I met these two cats several years ago when Samantha Fish played in Rochester, NY. Her earlier band had Peyton Manning on bass, and GoGo Ray on drums, when they returned they had changed bassists, adding Chris Alexander.
To me it was a giant leap for the band. Nothing wrong with the cat who went before but there was a certain chemistry that was palpable.
We all were aboard the October 2013, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise so I grabbed them and asked if they wanted to talk about ‘the pocket’ and how it works and what it really does for the band, the sound and the overall enjoyment of the music for the fans.
We pick it up right after deep discussions about ‘fung-shui’ and other exotic life applications.
It really is three cats hanging out and discussing some stuff that doesn’t get shared too often – we all hear about the pocket, and what it should or should not be. This was a great chance to explore that subject in a comfortable situation. I thank them both for their time and knowledge that they shared with me, and us.
Chris Alexander: Hey, you guys have a movable table in your cabin! (spoken as we both leaned on it to laugh at some earlier edited out comment).
B411: Well we got the converto-room, the table moves in case we need to spread out and turn this into a recording studio. Speaking of Fung shoe -ey – Someone said, if you leave the toilet seat up, it’s bad fung shui? These folks didn’t have toilet seats back in China back in 0 B.C.!
GoGo Ray: How would they know?
Chris: Like if you leave the hole uncovered it’s bad Fung Shui?
B411: Yeah, we don’t be wantin’ no open holes!
GGR: Talk about it chef!
Chris & GGR: There it is man!
B411: So you’re really GoGo-Ray?
GGR: Yeah, that’s what I go by.
Chris: My last name is Alexander. I’ve got 3 first names – Christopher Morgan Alexander. Never trust someone with 2 first names, but 3 is ok. 3 makes you cool.
B411: What’s it like being the rhythm section, being the pocket? How hard it is? Does it change from who you’re playing with? You’re currently playing with Samantha Fish, so what’s it like?
GGR: So we’re playing with Samantha Fish it’s just my job to reinforce the tempo that is introduced. And it seems like with Chris, he’ll know whether to play his base ahead of the beat or if he wants to lay back. And we just look at each other and check each other, make sure that this is a groove that’s working. With Miss Fish, if she’s not looking back at us, she’s having a good time. She forgot about us and she’s feeling good.
B411: It’s like playing to a record.
GGR: Yeah, you just stay with it. Sometimes, she’ll have a tempo in mind. So once a song gets going, she’ll look back and pick it up or slow it down. Not MUCH, just pick it up a little or slow it down a little. That’s all.
B411: So she can control that?
GGR: Absolutely. She can do that.
B411: Ok, because I didn’t know that. So you said Chris would play bass ahead or behind? What does that mean?
GGR: He can play ahead of the beat – so whatever beat I’m playing , he can play slightly ahead of it. He’s not rushing the beat, he’s just playing VERY slightly ahead of the beat. But it creates a nice pull and tug kind of thing.
B411: Dynamic Tension!
GGR: [All laughing] Yeah, dynamic tension! I like that.
Chris: It’s tension and release. What it comes down to is that push and pull. That push and pull changes from night to night. There might be some song where he’ll particularly on top of the beat and I’ll be behind the beat. And the night previously, it was the opposite of that. It changes night to night. As far as the dynamic of being a rhythm section goes, it changes.
Even with the front man. We’ll play differently with Samantha Fish than say like if Mike Zito got up to play with us. It would change. The dynamic would change. I think the great thing about Samantha is that she plays like a rhythm section player. She solos as part of the rhythm section. She doesn’t’ just go off and doodle. Which can be really great, but I really love the stuff that people who solo in time, as part of the rhythm section. People like Alan Haynes, out of Houston, well Austin now. He’s like a master of that. I think it makes for a bigger sound. Especially for 3 people. Like whenever you don’t have an organ or whatever.
B411: Yes, because you guys are a power trio!
GGR: I think you define that very well.
B411: It’s easy to forget, because you guys have a sound. It’s not. It’s not thin, but it’s not aggressive.
Chris: I think that comes down to Samantha being part of the rhythm section. She’s got a great voice that carries itself. And on top of that, she can play killer rhythm guitar, which I think makes her a great band leader. And of course when it comes for her to step out, why she’s…
GGR: She’s not afraid!
B411: That’s the thing. She doesn’t over play. I don’t know if that’s the right term
GGR: No, you’re right.
B411: I tend to be careful.
GGR: No, she doesn’t overplay because she’s not a fan of that. She’s NOT a fan of that.
B411: Everything is tight and she’s getting better. I’ve known her for a long time. I met her on a cruise. She was…
Chris: [Singing the Rick Estrin song] “I Met Her on The Blues Cruise” I Met Her on The Blues Cruise – YouTube)
B411: And it was Watermelon Slim about twelve inches high!
B411: When I met Samantha for the first time, she was dressed like a little Angel. She came in with TUF (Trampled Under Foot) and that’s when Danielle from TUF had some medical issues on the cruise and so they had to take her off in a helicopter.
I’m like “Hello, my darning, who are you?”Then later that week I see she’s out there playing and I’m like OMG…!
GGR: And that’s still the reaction. She’ll come in. You know how she loves to dress up. She has to have her dresses and her heals. She comes in, and people are like “so, you’re part of the band? So you’re singing? Oh, you’re just strumming guitar? ” And we’re like, “no, that’s our boss. She is singing and playing guitar. She is the guitar player. She’s not afraid. We’ll do the sound check, and she just cranks up. And you just see people “OH!!”
Chris: Even people who have seen her before.
B411: Absolutely. Again, because I’ve known her for a while. And I’ve known you guys for a bit. And its just that she’s more confident now. She’s more confident with her singing. But we didn’t sit here to talk about her!
GGR: [Laughing] I like to think that the rhythm section, we give her a chance to, hey, if you want to solo more do it. If you want to sing more, we’ve got you. Do it! We’re listening. We got you.
B411: She’s got to be confident – she’s got to have confidence in you guys so she can do that. Because if you were shoddy, well, you wouldn’t be on the cruise.
GGR: Exactly! As you can already see, there was a change [in the band] at one point. It just got to the point where enough was enough. Chris is here now. There’s new energy in the band.
B411: So who have you guys played with?
GGR: I go way back.
B411: Wait, aren’t you like 20 years old?
GGR: I wish! I’m like a mixed bag of nuts. I’ve played in successful R&B Funk Soul band, played in successful band pop band, done the punk/rock/jazz thing. Man, I’m all around.
Chris: It makes it very fun to play with him by the way!
B411: I would bet! So you can bring it all to the table?
GGR: Certain elements. You can take the power of rock, we can take the feel of funk.
Chris: The attitude of punk.
GGR: The attitude of punk – she likes attitude on stage!
And I’m allowed to bring that. That’s me bringing the ‘tude to the blues-of all things. Blues cat back in the days were rebels, man. You didn’t mess with those cats.
B411: I’ll cut you if you stand, I’ll shoot you if you run?!
GGR: There you go. Very direct.
B411: I say to the blues purists, I like to say hip hop and rap are urban blues. “Oh no, you don’t understand”. I say – Where did you grow up man? Where do you live now?
There it is. The old blues guys were hardworking people, who worked during the day doing shit that you couldn’t get a Mexican to do. And on the night or on the weekends when the check came in, they went to the plantations and little juke joints and played for money. And they dressed up. And they brought it because it was about life. Now, …
GGR: It’s got this whole other thing going on.
B411: But back to Chris, who have you played with?
Chris: When I was about 17 to 21, I was playing in a classic rock band in Fredericksburg, VA with a bunch of folks that were about 3 times my age. Because I’m from the DC area. I was 18, and they were in their 50′s. So I kind of got my classic rock education from them. Eventually, when I turned 21, I decided I wanted to move down to Austin, TX and try to pursue music for a career. Because growing up in that area, there’s not a whole lot … there is a thriving scene, but it’s like a pipe dream to be able to do that. To play music for a living. So, I was like, you know what, I’m 21 and I have nothing to lose, so I’m going to give it a try. I cashed out some bonds that my great-grandmother gave me throughout my life, so I had $3,000 and I made that stretch over 3 months. Which was pretty easy, actually, after renting everything. I started applying to straight jobs. It didn’t work. I had an Associate’s Degree, and still I couldn’t get a callback to work at the freaking sunglass pagoda. But luckily enough, the phone started ringing. I started picking up gigs when things started getting really rough. I ended up playing with a lot of great Austin musicians and a lot of great national musicians like I got the opportunity to play several times with the legendary Pinetop Perkins. I played with Pinetop Perkins a whole lot around Austin, TX. He was fantastic. So as a result, I’ve got the songs “Chicken Shack”, “How Long”, “Got my mojo working“, “Mississippi” ingrained in my head.
B411: But, from him.
Chris: From him. The thing that a lot of people don’t say about Pinetop is that Pinetop had a great sense of time. He wasn’t just a piano player. Even into his later years, he’s sit there and his foot would keep the beat right where it was supposed to go. You’d follow his foot and you don’t move. And it wouldn’t move. He was just, he just plays over all these solos up until the day he died. But I got the opportunity to play with him a lot which was very special to me. I got the chance to play with some great Texas artists like JT Coldfire, Eric Tessmer, Alan Haynes. I even got to play with Gary Clark Junior on several occasions. He’s fantastic, I love him.
I’m really proud to see the stuff he’s doing right now. But I was playing at the historic Maggie May’s with Eric Tessmer, when Rob Lee, who plays with Johnny Sansone, Mia Borders, Mike Zito, all that, comes in. And we’re talking a little bit. I’ve known him for a little bit. He was talking about, he called me a couple of days later and said hey man, Mike Zito is looking for a bass player, are you interested? And I said YES! Absolutely. I had heard of Mike Zito, and I’d like to do some road work. Yeah, sure, why not? So Mike gets in touch with me. Sends me “Pearl River” and “Today”. So I learn all that stuff, and Mike says, “Alright, I’ll see you in Wichita.”
B411: And there it is!
Chris: And there it is! The rest is history. And actually, on the second gig, we played Knuckle Heads in Kansas City which is where I met Samantha Fish. We became friends, and the rest is history!
B411: Did you record with Zito?
Chris: I did not. I actually came in a little soon to be part of the “Greyhound” record.
B411: I’m just curious, because I saw Zito in Delaware when Rob was his drummer. Were you playing with him them?
Chris: Maybe. It’s very possible.
B411: I’ll have to look back at our pictures. We took a bunch a pictures, and I’m sure we took pictures of everybody.
Chris: It could have been anyone from Lonnie Trevino Jr to John – I don’t know his last name, he’s playing with Guitar Shorty right now – and myself.
B411: It’s just funny. Oh yeah, wait a minute, that was you?
Chris: Believe me, that’s happened to me before! That’s a compliment to a bass player. That means, though I want to stand out to a certain degree, I don’t want to be a distraction from the rest of the show.
B411: For both of you guys, that’s not your job. Your job is not to stand out. It’s your job to fade, just be there, be the background, be the wall.
GGR: Provide a strong foundation.
Chris: We’re supposed to be the engine. The Engine for the train.
B411: I’ve learned to listen since I’ve been doing this.
GGR: We chose our instruments for a reason. Once you get into the instrument and you get into how your instrument works with others. Now you get to the whole psychology thing of it. It’s just fascinating. What makes this work?
Chris: Why don’t you tell Chefjimi how you came across playing drums?
B411: I was just going to ask that!
Chris: See I’m right there for you! You can say that you asked that in the interview.
B411: No, no. You’re more than just a bass player, your bright, cognizant and witty! Want some more Absinthe?
Chris: Give me some more Absinthe and I’ll be really witty.
GGR: Growing up in Dallas, TX where I was born and raised. It was a treat to stay up on Friday nights and Saturday nights with your big brother and sister to watch “Midnight Special”. To watch Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert. To watch ABCs “In Concert”. And you see the band, but there’s the guy in the back who’s all this. (Hands flying around) And I’m like, what’s going on back there? I’m like, ok, I don’t have a drum set but your mom has dishes.
Chris: And wooden spoons.
GGR: The best pots and pans made the best sounds. To me. My mom didn’t want to hear that. I’m putting a woopin’ on her dishes! She’s putting a woopin’ on me. My Dad is like, “what’s wrong with you boy? What’s wrong with you?” Then, hitting a bean bag, that’s like a bass drum. So I’m just ruining stuff. And they said, buy this boy a drum so he can play. That’s how I started man.
B411: Damn straight, ain’t that what almost all of us did? You talk about it, and why don’t we have those shows on any more? But you know what those show would be now? Those shows would be what popular music is now.
Chris: Like Tayor Swift, Justin Bieber and garbage.
B411: It’s not the same.
GGR: It’s all polished. They didn’t know what they were doing back then. They were just trying to get music to the masses. They were innovating.
Chris: They were having fun back then.
GGR: Here’s a music show. We’ve got all these bands. Ok, you’re all going to get along. You’re all going to play.
Chris: Show up mostly sober to the gig!
B411: Yeh that helps. I remember seeing Hendrix on Dick Cavett.
Chris: I loved that interview! I saw that on the internet. I didn’t see it live.
GGR: That was a beautiful interview. That was Jimi being Jimi
B411: Ray, that’s a perfect word to describe what Jimi was – he was beautiful man, (said in a Jimi voice). I loved Jimi.
Chris: My favorite quote was Dick Cavett: “What makes you get up everyday?” and Jimi said “Man, I just try to get up everyday!” [Laughing] I loved that man!
B411: And you can just hear him say that in his voice. “I just try to get up everyday”. He was totally floatin’ round and round…
Chris: What did he say? Dick: “How do you feel about being one of the greatest guitar player in the word? “ And Jimi was like, “no, not at all”. Dick: “Well, you’re at least the greatest guitar player in the building.” And Jimi said “Well, how about I’m the greatest guitar player sitting in this seat right now?”
B411: And that attitude has transferred to you guys. I was talking to Mike Zito and Eric Lindell today. I know them both. I’m standing there talking to them, and I’m like damn, I can’t talk to you guys. You guys have so much talent between you. Why am I talking to you? And Zito goes, “no, I’m standing next to talent” (meaning Eric). But you guys are humble.
GGR: That’s the only way to be. It’s how you keep growing.
B411: It’s just amazing. I just love it. That humility and, of course the talent level, was what drew me in and made me want to do what I am doing now.
GGR: I’m sure you’ve seen your share of musicians, they know when they walk thru the door, they’re the best thing ever.
Chris: Yeah, really bad ass.
GGR: You don’t have time for that.
Chris: Albert Castiglia brought up a good point while we were over at his house a couple of days ago watching Sunday Night Football.
B411: Name dropper! Hah, talk about a modest and heavily talented cat.
Chris: So we were over at Albert’s house watching football. He made a really good point, that this business for some folks, not all, some folks it really twists them. It twists up your ego and it’s really easy for that to happen. But, doing just normal stuff, hanging out, talking to people, having a drink of Absinthe. (Drink mixing sounds in the back ground)
B411: I didn’t start out to do this. I’ve always loved music. Hendrix, but before Hendrix were The Beatles. These guys had guitars. The guitar was an instrument. A guitar used to be, there was talk about Bill Haley, but that didn’t register with me. Because that was corporate white people. It didn’t have the soul. My brother loved it. To me, it was like, there’s something missing. Then, The Beatles came out and they played pretty guitars. And that was the sound of the band. It was 3 guitars – one was a bass – but it was 3 guitars and a drummer. That was pretty cool. It took me into Cream, Hendrix.
GGR: Possibly the Stones? When the Stones came up.
B411: Oh absolutely. The Stones weren’t my favorite. I was a Beatles boy. The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, The Animals. That’s where I learned about John Lee Hooker. Burden (Eric) is still out there doing stuff with Tony Braunagel.
Chris: We saw them when we were in Annapolis, Maryland. That blues festival up there.
B411: If I could just jump to Tony Braunagel. To me, Tony is an incredible drummer. You hear other drummers all the time. What, to you, makes a good drummer? You guys play all the time. This is what you do for a living. Outside of the male modeling that Chris does, but we won’t go there.
Chris: Hey man, being an underwear model ain’t easy. [Lots of laughing]
B411: How do you put all those socks in your shorts and still look comfortable?
Chris: It’s an ancient Chinese secret!
B411: It’s like Fung Shui!
GGR: First of all, you just hear a drummer with a great groove. Probably playing the simplest beat ever. Just playing a simple beat and you just go, man, he means that. It’s cool. He’s laying it down, you’re moving to it. Then he may give you just a smidgen of razzle dazzle. Then you go, there’s something going on with this cat. He knows his job. He’s playing for the music. He gets a little feature here and there. But he still plays with the music. That’s how you tell. A great groove and everything is just right. The dynamics of the band.
Chris: I totally agree.
GGR: He’s not getting in the way. He’s not a distraction.
B411: If we’re doing the root thing, I go back to Ginger Baker, this guy had an afro-rhythm going.
GGR: Game changer. He was in a rock band, but he had this other element. That made you pay attention. This crazy guy, why is he doing this?
Chris: “Sunshine of Your Love” are you kidding me?
B411: (Doing the drum double beat) But compare that to Mitch Mitchell,
Chris: Who was doing all that Jazz.
GGR: A Jazz drummer who got a cool rock gig. And they said, Mitch you just play. You do what you do. Jimi will take care of the rest.
B411: That’s why I asked. You guys are professionals. You hear people differently than I do. What do I really know about drumming?
GGR: But you’re going off of a feeling. If the music is feeling good, they have your attention.
Chris: And that’s the beautiful thing about that. I always love hearing an audience’s reaction to a musician. A lot of the times, the person in the audience isn’t trained in music. So, it’s just going off of what they feel. To me, I agree with what Go Go Ray said about drummers. If the guy can just lay it down, just lay down a simple 4 on the floor, and just make it feel good. That, to me is a good drummer. It’s the same thing with Bass players. A Bass player can be technically proficient all they want, and be able to play a million and one notes. I’m a huge Jaco Pastorius fan. Huge Jaco fan. Every bass player is. Would I play that many notes in Samantha’s gig or Mike Zito’s gig? No. I wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t fit. I want to keep my gig.
GGR: Yeah, discipline.
Chris: Whenever you hear a musician, whenever you hear a bass player or a drummer or even a guitar player, you can just tell. You can intrinsically tell that they know their shit. That they’ve studied. That they learned this. They lived this. Eat, breathe, sleep and shit this music. And they can do these cool multiple note runs, but they don’t. It’s discipline. It’s knowing when and when not to use that information. I’ve learned on Jaco’s record “Portrait of Tracy” forwards and back, I learned “Teen Town”, I learned a lot of his stuff. I really loved his stuff. I got obsessed with it. It took me a solid, I was listening to his stuff nonstop for almost 5 years.
B411: Ok guys we have spent way to much time in this here room, the fung-shui is in perfect order, the Reflections In Absinthe has been recorded, now lets get back to this cruise.
The lag time on this is a bit long even for me, but I firmly believe things happen for a reason. case in point, this was posted Wednesday 2/26 on Chris Alexander’s Facebook page.
“Tomorrow, I embark on my last trip with Samantha Fish and Go-Go Ray. It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of this group for the past year and a half, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to make so many incredible friends and make unforgettable memories.
I will always cherish the time I spent in the band, and will always love the people I spent it with. There is absolutely no ill will or bad blood between us, and I will always consider them some of my closest friends and I wish them the absolute best.
My final show with Samantha will be at the Blues Blast festival in Phoenix on the 8th and it’s damn sure to be a good time!
Thank you guys for everything.”
I will miss Chris, and the dynamic that he brought to the band. He will go on and do fine, Samantha and GoGo Ray will do so also.
It is music, it is art, it is fleeting and always changing. See the music while you can, take nothing for granted. Thank you Chris, thank you GoGo Ray and thank you Samantha for bringing these cats into my life.. There is so much good that comes from all of this – good luck and my continuing support for what you all do.
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph
Where Blues Thrives