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Spotlight on the Brown: Ray Carrion

Guitarist extraordinaire for El Chicano, Azteca II and hired gun for other bands forges his own path

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: September 26, 2011


Spotlight on the Brown: Ray Carrion


Once again, the Goddess of Ritmo blows the warm winds of Aztlan across the Land of the Gente Brown...bringing her blessings of laughter, mellow times, good times, good people,and good music to us all during these economically turbulent times.....

Late this month, I was able to get back on the road after a brief illness that had me missing out on the people, sights & sounds of the Land of 1000 Dances, so off I went once I could walk again....

Had a great gig with the SATISFACTION Band at the San Fernando American Legion Hall that precedes an appearance by the EAST LOS BAND, was fortunate to get some inside scoop on a popular singer that will be bringing out some never-before-heard new music intended for the late great SELENA, and news that a virtuoso tribute to the great TITO PUENTE is happening this week in Hollywood....

...and a name that kept coming up was one of L.A.'s premier contemporary guitarists, my friend RAY CARRION, who is involved with 3 of the last 4 previously mentioned above.

Anybody in L.A.'s music scene can tell you that one of the biggest compliments and show of respect to one's artistic talent is to be relied and called upon as a "hired gun" to come in and sit in with other established artists for a gig or recording.

Over the past couple of years, one man called upon more often than not is Mr. RAY CARRION of EL CHICANO fame, this month's Spotlight on the Brown.

I was recently invited to Ray's home in the hills of Monterey Park, California, just east of Los Angeles, to visit and hang out. Like most musician friends I have, Ray's front room is decorated with numerous instruments, a vast music collection that would make any DJ's mouth water, and pictures of family and musician friends...and I just happened to have my pen & notebook handy....watcha:

Born Raphael Carrion in Loraine, Ohio, just 20 miles outside of Cleveland near the Great Lakes in 1964, Ray's family originally hails from Puerto Rico, where music was a big part of his life growing up.

"My father worked at the Ford plant making T-Birds, Cougars, and the big 351 Ford engines. My uncle had a music group called El Trio de Puerto Rico, and they jammed them sweet beautiful Puerto Rican boleros all the time. One thing I remember in my old neighborhood growing up is that during the Holidays, a couple of family members and friends would get together with food and drink, start playing & singing, going visiting other people in the neighborhood, and by the end of the night, we would have over 25 or 30 people all getting together, celebrating and singing...that was a good time, and one of my first musical memories."

Ray tells LatinoLA he got his first guitar at age 3. "Got the family photos to prove it," he laughs. "I guess my family knew I was going to be a musician".

Ray's first influence to contemporary American music came from listening to popular Michigan AM radio station CKLW in the late 1960's early 1970's.

"That station reached 28 states", Ray says, "We would go on family vacations to Florida, and still catch music on CKLW. I would listen to the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Motown and popular Rock & Roll. Along with my family's Puerto Rican music influences, I had a good introduction to music, and it got into my blood at an early age".

Ray also states that in 1969, his sister's boyfriend left for Viet Nam, leaving him a large 45 record collection to safeguard. "Unfortunately...he didn't come back, so the records became mine. It was a great collection of Motown and Rock & Roll, and I played them in his memory for years."

I asked him what got him started in playing music, and his answer surprised me.

"In 1976, I went to visit a couple of boyhood friends to hang out, and they both told me they were too busy 'practicing' to hang out with me. When I asked as to what they were practicing, I saw that they both had picked up an interest in guitar, so naturally I wanted in. I asked my mom to buy me an electric guitar, and she told me that she had bought my brother Dominic an electric guitar years before he had joined the Marines and left for Viet Nam, and upon returning, he never played it.

"I excitedly called my brother and asked for it, and he laughed 'Yeah...it's in the attic somewhere...come over and get it'...so I got my first electric guitar, a cheap Japanese model with a small SEARS amplifier," he laughs. "That same day, I went to see KISS in concert. They weren't the best of musicians I thought, but their showmanship was fantastic! I knew then I wanted to be a part of the music scene, so I focused on polishing up my boleros and hard rock."

To this day, Ray has a classic "cuatro" acoustic guitar handy in his front room, autographed by a master, something Ray cherishes as he easily strums out a beautiful classic Spanish guitar solo for me.

In 1982, after graduating from high school, Ray had a choice of attending music & performing arts colleges in either Boston and Hollywood, both of whom had easily accepted him.

"I thought well...Boston and the East Coast seem kind of stuffy and too academic, while Hollywood and the West Coast represented the land of the stars, the home of the BEACH BOYS and EL CHICANO, a kick back lifestyle and lots of pretty girls ...so the choice wasn't too hard. Living in Hollywood was a little different than I expected, so when a friend invited me to a gym in Montebello on L.A.'s east side, I naturally fell in love with the Chicano lifestyle, food, music, and of course, pretty women, so I moved to Monterey Park and have been here ever since."

The first L.A. music group Ray performed with after graduation was Victor Pantoja's AZTECA II band in 1984. After a successful and sold out performance, Ray was invited to jam with the great COKE ESCOVEDO

"Man! I was honored and played my heart out for him. After that, Coke and Victor would have this friendly argument about 'stealing my guitar player' and we all became close friends for many years after that, traveling and performing together. Victor and Coke introduced me to many L.A. area artists and musicians. It opened a lot of doors for me, and it was a very special time for me, for which I am eternally grateful."

Ray was introduced to legendary EL CHICANO keyboardist BOBBY ESPINOSA in 1986 after an AZTECA II concert performance. " He told me he was very impressed, and invited me to jam with EL CHICANO a couple of times. "It went well, and I became an official member of the band in 1987. Me and Bobby became close friends for the next 25 years, going to Dodger games and hanging out and performing in and around East L.A. together. Another great time in my life.

"In 1991, I met PETER CRISS of my boyhood idols KISS, and he honored me by inviting me to join his band and go on tour. This went on for about 5 years, and I still played with El Chicano in between.. During my absences from EL CHICANO, TOWER OF POWER's Bruce Conte sat in for me, and he pushed EL CHICANO to another level. When I returned, we all jammed together, me, Bruce, and Jerry Salas...and the crowd LOVED us! We did some killer sold out shows...more great memories".

In the late 1990's, personal conflicts occurred, as what usually happens with popular performers, and Ray left the group for a couple of years, performing and recording with other groups as his talent and reputation grew and spread, and he became one of L.A.'s most sought after musical "hired guns" playing and recording with PARIS ESCOVEDO, and many popular L.A. club circuit groups such as Steve Sala's TIERRA, SOTO, DOWN WITH 3, and The COMPANY Band, among others, easily picking up the popular west coast Chicano TOP 40 club sound.

It was with the latter group that I first met Ray around 2006, and we became friends. He tells me he initially filled in for the late ISSAC AVILA as a favor to him, and The COMPANY Band invited him to be a member for a short time after Issac left to focus on his own group.

We both share a funny memory about a show we did together up in Lompoc, California, with PEPE MARQUEZ....ask him sometime...

He is also one of the first choices of musicians when the legendary King of Latin Soul, JOE BATAAN, comes to the West Coast for concerts.

"I've had fun. I've met a lot of people, and learned a lot about L.A. and music. One of the biggest compliments I received concerning TOP 40 was when TIERRA's Jeff Lewis invited me to join him on tour with some other assembled musicians to back up a popular Taiwanese group called BOYdPOD.. Man! We did 2 sold out shows in stadiums in Bankok, Thaland...and I was amazed at how so many Taiwanese who couldn't speak English, but knew almost every word to American songs...that impressed me as to the power and influence of music."

In the early part of 2000, Fred Sanchez took over managerial duties of EL CHICANO, and called upon former members to come back and reorganize. Ray got the call.

"We started playing together again, and began a slow accent up. with some sold-out performances, and I thought we would go back to the top...then the untimely deaths of Bobby Espinosa and Rudy Regalado occurred...taking a part of me with them. I'll never forget those guys, along with the late Victor Pantoja, and all that they did for me."

So what's next for Ray Carrion?

"I'm working on some recording some original material. I also have 2 great groups I've assembled, with some powerfully talented musicians. One is the EAST LOS BAND, comprised of myself, THEE MIDNITER's Jimmy Espinosa, and some other great talent. from East L.A.

"We perform for the veterans at the American Legion Hall in San Fernando on October 7th, where we'll also be spotlighting TeCHEETAH LOPEZ, a great singer and performer who will be bringing out some previously unheard music intended for SELENA before her untimely death.

"It will be an honor to perform for the Veterans. They have given up so much for us...and this is one way I can honor and thank them...and pay respect to guys like my brother Dominic, who served in Viet Nam with the Marines."

Keeping his musical roots close to heart, Ray says, "I've also assembled a special group of musicians I've named The LATIN JAZZ ALL STARS. This includes some great Latin Soul artists like Alberto Salas, Harry Kim, Arturo Velasco, George Shelby, Art Webb, George Lopez (not the comedian), Jose "Papo" Rodriguez, Victor Baez, Steve Gutierrez, George Balmaseda, and a couple others.

"This Thursday, September 29th, we'll be doing a tribute show to the great TITO PUENTE. at the EL FLORIDITA in Hollywood. I had the privilege and pleasure of performing with Tito, and I'll never forget that. I'm also going to do a tribute song for Victor Pantoja and Rudy Regalado." Click here for more info

If that isn't enough to keep a man occupied, Ray also works full time, and spends a lot of time raising his two young sons along with his lovely Lady Maria.

And with that, LatinoLA welcomes another warrior de Aztlan to The Land of 1000 Dances.

Mr. RAY CARRION ...talented musician extraodinairre, friend, father...LATINO !

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the microphone & the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul heard daily on world wide Internet Radio
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