Saturday, July 11, 2009
Ray Condo: King Of Canadian Rockabilly
There once was a cat called Ray Condo. He rocked the Rockabilly world for some years, and since his untimely passing a few years back, the rockin' scene has been that much quieter. I won't attempt write a biography, there is enough material on the internet about Ray Condo, check it out yourselves and enjoy.
There is a whole new generation of 'billies who may or may not have heard of Ray. What they have missed were some of the most electrifying live performances in modern Rockabilly.
I will go through a brief overview of my encounters with Ray, who had a tremendous influence on me and the burgeoning Canadian Rockabilly revival scene.
I had been into Rockabilly for a long time, heard lots of it growing up. I had met some guitar player from France who wanted to play in a Rockabilly band. Big Louis knew lots of cats around Montreal. One day he told me about a crazy cat called Ray Condo.
We went down to Station Ten (any Montrealer's remember that ?). The raw, unbridled energy of the show blew me away. Big Louis introduced me to Ray that night.
Ray's band used to rehearse in the loft upstairs from mine and I used to hang out and absorb the music. Ray had an uncanny talent for arrangements.
Right around that time me and Big Louis finally got our band going. The Hollywood Mufflers played shitholes and dives all around town, most times for free.
One day, Ray blew us away by inviting us to open for an upcoming show. Ray had huge following from the university crowd in those days. I remember a huge line up around the block.
What a wild show! I remember talking to a priest, of all things, after my set. Turns out he liked rockabilly.
Once my band was firmly established, Ray had me up as a guest singer many times. I used to love playing with those guys. My band couldn't quite capture that energy and wild intensity.
A year or so later Ray had had enough of Montreal and decided to move back to Vancouver. I, for some reason, moved to Kitchener, Ontario.
I found out that Ray Condo and his Hard Rock Goners were playing Toronto. I made the 75 mile trek to the Cameron House, only to find out that their van had broken down and the show was postponed. I went to catch Jack De Keyzer instead.
The following evening, I once again drove 75 miles and and witnessed one crazy show. We partied all night at some dude's house, and after everybody had nodded off, I drove the 75 miles back again. Dang, I was young.
The 80's drifted into the 90's and I was in Montreal. Ray and I sort of lost touch. No internet back then. In the late 90' Ray did a few gigs in Montreal with his new band , The Ricochets. It was like old times, but taken to new levels.
In 1999 I was dee-jaying Swing nights in swank Montreal club. We somehow managed to book Ray on his way to a European tour. I talked it up, but, on the night of the show, all the swing dancers were mad at me because they thought Ray was Country. Just to piss them off, I played some real twangy Country between sets and I scared the shit out of them.
That performance was great. All the old fans had showed up , they were crowding the stage, riveted by the performance. The swing dancers got even madder because there wasn't any room to dance.
The following year, I attended the world's biggest Rockabilly party; Viva Las Vegas. One of the headliners was Ray Condo and the Ricochets. That was the best show I had ever seen Ray put on. It started at 2 am, so needless to say, me and my buddies were rip-roaring drunk. One of my friends had his head so far up into a speaker that the security guys had to pull him out of there.
The year after that, Ray's urging me to come to the west coast all those years ago turned to be prophetic. I packed my shit and headed to Vancouver.
Ray and his long time companion, Line, were the only people I knew in Vancouver. Man, was Ray surprised when I called him after tracking down his phone number. People still had land lines and you could look them up in this big, fat paper thing called a phone book.
Ray was raising the roof at the legendary Marine Club every week with his Honky Tonk Fridays. That was my intro to Vancouver, a pretty good start. There was a Rockabilly night there every Saturday as well, and I was blown away at intensity of live music in this town.
Ray did a huge New Years bash that year, and to my surprise, he invited me up to do a couple of numbers. That was the best New Year I had had in Years.
A few years went by, and Ray's disillusionment with the music industry grew. Even though he was known all around the world , the impossibly high odds of attaining any measure of success in the Rockabilly scene began to take their toll.
In 2003, Ray was rarin' to play again. His love of music and performing gave him a fresh infusion of enthusiasm and he booked a bunch of gigs. He contacted me and asked to be his between set DJ, because as Ray put it, he was tired of hearing Billy Idol between sets.
Sadly, this next chapter in Ray's career was cut short with his passing in April 2004. Ray was loved by many from near and far, so a huge memorial service was organized. People from all over the world attended, I had the privilege of being the DJ for this event. Sad as it was, it was more of a celebration of Ray's life and all the lives that he had touched.
A great man and a true Canadian legend, Ray's memory will live on for many years to come. Check out his music on line. You will dig it!