Ray Goren is not your typical 16-year-old high school student. Not many guitarists his age—or any age—have shared the stage with Leon Russell and opened in Monterey for B.B. King. He’s also played with Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Robbie Kreiger and keyboardist Deacon Jones (John Lee Hooker, Curtis Mayfield, Freddie King and more), as well as many others. These days, Ray has an EP out, Songs for You, produced by the Grammy-winning Steve Jordan (Keith Richards, Beyonce, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, Neil Young). The Save My Soul EP title single recently hit the Top 40 on the BDS (Billboard/Nielsen) Triple AAA radio chart.
Ray has been performing in several ways. He has led the Generation Blues Experience and the more pop-oriented Ray Goren and the Soul Fixers. Last Saturday night, he performed in a solo show at the Genghis Cohen club room in Los Angeles. Showcasing his newfound mastery of writing his own songs, as well as his treatment of a few covers, the show was well-received by the packed room. After the show, Ray talked about it and his music with The Los Angeles Beat.
Q: You met the great Leon Russell shortly before he died. What was that like?
A: Leon was one of the most humble and just giving people I’ve ever met in my entire life. He was always giving to me and teaching me things—he was my biggest mentor. He taught me how to write and how to write music, so if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be writing music. He was always so giving and humble to everybody, not just me, he was a very touching human. Everybody loved him for a reason. It wasn’t for no reason that everybody just loved him and it wasn’t just because he was an amazing, unbelievable songwriter, musician and singer. It was also because of what a great human being he was. I was honored to be in his presence, even for that small amount of time.
Q: You started off playing piano. What made you change over to guitar at age 8?
A: I started playing guitar around age 9, it was probably 8 ½ to 9 when I picked up the guitar. I was looking for a trombone player named JJ Johnson, a jazz guy that I really loved on YouTube. I was searching on YouTube for him and I accidentally typed BB instead of JJ and for whatever reason, I clicked it, and it was BB King, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Albert Collins on the big stage playing Sweet Little Angel and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get a guitar!’, I was so moved by it. The sound, the feeling, everything……So I got into that and I got into a lot of R&B, hip-hop and rock music and expanded musically. That was the start, that was the reason I really wanted a guitar.
Q: You’re working on finding your musical niche. Where do you think it is now?
A: It’s definitely hip-hop and rock, combining the two. They were both born out of, based on blues music. Hip hop and soul are both based out of blues and rock obviously is based out of the blues. It’s got some blues in it, so hip-hop and rock to me is just modern day blues. I love that style of music and I love rock music, I love the two a lot, so the idea is what I can do to combine them. Actually, I wanted to see what I can do when I meld them—-it’s a lot of work.
Q: You really seem to like performing live. Is there something that’s different for you when you’re live?
A: It’s the people, that’s the big thing. When you’re playing in front of people, you feel their energy, their reaction—you’re connecting with them and that’s a very fun thing to do. That’s why I love playing live.
Q: You’ve done some covers as well as your original music. Who are your favorites to cover and why?
A: That’s a tough question. When I choose to cover a song, it’s something that I choose that I feel I can do as good a job—-I’m not trying to sound arrogant—or a better job then the person who did the original. I feel that if I do a cover I can make it my own.
Q: Saturday night, you did Drink You Away by Justin Timberlake.
A: I also did The Weekend’s song called Earn It. I played those two. Those are two songs that I felt I could make my own and do them in my own style. That’s why I chose to do those two and how I base all my covers too, getting my own style and putting them into my style.
Q: You’ve also done that at other shows with Jimi Hendrix’ Machine Gun.
A: I do love that song. It’s really great for guitar, all time. As far as guitar playing it’s pure genius.
Q: You had some really nice originals you played Saturday night.
A: Well, one I didn’t do a guitar solo on that is still very hot is When I’m Gone, which I just wrote last week. It talks about when I’m gone, what I wanted the lyrics to say. It’s for the wife and kids, what I want when I die, what I want them to think of me. What I want my legacy to be is what I was getting with that song. What sort of comfort…….
Q: Your encore song Saturday night was an original, Cash and Gold. It seems to be a really popular song for you.
A: Yes, Cash and Gold is kind of a fun song. Kind of upbeat, the lyrics are kind of catchy, hopefully really catchy. I like to put it in the show, to start the show or end the show. It’s just a fun song and I really enjoy playing it.
Ray Goren’s music these days includes elements of many different types of music, blended into a cohesive stew that can appeal to anyone. He listens to, and is influenced by, a wide range of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Maroon 5, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead, Imagine Dragon, Bob Dylan, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Drake.
Goren continues to hone his craft, spending time both writing and practicing. He practices a lot of jazz guitar, feeling that the complicated, difficult techniques used in jazz guitar are ideal for him. Ray will be appearing again at Genghis Cohen on Saturday, February 18. It promises to be a rare show that gives true insight into an up and coming talent.
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