Kool Kat of the Week: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But Ray Dafrico Likes It

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2015 By:

raydafricoDon’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.

Ray Cirty Rollers copy 2So how important were the Bay City Rollers to your life?

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.

Ray Double zero011As 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 StuffSpiritualized, 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.

raycity1You have been doing some covers also, at least at past gigs. What criteria do you have for the covers you play?

 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.

nightportersThe Nightporters reunited for a benefit concert for Kat Peters last winter at The Star Bar. What’s it like playing with Paul again and any plans for another reunion show?

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.

rayd-laundryWhat are you listening to right now?

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 IIITHE 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.

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Kool Kat of the Week: A Jazz Interlude With Kayla Taylor: Why She Loves ‘30s/’40s Classics, the Unsurprising Success of Her New CD and the Pleasures of Playing the Vintage Artmore Hotel This Friday

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2011 By:

Atlantans who love classic jazz won’t be surprised to hear that Kayla Taylor’s new and sixth CD YOU”D BE SURPRISED hit #23 on the CMJ Jazz charts this week and is receiving airplay across the nation and throughout Europe. Instead, we’re liable to say it’s delovely and just one of those things that had to happen. But then local audiences have had the treat of listening to this Atlanta native and chanteuse extraordinaire resurrect top tunes from the ‘30s,  ‘40s and ’50s  live for a decade or more with musical partner/guitarist Steve Moore. And because this Friday night, Kayla will be performing at one of Atlanta’s coolest vintage venues, the courtyard of the Artmore Hotel in Midtown whose building dates back to 1924, we thought the timing couldn’t be more perfect to make her Kool Kat of the Week.

One of those rare actual Atlanta natives, Kayla literally grew up singing, in her school chorus, church choir and in the shower, but winning two awards in a 7th grade talent show cemented her ambition to make music a career. Along the way, she has performed country music, gospel, R&B and classic and original rock ‘n’ roll until she finally found her heart resided in the golden era of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin—all of whom are represented on YOU’D BE SURPRISED’s playlist. ATLRetro caught up with Kayla to find out more about why she decided to embrace one of our favorite musical eras, what she has planned for this Friday night at the Artmore, her new CD, what’s next and where you might catch her singing while shopping…

ATLRetro: According to your bio, you always sang even as a little girl, and through the years, in addition to jazz, you’ve performed country, gospel, R&B and rock n roll, too. How did you come to embrace vintage jazz?

Kayla Taylor: I have always loved vintage jazz. The charm and romance of the ‘30s and ‘40s was something that always attracted me. I love how clever the lyrics are. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of old movies that were filmed and set during that time period and found all of it to be a natural embrace. Then in the mid-‘80s, Linda Ronstadt—one of my rock heroes—came out with her Big Band albums with The Nelson Riddle Orchestra and the romance started all over again.

Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

I understand that your earliest award was for singing Irene Cara’s “Out Here on My Own” from FAME? What’s the story and how big an early influence on you was the movie, FAME?

I wouldn’t say that FAME had a big influence on me, but the music and Irene Cara’s voice definitely did. I loved the pure emotion that was in her voice when she sang “Out Here On My Own.” The school talent show was coming up, and so I decided that I’d sing that song. I practiced for weeks in my room with the door closed. I must have played that record hundreds of times. My parents had no idea. I wasn’t trying to win—I just wanted to sing in front of all those people. I was also in a girls’ trio that performed “Sincerely”— a tune from the ‘50s. Well, the trio took 1st place, and I took 2nd place. I was so thrilled and excited. My parents had always been supportive of whatever I wanted to try, but at that point, they jumped completely onboard with my singing adventures.

Who are some of your favorite classic jazz composers and performers, and why do you think their music remains so timeless and relevant today?

Cole Porter, The Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer . . . there are so many amazing composers from that era that I adore, but these are just a few of my top picks. As far as performers, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee, Etta James, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. I think the music is so well-crafted that it can’t help but remain timeless and relevant. Most of the songs are about love or the loss of love—that will always be timeless and relevant.

How did you meet Steve Moore and end up working together?

Great Story! Steve Moore was in a rock band called A Fine Line—an original rock project. They ran an ad in the Creative Loafing looking for a female vocalist. (That’s what you did 19 years ago—you ran an ad in a printed publication if you were looking for a musician.) I called about the position. They sent me a demo of some of their tunes, and I thought they were really cool, so I learned them and showed up at the audition. Later that night, Steve Moore was the one who called me to tell me I had gotten the job. That was the beginning of an amazing relationship as friends, co-writers and business partners. We went through several original rock projects together (A Fine Line, OneWithout) and even an acoustic duo (The Adventures of Kayla & Steve). One day we were talking about all these great jazz standards that we both loved and how much we would both love to play that music one day and to have our own jazz combo. Five minutes later we had made a decision to start working towards that direction. That was over 10 years ago, and we’ve been at it ever since.

Kayla Taylor and Steve Moore. Photo credit: John Lee Matney.

Can you tell us a bit about YOU’D BE SURPRISED came together, and what it means to you that it’s doing so well?

To say we are excited is an understatement. OVER THE MOON with excitement might scratch the surface. All of this came about because we hired an expert to handle it for us. We’re indy artists—SmartyKat Records—that’s our own label. We don’t have the connections personally to make this kind of airplay and exposure happen, so we hired Kari Gaffney and Jeff Williams of Kari-On Productions to handle all of it for us. Kari has over 21 years experience promoting and marketing CDs to radio and print media. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she has been working. I don’t know when she even has time to sleep. She’s done a fabulous job for us.

What’s your favorite song on the CD to perform and why?

WOW. To pick one tune—that’s tough because I love every song that’s on the CD. It’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. If I have to pick one, though, I’d have to say the title track—“You’d Be Suprised.” What I love about that song are the great lyrics. They are so clever!!! I love the Marilyn Monroe version.

The Jazz in the Courtyard series at the Artmore, where the building dates back to 1924, promises an urban escape with “sultry music, sexy vibes and sinful drinks.” And the signature cocktail is “The Prohibition.” Can we surmise that the goal is to create a speakeasy atmosphere, and will you be tossing some Roaring ‘20s tunes into the mix?

Artmore is a great hotel, and the courtyard is a beautiful venue. We have a great time playing there and love that they have embraced our music. We’ll still be hanging out in the ‘30s and ‘40s era but love that they have created a speakeasy feel—with a modern twist. All concerts take place in the courtyard, and there is a fabulous firepit and heaters to keep everything warm. If it should rain or turn freezing cold—we’ll move the show into their basement speakeasy lounge. I think we might be good to have this final concert of the season out in the courtyard, though.

Anything else you’d like to share about Friday’s gig at the Artmore?

Reservations are not required, but if you want to reserve a seat, you can email them at sales@artmorehotel.com. Come prepared to have a great time. I have a retro-styled microphone that is wireless so I can move all over the courtyard, and I love to come by and sing to anyone who seems like they might be receptive. Trust me, though—if it’s clear you’re there with a date and you just want to make eyes at each other—I’ll stay out of your way.

Where else will you be playing in Atlanta soon, and any plans for a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED?

Our next big show will be at Feast in Decatur on Saturday, December 3. This will be a great show because it’s the beginning of the holiday & Christmas season, and we’ll have some of the great jazzy Christmas tunes from the era to throw into the mix. This show generally sells out, so it’s a really good idea to call them to make a reservation. We play from 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. with the five-piece combo. The food at Feast is fantastic and we always have a great time. [Call] 404.370.2000 – for reservations.  As far as a tour to promote YOU’D BE SURPRISED—definitely something we are thinking long and hard about we just have to make the numbers work out.

Do you really burst into song at the grocery store? If yes, where do you shop?

Not every time I’m in the grocery store, but yes, I have been known to burst into song in the middle of a shopping excursion. My sweet husband, Scott, has been so good about dealing with those moments and I know they have been embarrassing—but sometimes a song just wells up inside and I have to blurt it out. For the record, my favorite place to shop locally is Publix—the stores are smaller and easier to navigate and everyone is super-friendly. If I’m going to travel away from my neighborhood to shop, you’ll find me at Whole Foods.

Finally, we’ve got to ask. What would we be most surprised to know about you?

Two things: first, I am an avid gardener. I love digging holes and putting plants in them and then nurturing them and watching them grow. It fascinates me! The next thing . . . I actually suffer from stage fright on occasion. It’s true.

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