Vancouver’s Raymond May shoots for the big time with Bruce Allen-backed debut LP

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON JULY 15, 1988

By Steve Newton

Music and money. The two don’t always go hand in hand. Just ask your typical Vancouver musician.

But when they do mix in this city, chances are there’s a guy named Bruce Allen bringing them together. Raymond May, the latest upstart to come out of the Allen camp, is hoping the latter’s heavyweight management skills can help him become a big success in today’s commercial rock world. He’s aware of the big part managers play in the game.

“I think the manager is of the utmost importance because he’s your pusher,” says May, who talked to the Georgia Straight last week. “He’s the guy that pushes everything onto everybody without you lookin’ like a jerk. He can look like a jerk.

“I’m very business-minded,” adds the 26-year-old May, “so I knew that I needed a very powerful manager–at least somebody that could do better than me. And I found in Bruce somebody who was as good a pusher as me, but had 20 billion more connections.”

The May/Allen connection–which has just resulted in the release of May’s debut album, Unadulterated Addiction–first came about after May competed in the Spotlight ’85 battle-of-the-bands competition. At the time, May was just about to move his musical career over to London, England, when the call came in about the contest.

“I had my plane ticket and everything,” recalls May. “And then they phoned and said, ‘Do you want to play Spotlight?’ And I said yes, because then you can always turn around and say no. But if you say no, you can’t change your mind and say yes. So I ran like a son-of-a-bitch trying to round up a band. I finally got one, and we had four days to rehearse. But we made it to the semi-finals–on pure enthusiasm, I think.”

Also fired up was Bruce Allen, who happened to be one of the judges at the event.

“He came up to me and made me an offer I couldn’t really refuse,” says May. “He told me to come down to the office the next day, and we got on a retainer. So I stuck around.”

A clever move on Raymond’s part, to be sure. Judging by the sounds of his new songs like “True Life”, “You Turn Me On”, “Living in Exile”, and “Ride ‘Em High”, he’s come up with the kind of hard-rockin’, guitar-laden tunes that should please today’s radio programmers and youthful record-buyers alike.

Joining May on the album is a guitarist by the name of Naoise (pronounced “neesha”) Sheridan, whom he came across through a musicians’ classified ad.

“He walked in the door and said, ‘Whatcha lookin’ for?’,” recalls May. “And I said, ‘A sidekick.’ He said, ‘Well I’m the best damn sidekick you’ll ever find.’ ”

Sheridan comes off well on Unadultered Addiction, whether slipping the T-Rex-ish boogie licks onto the first single, “Romantic Guy”, or laying down nifty slide on the country-tinged “True Pretender”. Accompanying May and Sheridan on the record are local stalwarts Chris Taylor on drums and John Webster on keys.

“Chris has a great feel for rock ‘n’ roll,” says May, “and he was really loose–which was what I wanted. And we recruited Webster because he’s the kind of guy who can come in and whip off everything very quickly, which was what we needed. And also he was enthused about keeping the basic keyboard sounds of acoustic piano and organ. I really didn’t want to go in for any DX7s and string sounds. I wanted to keep it a real traditional rock ‘n’ roll guitar record.”

As well as handling lead and background vocals, acoustic and rhythm guitar, and harmonica, May played all the bass guitar on the album.

“I played it myself, mostly because it was first recorded on a four-track, and I had a lot of good ideas on the bass guitar. I wasn’t really pulling them off the way a real talented bass player would, but [producer] Bruce [Fairbairn] and Paul [Hyde] said to me ‘Well, it’s workin’! And you don’t really care how you get results, as long as it works.”

Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Keremeos, May grew up in a music-loving family environment. His mother is a three-chord guitarist, but May says she can play anything to those three chords.

“She was a great country and western fan. She’d play Hank Williams, and I started recognizing how great his lyrics were. Stuff like, ‘Today I passed you on the street/My heart fell at your feet/I can’t help it if I’m still in love with you.’ ”

May’s brother Michael, who he dedicated the new album to, also had quite an effect on young Raymond’s musical upbringing.

“He’s got a great ear for music, and he turned me on to a lot of glam rock, and lot of blues. He was a big Duane Allman fan, and Eric Clapton. Actually one of the first concerts I ever went to was Buddy Guy. That had a great impact on me because I was only about 13 years old.”

After high school May moved to England and joined a London band called the Unknowns. They never made it big. May’s time in London, and later on New York, proved slim pickings financially.

“In London when you play the circuit you get paid 40 quid to do the gig, but it ends up costing you 50 quid to get there. But at least you’re able to play originals over there. Vancouver is the first city I’ve even been to in my life where people actually make good coin off being able to play top 40.”

If things go according to plan, Raymond May’s tunes will be the ones local top-40 bands will be covering next. In his favour, May has the production talents of Paul Hyde, with Bruce Fairbairn of Bon Jovi fame serving as executive producer.

“Bruce more or less oversaw the recording of the album,” May says. “He wasn’t in the studio a lot, but if we went in a certain direction on a certain song, he would make sure that we never lost the initial four-track attitude. He tried to get us to recapture what I had already done on the demos.”

Unadultered Addiction is the first album release on the Vancouver-based Penta label, the new company set up by local music moguls Allen, Sam Feldman, Lou Blair, and John Ford. Considering he’s the label’s first offering to the rock world, one might think May feels pressure to live up to his backers’ high expectations.

“A lot of people ask me if I’m intimidated by that, and I gotta say no. I’m very enthusiastic and I’ve always been very forward. That’s why I settled for Bruce as a manager–because he was one of the first managers I ever met who was as eager as I was–who wasn’t two steps behind me.

“He’s always two steps ahead of me, which allows me to concentrate on my writing and on the artistic side of things. I like to paint and draw a lot, and also write plays and children’s stories. I enjoy doing a lot of other things besides music.”

Local music fans wishing to check out Raymond May for themselves will have the opportunity to do just that when he opens for the Georgia Satellites at the Expo Theatre July 28.

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