Don’t expect any S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y N-I-G-H-T choruses at the Ray City Rollers‘ gig on July 24 at Steve’s Live Music. Not only is it Friday but Ray Dafrico‘s latest band owes more to The Kinks, The Who and The Stones, although despite his many years toughed out in a black leather jacket, he does admit an affection for the bubblegum rock of the ’60s and ’70s.
Ray is no stranger to Atlanta’s music scene. The last time we talked to the singer/songwriter/guitarist, he’d finished up a documentary,THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS, about the early 1980s legendary Atlanta punk-alternative band which he cofounded. Born in New York City, Ray’s family moved around a lot, finally ending up in Roswell. Suburban boredom nurtured a restless among high school friends/musicians which spawned The Nightporters. They moved intown to Pershing Point, a now-demolished decrepit apartment building where Atlanta’s punk rock scene lodged and practiced, got their start at the notorious Blue Rat Gallery and became regulars at 688. They then proceeded to tour widely, including many New York gigs and opening for myriad alt-rock headliners from The Replacements, who became friends and slept on Ray’s floor, to The Clash‘s riotous concert at The Fox Theatre. This Friday’s show will reunite Dafrico with Nightporters drummer Paul Lenz, who has joined the Rollers and also has drummed for Drivin’ N Cryin’. Ray also played in Kathleen Turner Overdrive.
In other words, Ray’s one Kool Kat of the Week that’s way, way overdue. Because that was then and this is now, we concentrated on his current band, but we couldn’t resist the urge to ask him about what’s spinning on his turntable. Yeah, turntable.
ATLRetro: Your new band is the Ray City Rollers. What’s your secret origin story?
Ray Dafrico: Well, my solo bands have kind of been like the same band with different people. I have this pet peeve that you have to change the band name if someone leaves unlike most people who fight to keep using a name even though it’s not really the same band like So and So starring but only one of the original members. In my mind, I’m a purist not a tourist, so my bands, Shades of Shame, Kickstand, Soulfinger, etc., are really one band with different names. The Ray City Rollers were named so because I was going to just call it Ray Dafrico like a solo act with a band. But nobody can pronounce my last name right, so in the tradition of Kathleen Turner Overdrive – another band name I thought up – I just created some goofy name that I thought was hilarious. The only problem is people think it’s some kind of tribute band! I’ve actually had people say to me,”oh yeah, I remember you guys,” and I have to say, no, it’s not the BAY City Rollers! Sometimes I don’t say anything to make them think I’m some rock star or something.
I actually saw The Rollers in 1976. I thought they were great. I think I was the only guy there not wearing tartan and screaming. (laughs) Everybody says S-a-t-u-r, which I loved but “Money Honey” and “Rock and Roll Love Letter” were right up there. Woody had a punky shag and played a Telecaster, so what’s not to like? Not sure if a lot of people know The Ramones were also influenced by them and were trying to sound like them.
OK, really, you’re known for punk rock but you talk a lot about The Kinks, The Who, The Stones. Why the staying power for those bands for you? Was it a moment in time or are there any bands out there today who come close?
Well, after The Partridge Family and Bay City Rollers, those were the bands that I really go into. They took it up a level, quite a few levels actually. The combination of songs, image and raw energy by those ’60s English bands kinda defines Rock ‘n’ Roll to me. I was always an Anglophile even as a little kid. I used to watch THE THUNDERBIRDS, CAPTAIN SCARLET and THE DOUBLE DECKERS, so the bands were an extension of that, I think. Then I saw QUADROPHENIA and became a Mod when I was 17. Once you’re a Mod, you’re a Mod for life. I was into punk rock but always hated hardcore and all that Oi/Mohawk crap. Punk to me was ’70s style which was more like a Powerpop/Chuck Berry kinda thing.
As far as new bands, I try not to be a crotchety old man and say “all new music is crap” – which I do say from time to time (laughs) – but it is difficult to find music that really moves me. Fountains of Wayne are one of those bands. I like The Wonder Stuff, Spiritualized, Beth Orton, The Strypes, JET, The Mooney Suzuki, April March, Black Joe Lewis, etc. I’m pretty open-minded so I like all kinds of styles of music, but at the same time I know what I like when I hear it and instantly know when I don’t like it. Occasionally something will grow on me over time like any new Stones record. I won’t like it when it comes out, and then five years later it’s one of my faves!
How does the Ray City Rollers differ from your previous bands like The Nightporters and Kathleen Turner Overdrive? Do you have a musical manifesto?
Well, I was co-writer in the Porters and wrote half the songs in KTO. But with The Rollers and my other bands, it’s more focused and closer to how I hear the music in my head and I have more say as to how to make it happen. My musical manifesto is a quote from Mike Campbell: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”!
Ray City Rollers’ first album BABYLON BLUES (released in 2014) got a warm critical reception. Are you working on any new songs? A new album?
Yeah, it did. We didn’t press that many, although we’ve just made more. The feedback it received was great. It got a lot of online airplay, not sure about who else was playing it on the radio. I think it’s the best recording I’ve done so far, and I’m my worst critic so that’s saying something! I have a backlog of about three CDs worth of material, so I am always writing, but it’s difficult because you have to show the songs to the people who are playing with you. So they are new songs to them, but for me they feel ancient. When I play with new people, it’s great because I am reminded of how good they are, and they change depending on who I am playing them with.
I like to do obscure covers to test to see if people know its a cover or not. (laughs) I just do ones that I think are cool and are fairly easy to learn. We were doing stuff like “Come on Down to My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son and “Things Get Better” by Eddie Floyd. I really love Stax/Volt soul stuff and bubblegum pop
You’ve been touring a bit–California last year and you were recently in NC. Good to see you back in Atlanta. Any special plans for your gig the Steve’s Live Music?
Yeah, Steve’s will be Paul’s first Atlanta show with us and his birthday! We will also have Dave Biemiller on keyboards. I’ve been looking forever for a good keyboard player and I think I’ve found him. My songs are written with keys in mind, and the sound I’ve been trying to get for The Rollers is original with textures a la The Small Faces, The Attractions and The Band. The funny thing is Dave is my daughter’s boyfriend’s Dad. It’s small world after all. Maybe we should cover that.
Playing with Paul is great. It’s like riding a bike with us. Telepathic in fact because the Nightporters played so much back then. We were also Michelle Malone‘s rhyhm section in the first Drag The River. Paul’s style and and energy has added a lot to the band. The other thing is we understand each others’ jokes and sense of humor and that is important. The door is always open for Porters shows, we had a good time and sounded great at the benefit, so if something comes up and schedules permit, we could do more shows.
Are you up to anything else? Solo projects? Any more film work to follow-up on your Nightporters documentary?
I always have multiple creative things going on but try to focus on one thing at a time. I need to revisit The Porters movie and do an edit and distribution at some point. I’m always doing photography, film/video stuff and always thinking about doing solo acoustic shows, but I prefer with a band so I tend to talk more about that than actually doing it! Another thing I’ve been considering is DJing or doing a radio or podcast show.
Well, Julie London on youtube; she’s a sultry dish! I have an addiction to thrift stores and try my best not to go to them, but wind up going in and buying a stack of LPs. Currently on my turntable: Soundtracks to THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), LADY IN CEMENT (1968) and THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. TV series, The Osmonds’ PHASE III, THE COUNTRY SIDE OF JIM REEVES, Mott the Hoople‘s first, Richard Pryor, BAD LUCK STREAK IN DANCING SCHOOL by Warren Zevon and GERRI MULLIGAN MEETS STAN GETZ.
Facebook Event Page for Friday July 24 show here.
All photographs are courtesy of Ray Dafrico and used with permission.