Saturday, July 10, 2010


The most long term band I've been in is an outfit called Becky's Sister. Named after the sister of Becky (Ricky Ray's wife), we were smitten with the image of Becky's sister Jennifer in the late 1980's, whilst about to head to a Led Zeppelin Laser Light Show at the Burke Baker Planetarium in Houston.

We were about to do our first jam together as this band, which included Billy Ray and Ricky Ray on guitars and the occasional percussion or bass. Although we didn't have a name, since I was currently gigging in many working bands at that time, I thought it a must to have a name for our soon to be recording band. I, of course, played drums, as I'm a drummer. Mostly, Billy Ray and Ricky Ray play dual guitars and I play drums, and when we have a guest one of us might move to bass. I've been trying to learn to play the bass for years, and can stick with the easy keys and I'm not bad.

While at Ricky Ray's Southwest Houston abode that evening, Becky's younger sister, the late Jennifer, came walking in the room. I think I said "Who's that chick?" and Billy Ray said, "Oh, that's Becky's Sister."

And hence the name of this recording band was decided. Back then, I was the only one who played out live in bands, and Becky's Sister was designed from the start to be not only a song writing band but a jam band as well. Completely for fun.

Fortunately, I began to record these jams, held at family places in Fairplay and Lane, Texas, a barn and workshop and field in Lane, Texas; a cabin in Flatonia; musicians rehearsal facilties in Austin; a great place on the shores of Lake Fork in Yantis, Texas that yielded some of the best recordings we've ever made; and a very cool modern log cabin set in the Twin Sisters mountains south of Blanco, overlooking a monestary that rings it's large bells at sundown. Lots of these locales were visited more than once or twice.

Some folks, well most folks actually, might take issue with what I term "our best music ever". But we actually have theee bonafide fans: Our longtime (30 + years) friend Smitty, R.J. MacReady and Stuntman Joe. R.J. has only heard recordings of us but Stuntman Joe and Smitty have seen us several times.

We also have several guest members. The Evil Dr. K is a frequent guest and sometimes co-drummer at numerous jams, and has filled in on tons of occasions when I wasn't able to make Dallas area jams with The Rays. As far as we're concerned, he's a full fledged member, the fourth sister.

Woody Oakes, a bass and guitar playing buddy of mine for 25 years, graced us with his very talented presence back at one of the Twin Sisters weekend jams. Not only does he kill on bass, he can plays great blues, rock and country on the six string. Not a bad drummer either. Woody raised the talent level of our band of fools immensely and he's a great guy. I played in various working bands with Woody since 1985, We've worked in blues pickup party bands on the circuit in Houston, and played more clubs that I know we both care to remember. We became big friends early on and he's a hoot.

Woody's old friend Uncle El Bar Jones has been invited to many of our recording sessions, but one conflict or another kept us from getting together. I'm planning on seeing if we can host our upcoming recording session and jam at Uncle El Bar's spacious and nice country place deep behind the Pine Curtain of East Texas.

Ricky Ray's old friend Dr. Scott joined us one time for a Twin Sister Cabin jam on bass, and Woody just did some great guitar playing that weekend. We'd set the DAT recording rolling, and get a decent tape of of a stereo mic in the middle of the room. The acoustics of the Twin Sister's cabin was excellent, as it was made of glossy cedar and had a very high ceiling in the living room. Although not made for playing and recording music, not only could the players hear each other well but the recordings were above average.

But to us, it's a hoot and a holler. We were long friends before the band, and in the twenty plus years since we began this outfit, Ricky Ray and Billy Ray have gone from having moderate talent to having an awesome ability on their guitars. We play some cover songs, where I actually do what I refer to as "singing" (note: almost no others agree with this description) of tunes like "Hey Joe" and "Jane Says".

If anything, my drumming ability in terms of chops and riffs has declined, since back twenty years ago I was playing usually in three working bands working from 4 to 7 nights a week. Everything from jazz/r&b bands to blues bands (mostly) to hard rock bands to original bands that blurred lines between genres. I also played in a couple of cover bands and did a fair amount of substitution work for drummers who had conflicts between acts.

But what I've lost in tricky and showy chops I've gained in groove and time. My time has always been pretty cool, and since playing in a band with Little Screamin' Kenny in 1984, well, I've been working on grooving ever since. After being a guy who had quite a bit of chops during my youth, it took a long time to work through that and become a groove drummer. By 1989, after the first set on a sub gig with a hard working Houston blues band, Dogman Miller gave me the biggest compliment ever when he told me I was "grooving like Al Jackson."

So by the time me the the Rays (Billy Ray and Ricky Ray) had decided to start Becky's Sister, I had already changed from a hard rocking, lick-throwing-down drummer into a groove drummer. Yes, I'm still capable of cool fills and some tricky licks, but I ain't what I was in my twenties when I was playing daily for hours. If not gigging, for fun at all kinds of inner loop jam sessions that took place.

My experience in bands has kept the Rays grounded. I had over 9 years of formal music training beginning at age 11, and they had none. I had played in marching and symphonic and concert and stage bands throughout junior high and middle school, all the while taking private lessons. I also took piano lessons to learn how to play tuned percussion better as well as learning some keyboard skills.

So my talk of song structure and resolutions and time signatures helped us get a direction to our musicial madness. We've had some great moments, especially in the early part of this decade, when the ForkFest Jam Sessions occurred over a several year period.

Ricky Ray moved to the East Coast in the middle of the last decade to further his College Professoring career (or should I say, Dr. Ricky Ray), so our get togethers have been less frequent since then. Ricky Ray's been to Texas a few times since then, and we did the Twin Sisters Cabin a couple of times and and the Musiclab rehearsal studios in Austin once.

Since moving to the East Coast, Ricky Ray has taken to playing out live, and now is an old hand at being a gigging musician. He's an excellent player and has highly inventive leads and riffs. He took Billy Ray to a gig recently and they did an East Coast Farmer's Market acoustic gig together. Now we've got Billy Ray out playing.

He'll be here for several weeks in the early part of next year, with plenty of time for taking off to the hinterlands and doing some playing and recording.

One final word. Becky's Sister Jennifer, passed away some years ago. In tribute to her, and with approval from Becky, we have continuted using it as our band name. Jennifer went to Sul Ross and lived a great life, but we're all sorry she is not with us. I'm not sure how she felt about the music we make, but I'm pretty sure she was at least a bit flattered we named our silly band after her.

I'm ready to have some fun with my friends!

It's about damn time, boys!

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