Parker, Ray Jr.
Ray Parker, Jr.
Singer, guitarist, bandleader, composer
Almost anyone who drew a breath in the 1980s is familiar with the theme from the 1984 film Ghostbusters, the theme of the subsequent animated Saturday morning spinoff series, the ubiquitous radio and pop video hit, or the pop culture call-out: "Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!" In fact, Ray Parker, Jr., is the name musicians and producers called when they needed some tasty rhythm-and-blues guitar, husky backup vocals and hook-laden songwriting. By the time of his breakout solo hit, the Detroit-born Parker had supported some of contemporary music's most respected names and he had served as frontman for the group Raydio in the late 1970s.
Growing up in Detroit, Parker played clarinet and saxophone. "The clarinet was my instrument and, by the time I got to ten or eleven and got tall and started getting interested in girls, the clarinet didn't cut it," he said in an Internet interview on the Last Miles Web site. "My brother had a guitar and I started playing that. The guitar let you play more than one note at a time, which I thought was wonderful." As with most African-American musicians from Detroit born in the 1950s, the professional story of Ray Parker, Jr., begins with a Motown Records connection. The independent label established by Barry Gordy, Jr., became a powerhouse of talent in the 1960s. Not only did musicians and singers make an international mark from their Motown base, but songwriters and producers did as well. One of Gordy's most prolific songwriting and production teams—Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland—went on to form their own record labels, HotWax and Invictus Records, in attempts to replicate Gordy's successful entertainment business model. They signed such acts as Honey Cone, Freda Payne, Chairmen of the Board, and 100 Proof. As with the majority of Motown's roster (Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye being the most notable exceptions), most of the acts were vocalists that required instrumental backup. Enter teenage guitar prodigy Ray Parker, Jr. A student and eventual 1972 graduate of Detroit's Northwestern High School, Parker provided many of the guitar licks behind the explosion of urban soul music of that period. He also found time to support such acts as the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Spinners, and Stevie Wonder when they performed in Detroit.
Junior Supports Little Stevie
Newly graduated from high school in 1972, Parker received a phone call from Stevie Wonder. The multi-talented Wonder inquired if Parker would play in his band for an upcoming tour supporting the Rolling Stones. Thinking that it was a prank, Parker hung up the phone on Wonder, who promptly called back and had to convince Parker that the call was genuine by singing snatches of Wonder's "Superstition." The song is featured on Wonder's 1972 masterpiece Talking Book, on which Parker played session guitar along with British guitar phenomenon Jeff Beck. Parker also played on Wonder's subsequent Innervisions in 1973. With a hefty resume, Parker relocated to Los Angeles to continue work as a session guitarist with such acts as Barry White and White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, Boz Scaggs, Marvin Gaye, Leon Haywood, and Gene Page, as well as providing guitar for Motown producer Clarence Paul's work on Ronnie McNeir's Love's Comin' Down. Parker's photogenic appearance led him to be cast in the Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier film Uptown Saturday Night.
Turn up the Raydio
In 1977 Parker decided to step out of the shadows and become a recording artist in his own right. He signed with Arista Records and formed the group Raydio, which would help realize Parker's musical vision. He brought vocalists Arnell Carmichael and Jerry Knight onboard, while playing nearly all the instruments on the group's three albums. In 1978 the strategy hit pay dirt when the group's debut album went gold (selling more than 500,000 copies). Three hit singles reside on the album: "Honey I'm Rich," "Is This a Love Thing," and "Jack and Jill." Parker continued the Raydio momentum with the hit singles "Two Places at the Same Time" and "You Can't Change That." The third time was a charm for Raydio, when their record A Woman Needs Love hit number one on the rhythm-and-blues charts. The album was notable for featuring the hit single and title track "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)," which was the first record to feature Parker as lead vocalist from beginning to end. The success of the record served as the impetus for Parker to break out as a solo artist.
"Ghostbusters," Controversy, and Moving On
In 1984 Parker's name became a household word with the release of the cinematic blockbuster Ghostbusters, which featured Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, and Sigourney Weaver. The punchy theme song, written and recorded by Parker, rocketed to the top of radio playlists, but resulted in a bit of a scandal when Parker was sued for copyright infringement by Huey Lewis, because "Ghostbusters" sounded very similar to Lewis's blockbuster hit "I Need a New Drug." It has been noted that both songs bear more than a close resemblance to "Pop Music" by M (the nom de plume of musician Robin Scott), which preceded both hits by several years ("Pop Music" was released in 1979). Lewis and Parker settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. Parker countersued Lewis in 2001, when Lewis breached a confidentiality agreement by discussing the settlement in a VH1 documentary.
While Parker was unable to repeat the stratospheric success of the early 1980s, he was able to engage his talents for the success of other artists. He wrote and produced hits for such acts as Chaka Kahn, New Edition, Cheryl Lynn, Randy Hall, Deniece Williams, and Diana Ross. His work with Hall led to an introduction to legendary jazz trumpet maestro and bandleader Miles Davis. Hall had sung on Davis's The Man with a Horn album, and Davis asked Parker to produce his follow-up, Rubberband, in 1985. Parker by this time had built his own studio, Ameraycan, in North Hollywood, and he recorded Davis's album there. However, Davis's label, Warner Brothers, never released the album.
While never recapturing his enormous popularity from the 1980s, Parker continued to record solo albums for different record labels. In 2006 he released I'm Free, a reggae- and Caribbean-tinged album reflecting a more carefree, relaxed lifestyle.
For the Record …
Born on May 1, 1954, in Detroit, MI.
Played session guitar for Invictus Records and Hot Wax labels, late 1960s and early 1970s; played in Stevie Wonder's touring band, 1972; signed deal with Arista Records, 1977; released debut Raydio album, 1978; wrote and recorded Ghostbusters film theme, 1984; released I'm Free!, 2006.
Addresses: Media Relations: Jonathon Wolfson, 23679 Calabasas Rd., Ste. 501, Calabasas, CA 91302, telephone: 818-225-2412, fax: 818-591-3069, e-mail: [email protected] Web site—Ray Parker Official Web site: http://www.rayparkerjr.com..
Raydio, Arista, 1978.
Rock On, Arista, 1979.
Two Places at the Same Time, Arista, 1980.
A Woman Needs Love, Arista, 1981.
The Other Woman, Arista, 1982.
Woman out of Control, Arista, 1983.
Sex and the Single Man, Arista, 1985.
After Dark, Geffen, 1987.
I Love You Like You Are, MCA, 1991.
I'm Free!, Raydio Music, 2006.
All Music Guide,www.allmusicguide.com (April 8, 2008).
The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis 1980-1991,http://www.thelastmiles.com/interviews-ray-parker-jr.php (April 8, 2008).
Mix: Professional Audio and Music Production,http://mixonline.com/recording/interviews/audio_ray_parker_jrs/ (April 8, 2008).
Ray Parker Jr. Official Web Site,http://www.rayparkerjr.com/ (April 8, 2008).
—Bruce Edward Walker
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