Embracing the compelling chapters of his life as puzzles pieces that have come together as a musical mirror into his highest self, Alt-Country Artist, Boo Ray, has paid his dues which have in turn translated into potent and rich artistry. Between his peculiar mix of creativity and Southern Grit, there’s a variety of scraps stemming from Boo Ray’s heart and soul that serve as fuel for the fire for a variety of genre-bending listeners worldwide. I caught up with the man to discuss the variety of tattoos that tell a tale on his skin, ‘Sea Of Lights’, Nashville and more.
First and foremost, tell us a bit about your journey and how Boo ray came to life.
I grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina a couple hours west of Asheville. All the women in my family are from Louisiana and have colorful names and that’s how I wound up with the name Boo-Ray. It was a little bit of “A Boy Named Sue” type of thing as a kid. I’d been doing troubadour work in south Georgia and the gulf coast for a couple of years when I went out to Los Angeles in ‘05. In LA, I got a gig working the Magic Fashion show in Las Vegas for the Fender Guitars clothing line. At the end of that week in Las Vegas I went straight to The Hard Rock Casino and cashed in my paycheck and got a comp card. Twenty hours later, I hit the craps table for $14K and met a couple of music publishers at the table and we became fast friends over the great big night and our lucky winnings. Glynn Praesel and I are still friends and songwriting pards today. Once I got back to LA, Glynn began flying me to Nashville for songwriting appointments. I flew to Nashville to write every few months over the next couple of years. I released my first Americana record, ‘Bad News Travels Fast’, and became an official Olathe Boot Company endorser in 2010. I moved to Nashville in 2012 and I dig it a bunch.
You recently released a vinyl version of ‘Sea Of Lights’. Tell us about the environments that you place yourself within to get in touch and write music.
Ahh, interesting question. Well, I like to get over-caffeinated as hell for one thing. And I’m a sugar lovin’ southern boy, so I like to spike my blood sugar pretty good too, drinkin’ “Co’-Colas”! But for real, I spend some time in the mornings reading about different things that interest me; science, history, southern writers, Harry Crews, Ron Rash, Cormac McCarthy, and lately it’s been Sean Brock’s book. It’s when something catches my attention that I might go down the rabbit hole. I carry a couple, two or three ideas and melodies throughout the day and spin ‘em this way and that. Finally, at the end of the day when I get back to a guitar and after I’ve had a chance to sit down and some pickin’, I can get down into it once the night’s deep and the hour’s late. There’s a quietness at 3:00 am that’s hard to find anywhere else. Writing through the night to finish a song just as the birds begin to sing before the dawn is a profound experience that makes it all worthwhile.
Tell us about your connection with Celebrity Chef, Sean Brock, and what sparked the idea for Sean to be a part of your upcoming 7-inch duet series.
Sean and I have a legendary tattooist in common, Mitchell Atkinson, whose the brother of Watson Atkinson. Together, Mitchell and Watson were “The Twins Of Pain” at Pain and Wonder Tattoo in Athens Georgia, which started in the back of the first Jittery Joe’s, a 24-hour punk rock coffee shop. Sean and I both have Mitchell Atkinson tattoos and Sean’s a guitar aficionado/nut and we both think that Southern Culture On The Skids is the greatest party band of all time. It was just a real natural thing for us to write a song about our friend and legendary tattooist who died in a tragic fiery hot-rod crash. It’s a southern gothic rock & roll ode to Mitchell celebrating his spirit and bemoaning his untimely passing.
Now we’re working on the A-Side single. Sean plays old Danelectro guitars, Silvertone amps and cool vintage Fuzz-Tone pedals, which is a really cool influence on me and broadens my perspective sonically and lyrically. We might be fixin’ to get Tony Joe White about this next single we’re recording. Sean’s working on a “Swamp Pedal” with JHS Pedals and that’s inspired me to do a pedal with my favorite builder Nick Greer at Greer Amps in Athens GA.
Any upcoming or current tour plans that you can fill us in about?
I’ll be working the southeast for the next couple of months, doing some songwriter nights around town, and doing a Texas run this winter.
You are a human canvas and have artwork tattooed on you from a variety of tattoo artists. Tell us about what in particular draws you to an artist.
Linework and shading are a big draw for me and then it’s style after that. I grew up a fan of cowboy sketch artists like Charles Russell, Frederic Remington, and Edward Borein, so meeting Freddy Negrete and getting tattooed by him was pivotal. I pretty much went all black & gray from that point on. I’d like to get some work from Freddy’s son, Isaiah, who works out of Shamrock Social Club in Hollywood as well. He’s an outstanding tattoo artist. Colin Laroque’s black and gray work is intense and I love the fighting rooster that I got tattooed by him.
I was very saddened to hear about the passing of Cap Szumski this year. Cap’s was black & gray realism pioneer that I’ve been lucky enough to get tattooed by Space Ghost at The Order in DTLA is an amazing black and gray artist who I’ve been tattooed by recently and Cole Siegel, the owner of the shop is a great traditional Americana tattoo artist. Not a half hour ago, I just got a great phone call from Cole & Michele and I’m gonna go hang with them for Halloween. I stay in touch a little bit with tattoo artists I’ve worked with. I always drop by and say howdy to Mark Mahoney, Freddy Negrete, and Isaiah at Shamrock Social Club in Hollywood when I’m there. I met fellow tattooed troubadour, Jake La Botz, at Shamrock. Jake’s in Nashville now too.
As you have a lot of tattoo artwork that carries a lot of personal and deep meaning, tell us about some of your most personal pieces and what they mean to you?
That first Freddy Negrete piece runs the length of my left arm is still special to me. It starts as a skull on my wrist and turns into a naked siren on my forearm and bicep. Her right breast is chrome as homage to my friend Pat who had breast cancer. Cap Szumski did a sacred heart on my right forearm. The heart’s bound by a breaking chain with a graffiti burner attached to end of the chain. The graffiti burner says ‘SHAME’. I reckon the heart and burner tattoos might be a metaphor of the process of getting sober and getting my life together. The big schooner tattoo on the right side of my belly by Space Ghost is pointed at/sailing towards the big sacred heart on the other side by Cap. As much as style or the particular images, placement of tattoos is part of the ongoing narrative.
If any of our readers were visiting Nashville for the first time, what are some must-visit restaurants or hang-outs they should experience?
One of my favorite things is when friends come to Nashville for a first visit and I get to play tour guide. There are a couple of different approaches depending on how much time they have to explore. If they’re in town for a convention and kinda stuck downtown then we go to Robert’s Western World or I might take ‘em to Grimey’s Records, Carter Vintage Guitars and Bolton’s Chicken on 8th Ave earlier in the day. If they’ve got time to cross the river, then we go to Ellie Monster Western Wear, Project 615 to get cool Nashville t-shirts, and to Dino’s to get the Porter Road Butcher Burger. Dino’s is a favorite east Nashville hang of mine. If we go out honky tonkin’ till the wee hours; catch an early show at 3rd & Lindsley, catch a show at The 5 Spot, and then catch The Cow Pokes set on Honky Tonk Tuesday at Legion Hall, then we might need a late night sandwich at Duke’s too.
If we want to post up in a joint for the evening, kick back and get comfortable, shoot some pool, get drinks from Dee herself or the always cool Sarah, Dana or Joe, watch some cool ‘70s flick muted on the tv behind the bar and listen to Daniel Lawrence Walker sing his cool songs and play slide, get Brian Sullivan to cook us up some Korean Beef Tacos or a Stoner Pizza, and sit outside on the porch behind the sex shop and smoke. Then we ride out to Madison and go to Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge! On the earlier in the evening, dinner side of things, my buddy Sean Brock’s HUSK restaurant is the coolest culinary experience I’ve ever had and I love turning friends on to his food.
If you could have dinner with any human being either dead or alive to gain inspiration, who would you choose and why?
I don’t have to think twice about that. Tom Petty. Until recently it’d have been Mark Twain. I never met Tom but I’ve spent some time with his bandmates Stephen Ferrone, Mike Campbell and Ron Blair. I know Benmont & Scott Thurston casually from hangin’ backstage over the years. They didn’t really talk about Tom much, but the way they all conduct themselves tells me volumes about Tom. Steve’s a close friend, collaborator, and mentor and introduced me to Mike for some tech-work in 2005. I got to work with those guys closely and see how they operate for a few years in a row when I was in Los Angeles. They’re all excellent communicators and they’re all kind and gracious. They’re accurate without being uptight, they’re bold, they’re humble, they’re funny, they have incredible first-hand knowledge of the world and they’re still curious about it all, and they’re relentlessly positive. It’s a smart hang and every bit as cool as you think it’d be. Each one of those guys has made a big impression on me and I’ve always been able to tell that Tom made a real big impression on each of them.
I’ve been to good few Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Shows too. More than any other band I’ve seen. Stephen won’t let me buy a ticket. I’ve eaten meals with those guys and stood in the wings right behind Steve “Chinner” Winstead (Mike Campbell’s Guitar Tech) and there’s a certain way those guys move that each of them has in common. Their movements are bold and relaxed, measured, aware and considerate. Even though I didn’t meet him in person, I feel like I did meet him in the loyalty and affection that these great men in The Heartbreakers have for Tom Petty. Wait, can I change my answer? I want to have dinner with The Heartbreakers and listen to them tell stories about Tom.
If there a follow-up to ‘Sea Of Lights’ in the works or any new material that we can look forward to?
I’ve got a B-Side single releasing digitally this month with my wonderful friend Lilly Winwood. Lilly and I recorded an original song and covered “Islands In The Stream” as the B-Side. Both songs will come out on 10” vinyl in January. Then I’ve got a Christmas single with the amazing and existential Elizabeth Cook that will release in November. Also, I’ve got a brand new record that will release early 2018 that I’m real excited about. It’s Jerry Reed as hell.
Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?
Yes please, I’d like to say thank you for diggin’ deep to find my music in a sea of media and for diggin’ songwriters and guitar players, and anything handmade locally. Also, if you feel like these are really strange times and people have digital attention deficit disorder, and digitally compromised communication skills, and that people are on the way to becoming a digital zombie, and you might be one of ‘em: you’re not alone.