I took a trip back to New York this past fall to visit family and friends as I do every couple of years. Relatives and friends are getting on, and I also enjoy spending time with my many nieces and nephews, and their own progeny. It’s hectic and involves much local travel, but has its rewards. You see people—sometimes randomly—you haven’t seen in years. One of those friends is Raymond Longchamp, whom I hadn’t seen in 39 years.
Ray and I worked together in a wholesale gift company warehouse in Mahwah, New Jersey in 1974, and were part of a small group of young men who got fired for coming back from lunch drunk on a payday. Actually, some were fired, and some not (Ray and I included among the latter), but the initial survivors were marked men who were let go soon after, when the warehouse slowed down after Christmas. The last time I remember seeing him was at a Gregg Allman solo tour concert we took in with some mutual friends at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden. At any rate, we were out-of-touch all that time.
He was a pretty good informal beers-in-the-living-room guitar player at the time. Ray had gotten started at age six after seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, and over the years I heard about him playing solo or in bands in the New York-New Jersey area. I’d see his name mentioned in a tiny newspaper ad for playing in some hole-in-the-wall dive in North Jersey or on a back road out in the woods in Pennsylvania. I’m sure he’s met some interesting characters over the years and paid his dues, as the saying goes. When I caught up with his music again it was through YouTube. He also has a website, raylongchamp.com.
I checked it last fall when I visited, and showed up at two of his local solo appearances. I saw him first at the Landmark Inn in Warwick, New York. At the Landmark he sat in the bar on a chair behind a microphone with his guitar. When he finished playing a tune I walked over and leaned down and told him who I was. His round-faced silvery-bearded countenance lit up .“Oh no,” he beamed. The evening turned into a lively reunion, as we sat at a table in the bar afterwards. Ray took out his phone and called another old friend of ours now living in Texas.
Ray is a busy musical entrepreneur. He plays an average of 25 gigs per month, either solo or in a duet format with another guitarist-vocalist named Vince Manzo. In his solo appearances he is very adept at figuring out even the most arcane audience requests. If he’s heard it, he can likely play it. As a guitar sideman, Ray has toured with the venerable group “Jay and the Americans.” He has studied jazz guitar with the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli and his son John, and managed to earn a teaching certificate from Rutgers University. In his own music teacher “day job,” Ray handles up to 30 to 40 students per week, mostly giving guitar lessons, but also instruction in mandolin and banjo.
He also plays part time in a six-man aggregation called “The Peach Project,” which is an “Allman Brothers Band” tribute band. I haven’t seen the Peach Project live, but there are a number of YouTube videos online, featuring them playing outdoors at summer gigs, which seems to be their main milieu. Their musicianship and adherence to the arrangements of the Allman Brothers repertoire is uncanny. They are very good. And Ray is an excellent slide guitar player.
Slide playing is an essential element of the American Delta and Chicago blues traditions (along with the harmonica). It was originally done acoustically ( Son House, Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell), then electrically (Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor—the latter having six fingers on his left hand). Put simply, the guitar is tuned to an open chord such as G. This is called “Spanish” tuning. A metal or hard glass slide is worn on the middle, index, or pinkie finger and slid over the strings while not pressing down hard on the frets. This produces an expressive vibrato. Over the years the technique has been taken up by Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, Roy Rogers (not the legendary cowboy singer), and the late Lowell George. Though if the concept of genius can be applied to slide playing, that title belongs to the late Duane Allman.
Duane Allman (1946-1971) was influential in bringing blues slide playing to rock music. One of his innovations was copying blues harmonica techniques with the guitar. This fact put him in the same class as his contemporaries Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Allman is something of a legend not only for his brilliant playing, but for the fact that he died young in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia at the age of 24. His legacy animates “The Peach Project.”
The Allman Brothers Band (founded by brothers Duane and Gregg) were one of those legendary acts (along with the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, et al.) that lent themselves to the tribute band phenomenon. Like Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas, some of these bands actually make a good living playing as precisely as they can another band’s repertoire. You have to be an excellent musician to do this in the first place. The downside is that these acts don’t record their own originally produced music, except for live recordings of their tribute fodder, usually found on YouTube. A Grateful Dead clone called “The Dark Star Orchestra” is noted for this modus operandi. And this ties in to the visual stage presentation too. I remember a Stones tribute band in the ’80s called “Sticky Fingers,” whose lead singer could have actually passed for Mick Jagger.
Ray works hard doing something that he loves. I concur. He’s a lucky man. It was great to catch up with him after all these years.
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