Ray Bennett is a guitarist/bassist who is a founding member of the pioneering progressive rock band Flash. The original lineup consisted of Peter Banks (Former guitarist of Yes), vocalist Colin Carter, drummer Mike Hough, and Ray on bass. Flash recorded three well polished studio albums and the self-titled debut album "Flash" also featured ex Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye. Flash toured the US numerous times and headlined a show at Philharmonic Hall with Dr. Hook and Earth, Wind & Fire. They also did a joint tour with Beck, Bogart, and Appice in the UK in 1973. The band decided to go their separate ways in late 73 and Ray eventually relocated to the United States. In the 70's and 80's, Ray had a few exciting musical projects and occasionally worked with former Flash members. In 1997 a live recording of Flash was released from a studio show they did at WLIR on Long Island and a couple of songs from the TV show The Midnight Special. The band reformed in 2010 with members Ray and Colin, and a fresh rhythm section. In 2013 they released a new album titled Flash featuring Ray Bennett and Colin Carter. Ray was also hard at work at his solo career and he produced a fine album titled Whatever Falls. The album has just been digitally re-released and it sounds great. I recently asked Ray a few questions on his career and the new release.
R.V.B. - Congratulations of the digital re-release of Whatever Falls. Can you tell me what's behind the name? How strange was it that it originally came out around the same time as the 9/11 tragedy?
R.B. - Thanks. Yes, what a strange co-incidence that was. Obviously the album was all done long before that happened, but weird none-the-less. Nothing in particular behind my choice of the name, just the song title. I liked the sound of it for an album name. The song was about that eternal theme of life re-asserting itself no matter what happens, and musically it just felt right having a smoother, quieter feeling to round out the set. The flow of the CD is an important part of the listening experience and I always spend some time getting it right.
R.V.B. - Were these songs a collection of things that you had been working on for a long time? Is it a mixture of old things that you had around in the day and newer material?
R.B. - All of it was done in that time frame - late 90’s to early 2000’s. Previously, I had drifted away from prog rock in my writing. For a number of years, from the 80’s through the 90’s, I had veered off in many directions. “Whatever Falls” was a return, of sorts, to my prog roots. I felt that I could bring something new to the genre by then.
R.V.B. - Who were some of the people that helped out with the project?
R.B. - I had met an English drummer in NYC, Mark Pardy just prior to starting the project and he was a prog rock fan. He’d had an odd background playing a variety of gigs from The National Youth Jazz Orchestra in the UK, some Brit pop singers, and as a kid working in a Casino in Monte Carlo. His enthusiasm actually spurred me on a bit to get it in motion. We rehearsed a fairly large selection of track possibilities which was a huge amount of fun as he is a great player and one of the best drummers I had had for quite a long time. The bass player was David Kannenstine, who is now unfortunately deceased. David was a bass student of mine who had made remarkable progress and was very keen to extend his abilities. He proved to be a great help in getting the ideas worked out and wrote a bass line for the track “Ahh !" He also played some of the bass on the title track, "Whatever Falls", I did bass on all the rest. On the tech side; Ed Fritz, engineered some of the basic tracks and did a good job. He’s an old friend and had been a partner of mine in a NYC recording studio business and a guitarist in a previous band. He helped out in various ways on the technical end. Gerry Collins of The Chop Shop in NYC who mastered and edited some stuff in Protools was enormously helpful also. His good ears played a part in getting to the finishing line. I had recorded all the overdub tracks myself and mixed the whole album manually - I had no computer then - which is amazing to think of now. But with my experience from the decades before, I could deal with it. But there were finishing touches needed. The mastering experience on this album was my introduction to computer audio.
R.V.B. - How many different instruments did you play on the Album? I know you now are an accomplished guitarist but do you still play the bass regularly?
R.B. - Guitar, bass, keys, percussion. Yes I do play the bass regularly, it’s always the familiar pal it always was.
R.B. - My Dad was very much into music. He played the piano; a selection of classical pieces and showtunes, and was keen on amateur theatrics, a tap dancer too. He was always singing around the house, and anywhere in fact. He’d break into a song in the supermarket! He had a twin brother who liked to play boogie-woogie harmonica, a chromatic like Stevie Wonder. Occasionally they would do a jam boogie duo number. My mother also was a good singer, but she was quieter about it. Later, in their retirement years, my parents both sang in the village church choir. We had classical records and American musicals on the turntable as well as my older sister’s early rock records; Elvis, Cliff Richard, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly etc. I used to sneak a listen to them when she wasn’t around and sing along. I had a collection of toy instruments; a trumpet, a banjo, a ukulele, and at age twelve, my first cheap acoustic bought for me by my grandmother. I learned pretty fast after the agony of getting my fingers working properly. I literally slept with my guitar on my bed and grabbed it as soon as I woke up. That was the beginning of the Beatle era. As a very young lad I had learned to read music for the recorder and voice. In those days most British kids got a good musical education. It was considered a normal part of basic schooling. I think that helped get me going on guitar, though I dropped studying reading about then. Just didn’t fit with guitar. But I did have a very good ear, even then and that’s more important in the long run. I happened to be quite lucky as all the schools I went to had great music departments and teachers, so overall my early years were full of music.
R.V.B. - It must have been great growing up in England the 60's, hearing all the amazing music that was being made there? Who were your early influences? Did you catch any good concerts in your youth?
R.B. - The Beatles was a major thing for me. Totally changed my world forever. It was magic, right before our eyes, happening in real time, and changing everything. Suddenly music became new again, and hair styles and clothes, and humour. Mostly, it was their unbridled optimism that captured everybody. And for us a sense that we could create anything we wanted. I never saw them unfortunately. I lived in an area they never played and I was too young to wander about going to gigs yet. If I’d have grown up in London, or a big town, it would have been different. I lived in a small seaside town on the south coast then. Other musical influences besides The Beatles: all of it from that early 60’s pop period in the UK. Plus the American stuff. I soaked it all up. Also the black music scene; Sam & Dave, James Brown. We used to play that stuff, plus a lot of blues. It was part of the learning process for us white English school boys, a good way to learn how to improvise. As I mentioned, when we were all younger we got loaded up with British school curriculum music; classical and hymns etc, but now we were ready for something more exciting. I also had some piano lessons. So my influences were quite broad. And we had the BBC which played all kinds of music and many other kinds of things. The BBC in those days was a big influence on everybody. Still is in Britain really. In my later teens I saw many great bands in the London area; John Mayall’s bands, Spencer Davis with Stevie Winwood, Hendrix on his first English gigs, Graham Bond with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Keith Emerson in The Nice, early Crimson gigs. Many others. Jazz, folk, so much going on then.
R.B. - My first gig was organized by our music teacher for a school group. He was a young guy, wish I could remember his name, he was great. I was thirteen and totally terrified. We played a dance for our school kids at a village hall. As we only had a few short songs we had to play them through twice, and some three times I think! Lots of “Twist & Shout” and “Sweets For My Sweet”. Other than continually dropping my pick, it went great. That a relief to get it out of the way at thirteen and not wait till I was older. It would have been harder with more ego at stake!
R.V.B. - Where did you meet the guys from Flash? When you originally formed did you start writing originals right away?
R.V.B. - I knew Peter Banks from his early Yes days. Yes drummer, Bill Bruford and I were in the same local band together and when Bill joined Yes I used to hang out with them quite a bit. I saw many of their earliest gigs and for a while I lived at the Yes flat in London. Later, I spent a couple of years in the USA just prior to Flash happening in 1971. I got a call from Bill just before I returned to England and he told me Pete was putting a band together with a singer. I had a feeling this was a gig for me. It all happened very fast as I remember. I hit it off with Colin Carter right away - he had originally persuaded Pete to start a new band - and Mike Hough was found at an audition for drummers a short while later later. As far as writing. I had begun songwriting at about 17 in my first serious band, but it really got it going in earnest during my trip to America. That’s where much of my earliest Flash material was written. Flash always did original stuff. We did try a couple of covers at the request of our manager. He thought we might get a hit that way. It wasn’t a popular idea with us at the time and really didn’t take.
No, not business as usual. Normally bands have nagging issues at the outset, such as a member who is not pulling his weight, or a bad manager, or some weird gigs, or a lack of money. Usually a lot of the above. With Flash everything went remarkably smoothly. We got along, the music snapped into place and we knew that was the thing that would make it all happen. It was tight and interesting. No waste, no mess, nothing out of place and no musical passengers. And the business side clicked into place too, we had what we needed, and quickly too. We knew absolutely we were part of a new wave of music. The word “progressive” hadn’t really taken hold yet, it was a journalist’s invention really. For us the movement was into more adventurous territory, all the newest bands were trying to carve out their own place. No one wanted to copy anyone, in fact the opposite was true. Try as hard ’not’ to be like anyone else.
R.V.B. - Were there any shows of the original lineup that really stand out in your memory banks?
R.B. - Our early 70’s US tours were full of great gigs. The big summer festivals were a lot of fun, even though they were often badly organized back then. A bit slapdash. Like not getting the stage properly built and forgetting to put in stairs. Once we had to be hoisted up on a forklift. There were huge numbers of people at some. 200,000 at one I remember. Playing at Avery Fisher Hall in NYC was memorable, with Earth Wind & Fire, and Dr Hook. Formerly just for classical concerts it was a novelty at the time. Alice Cooper gigs were big affairs and fun.
R.B. - Some TV shows are done at awful hours, like early in the day, sometimes mornings, which is not cool for most musicians, but you just do it. The WLIR was easy as it was afternoon and just a small room with a few people. The sound was quite good because of that. It was a Dr Pepper sponsored show and we had no idea what Dr Pepper was. I thought it might be toothpaste. Tastes weird to me even now.
R.V.B. - Did the original Flash lineup ever re-group in the 80's or 90's to jam together for old time sake?
R.B. - Once in 1980 or ’81 in L.A. we had a rehearsal as a tryout, but Mike wasn’t into it, neither was Colin really, just me and Pete. No gigs in that period. We were all living in L.A. by pure coincidence. Peter Banks and myself hosted a jam night on Sunset strip in LA in the early 80’s at a club called The Central. It used to be Filthy McNasty’s place which was once a hipster hangout in the 60’s. In the late 80’s it became the Viper Room, Johnny Depp’s place. Colin Carter would stop in sometimes. Mike Hough came in once. Pete and I and some guests became the house band for about a year and kicked off the evening. It went very well, a huge success, and big crowds every week. Many name players showed up. Elton John’s band, some from Rod Stewart’s, Jon Anderson. The Sales brothers, just before they worked with Bowie, Skunk Baxter, Les Dudek. Many others. One night John Belushi and Marty Feldman played drums together. I saw Frank Zappa in the audience. One night Pete and I were playing one of our jam numbers, “Dancing In The Street” and David Lee Roth jumped on stage with us to sing. I think that’s where Van Halen got the idea from for their single version of that song.
R.V.B. - How was the experience of getting together again with Colin Carter and playing the Flash material again in front of a live audience?
R.B. - It was really quite a surprise that it sounded like Flash again, even with new people in the band. It just fell into place somehow. Having keys this time made it feel like the first album sound with Tony Kaye. I realized how much Peter and I had in common as players. Our sensibilities had matched so well in the old days and with me on guitar it didn’t seem strange at all for some odd reason. It should have, as I had played bass before, but it didn’t.
R.B. - Yes, I think so. Though of course there are new flavours now, but you would expect that after so many years. I think that for old fans it must be an interesting viewpoint to see how we have matured and how Colin and I produce Flash music together now as a duo. For many I’m sure, they would have liked to see the original line-up, but it wasn’t possible. Mike Hough has long retired from pro playing. Peter had been invited in at several points in the early 2000’s, but was never a reliable prospect. Long before we did the album we knew it was going to be just me and Colin.
R.V.B. - What do you have going on these days in music. Besides the re- release, what are your current projects?
R.B. - I have more archive material to put out from the 90’s mostly, plus some brand new stuff in the works. Also a new solo live band is on my horizon.
R.V.B. - What are you most proud of in your career up to this point?
R.B. - Flash of course. Forty plus years after its inception it’s still well thought of, and is still a going concern. Having created material that has stood the test of time is very satisfying. And I feel equally very proud of “Whatever Falls” as a personal statement. The other archive material that will be shortly released I feel very good about too.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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