Sometime during the autumn of 1998, the Crankyville Trolley rattled and popped its way towards Chicago, Illinois. I remember falling asleep in the sunny daylight as we cruised through the western part of Ohio and I remember waking up in the dark to a rainy night in Indiana. It was a two week tour with Angry Johnny & The Killbillies. Traveling with these guys was always fun, but go ahead and spend two weeks in a van with anyone and you’re bound to have some, ahem, moments. I’ll leave some of those moments tucked away in my mental vaults for this post, but I have to share one today.
Some people can sleep while in transit. My dad, for example, appears to be able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. I am not one of those people. I inherited the sleep gene from my mother – neither of us can sleep at all while on planes or in cars. Anyway, the kind of sleep I get while traveling is that half-aware kind of sleep where I can hear stuff going on somewhere in the ether. So I’m never really totally asleep. This was the case in the good old Crankyville, the name Angry Johnny has given his roughly tricked out, bright orange van, pictured here.
So somewhere in the background, mixed between half-sleep and half-awareness, I heard the band’s guitar-player-of-the-moment, Ray Neades, pop a tape into the tape deck. What came on the stereo woke me up. It was this song:[audio:i95.mp3]
Catchy guitar riff, hand claps and two minutes long?! There literally was no better way to introduce me to the band King Radio. Ray was good friends with singer/songwriter for King Radio, a guy named Frank Padellaro, who at the time was playing bass in the Scud Mountain Boys (not for long, as you’ll see later) and also working it out with his own band. Ray thought I would like King Radio, so he brought the tape along during the Angry Johnny tour.
Now, a word about Ray. I had never met him until I stepped into the van. He was a very, very nice person to me. I had heard that he had his problems – the details don’t matter – but I never had a single problem with the guy the whole time during the tour. I just remember the first time I saw him play with the band I thought that the guitar looked like a small child’s toy in his arms. Ray was a very big dude! But he could play! And we could talk about music forever, it seemed.
So when we got back to Western Mass, Ray introduced me to Frank one evening at The Bay State. That introduction led to our label (Tar Hut) signing and releasing King Radio’s Mr K Is Dead, Go Home. But more importantly to me, it led to a friendship with Frank that still exists today, despite our only seeing each other once in a blue moon. But it is always so great to hear from him and the guy is just a huge talent. It was Frank who implored me to dive deeper into the Kinks catalog. It was Frank who introduced me to Sloan and so many other great bands. And it was Frank whose big heart never hesitated to invite me over to his house for dinner, or hear all the impossibly cool stuff he was working on. It was always a pleasure dealing with him and it was even more of a pleasure knowing him and being his friend. And it all happened because Ray Neades popped that tape in the tape deck of the Crankyville Trolley and then introduced me to Frank. I don’t think Ray lasted that long in Angry Johnny’s band, but not many people did.
Ray Neades died a few days ago. Again, I’m not by any stretch a close friend of Ray and after that two week tour, I only saw him out at shows. We always chatted, said hello, laughed about those two weeks, went over what we were listening to and then moved onto our next conversation at the nightclub. But it was always a pleasure. That said, on one of those nights when our ships passed, Ray paid me what I believe to be one of the most warmest compliments I’ve ever received. I had been doing some freelance music writing and I was lucky enough to cover the Scud Mountain Boys last show at TT The Bear’s in Cambridge, MA. A month or two after the article ran in No Depression, I ran into Ray and he pulled me aside and told me that the article put into words what he couldn’t really say. I had nailed it for him. What a nice feeling to hear that from someone, in a business where making other people feel good isn’t terribly common.
Goodbye Ray. Thank you. You were a hell of a nice guy and you’ll undoubtedly be missed by many.
[UPDATE: see more in an article here, a nice blog post here, and my friend Leo chimes in here. The Twitter-verse has it going on as well. Facebook, has, perhaps, the best tributes – and there are many]
Nice article on the Scuds…
The thing about Ray that defines him above all other things, including his own musical aspirations, is that he evangelized music. The scene that played out for Jeff in that van happened over and over again. He introduced me to NRBQ. He always had a favorite song that you just had to hear, and had a way of making you want to hear. Most people like that, you feel like they want you to know how cool they are. Ray just wanted you to hear the music, because he thought if you could really GET the message, the song, the lyric, the hook, the melody… well, then you’d understand the joy and peace he felt for that brief moment where he was one with the song. Those things were hard for him to find any other way, and that made it all the more important for him to share the feeling with others, like a Jehova’s Witness at your door, who just has to give you a pamphlet because they are completely certain it will SAVE YOUR EVERLASTING SOUL!