An Interview with guitarist Ray Fuller, who has electrified audiences with his unique take on Rockin Blues

"I feel it is necessary that we embrace, encourage and support all shades/forms of "blues" from acoustic to modern electric to ensure we  keep the blues alive so that it enjoyed by future generations."

Ray Fuller: Smokin Hot Slide Guitar

Donald “Ray” Fuller, an American guitarist, singer and songwriter who has electrified national audiences with his unique take on root-blues and rock. Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers have performed with the giants of the blues: Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, James Cotton and more!

Muddy Waters, after witnessing an opening act performance by Ray Fuller on slide guitar exclaimed for all to hear, "That was some hot slide boy! I could smell the smoke backstage!" 

James Cotton, after witnessing a similar Bluesrocker performance shook Ray's hand and proclaimed, "Finally, I met somebody as wild and crazy as I am!" John Lee Hooker was so impressed with the band and their performance that he took the Bluesrockers and his own band out to dinner and picked up the tab!

Opportunities to learn at the feet of the masters were not wasted on young Ray, and he paid close attention to every pearl of wisdom and every nasty riff and blues lick generously shown to him as an eager student of the blues. Since then, Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers have been performing their brand of low-down gutsy blues and red-hot rock 'n' roll for many years, leaving a trail of scorched stages and satisfied fans from Michigan to Florida and California to New York and Africa.

Ray’s 2011 release “Piece of Work” is the epitome of hot slide guitar on legacy of pure blues but embraces rock n' roll's feeling. Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers promise a tight performance full of fire and energy! With Ray Fuller's ROCKIN SLIDE GUITAR, FLASHY BOOGIE PIANO PLAYER, TIGHT RHYTHM SECTION and PEARLENE (and a beautiful gold tour bus) this band IS a must see!

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues?

As a young 8-9 year old guitarist, I was drawn to the sound of electric blues guitar that I heard on the radio and television.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

Willie Dixon once said "the blues is the truth".  As a bluesman you write and sing about your deepest raw emotions, both joy and sadness and everything between.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

You have to have lived life with all of its ups and downs, trials and tribulation, joy and sadness, love and loss to be able to write and sing about it.

How do you describe Ray Fuller sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

My music is very simple, really very much based on the sound of my rhythm guitar backing up my vocals.   I try to maintain a very strong rhythmic beat with the bass and drum to drive the music along.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best ever given you?

Advice?  The best advice ever given to me was from Muddy Waters. He seemed to like my slide guitar a lot even calling it "smoking hot" in front of an entire audience who had just heard my band play the opening set. When we had time alone together in the dressing room between shows we spoke of some of our favorite slide guitarists. Muddy told me "You have to have a style of your own so people know it's you on the record, on the radio." I thought that was great advice.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best moment of my career was my first time overseas when I went to South Africa to play a series of benefit concerts in Port Elizabeth at the Vodacom Amphitheatre.   My concerts helped a young South African girl and her family raises money to pay for life saving surgery that she needed at the Cleveland Clinic, here in my home state of Ohio USA.  My wife and her South African friends arranged the trip/sponsors. I made a lot of friends/fans and we raised money to help a young girl, who's parents are now our dear friends, receive lifesaving surgery.  

My worst moment was the time that I got stabbed in the back while trying to keep a fan from being beaten to death (literally) in a bar fight after one of my shows.  I had to drive myself to the hospital.  I did not realize how badly I was injured till the doctor told me the knife went in less than an inch away from my heart.  A few years later I ran into the guy that I saved at a party.  He thanked me for saving his life. 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

I would say the most interesting period in my life is right now with all that is happening with my career; playing top venues,  major blues festivals, playing in Canada this summer and being signed with Bluebridge Network to tour Europe in October 2014.

Which memory from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Roy Buchanan and Willie Dixon makes you smile? 

Giant memories include Stevie Ray announcing to the audience the birth of my son, Buddy Guy personally going to the bar and buying me a beer, Willie Dixon chewing me out for saying one of his songs was by Hound Dog Taylor, and getting a big smile from Roy Buchanan backstage when I told him his G string was a little flat.

Are there any memories from Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, which you'd like to share with us? 

I talked about Muddy earlier some, Albert Collins was winning at poker backstage so we did not get to chat much.   John Lee Hooker really seemed to take a liking to me and my band.  When we worked together he took us all out to dinner before one show.  Like Muddy, he seemed to really like my slide playing.  he told me he was a fan of slide blues guitar but didn't play much of it himself.  He said he tried but in his words "can't make no sense of it." I was honored to be invited to be his guest at his next show in Dayton Ohio the next night.  He had me sit next to him at his personal table on breaks and later invited me back to his hotel to hang out.  That was VERY cool!

What's the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I remember little Charlie Baty playing harp and myself on guitar jamming with his band. That was cool. Stevie Ray and I jammed backstage on his old national steel guitar trading licks.

You have come to known great bluesmen. It must be hard to pick, but which meetings have been the biggest experiences for you?

I always looked up to and greatly respected the older Chicago and Mississippi singers like Muddy, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Jr. Wells, etc. so it was always great to meet and work with any of them. I never got to work with many of the English guys like the Stones or Clapton because they were working at a much higher level  back then; playing rock festivals, sports arenas and stadiums while I have worked in the blues clubs much of my career. I did get to meet Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown when we did an acoustic double bill together. He was very nice guy, very approachable not like one might think having been an English Rock Star back in the 60's and 70's.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES.  

The Blues is a musical form that has been around for well over a hundred years.   I can see it still around another hundred or more. People will be listening and dancing to Muddy, the Wolf and Elmore much like they hear symphony orchestras play Bach and Beethoven…only with a lot more dancing!  Great music lasts forever.

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage? Happiness is...... 

Nothing makes me happier when I am performing than when people get up and dance to my music even if there is no dance floor.

Do you know why slide is connected to blues & what are the secrets of slide guitar?

Slide guitar came about as a way for blues guitarist to better imitate the sound of the human voice.  That's what I have heard. One of my secrets of success at playing slide guitar is the fact that I use a front axle bushing from a Harley Davidson motorcycle rather than the traditional glass slide.

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?  

As I said earlier, Blues will be around a long time in one form or another. Its roots are in Africa in countries like Mali and Senegal.  It was forged in the crucible of misery and torture that was slavery in the deep south of America before the great Civil War. The Blues came of age during the Jim Crow era of the teens, 20's and 30's. It blossomed during the post WWII days of Muddy, Wolf, John Lee and Elmore. The blues is here today and will be tomorrow.

Do you believe that there is "misuse", that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues?

The word blues may be overused to describe music that may or may not be blues in form or style.  But the "blues" is strong; it can stand a lot of misuse.  I feel it is necessary that we embrace, encourage and support all shades/forms of "blues" from acoustic to modern electric to ensure we  keep the blues alive so that it enjoyed by future generations.

Which incident of your life you'd like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?

I actually was an art student early in my music career. I painted a picture of my first National Steel Resonator Guitar for a class assignment. It was a 1931 Doulian, the same kind of guitar used by great early bluesmen like Son House or Blind Boy Fuller. I thought so much of that first National Steel Resonator Guitar that I painted a painting of it. The same painting hangs in my house today.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Listen to lots of different music and styles of blues.  Learn to play your instrument and play it every chance you get.

From the music point of view what are the differences and similarities between the local scenes in USA?

Large markets like Chicago IL and Memphis TN are rich in blues history and blues fans from around the world come to be entertained. Our last show at Buddy Guys in Chicago we sold CD's to people visiting from Holland, Germany, Australia and to many locals.  In fact we drove back 300 miles to Ohio and the fan from Germany was at our next show in our hometown! In contrast to the big cities, last summer we played the Alpena MI Blues Festival.  No big city here, people live in nice cottages on the shores of Lake Huron. Our crowd was small but mighty, demanding 3 encores!  Another 2012 festival we played was the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Americas Heartland. We played an enormous stage near the great Mississippi River to a wonderful crowd of blues fans from all over the Midwest.  Another big show for us was the Bucks County Blues Society Picnic. The Bucks County Blues Society is America's oldest, very first Blues Society and these people really love their blues and know how to put on a party. We played early and by time we got off stage people had set up camp complete with tents for as far and wide as you could see!  

I must admit that I mainly play east of the Mississippi, in the Eastern USA and will be venturing into Canada for the first time this year.  I have played out west but not in recent years as it would have required flying to shows. Regardless of where we play in the USA, my typical set list consists of traditional Louisiana, Texas and Chicago style Blues infused with a healthy dose of rockin' slide guitar to keep things exciting.

What's been their experience on the road with tour bus and your band?

We just purchased our bus late last summer and have it safely locked away from the harsh winter weather.   We did take the bus last September when we headlined Buddy Guys Legends in Chicago IL. Traveling in the bus is fantastic, much more room than our usual van and trailer; very comfortable, very smooth ride. It was nice rolling through Chicago...most people thought we were Bruce Springsteen as he had an earlier show in the city that same day. We are really excited about using the bus in our future travels this summer festival season.

Ray Fuller - Official website

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