Paul Gray has played bass for everyone from Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls) to Rat Scabies (The Damned) to Andrew Ridgely (Wham!). Gray first made a dent in the U.K. band Eddie and the Hot Rods who had a top ten hit, “Do Anything You Wanna Do” and then went on to join such legendary hellraisers as The Damned and later, U.F.O. After all those years spent with amps cranked to 11, these days, Paul is mostly busy as a leader in the Musician’s Union helping to make sure other artists avoid some of the pratfalls and risks that can be so common in the music business. I had a chance to talk to Paul about his career and some of the people he’s worked with. Read on….
LRI: How did you get your start in music and on the bass guitar in particular?
Paul Gray: I Learned piano, realised I was really shit at reading music, badgered my Dad to buy me bass guitar after seeing T Rex on the TV, discovered Lemmy and John Entwistle and Felix Papparlardi and thought…that’s what I wanna do with my life! I was Johnny no mates really, all my spare time was spent figuring out bass lines and getting the poses right in front of my bedroom mirror (laughs)
LRI: Musical (and otherwise) influences growing up?
Paul: Well the above…The Who, T Rex, Slade, Mountain, Hawkwind, Sabbath, Free… but I loved organ music too, especially Bach and baroque stuff. Wonderful movement in those bass lines…
LRI: You joined the Rods in 1976 at the perfect time so to speak. How did you first hook up?
Paul Gray: I answered an ad in the local paper – I’d never bought it before, but something drove me to it that day…there was just one ad under “Music” and it simply said “Bass Player Wanted”. Serendipity, I guess…my dad drove me to audition the next day, at Dr Feelgood’s place on Canvey island in Essex. I was shitting myself, I had a cheap crappy three quarter size bass and everyone else had shiny Fenders and were much older than me – I was just sixteen. But I got the gig – attitude over technicality! (laughs). We sparked off each other, It was the right place, right time for sure…a year either side and we wouldn’t have had quite the impact that we did.
LRI: Within the first year you guys put out the Live at the Marquee album, the single “Teenage Depression” and so on. In 5 words or less tell us about the Punk scene going on in England circa 1976. (laughs)
Paul Gray: Ugly, exciting, confused, Not Genesis (laughs)
LRI: Rumour has it The Sex Pistols opened a few shows for the Rods early on and on one particular occasion at the famous Marquee Club smashed all of your gear! Did you ever get to re-coop anything? (laughs)
Paul Gray: They supported us at one gig there, yeah. Our manager had seem ‘em at Chelsea Art College and reckoned they’d soon be happening. He was right, but they were dreadful…Malcolm McClaren was at the side of the stage directing them what to do…”Kick that monitor over Steve, tell the audience they’re all c**** Johnny”, all that stuff. And you think these boy bands today are puppets…they were totally under his thumb. They were really just a vehicle for him to flog more clothes outta his Sex shop on Kings Road in Chelsea…anyway there was a bit of a showdown afterwards, and our singer Barrie offered Johnny out. He slunk away, and then came over all full of bravado in the music press. All orchestrated by McClaren again, of course. We thought them a complete joke. And no, we never got paid for the gear they trashed!
LRI: Guitarist Graeme Douglas (formerly of The Kursaal Flyers) joined the band and you released the single “Do Anything You Wanna Do” (making the UK top 10). Would you say that it was this single that put you guys in favor more with the punks?
Paul Gray: Punk was a whole load of contradictions, and my definition of punk was all that great Nuggets stuff, all those splendid 60’s US garage bands like the Shadows of Night, The Seeds, Elevators, Chocolate Watch Band. Then the Dolls and Television kinda reinvented it – well, the Dolls had McClaren as manager, right? And he appropriated the word punk, it was in Paris before it got to the UK – the French were always one step ahead of everybody in all that underground revolutionary stuff – and it became more of a fashion thing with fucking safety pins everywhere. Although lots of bands were called punk, neither The Damned or The Stranglers were punk the in the orchestrated way that the Pistols and Clash were .
“Do Anything” was liked by a lotta people…well it was a great song, still is, and very pertinent lyrics for the time, altho’ when it was first played to me by Greaeme I wasn’t convinced . I thought it was a bit too soft, a Burrito Brothers sorta deal. But by the time me and our drummer had got hold of it and shook it up some it was well and truly rocked up and morphed into the version that was released. Graeme had an ear for a catchy tune that’s for sure.
The Hotrods were never in favor with the safety pin punks, and neither did we want to be. They simply weren’t on our radar. Our audience was less fashion conscious and less swayed by this weeks flavor in the music press – the press just loved putting you in neat little boxes – the Hotrods were an over-the-top , high energy band that struck a chord with a lot of teenage kids who wanted some good, fast honest rock n roll without all the bullshit. There was no plastic political sloganeering with us… we got lots of very young kids still at and school along to our gigs and buying our records, as well as attracting the kinda punters that liked The Who, MC5, Dr. Feelgood, and The Damned too. And we were more than happy with that…
LRI: In 1977, The Hot Rods toured the United States with the Ramones and Talking Heads. Was this your first time to the states and what do you remember most about being in New York?
Paul Gray: Ha ha! Well, that would be telling! Most of it is top secret classified info.. that is until someone offers me a load of dosh to write a book (laughs)! We were the first so called new wave band from the UK to tour the States – the Damned and Elvis Costello had beaten us over there, but had only played NY and LA. We were fearless and like kids in a candy shop so naturally we made the most of it and filled our boots – on the first night at CBGB’s we drank more at the bar than our gig fees came to for our entire 3 night run! I got dragged into the toilets as soon I stepped off stage by some goddess, and as we finally staggered out at 3am there was a bloke lying in the doorway having just been shot…people were just walking around him, crazy stuff. We’d be up all night and got up to all sorts of mischief with the most crazy girls! It was never- never land really… what wasn’t to love about touring the US? NY was a blast – fucking freezing, mind – traveling about in a London cab, playing Max’s and CB’s, meeting the Heartbreakers and Cale and all that lot…I was only 17 and had barely been outta school for a year so it was another world (laughs).
There was this bird our manager pulled, Rusty Hamilton, ran a porno mag and took us to this swingers club called Plato’s Retreat…our manager ended up staying in NYC and immersing himself in this den of iniquity instead of doing what he should have been doing, ie: managing us. There was a whole lotta primo coke and black beauty’s flying about and everyone took full advantage – I mean it would’ve been rude not to, right? (laughs) I think I learned more about life in that 6 week tour than in my previous 16 years. …56 gigs in 52 days! I remember giving Talking Heads drummer a hit of what I thought was speed at the 970 club in Washington but it turned out it was some sorta hallucinatory stuff…halfway thru’ their set he started playing all these jazz fills and falling off his stool, laughing hysterically! The rest of the band didn’t know what the fuck was going on…neither did he (laughs). They were a lovely bunch, him and Tina anyway.
The Ramones were harmless enough, nice fellas.. Dee Dee fell off the front of the stage one night,. Passaic NJ I think it was, did his 1-2-3-4 bit, went to hit his strings and missed. Fell arse over tit straight into the photographer’s pit! How we laughed. And after all that I came back home to my mum and dads in Essex, where I still lived. I remember my mum opening my suitcase to get all the dirty washing out, and there’s a capsule of amyl nitrate that had broken…I smelt it just too late to stop her reeling back across the room. I had to tell her it was extra strong American pear drops…
LRI: A couple more albums and you left The Rods to join a little band called The Damned! How and why?
Paul Gray: I’d always loved The Damned, fabulous songs, no bullshit about them at all and what you saw was what you got. For over a year they had been badgering me to join them. They were a lively lot, and I quite liked living, so I resisted their kind advances for as long as I could. But they were also bloody insistent…kept sending me telegrams (remember them?) to me at Island Records saying “join our band you bastard, the Hotrods are finished, we’ll double your wages!”, all this stuff. They never did, the sods…Eventually I relented – truth be told, they wore me down, and the Hotrods were by that time going through their own difficulties, so I thought fuck it, give it a go, why not? They liked the way I played bass, I liked everything about them. They didn’t give a fuck about anything…it was absolute chaos, and they were beholden to no one. It was THE most exciting band to be in, you never knew what was round the corner. You had to live on your wits and woe betide you if you didn’t. The record company booked a canal boat for our first rehearsals before a European tour, but when I arrived Captain and Rat refused to let me on board until I’d sent my bass back to Cardiff where I lived. Vanian never showed up, perhaps wisely. There were no instruments on board, no music system to learn the songs, the fridge was bereft of food but full of beer cans and they had an air rifle. By the end of day one, everything shootable had been shot and most of the mattresses had been liberally doused with lighter fluid and turfed overboard. After a week of terrorising the other boaters on the canal there was nothing left of our boat, so before it sank we tied it up, fled to the nearest pub and phoned the company to tell them it had been stolen. It was a colourful life, being in The Damned.
LRI: The Damned have been said to have played a very important role in the first wave of U.S. (west coast) hardcore punk and were already very well established by the time you joined in 1980. Thoughts?
Paul Gray: Well that’s both kinda flattering and kinda funny, because we all rather liked pop music and stuff with melodies and tunes, not the hardcore punk stuff…the hardest we got to listening to was the MC5 and The Who. But theres loadsa melodic stuff in there too…i mean on The Black Album we used cellos, tubular bells, harpsichords…Vanian of course liked the darker gothic film stuff. Cheap Trick were a particular favorite of mine at the time – still love –em… We had very eclectic listening tastes, from Caravan to The Monkees. But I guess it was the attitude, right?
LRI: After recording “The black album” and “Strawberries” you left to join the band UFO! Personally for me as a fan (of both The Damned and UFO) it seemed like an odd fit! Were you a fan of the band or already friendly with UFO singer Phil Mogg before joining?
Paul Gray: Not such an odd fit really, I mean it’s all rock n roll innit?! UFO just used a few more keyboards, weren’t quite as chaotic and used different song topline melodies…I never changed the way I played bass, and lots of stuff that ended up being used on UFO albums I’d actually written with The Damned in mind. All I really knew before I joined them was hearing Doctor Doctor on the pub jukebox, and reading that Phil could be a bit handy with his fists! Never saw it myself in 5 years with them though. Perhaps it was because Schenker wasn’t around (laughs). I’d met Paul Chapman a few times in various pubs in Cardiff, Wales where we both lived…he figured I knew my way around bass and wasn’t averse to a bit of the old rock n roll lifestyle. So when Billy Sheehan bailed out it was me that got the call. Thanks Paul!
LRI: Your actual first few gigs with the band were while Neil Carter, Paul Chapman and Andy Parker were still there. How much did UFO party in those days and did you ever think “holy shit” what have I gotten myself into? (laughs)
Paul Gray: Ha ha…well yes, there was a bit of that…errr…let’s just say that they were true professionals in everything that they did! Musically they were extremely accomplished– Neil could turn his hand to any instrument, the man was a walking band in himself – and they were note perfect and as tight as a ducks arse no matter what state anyone may have been in. There was none of that every-man-for-himself anarchy like in The Damned. It did my playing a lot of good having to be totally on it every night. That said, it was somewhat disconcerting on the second day I joined them to be awoken by the tour manager at 6am thrusting a huge line under my hooter – I’d only just got into bed – before embarking on an 8 hour drive across Europe, but you only live once, right? By that time UFO were so used to the rigors of touring that they were kind of on auto pilot and took everything in their stride. They traveled in two Range Rovers – Phil, Paul Chapman, Neil and yours truly in one – god knows of ANY of that lot managed to avoid crashing, but god bless ‘em they did – and John Knowles our tour manager, Andy and Billy in the other. Suffice to say, ours was a bit more party central than theirs (laughs). We used to lose them on purpose, pull off and hit a bar or something…Knowlsey would go beserk! But we never missed a gig. Lost a few marbles tho’ ha ha!
LRI: What were some of the highlights for you personally during this time?
Paul Gray: Every minute was a highlight, really.
LRI: You and Phil ended up putting a whole new band together and changing the song writing a bit to a more commercial sound. Was this intentional?
Paul Gray: Phil and I got on great. I liked Phil immensely. He use to come down to my place in Wales for a weekend and stay for weeks – I couldn’t get rid of him ! (laughs). But no, we both had the same sort of humor and were partial to the odd beer or three. He liked some tunes I had knocking around and I loved his voice. We’d be up in my music room, I’d play him snatches of ideas and he’d just start scatting over the top…his voice gave me the shivers it was so full of feeling. We liked the same sort of sounds too and It just sorta went from there…no master plan really. Maybe it was a bit more commercial because I wrote quite poppy stuff…until Tommy came along and put his guitar all over it! (laughs).
LRI: You are on the song writing credits for “Night run” off the Misdemeanour album. In my opinion this was the song that should have pushed UFO into the American top 40. Would you agree? (and what happened in your opinion?)
Paul Gray: Well nice of you to say so…yeah, coulda been a contender I guess…who knows why it didn’t fly. We can always blame the record company (laughs)…actually I don’t think there was a whole lotta promotion on that US tour. Personally, I thought the Misdemeanour album should have been much tougher than it ended up, after being overdubbed and remixed to death. We had high hopes for it though and became very close as band and crew, but It did get a bit Spinal Tap at times…it was a whole lotta fun and I made the most of it. I loved touring with UFO. I mean, who wouldn’t? Lovely bunch of chaps!
LRI: How difficult was it to get UFO guitarist Atomic Tommy McClendon to turn his amp down during a live show so that you could be heard in the mix? (laughs)
Paul Gray: Ha ha yes!…it wasn’t so much the volume., more of the tone Tommy got! It was very shrill, to my ears anyway. Nice guy, Tommy. He didn’t really drink, so it must have been very hard for him uprooting from sunny California to be dumped in a flat in rainy Birmingham with a mad and ancient hooker living below and where everyone drank like fish.
LRI: What type of gear were you using by this point?
Erm, Laney I think…yes Laney. Our crew use to work for Sabbath, and they got Laney to bring a truckload of gear down for us to try out. I took the lot (laughs). Actually, it was good gear. Not as good as the old Sunn Coliseum stuff I had in the Damned though! That was mind blowing with a Rickenbacker, but I moved on to Thunderbirds with UFO, suited the bands sound more.
LRI: After things went south with UFO you actually had a stint with Eddie Clarke’s band Fastway and Andrew Ridgeley of WHAM (I’m not making this up folks) I’ve also read that you are involved in a charity aimed at nurturing and helping young bands and are Regional Officer, (Wales & Southwest England) for the British Musicians Union. You have to be one of that hardest working musicians out there! How do you find time?
Paul Gray: Yes, I was a member of Fastway but in name only ! They’d done the “On Target” album and were planning a US tour. With Girlschool if I recall … anyway I can’t remember how I got involved, but it probably involved beer and a club somewhere…we had lots of band meetings, me, Fast Eddie and singer Lee Hart in various drinking establishments around London. Plans were hatched and lots of vodka drunk but doing a photo session with them was as far as it ever got…at the same time I got a call from one of Andrews managers (he had three I think, and I’m not making this up either). I thought it was a mate of mine taking the piss at first, but no, Andrew had discovered AC/DC and Def Leppard and Enff Z Nuff and UFO and I got the call. It was a weird one…ended up in Japan for a month for two days of TV shows. But he paid well (laughs).
When I got tinnitus so bad I could no longer sleep because of the ringing in my ears I had to duck out of music for a good few years… tough call, that. Bit of a dark period in my life. Spent some years running a community record label and helping out new bands…Lost Prophets were one… very satisfying actually. Then in 2005 I got offered the job with the Musicians’ Union – I’d been a member for many years, and they’d helped me out on numerous occasions with unpaid royalties and general rip offs. So that’s what I do now – help protect musicians from falling into the same traps and crap that I went through, and when they do, helping them get out of it.
LRI: Let’s do word association where I say a word and you say whatever pops into your head.
Rat Scabies = old bignose
Lemmy = bucknife
Joe Strummer = pub rocker made good. I found Mick Jones more honest.
Billy Sheehan = met him when I flew out to join UFO in Madrid– he was playing bass on the tour up to that point. But I don’t think their lifestyle was completely compatible with his (laughs)…I watched him play with my mouth open and thought well, I’m done for, if they expect me to play like that I might as well fuck off home on the next plane. So I took Phil aside backstage and said maybe they’d made a terrible mistake and that I didn’t play anything like Billy. He chuckled his mischievous chuckle and said “well that’s a relief, the bloke doesn’t know when to stop, there’s me up there trying to emote in the quiet bits and he’s wibbling away over everything”…
Johnny Thunders = lovely chap, especially when he was almost straight, but usually didn’t know if he was coming or going poor fella…recording “So Alone” with him was interesting. His missus use to call up the studio at 3am with the horrors screaming that the cops were trying to break in through the roof, or he’d fall over in the middle of a take and pass out on the floor, and when he eventually came round he could never remember how the song went. We had to teach then to him again (laughs). But I loved his songs and style – often imitated but was the true original -and his one signature Dolls solo was just the best and was the basis of every punk rock solo thereafter. I felt truly priveliged to be a part of that album and to play with Johnny. Besides, I’d always loved the Dolls!
LRI: What’s next for Paul Gray?
I’ve just recorded an album with Captain Sensible – our first proper collaboration since “Strawberries” back in 1982. We wrote the songs together and finished the lyrics in my local country pub over pints of foaming ale, guffawing with laughter. Did most of it on a Macbook at my place…our soundproofing was a cardboard box with egg cartons shoved in it and a USB mic stuck in the middle. That’s punk, right? Will see the light of day early next year hope. There’s some truly cracking tunes on there! And I play with a bunch of chums in a band we call the Monte Dons, we’ve got over an albums worth of stuff ready to record for that too. A bit different for me, 12 string acoustics, bit of dobro, mandolin…and my clanky old Rickenbacker ha ha. It’s catchy stuff – we;’ll be knocking that out online next year too. Should be doing a bunch of gigs with both lots too – gotta be careful of volume these days though, I can’t go anywhere without the old earplugs!
Thanks Paul! check out Paul’s homepage below: