doing the Vegas hustle. So I asked myself, how is it that someone like me and my band mates are able to make a comfortable living doing what we love without the trophy's, label recognition, family money, or national stamp of approval from the powers that be in industry? My short answer is, diversification and integration."
Examiner: That brings me back to the Frank Sinatra music?
Ray: "By offering Frank Sinatra, a classic rock cover band, and original music, we have become diversified and so stay busy. We try to do all three things very well."
Examiner: And then you have your entertainment company?
Ray: "By starting an entertainment company that self produces shows, books other acts, helps to develop other artists, manages entertainment for other rooms, creates a clothing and merchandise line, and then reaches out to partner with other media companies, we have created a workable integration that fits with everything else we are doing. I am only now able to see that this was done through necessity and without some kind of master diabolical plan. I also know my personal musicianship suffered by choosing to be the catalyst for these ideas and finding ways to implement them. But I can look back and see at what times in my life I made these decisions and as I do it helps to crystallize the future as well. This is a future that is bigger than myself because it effects so many people. None of this would have happened without the help and investment of great friends, family, and supporters. Because of them and the gift of music I would have never been exposed to all the amazing people, places, and experiences so far that are becoming the sum total of my professional life. https://www.facebook.com/unsoundthemovie
Examiner: So what else can you tell this audience?
Ray: "My plans for the future are to continue building my entertainment and clothing line companies. I use both to sponsor and promote my own bands and shows which allows me to be picky about what I do. We also plan to develop other young artists who are breaking into the business. Right now there is an exciting young female country singer out of New Hampshire named, Amy Poirier that we are bringing into the studio to record some demos. You'll definitely be hearing a lot of buzz about this young lady in about 6 -8 months. I guarantee it!
Examiner: And what is your latest recording?
Ray: "I released a CD produced by Carly Simons musical director Peter Calo called, "Songs from The El Rey Motel", which was a labor of love. Writing, recording, and performing will always be the center of my universe. But as in any endeavor someone has to be the catalyst to create the opportunities to make these things happen."
Upcoming local dates:
January 12, 2014 - Timothy's in Danvers, Massachusetts
January 12 through the 26th - Sinatra Sunday brunches at Timothy's in Danvers, Massachusetts
In February you can find Ray at the Honda Resort Casino at the Apache Nation Reservation in Arizona.
For more information visit the websites: