One of the hottest guitarists to emerge from the mid-70’s fusion scene was Ray Gomez, who initially got theattention of the masses through his virtuosic performance on Stanley Clarke’s landmark “School Days” album.

TG recently caught up with Ray as he was preparing to release his new album, “Honor.”

TG: Ray, you’ve been working on your new album “Honor” for the past decade…why are you choosing to release it now?

RG: Every time I tried to project a possible release date, I was off by years because I do everything myself, I write, I engineer, and I mix, and because I travel so much. My music is like a religion to me, and I’m so anal about it. I’m a dysfunctional artist (laughs). Some of the mixes took a long time because the tunes were recorded at different times at different rooms using different reference monitors.

TG: One of the hallmarks of your signature sound is your whammy bar technique, which you often play with your pinky, while you’ve seamlessly incorporated it into your playing. How did you develop that?

RG: I’ve been using the bar since ’68, ’69, when I got my first Strat, and the guy that inspired me to do that was Jimi, particularly his playing on the “Band of Gypsies” album. Even though some of what he plays aren’t even notes, it’s like a howling that suggest melodies. In particular, “Machine Gun” was the start of taking whammy bar playing to the next level. I was following Jimi closely at this time, and his tremolo bar work went beyond tricks or gimmicks at this point, he was making an emotional statement and expressing feelings. And so it went on from there. I did a lot of that harmonics/whammy melodies on “West Side Boogie” before Jeff Beck, back in 1979. I mean real melodies, not just one or two notes but up to seven notes!

TG: Speaking of Jeff, your tune “Sweet Life” recalls his 1999 tune “Brush with the Blues.” Didn’t your song come out first?

RG: “Sweet Life” came out way before Beck’s 1998 tune, but it was only released to music biz people. That same version is out and available has been called Sweet Life 1991, because i was shocked at how similar of a track “Brush” is. I was disturbed, honestly. “Sweet Life” was part of a group of demos which went out in 1991 to Epic, Jeff’s label at the time. It was also sent to Greg Geller who had been my A&R man and also had been Jeff’s Z&R man. I got a call from Paris one day, a guy saying “Man, Jeff just put out a tune just like yours…he must’ve heard it!” Joe Bonamassa, who wanted to record “Sweet Life” and played it live, swore that Jeff had to have heard it!

TG: Your use of dynamics is another aspect of your playing that gives it some excitement. Were there any players that inspired this?

RG: I listen to all the guys that know how to express and communicate emotions…whether it’s the blues guys like BB, Albert and Freddie King, Albert Collins, and then we have Eric, Carlos, Peter Green and Jeff. I would listen to all those guys and would hear the emotions that they would communicate, and you start to figure out what they are doing. When you hear a certain type of vibrato, it’s going to communicate an emotion…a slow vibrato is going to communicate a relaxed emotion, like Eric Clapton did in Cream. Some people like Paul Kossoff for vibrato, but for me, it’s too fast. Because Eric was my favorite guy for vibrato, I studied his approach. I learned intensity and abandon from Jimi Hendrix, but I enjoyed how Eric made me feel more so than Jimi at one point, because Eric made me feel at peace with his soothing vibrato. Same with Albert King or Hubert Sumlin, those cats were great. As far as picking, John McLaughlin wasthe guy that made me develop a serious picking technique. So how I learned all that stuff was based on the way somebody made me feel when they played…and would learn how to communicate that through my playing. The good thing about studying technique, is that once you get it down, it is available for you to use to express yourself.

TG: Ray, you were Stanley Clarke’s “go to” guitarist back at the height of his fame, playing on his landmark “School Days” album…what do you recall most about those early days of fusion?

RG: Well, this was the promised land for us mother*ckers who were complete Cream and Hendrix fans. What happened was that Cream broke up and Hendrix died, at the end of the Sixties, we were like “what’s gonna happen now, who’s gonna lead us?” This was a religion to me, and so along came John McLaughlin and he was making a statement and taking things somewhere else. Then came “Spectrum” and Return to Forever, and out of RTF came Stanley and (drummer) Lenny White. So these became the new heroes, and I wanted to play with Stanley and Lenny. At this time I came to America, and really was in the right place at the right time. It was a dream come true when I got to work with Lenny White and I played my ass off on his album, so I called Stanley and asked him who he had in mind for his new album. He said “McLaughlin, Beck, Benson” and here I am, a new cat on the scene, thinking that I didn’t stand a chance. So a few months go by, I got a call from the manager of Return to Forever and I thought it was for the new Lenny White record, which it was, but it was also to play on Stanley’s new record. So after being in America for less than a year, I’m getting a call to play on albums by two of the baddest mother*ckers on the planet, at the same time! Can you dig it man?

They were the gods of fusion! We did “School Days” and it was great…all of it in one or two takes, straight up and live. (Producer) Ken Scott was so happening that when we listened to the playback, it sounded like a record already. The record went gold and I started touring with him and ended up turning down a record deal with Atlantic, which I should havetaken.

TG: “West Side Boogie” off your solo album “Volume” got significant airplay when it was released in 1980. How has your playing changed since then?

RG: Funnily enough, I was listening to some of the stuff that I did around then, including a jam I did with Roy Buchanan, and my playing is pretty much the same today, with some new licks thrown in. I was doing everything then that I’m doing now. I go through periods where I do a lot of work on new stuff, and you can hear it on the new song “The Woman I Love.” My goal as a guitarist is to be as complete a player as possible. Some players concentrate on one aspect of their playing, but my thing as a blues-fusion-rock player is to keep my blues up, keep my intellectual jazz playing up and to keep my wild psychedelic rock stuff up. I have a big job on my hands and its not like I can choose one thing to focus on. So it really doesn’t change, it just has gotten deeper…

TG: You’re closely associated with the Fender Stratocaster. Do you have one particular setup (guitar / amp) that you prefer for recording, or do you prefer to use multiple instruments and amps?

RG: I used to have a lot of old Strats, and even dealt them for awhile. There was a time in the ‘90’s when I didn’t want to go on tour to make a living so I did jingles and guitar dealing. I made a living dealing old Les Pauls from the ‘50’s, and Strats from ’56-’66. I helped dealer friends of mine find guitars too. Then guitars got too expensive and buying and selling them became very difficult so I cut down on my guitars, and kept the ones that play the best, regardless of originality. At this point in time, I still love old Strats but all I care about on an old Strat are the neck and the pickups. As far as amps for gigs and recording, I have a bunch of old Marshalls, mostly 100 watt Super Leads but sometimes I use a 2204 50 watt amp. That being said, nothing beats the sound of a 100 watter. For small amps, I also use a Univalve from THC which is a midrange monster

TG: Obviously the music industry has experienced seismic changes since you first came onto the scene. Has anything changed for the better?

RG: Financially, it is a disaster, and I think we are in the worst period ever. Nobody is buying music, and the only thing you can make a living doing as a musician is playing live. Nowadays, it is completely up to you to pull the whole thing together - You have to do everything yourself or find people to help you - Nothing like it was when we sold records or even CDs with record companies who promoted you. But you can’t go in to it thinking there is no hope…TG: Where can folks get your new cd?RG: They can go to my website RayGomez.com, or get my new music at CDBaby.com or Itunes.

-Tom Guerra