By Damian Fanelli | Photo: Tom Ruddock
Today, GuitarAficionado.com presents the premiere of Brian Ray's new version of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl"—with a touch of Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul" thrown in.
The track is part of a Ray's new "Here for You" digital single that Steven Van Zandt's Wicked Cool Records will release February 24.
Ray has been a guitarist in Paul McCartney's band since 2002, and he had quite a career before that; he was Etta James' musical director for several years and co-writer of the Smokey Robinson hit "One Heartbeat."
Oddly enough, Ray has a truly personal connection to "Cinnamon Girl" and Neil Young, and it makes for a great rock-and-roll story.
"['Cinnamon Girl'] has always been one of my favorite songs, with a great melody and a chunky guitar lick that is very strong, evocative and always makes me smile," Ray says. "When I was about 11 or 13, I was hanging around a lot with my elder sister Jean and her husband, Jim, of the folk-rock duet Jim and Jean. They were kind enough to let me tag along to their shows at the nightclubs of Los Angeles, like the Ashgrove, the Troubadour and the Icehouse in Pasadena.
"One night, while at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, the opening band for Jim and Jean was a band called the Kaleidoscope. The guitar player in that band was a young genius I saw for the first time that night, named David Lindley. I was getting inspired as a young boy by just about every performer I saw hitting the stage at that time. Backstage at that show, as Jim and Jean were warming up and getting ready to perform, a guy walked in that I recognized immediately. It was Neil Young of the incredibly hot Buffalo Springfield, who were riding a wave of radio success and critical acclaim at the time. Neil Young was very distinguished, calm and cool and he brought out his Martin guitar and was kind of playing along as Jim and Jean were warming up. Neil was giving them ideas for possible guitar parts and arrangement ideas that were coming to him at that moment. I was intoxicated by all of the sparks flying and musical creativity going on.
"A year or so later I was told that a visitor was coming over to our house to visit Jim and Jean, who were staying with us. I walked outside on the street in anticipation, when a little Austin Mini Cooper pulls up. It was an all-white Mini with blacked-out windows. At that time the only cars that had blacked-out windows were limousines, and you didn't see very many of them around back then! So imagine my surprise when the door opens up and a tall thin man with long jet black hair, big black lamb-chop sideburns, wearing black shades and an all-white three-piece suit steps out of this tiny car. It was Neil again. It was at that moment that I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. He looks over at me and says, 'Hi, Brian. Where's your sister?'
"I was going to a boarding school in the seventh grade at that time in Ojai, California, and I remember bringing Buffalo Springfield's album to our big class dance and dancing my heart out to the song 'Mr. Soul.' Sometime later I remember hearing his song 'Cinnamon Girl' for the very first time, and I was just knocked out by it. The song seemed to have everything; it was gritty and tough but it had grace and beauty in the melody and the lyric along with an almost haunting relentless energy to it. Later on I learned that the song was written by Neil Young for my sister, Jean Ray, because, unbeknownst to me at the time, they were seeing each other, even though each of them were involved with other people. That song and the story behind its inspiration have always made me curious about playing it, so I started to play the song every once in a while at my own solo live shows and with my band, the Bayonets.
"I was recently approached by Steven Van Zandt and Wicked Cool Records/Orchard about doing a singles deal. This is one of the first songs that occurred to me; I thought it would be cool to hear on his great Sirius XM radio channel, The Underground Garage. So that's my little story behind my new single.
"Oh yeah. While I was recording the basic track for 'Cinnamon Girl' with just me and a great drummer named Matt Laug, I came to the end of the song where Neil goes into his sort of solo ad lib guitar tantrum on his single version, I just started playing a revved-up, crazy version of his great Buffalo Springfield song, 'Mr. Soul,' in that moment as sort of a laugh. Matt joined in immediately and I decided it sounded cool and I left it in.
"I hope you dig it!"
For more about Ray, visit brianray.com.