Full Rig Details: https://bit.ly/DeadKennedysRR
Punk rock is about energy, attitude, and message. It’s been the gateway drug for a lot of guitarists and music lovers. And those forces are what steered East Bay Ray away from his bar-band gig in 1978.
“The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” Ray remembered during a 2016 PG interview. “I saw the Weirdos playing. I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I phased myself out of the bar band and put an ad up in Aquarius Records and Rather Ripped Records. Klaus Flouride (bassist Geoffrey Lyall) and Jello Biafra (singer Eric Boucher) answered the ad.”
And with the addition of drummer Ted (Bruce Slesinger), the Dead Kennedys were born. By the time they recorded their 1981 EP In God We Trust, Inc. (on their own independent label, Alternative Tentacles), Ted was gone and D.H. Peligro (Darren Henley) became their stalwart skin slammer.
Through the band’s initial eight years, four albums, and an EP, their subversive harpoon of jagged political commentary was tipped by Biafra’s lyrics. That got the nation’s attention, but what inspires musicians to this day was the power trio’s cohesive combination of familiar and unfamiliar elements of punk and primal rock. Sure, you’ve got the power chords and the four-on-the-floor tempos, but depth and nuance under the biting messaging is essential to the DK’s chemistry. Their punk-rock bangers have modal tendencies and atonal flourishes, and some of their most thrilling songs have odd-metered backbones. Their debut single, “California Über Alles,” is a take on composer Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, no less. And nobody else in the land of the 6-string shreds quite like East Bay Ray.
“One of the reasons our songs have lasted so long is the structure underneath has a lot in common with a Beatles song or a Motown song or even a ’30s standard,” he says. “There are basic constructions that make a song work. I really had a hard time copying or figuring out solos off my favorite recordings when learning to play, so I’d develop my own musical method to get from one place to another. It’s actually a lack of technique that helped with the music.”
His creativity and resourcefulness don’t stop there. East Bay Ray was the band’s co-producer/engineer on most recordings, and he’s tinkered with his own tone tools, assembling partscasters that best suited his approach. Ray has jammed humbuckers into the bridge of a T-style for a twangier bite that helps his rapid-fire arpeggios sting a bit more. He’s slapped on short-scale Japanese F-style necks for slinkier playability. And, most notably, he put a Maestro Echoplex in front of his amp to create the signature clanging sound heard on his classic recordings with the band. (“One of my favorite records of all time is Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions. That is one of the records that inspired me to get an Echoplex, to get that slapback echo.”)
“We just didn’t know the rules on what to play and how to play,” he relates. “That’s where not knowing something forces you to make your own solution, creating something unique and new, proving that necessity is the mother of invention. The lack of technique and knowledge helped create our sound and the music.”
Before the Dead Kennedys’ headlining show at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl on June 15th, PG hit the stage for a brief but illuminating tone talk. We covered Ray’s economically rich setup that includes a single Schecter doublecut and a simplified, solid-sounding Marshall, and we were enlightened about why he puts his Line 6 delay ahead of the amp and what that does to repeats.