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Interview

Ray Davis,

from The Original P

By Paul Doyle

 

In the history of funk, there is no entourage that has been more influential than the P-Funk-Parliament-Funkadelic thang. As Sly and the Family Stone dissolved into the 70s, Funkadelic came on strong. Fuzzy Haskins, Grady Thomas, Calvin Simon and Ray Davis joined George Clinton in 1961 to form the Parliaments. The Parliaments’ sound began with Do Wop and slowly emerged at the forefront of the funk era by the late 60s and throughout the 70s. As Funkadelic they produced a string of killer funk albums including Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow (1970), Maggot Brain (1971), Cosmic Slop (1973), Standing On The Verge of Getting It On (1974), and Let’s Take It To The Stage (1975). The line up over the years included such great musicians as Maceo Parker (saxophone), Fred Wesley (trombone), Bootsy Collins (bass) Bernie Worrell (keyboards) and Eddie Hazel (guitar).

The original members of Parliament decided to get back together as The Original P, minus George Clinton who now leads the P-Funk Allstars. The Original P line up consists of 14 members. Fuzzy, Grady, Calvin and Ray on vocals with Billy Mims (guitar, keyboards), Ben Powers (drums), Baatin Muhammad (guitar, keyboards, saxophone, flute), Ray’s son Derrick Davis (bass), Grady’s son Gene Thomas (guitar), Peter Pisarczyk (keyboards), Doug Smith (keyboards) and back up vocals by Sonja Homes, Emerald and Jackie Love.

Original P bass singer Ray Davis was kind enough to take some time and reflect on his career past and present, and this is what he had to say...

Vermont Review: Where did you grow up?

Ray Davis: I grew up in Sumter, South Carolina. I’m a southern boy

VR: Was there music around the household?

RD: Well, I’m the baby of 12 kids, and my mom and pop, they were all in church, quite naturally I grew up in church. I did Sunday School, from Sunday School to young people choir to adult choir. And then by that time I left. I left when I was a young guy. From then on it was history. From gospel to funk.

VR: Who were your early influences musically?

RD: My early influences were Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels, Temptations, on and on. The first one like I say was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers?

VR: When did you start with Parliament?

RD: I started with Parliament in 1961.

VR: That was the four of you from the Original P?

RD: The original four of us with George makes 5, George Clinton.

VR: At that time what was the style of the music?

RD: Do wop. You know, street corner sounds. Everybody, all the groups get on the street corner, like on a Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, and just have battles of the street corner singing, like Do Wop

VR: Where was this?

RD: That was in Plainfield, New Jersey. That’s where it all started, well, that’s where I started. The group really started in 55, in Newton, New Jersey. That’s without the four of us, though, George had something to do with some group that came from there to the original Parliaments.

 

VR: How did the shift occur from the Do Wop to the funk?

 

RD: The shift occurred...You know the time changes. We went from singing mostly a capella Do Wop, that’s when guitars, drums, organs, and stuff started. We went from Do Wop to songs with music. Electrical guitar, bass, organ... on til now.

 

 

VR: The current line up is the four original members. Regarding singing, you are the bass. What role to the others play?

 

RD: Fuzzy Haskins, he’s lead, second tenor. Calvin Simon, he’s first tenor lead. Grady Thomas, baritone. He does some lead also. All of us do some lead.

 

 

VR: You of course do the classic bass part "I want to know" in Can You Get To That? (2nd tune on Maggot Brain, rel. 1971)

RD: Yep, all the bass parts from the beginning of Parliaments up until now, you hear all the bass singing, that’s Ray Davis. Tear the Roof Off, Atomic Dog, Can You Get To That (I Want To Know), Into You, Funky Dollar Bill, which I had a part in writing. We got to start doing that (Can You Get To That), we haven’t put it in the line up yet, but we are going to start doing it.

VR: When did the four of you break away from the Parliament Funkadelic thing?

RD: Well, Fuzzy and Calvin, they left first, I think it was around 78. Me and Grady kind of stuck around. Well, Grady left too, with Fuzzy and them, but he came back. But I stayed up until 84. I left for ten years, I went with Zapp. Roger Troutman and Zapp. I stayed with them for like nine years. And then I just quit singing all together for over three years from 88- 89, up until 93, that’s when I started back singing again. I moved from Dayton, Ohio, when I left Zapp, and I went to Greenville, South Carolina, and I started driving a city bus, for about three years. George came through. They were doing a show at the Memorial Auditorium down in Greenville, SC, and he was on the radio and he said that if anybody knows Ray Davis tell him to contact me, we want to have him come back. So I heard him the whole time. On the way from work, I stopped by the Auditorium and I saw him and he said, man your mic is set up why don’t you come back. So I decided yeah I will. So I just left work just like that and went back with him. For about three months we were doing that Lallopolooza Tour. And after we finished that, about the end of September, I think, around the 30th, I got a call from Otis Williams and the Temptations. They wanted me because Melvin Franklin, he was sick and they didn’t think that he would be able to come back. So I left Parliaments again and left with Otis and the Temptations. I stayed with them for about three years, up until I got sick, I came down with lung cancer. I quit singing for about a year until I got well again. That’s when me Calvin, Fuzzy and Grady got together, Westbound, and they said well, do an album. So that’s how all this started.

VR: How is your health now?

RD: Oh, I’m fine. I went from 163 (pounds) to about 219. I weigh about 205, 210 right now. It’s all gone. God wasn’t ready for me. He’s given me another chance to do this I guess.

VR: What got the The Original P together again?

RD: We missed each other. We enjoyed singing together when we were all singing together. We have a different kind of flavor, I would say, the harmonies, how we blend, how we catch on. We’ve known each other for like 35-40 years, so we’re all like brothers. That’s how we decided if we ever got a chance to get back together, that’s what we would do. By God, he gave us the chance to do that. That’s how we came back with the Original P.

VR: The new band has 14 members?

RD: Yes, there’s 14 of us all together. There’s 7 musicians, three girls- background singers, and the four of us.

VR: What is the instrument line up?

RD: We have drums, bass, two keyboards, sometimes there’s three keyboards, two guitars, sometimes there’s three guitars. What happens is, one of the keyboard players (Baatin Muhammad), he plays keyboards, guitar, flute and saxophone. Basically most of the time there are three keyboards, two guitars, bass and drums. But one of the guys, he switches up sometimes. He’s like a one man band.

VR: Any percussion besides drums?

RD: Well, Calvin he plays percussion, he plays the congas

VR: You have some new material on a new disc, What Dat Shakin’. Aside from this what will we be hearing on this tour?

RD: We’ll be playing mostly the songs that we recorded over the years. Some of the stuff...The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, Standing On the Verge of Gettin’ It On, Up For the Down Stroke, One Nation Under a Groove... basically all the hits that we made over the years, we’re doing all those. Plus the ones that we just released, some of the stuff from our CD, which is What Dat Shak’n Behind Ya Like Dat, 35 Years, Party Down People, stuff like that.

VR: The band has a great deal of spirituality, basically a Christian theology. How does that effect your lives and your careers?

RD: Well, you know one of the guys, Fuzzy, he is like an ordained minister, a counselor mostly. And all of us, we believe in God, the whole band really. It gives us strength. There’s no cursing, no profanity, none of that stuff. We kind of mix it along with what we are doing and with the fans that we have. This group is trying to do right thing. I’m not trying to put George down, but you know he always had a lot of cursing and profanity and stuff going on in the group. But this group doesn’t allow that. I think we’ll be a little farther than the average group which does all the profanity stuff.

VR: So it gives the band a group unity?

RD: Oh yeah. You can tell too. We show love on the stage. You can tell how we get along. We get along great.

VR: How has the audience response been to the tour so far?

RD: Totally great. Great.

VR: I know that for myself, I am really excited to see some of my favorite old funk tunes live.

RD: That’s right. We do them good too. The band is terrific. Their tight. They’re younger guys, that makes us look better. No, we’re not over the hill guys, we’re kind of up there, but you can’t tell by looking at us on stage.

VR: It looks like there is some costume wearing going on.

RD: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I hope you like it I think you will too.

VR: I don’t doubt it. What are the goals for this project?

RD: Well, we’re going as far as we can go. We plan to be out on tour for at least 2 years. We are a Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame legend, you know, we finally got in there in 1997. I think by the way we’re going we’ll wind up being in it again. (laughs) We’re going and we’re going as far as we can go. The sky’s the limit. As long as our health allows us to do the best we can, that’s what we’ll be doing. With the love of our fans, that will make us go far.

VR: Over the years, plenty of legends have played with Parliament and Funkadelic including Fred Wesley Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins and the great guitarist Eddie Hazel. What are your reflections about him and his career?

RD: Well, he brought us a long way. We miss him, but his spirit is still there. We have this guy, Grady Thomas’ son (Gene)and Eddie Hazel was his idol. He’s doing the exact same thing, I would say a little better.

VR: Do you cover Maggot Brain? (Title track, rel. 1971)

RD: Oh, yes, he does that very well.

VR: I also notice you have Billy Mims playing guitar.

RD: Yep, Billy Mims is playing guitar. He’s been with us for a long time. He did some stuff with Fuzzy, Calvin and Grady when they had the Funk Lords project going. He and Ben Powers, they were behind the musicians in that band. Their still with us, Ben, Billy.

Their new CD is out, What Dat Shakin’, on the original funk label, Westbound Records. Get ready to shake your booty because this should definitely be a wild one.