Ray Russell

About Ray Russell

Guitarist Ray Russell may be the most successful member of the final lineup of the John Barry Seven, having gone on to a highly regarded career in jazz and rock. Primarily known as a virtuoso jazz guitarist, Russell is a prolific composer, arranger, and producer in several genres. At 15, he began his tenure with Barry and played on seven James Bond soundtracks from 1965's Thunderball to 1983's Octopussy. His solo career began with 1968's Turn Circle, which quickly established him as a jazz guitarist, while 1971's Rites and Rituals crossed over into vanguard electric jazz. An in-demand sideman, Russell played on dozens of '70s albums for artists ranging from Bill Fay to Julio Iglesias. Throughout, he composed, arranged, produced, and played on sound library recordings. According to his website, Russell has amassed more than 10,000 credits in the field. He spent the '80s and '90s issuing dozens of sound library albums, established fusion trio RMS with Mo Foster and Simon Phillips, and worked extensively with Gil Evans until the latter's death. He also contributed to key records by Tina Turner, Heaven 17, and Scott Walker. Russell played on the David Bowie-sung theme for the film Labyrinth. In 2006 he released the archival Goodbye Svengali, documenting sessions he recorded with and for Evans. In 2008 Russell co-founded Made Up Music, a sound library that distributes tracks digitally and sends hard drives to music editors. In 2015 he and Henry Kaiser released the acclaimed outing Celestial Squid. Born in 1947, Russell's introduction to the John Barry Seven came when he read in the music press that the band's longtime lead guitarist, Vic Flick, was leaving the group. He auditioned on a day off from his regular job and won the spot by pretending that he could read music; he learned musical notation as a member of the band after establishing his virtuosity. Russell's talent was incontestable. He made a good successor to Flick, and began his soundtrack career with Thunderball in 1965. He stayed with the band to its end in early 1965, and through his association with Barry for another two decades he appeared on seven James Bond soundtracks. He moved to the guitar chair for Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, and by the end of the '60s he was working in tandem with Chris Spedding in the Mike Gibbs band (he had worked off and on with the latter since 1963), alongside bassist Jack Bruce and reedman Alan Skidmore. Russell signed a solo deal with CBS and released Turn Circle, his acclaimed debut, in 1968. During the '70s, Russell issued another album for CBS: the acclaimed Dragon Hill, with horn players Harry Beckett and Nick Evans alongside his trio. Critically noted as a showcase for his blues and jazz chops, Russell displayed a hankering for a freer approach. 1971's misunderstood (at the time, but now regarded as a classic) Rites and Rituals, his final outing for the label, drew as much on free jazz as it did post-bop. He was Bill Fay's guitarist on both his self-titled offering and the famed Time of the Last Persecution. Their friendship and working relationship continued into the 21st century. In 1973, Russell pursued free improvisation with Secret Asylum, released by Blue Note co-founder Alfred Lion's Black Lion label. The restless Russell also passed through such ensembles as the Rock Workshop and Ian Carr's jazz-rock combo Nucleus. He co-founded Chopyn with keyboard player Ann Odell and drum legend Simon Phillips. Russell played with Roxy Music's Andy Mackay on the soundtrack of the British television series Rock Follies, and became a member of Stackridge for a time. He served as guitarist for the group Smith & D'Abo and played a role in benefit performances known as The Secret Policeman's Ball, alongside Eric Clapton, Neil Innes, et al. (as well as appearing in concert). He played on the soundtrack for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film and on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's original cast recording of Evita. He released the fusion outing Ready or Not in 1977 with Phillips, Peter Van Hooke, Foster, Tony Hymas, and strings. While his career as a sideman included appearances on seminal recordings by Frankie Miller and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Russell also began working for various British library music houses, first as a session guitarist, then as a composer, arranger, and producer. During the early '80s, he played and recorded the music of Gil Evans. His career in the sound library field was exploding. He issued dozens of outings for Bruton Music and other labels, sometimes collaborating with Alan Hawkshaw. In addition, Russell continued as a sideman. His playing appeared on albums by Heaven 17, Mike Batt, Lucio Battisti, Julien Clerc, Tina Turner, Julian Lennon, and Scott Walker, to name a few. Russell later formed his own group, the Ray Russell Band. He was a regular participant at the Montreux Jazz Festival throughout the '80s and '90s, working in various group contexts including drummer Simon Phillips' band, while continuing to issue sound library outings. He also released 1987’s Childscape, featuring appearances by Evans and Mark Isham, on the Theta label (reissued several times), 1990’s A Table Near the Band on Last Chance Music, 1993's Centennial Park with RMS, and 2006’s tribute Goodbye Svengali on Cuneiform. The latter was a tribute to Evans, with Russell's unreleased recordings with Evans, and other tracks cut for him. In 2007, Russell released Secret Asylum, a previously unissued tape from 1973; it was later picked up for international distribution, while some of his pop material from his early days with Joe Meek surfaced as well. In 2008, he, drummer Ralph Salmins, and engineer Rik Walton co-founded Made Up Music, an archive, label, and clearing house for sound library recordings; these were sold digitally and mailed to film music editors. They later merged with the library sound company 5 Alarm Music. In 2012, he and drummer Alan Rushton appeared on Bill Fay's comeback album Life Is People. Russell returned to recording proper in 2013 with Now, More Than Ever, a jazz-rock date for Abstract Logix. In 2014, he was convinced by guitarist and friend Henry Kaiser to revisit the approach of his earliest improvisational recordings. The end result was the co-billed octet outing The Celestial Squid. The set was recorded live at Fantasy Studios and issued by Cuneiform in early 2015, the same year he appeared on Fay's Who Is the Sender? In 2018 he worked with Mackay again on 3 Psalms, and the following year with the saxophonist and guitarist Phil Manzanera on Roxymphony. He also guested on Greg Foat's The Mage. In May of 2020, the archival label Jazz In Britain released the Ray Russell Quartet's Spontaneous Event: Live, Vol. 1: 1967-69. Russell issued Fluid Architecture on Cuneiform in September of 2020. His sidemen included old friends Phillips, Salmins, and Foster, alongside saxophonist Chris Biscoe and bassist/Chapman Stick master George Baldwin. ~ Thom Jurek & Bruce Eder

Islington, London, England
4 April 1947

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