the music of Miles Davis 1980 - 1991
a book by George Cole
published by Equinox Publishing in the UK
and University of Michigan Press in the USA
Read reviews and praise for The Last Miles
Order your copy online
from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
Interview: Ray Parker, Jr
If you're of a certain age, Ray Parker Jr will be on a lot of records that are the soundtrack of your life. Ray, who was born in Detroit in 1954, was a teenage guitar protégé playing behind acts such as Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and Gladys Knight and The Pips at the Twenty Grand Club in Detroit while barely old enough to shave.
From there, he toured with Stevie Wonder on the 1972 world tour with The Rolling Stones, and soon after, became one of the most sought after session musicians of his generation, recording with a host of acts for the legendary Motown writing/producer trio Holland-Dozier-Holland, as well as everyone from Stevie Wonder to Barry White, and Boz Scaggs to Marvin Gaye. He also became a composer, writing with artists such as Chaka Khan and Barry White, before forming the smash hit group Raydio. From there, Ray became a solo artist, and in 1984, had the international smash hit "Ghostbusters," from the movie of the same name.
So what's the Miles connection? Well, Ray produced a couple of albums for the singer/guitarist Randy Hall , who worked with Miles on The Man With The Horn album (Randy co-composed and sings on the title track). In 1985, Randy was asked by Miles to produce his first album for Warner Bros (to be called Rubberband), which was recorded at Ray's own studio, Ameraycan, in North Hollywood. Ray kindly talked to TheLastMiles.com about his amazing musical career - and Miles.
The Last Miles: Why did you choose the guitar and who were your musical influences?
Ray Parker Jr: I grew up playing the clarinet and the saxophone. The clarinet was my main instrument and, by the time I got to ten or eleven and got tall and started getting interested in girls, the clarinet didn't cut it! Also, I really didn't like blowing. My brother had a guitar and I started playing that. The guitar let you play more than one note at a time, which I thought was wonderful.
TLM: Were you influenced by any guitarists?
RPJ: I was looking at the Ed Sullivan show and they had The Loving Spoonful, and they showed John Sebastian with a white [Fender] Stratocaster plugged into an amp and I thought "Wow, I can plug it into an amplifier and drown out my friend who plays the drums! I want to play it!" For me, everything about the guitar was magical; you could put it around your neck, you could play it, you could sing with it - it just did anything.
TLM: Were you influenced by any style of guitar such as rock, jazz or funk?
RPJ: I liked them all - R 'n' B, disco - all of it.
TLM: You were obviously highly talented, because as a teenager you were doing sessions and working with professionals. You were also playing in clubs behind acts like Stevie Wonder and The Temptations.
RPJ: That was one of the blessings for me. [drummer, band leader, producer] Hamilton Bohannon was the [Twenty Grand Club] band leader. I was thirteen years old and he came down to my house and asked my mother if I could come down to the club. There were a lot of famous people in the band. Sometimes the Funk Brothers [Motown's house band] would be in it - [legendary bassist] James Jamerson would sit in a lot. Remember this wasn't a big deal to me at the time - he was just a buddy I played with every night! It's only in later years, you realise it was such a big deal! I tell people "Oh yeah, James Jamerson. I used to sit in his car and we'd hang out"! It was a wonderful place to play.
TLM: Did you get your musical training on the bandstand?
RPJ: Absolutely. I was formally trained in elementary school on the clarinet. My teacher taught me everything I needed to know - reading music, chords and other stuff. After that, I didn't need any further training.
TLM: You started working with Holland Dozier and Holland in session work when they left Motown to form their Invictus Label
RPJ: After they split from Motown, if you were a Motown musician, they didn't particularly want you playing for Holland Dozier and Holland, so that left that door wide open for me. I could go with HDH and do all of their records. That was my big break.
TLM: You got to be one of the biggest session guitarists on the scene. Talent is an obvious quality to reach this level, but I suspect there's a lot more you need as well.
RPJ: Besides just playing, I had a unique style of playing. Everybody on the West Coast was playing the "California Dreaming" kind of guitar with the volume pedal and sustain and that kind of stuff. Mine was more rhythmic - it had screams and pops and some other things. But, as I tell all young musicians just getting started, being on time really helps! And smiling really helps. If you're pleasant towards people and being creative and they [producer or artist] enjoy the experience, they'll want you back, and next thing, you're on everybody's record.
TLM: Did you find that when you went to sessions, producers would like you work out your own parts?
RPJ: Most of the time they would. They have the music so you have a road map to follow. A lot of the times I would read the chart and they'd say "We didn't call you to read the chart. Put some of that magic stuff on it - we want the extras!"
TLM: I've got to ask you about Boz Scaggs
RPJ: Boz Scaggs was wonderful and playing with people like [the late, great drummer] Jeff Porcaro was something else. And my first Gold record came from Boz Scaggs [for the album Down Two Then Left]. All those hit records I'd played on - I'd never got a gold record until then. I still have it today.
TLM: And Barry White
RPJ: He was one of my favourites. He was one of the nicest guys in the world. He was selling millions of records and I would just keep bugging him "I wanna write a song!" And finally, I wrote this instrumental song and he loved it! So I said, "Why don't you let me cut it with the band?" So he left home and let me cut it with the band. I took it over to his house and he listened to it and said "That's great, we're putting it on the album." So he did - it's called "Always Thinking Of You," and it's on the White Gold album. Later, we wrote a number together, "You See The Trouble With Me" [on the album Let The Music Play] and that was a big hit. Looking back on it, I was only nineteen. He didn't have to put one of my songs on his record - he was just being nice. And if you heard the form I gave him - he really didn't have to do that! He would always be nice to me. He saw I was a young kid, [who was] very energetic. He was a guy from the ghetto and he looked at me and thought "this is a guy who's trying to do something." I'd told him 'thank you' many times and I was so sad when he passed away.
TLM: You were making a great living as a session musician but that obviously wasn't enough, because you got into composition and became an artist in your own right. I think you once you said Stevie Wonder was a great help when it came to composition.
RPJ: That's putting it mildly! For a guy who taught me how to record, how to layer the tracks, how to write, put the arrangements down, as well as take me out of Detroit and put me on tour for the first time. I think we have to give a lot to him! My Dad was always disappointed that I didn't finish college and I said: "Dad. I was on the road with Steve Wonder for a year - that was college!"
TLM: What about the "Maybe your Baby" session for the Talking Book album?
RPJ: Stevie Wonder called and said "we're going on tour and I'm finishing off my new record, come on down and play guitar on this song." That was like a dream come true.
TLM: Later on you formed Raydio (one of the big hits they had was "Jack and Jill"), and then became a solo artist. Then of course, there was "Ghostbusters." I believe the film's producers auditioned something like sixty songs for the soundtrack title.
RPJ: It sounds easy now because you've heard the song. But if somebody told you to write a song with the word "Ghostbusters" in it, it's pretty difficult. That was the hard part - getting the title in the song.
TLM: You came up with a novel solution - getting your then girlfriend's friends to chant it out in the studio!
RPJ: That's right, I didn't think singing it was a good idea at all!
TLM: You also played almost every instrument on it and did most of the vocals.
RPJ: Yes, most of it's me.
TLM: Not only did you go from session musician, to composer to artist, you then got into engineering. I believe this was forced on you because you'd book sessions for late at night, because it was cheaper, but then find that the engineer would fall asleep on you!
RPJ: People say "why did you want to play all of the instruments and engineer it and do all the rest of the stuff?" I'd say it's not an ego thing, but in the beginning, I couldn't afford to pay somebody! But I didn't want be one of those people who'd say 'I wanted to have a demo tape, but somebody didn't do this, so I couldn't get it together.' People didn't want to hear that so, I had to do everything myself, at least in the beginning.
TLM: You built a home studio with engineer Reggie Dozier
RPJ: We wired it ourselves. I had to give Reggie my colour TV to finish it! He was doing it for free, but it was a bigger job than he'd envisioned. He was looking at my new colour TV and saying, "this is a lot more work than I thought." Reggie just lived down the street so he was round mine all the time and we were sitting up late for weeks, soldering, putting all joints together and all kinds of stuff. So I said "Well, take my colour TV!" And we got it done.
TLM: Having your own studio must have liberated you in terms of recording
RPJ: Exactly. By then, I had written songs with a lot of people, Barry White, Chaka Khan and others. In order to get your record right, there's a lot of experimentation. So to be able to sit at home with your own studio and try out different ideas; that's it right there.
TLM: You also created Ameraycan studios, which was (and still is) a very successful operation.
RPJ: It came about when I was selling one of my houses and moving into a condo and needed somewhere to put the studio. So I built a small room in North Hollywood and it ended up being two SSL [Solid State Logic] rooms by the time I got done and I still ended up going home and recording! I rented that studio out and built another one at home. I had that place for about twenty years then I sold it to Paramount.
TLM: One of the artists who recorded there was Randy Hall. How did you two meet and what attracted him to you?
RPJ: Randy Hall was a talented guy. When he came from Chicago, he gave me a demo tape with about twenty songs and I loved all of them. I thought the lyrics and stuff were incredible. We got him a record deal on MCA. When I go on tour now, Randy Hall's playing with me. We're still friends and we still hang out.
TLM: During the sessions for Love You Like A Stranger, Miles asked Randy and [album co-producer] Zane Giles to work with him on his first album for Warner Bros. Were you around during those sessions?
RPJ: In those days, I was just changing from the Sony MCI consoles to the SSL consoles. Randy cut his stuff and it sounded great. Then he started cutting the Miles stuff. I loved Miles but I was working on something else. I invited the head of Warner Bros down to hear something I was doing and he forgot about what I was doing, because somebody came in and said "hey Miles Davis is in here!" I wasn't trying to do this, but he thought I was the most important guy in the world after that!
TLM: Any memorable moments with Miles?
RPJ: My best Miles story. When you're young and stupid, you're young and stupid. Miles liked to draw - he would always be drawing. One day he said: "Hey Ray, sit down, I wanna draw you." I think I was chasing some girl so I said: "I'll be right back. I've got to go the store or something." And I blew it off and he ended up dying without drawing me. He was going to draw me and hand it to me - how stupid is that?!!
TLM: They were very productive sessions and it was a different direction for Miles. Were you surprised that Warner Bros abandoned the album and released Tutu?
RPJ: I'm not surprised when record companies do anything! They do some crazy things! I don't know why it ended up like that, but I hope they've still got some of that stuff!
TLM: Did you ever listen to Miles?
RPJ: Everybody listened to Miles Davis. He was the musicians' musician. He was Mister Cool. He was who you aspired to be. Even if you don't want to play his music, you wanted to be cool like him.
TLM: Some people feel that during the 1980s, Miles was coasting musically. I don't agree. What's your take?
RPJ: I disagree with that too. He was just doing his thing. He was the kind of guy who did what he felt like doing. I'm down for that! I like that idea!
Many thanks to Ray for his time and to Barbara Shelley for her help. Ray's website is at www.rayparkerjr.com
praise for The Last Miles
‘The best Miles Davis book ever.’ Randy Hall, singer/guitarist/producer, who worked with Miles in the 1980s
‘An important book.’ Brian Priestley, co-author of ‘The Rough Guide to Jazz’, jazz pianist, critic and reviewer
‘Very moving, emotional material.’ Gordon Meltzer, Miles’s last road manager and executive producer of the ‘Doo-Bop’ album
‘George Cole’s writing, his choice of references, his descriptions of many incidents – it is all so clear and respectful, and shows a deep understanding.’ Palle Mikkelborg, composer, arranger and producer of the ‘Aura’ album
"Wow! What a great book. Finally, something that really gets it right. Thank you for capturing what was going on, the mood, everything." Adam Holzman, Milesís keyboardist and musical director 1985-1989
"Wonderful job, congratulations! An immense amount of work must have gone into it, I can't even imagine. But it was very cool to see that era of Miles treated with the same respect as every other... someone gets it!" Benny Rietveld, Miles's bassist 1988-1990
"The book is wonderful. Congratulations for your very important contribution to the historical documentation of many [musicians] who would otherwise have been overlooked!!!!" Robert Irving III Miles’s musical director 1983-1988
"I have to say that you did a marvellous job! It brought back strong memories of that time period and answered a number of questions I had, especially the chapter on the Rubberband sessions. A brilliant job!" Patrick Murray, who worked on the road with Miles from 1986-1990 and was Miles’s concert sound mixer from 1988-1990
"It is truly an excellent body of work that literally takes a reader from hearing rumours to realising truths about the Chicago group and our collective take on the Miles Davis comeback." Glenn Burris, co-writer of "Shout"
"The most immediate impact that this book had on me was to make me listen again to Miles’ later recordings with a completely regenerated ear and this really is the reason why this book works so well and is an essential read for any true Miles Davis appreciator… you will be hard pressed to find a more inspirational read, written by a man who quite simply loves Miles Davis’ music." Mike Chadwick, Ejazz.fm
"There are large chunks of fresh material here…Fill[s] in quite a few gaps and dismisses blanket condemnations of [Miles’s] pop phase." Stephen Graham, Jazzwise
"Cole does for Miles’ late work what Ian Macdonald’s ‘Revolution In The Head’ does for The Beatles, examining each album in meticulous detail." John Lewis, Time Out
"Cole’s analysis has a meticulous, forensic character… [and] is able to bring a wealth of new information to light….This book should get people talking. It should be the first rather than the last word on an intriguing chapter of the life an extraordinarily complex artist. And Davis’s vanity would surely have loved that." Kevin Le Gendre, Independent on Sunday
"The book is beautiful. I think you did a great job on covering Miles’s life and legacy." Sid Reynolds, hip-hop producer
"GREATFUCKINJOBWITDABOOK" Foley, Miles’s lead bassist 1987-1991
"Cole’s certainly produced a fascinating book." Chris Ingham, Mojo
"As with any good musical biography, Cole had made me think again about those albums such as Siesta, You’re Under Arrest, The Man with the Horn, that are now stashed in my attic." John Bungey, The Times
"I thought it was wonderful. It’s a very detailed look at a certain part of the career and life of Miles Davis. A lot of people didn’t pay attention to this and I’m glad that George Cole took the time to focus on these final years of Miles’s life." Easy Mo Bee, co-producer of Doo-Bop
"Many people have come to me in the past about how the "last miles" bands had been overlooked and ignored by journalists. This book is a comprehensive answer to these omissions. From my discussions with musicians from the latter years with Miles it seems pretty clear they feel some vindication as a result of this book. I thank you sincerely for telling our story. Most everything I have read is as close to my memory of how things happened as any book could hope to be. I think you've done a wonderful job." Darryl Jones, bassist with Miles 1983-85, 1986-1988
"The title is likely to send most jazzbos running, with received wisdom having handed down the rule that in the 80's Miles was only good for playing live; and half of that was just the pleasure of seeing him in person. For a single man to take on the 400-page+ task of changing popular opinion is a very tall order indeed. For him to make you want to actively revisit the decade in question is a near-miracle. Detailing album histories and giving final verdicts, Cole has made every effort to lay the evidence out bare. The analysis could have been a chore were it not for the presence of first-hand interviews with all the major players, making this not just a scholarly study, but a tribute to the man himself, And for a book such as this, you learn more about Davis that could have been expected." Jason Draper, Record Collector
"There simply hasn’t been another book published on Miles Davis, in any period that has managed to obtain the wealth of interview material and cover his recorded work and various live tours in such a complete and comprehensive fashion... Engagingly written from start to finish, filled with more facts than you’ll be able to remember first time through, The Last Miles is an essential portrait of Miles’ last decade and a strong argument that his music was both valid and perfectly in keeping with a musical philosophy that would ultimately stretch over six decades." John Kelman, All About Jazz.com
"We veterans of Miles’ last bands are lucky to have such a thorough and insightful look into Miles last period...I really enjoyed the book!" John Scofield, Miles's guitarist 1982-1985
"Cole has spoken to practically everyone who worked with Miles in his final decade. He has traced the evolution of each of those final albums, cut by cut, splice by splice….[Miles] comes out of Cole’s account larger, warmer and if anything even more important than ever." Brian Morton (co-writer of The Penguin Guide to Jazz), The Wire
"Through lively analyses of all Miles’ recorded work from this period and much that went unreleased, including the ‘lost’ album Rubberband, [Cole] does enough to send readers back to the original albums." Simon Evans, Choice
"... Cole is a persuasive writer: he prompted me to go and dig out albums that I'd dismissed as inconsequential and listen again with fresh ears. ... A rewarding read" Charles Waring, Blues & Soul
"Cole takes us on an exhaustive journey deep into the heart of Miles’ late recordings…The Last Miles needs to be covered by working musicians, producers and Miles’ fans alike." Livingstone Marquis, Straight, No Chaser
" George Cole has written a book that should be required reading for anyone with a serious interest in Davis’ life and work irrespective of which period of his music you prefer. It offers a valuable insight into this most complex of personalities, and reveals a side to Miles that many may not have known existed…for this reader it has prompted a re-examination of this decade which has revealed a fascinating area of music that I had previously overlooked." Nick Lea, Jazzviews.co.uk
"In the flurry of books since [Miles Davis's] death, none has dealt in depth with the music of this period. Music writer George Cole fills this gap. . . It is so detailed and intimate that the reader feels he is virtually living with Davis as he seeks to reinvent himself… a rich and rewarding read." Irwin Block, The Montreal Gazette
"This is a must for every Miles fan." Neal Gardner, Blogcritics.org
“A fantastic book, an amazing insight into Miles. Guy Barker, jazz trumpeter
“For Miles fans, this book is a must.” Jez Nelson, presenter BBC Radio Jazz on 3
“I really do recommend The Last Miles…it is a fine work.” John Cavanagh, presenter Radio Scotland’s Bebop to Hip-Hop
"A great book that plays a great tribute to the last years of Miles’ life.” Erik Telford, presenter Miles Radio.com
"The fact of having personally interviewed all those characters...without much recall to interviews already noted and the usual anecdotes, renders "The Last Miles" as excellent...a book that certainly is seen as a work of reference."Maurizio Comandini, All About Jazz.com Italy
"[Cole] has written a comprehensive account of the comeback and the albums it produced...He takes the reader through each of the albums, cut by cut, examining the musical choices, the musicians and their successes...Cole's book is a valuable resource on the last 11 years of a true music legend's life."Chris Smith, Winnipeg Free Press
"I've been thoroughly enjoying your book. I'm sure it'll go a long way towards rectifying some of the negative historical appraisals of Miles' later works that have become prevalent." Kei Akagi, keyboardist in Miles's band 1989-1990.
"Cole gives an exhaustive account of every track recorded [and, it seems, every live show] in that decade and of every one of the dozens of musicians who played on them but what's most interesting is the portrait of Miles Davis that emerges from it all. Sometimes an asshole and a bully, yes, but also a very funny guy who was a good friend to many and a mentor to even more, a man with drug problems who was more often in great pain from other maladies. Through it all, Davis was obsessed with moving his music forward with anyone who could help him do it - from Prince to Public Enemy, from Scritti Politti to a violinist he saw on Johnny Carson and hired on the spot." Rock & Rap Confidential
"I thought your book was awesome and straight to the point. To tell stories the way it really happened is nothing but the truth! Congratulations and thanks!"Ricky Wellman, Miles's drummer 1987-1991
"George Cole has made a major contribution to jazz scholarship...written over a three-year period, the degree of detail is quite astonishing and the research so extensive that it becomes possible to contradict claims made by Miles himself in his autobiography. Every track on every 1981-1991 album is discussed in length …a very valuable book.” Chris Yates, The Jazz Rag
“This book is a model of how these types of books should be…If late period Miles is in the readers’ interest, the reader should rush out and purchase this volume. It is invaluable.” Robert Iannapollo, ARSC Journal
The Last Miles was voted one of the top ten music books of 2005 by Record Collector magazine.
The Last Miles was joint winner of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Best Jazz History Book 2006 award.
Contact George Cole at
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