Interview with Ray Burton

Ray Burton: Acclaimed Singer-Songwriter
For Many Top 20 Hit Songs

Ray Burton singer/songwriter of many top 20 hit songs including the Helen Reddy song “I AM WOMAN,” “Paddington Green,” “Too Hard to Handle” and the list goes on. Worked with many of the giants in the business – Billy Joel, opened for the greats like QUEEN, AMERICA and many, many more. Bands include the world renowned original CROSSFIRE. Founding member of AYERS ROCK. Lead singer in the top pop band of the 70’s THE EXECUTIVES.

The silent achiever Ray continues to write for fellow artists and musicians and offers a catalogue of over 200 songs much of which is new material as yet unrecorded. His songs and music for movies include New York film critic award for Rabbit Run, Best Friends Wedding, Airport 75. Ray has worked for theatre with Sam Shepard. Recorded two significant albums of original work both in the USA and Australia.

As an experienced songwriter with a great commercial savvy he has written advertising, theme songs and jingles for brand names like Coca Cola, P&O and a host of other important national brands.

(Taken from Ray Burton’s Official website)

Jessica Gilbert: Ray, I’m really honored to have you in TSM and thanks so much for doing an interview for the magazine.

Ray Burton: Thank you so much for including me in your magazine Jessica, I feel quite honored myself to be featured in TALENT SPOTLIGHT MAGAZINE when there are so many other talented singer/songwriters to choose from, but I suppose I am a music industry veteran who had “been there & done that” and pretty much seen all of it.

Jessica Gilbert: You got hit with the music bug at the early age of three.Tell us a little bit about the musical training you’ve had.

Ray Burton: Both of my parents were entertainers, and I was a band room child because my parents often took me to the place where they were performing and they had me wait out the back in the band/dressing room. Sometimes there were many, very beautiful lady dancers and half-dressed showgirls who used to spoil me and give me chocolates and hugs. . . I liked that a lot! My Mother played piano and was a great singer, and my father played guitar and had a beautiful voice as well. My great grandfather was apparently first violinist for a while with Sydney Symphony Orchestra and my Aunty June, my mother’s sister, sang on radio in Sydney in the 1940’s. My mother sang on radio in Sydney as well as giving piano lessons. I started piano lessons with my Mother at about four years old. Guitars came later on.

Ray Burton aged four

Ray Burton’s parents in the early 1950’s

Jessica Gilbert: At what age did you start writing songs? Can you recall the very first song you ever wrote?

Ray Burton: For as long as I can remember, I always seemed to have catchy melodies and rhymes in my head, even as a young boy. I suppose I first started putting song ideas together when I was about seven or eight years old. The first song I ever wrote that I can vaguely remember was about a gorgeous girl that I had a crush on in school {what else? ha ha}. She was a beautifully exotic girl from Sri Lanka with beautiful light brown skin. She was in my class at school in Australia and her name was Tamara. At the time I was absolutely besotted by her! I befriended Tamara and bravely protected her in the schoolyard. Everyone seemed to pick on Tamara or keep their distance from her because she was so different from all of them. Being so “different” was fine with me and I thought being different from all of the others was a really great way to be J because it made a person stand out in a crowd. When I come to think of it, I was a bit “different” too so I guess we were matched in a way. We were nine years old!

Sydney Harbour

Jessica Gilbert: What’s your process for writing lyrics? And where do you get the inspiration for your songs?

Ray Burton: Sometimes I have a catchy melody or lyric line that swirls around inside my head for days, or weeks; and with some songs, it can even smolder like a sleeping volcano for years before suddenly presenting itself and exploding into the world. While these song ideas are swirling around in this brainwave whirlpool of musical creativity, they are somehow writing themselves in the musical mixing bowl of my mind before morphing into a song; like baking a cake complete with icing that is the flavor of choice that day. Yes, it’s a bit like baking a cake. a musical mind cake where all of the ingredients have to be just right to achieve the perfect outcome.

This happened with the song “I AM WOMAN” that I wrote with Helen Reddy. I had the melody and the “feel” for the song swirling around in my head for about a year. Then one day, as the only male attending one of Helen’s women’s liberation meetings with a dozen or so other women, BANG! My volcanic musical idea exploded into life. Suddenly the song surfaced in my head larger than life and “I AM WOMAN” was born. The rest, of course, is history as that particular song was number one in every western country of the world and it broke all kinds of sales records for the time. I was very fortunate to have the right song at the right time!

BMI Award 2 small My BMI award for I Am Woman

Pondering a song

Jessica Gilbert: Who are your major music influences?

Ray Burton: John Mayer, Ray Charles, Steve Winwood, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Spanish Flamenco players, The Gypsy Kings, Jimmy Webb, Burt Baccarach, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills & Nash, Lou Gramm, Keb Mo, Eric Bib, Jimmy Rodgers Allstars, The Beatles, Led Zepplin and a multitude of great bands out of the U.K. and probably many more that I can’t begin to think of right now. In fact, there are too many influences to mention here. It’s all about good musicianship, talent, heart, passion, drive, and when you hear something musically great you just instinctively “know”. Great music and lyrics are all around us; and the list of talented writers and musicians goes on and on. From Jazz to Blues, Rap, Pop, Country, Rock, and World, or Ethnic music. I just have to keep my ears tuned to the earth and my eyes to the sky, listen, absorb, sift, sort and then go off and do my own thing with all the musical tools I have gathered.

My Taylor 714ce acoustic guitar

Jessica Gilbert: Tell us a little bit about the history and formation of your bands Crossfire, Ayers Rock and The Executives.

Ray Burton: The Executives were an up and coming Sydney band. They were very well-liked and successful up and down the east coast of Australia, but they were a little bit on the light side musically. As a result of that; and although they were successful, they were not being taken seriously enough by the media and by the music industry “powers that be” in Australia at the time. I more or less was asked to join the band as a hired gun to “muddy up” their squeaky clean image for the burgeoning Australian blues, R&B and rock audiences. Blues, R&B and rock were my forte, including the big power-vocal rock ballads of the time so the formula for the band worked well. Within about a year of me joining the band, The Executives band were off to the U.S.A. on a P&O cruise ship to record an album in Los Angeles. That was a voyage I will never forget! I was young, adventurous and off to see the world and introduce other countries to my music. By then my songwriting had much improved and I had outgrown Australia after having performed at every venue possible.

Crossfire: I was never an actual permanent member of the Crossfire band, but I greatly admired their creativity and musicianship. I liked Crossfire so much, that I chose to use them as my primary backing band on the Dreamers & Nightflyers album that I recorded for Warner Brothers. After recording and touring with this album in Australia, I returned to the U.S.A. for several years to continue my career.

Ayers Rock: After returning from the U.S.A. I formed the band Ayers Rock with Duncan Maguire (Bass), Mark Kennedy (Drums), Col Loughnan (Soprano Saxophone) and Jimmy Doyle (guitar). I sang lead vocals, played guitar and wrote the majority of the songs. We based ourselves in Melbourne, Australia and were signed to the legendary Mushroom Records who were then headed up by Michael Gudinski and Ray Evans. We were kept really busy in those days playing as many as three gigs per night in and around Melbourne. I had recently returned from an intense few years in California, USA, and after about a year of touring and performing with Ayer’s Rock I decided that I needed a break from it all so I left the band and took an amazing three month holiday in beautiful New Zealand. What an incredible country it is. New Zealand is another place I will never forget and my NZ friends will always stay close to my heart. Great bands over there too eh? Ha ha J

The Executives

Ayers Rock

Jessica Gilbert: Reflecting upon all your experiences working and touring with many big names, can you tell us about one of your most memorable ones?

Ray Burton: One time way back in the mid 60’s, early days even for me J, I was on tour with the top UK bands of the time THE WHO and THE SMALL FACES. We had played in Perth Australia the night before and the next morning we were on a flight across to Adelaide for a concert that same night. Well . . . Keith Moon, The Who’s drummer smuggled his own bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon whisky onto the plane and proceeded to drink it, or should I say guzzle it down and it wasn’t long before he became very drunk, quite belligerent; and started abusing the stewardess on the plane. It all got very out of hand and ugly and by the time we arrived in Adelaide there were about eight very large police officers waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs from the plane because the captain had radioed ahead. The burly policemen placed us all under airport arrest and detained us all in a room at the airport. We were there for a few hours while all of our respective managers were running around in circles pulling their hair out and trying to get us released in time for the hotel book in, the afternoon sound check and of course concert itself at 8pm. We finally got out of there in the afternoon just in time for the sound check, but while in the “lock up” I took the opportunity to talk to the English bands quite a bit. It was great getting to know UK music legends such as Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry from THE WHO, and Steve Mariott and the boys from THE SMALL FACES. That is a “never forget” story for me as well. There are many more and some day I should write my own book on my musical experiences.

Jessica Gilbert: With the success of many songs, what would you say are the key qualities that makes a song successful?

Ray Burton: This is a copyrighted excerpt from my upcoming book on popular songwriting. “Do not disregard the hit songs and the hit writers of yester-year; they are milestone musical markers and reference points! Study popular songs both old and new that were once hits; and the songs of today that are now being played on the radio airwaves in whatever genre you have chosen to write in. Analyze what made or still makes those songs tick and why they are so successful. Ask yourself “what are the magic ingredients” that make that particular song work? If it’s a National or even an International hit, the song is obviously working for a whole lot of other people as well as you. Correct? Mentally dissect the song you have chosen to commit surgical procedure on until you have all the component parts spread out before you on your mental operating table. Visualize the song parts spread out and categorized on the imaginary mental work bench of your mind. Study these song components and ask yourself why these parts all work so well together. Ask yourself if there are one or more predominant repetitive melodic or lyrical HOOKS {catch phrases} that keep reeling you in every time they come around. Do Not Plagiarize but do try to use a similar success formula in your own creative process. If this song formula worked before, chances are that with your own special brand of manipulation and/or modification, this fundamental song formula will work again with up-to-date music and lyric arrangements.”

Jessica Gilbert: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?

Ray Burton: I would like to educate all of the young people in the world on “Earth Friendly” sustainable living. I would like to see sustainable Permaculture food growing skills taught, plus alternative energy sources and practices as mandatory lessons in all schools. I would also like to help the students to learn the value of using heirloom or “Heritage Seeds” for growing food in their gardens and teach them to reject genetically modified foods that do not reproduce “true to type”. There are too many people in the world on a roller coaster ride of abundance who think everything is going to be just fine for them. They are Under the “Influence of Affluence” and yes, their money will probably buy them some sort of survival for a time, at least until their money runs out. The cold hard facts are that our planet is becoming rapidly overpopulated and Food, Water and Energy should be our primary focus today and in the future; not Money, Wall Street Stocks and Oil if the Human Race is to survive as a species.

Jessica Gilbert: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?

Ray Burton: “Never leave until tomorrow what you can do today” (Unknown)

“Losers live in the past. 
Winners learn from the past and enjoy 
working in the present toward the future.” (Denis Waitley – American motivational speaker and writer)

“Let The Sun Set The Pace” (Ray Burton)

Jessica Gilbert: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?

Ray Burton: Songwriting is Hard Work: Copyright: Ray Burton (Also from my upcoming book on songwriting} As a songwriter you cannot always rely on a blinding starburst of cosmic inspiration to suddenly overwhelm you and magically cause you to run off and write a songwriting masterpiece. Songwriting is hard work just like anything else that is rewarding or worthwhile. Even though writing songs may be a pleasurable task and something you love to do, it will still be a concentrated effort in order to get all of the interwoven intricacies of the melody, lyrics and the rhythm feeling just right. In constructing a song, the mood of the lyric must match the mood of the melody and vice versa. This feeling or mood needs to be transferred to the listener so that they “Get It” and get the right message and that message is the overall feeling that you are trying to convey. Be precise and concise! Don’t confuse the listeners with long-winded flowery or syrupy words that would never be used in everyday conversation. Make the lyrics uniquely your own, well thought out and clever, yet uncomplicated; and the same rule should apply to the melody and chord change structures as well if you want to write successful popular songs.

Jessica Gilbert: Thanks again for doing this interview. I wish you continued success with all you do in the future.

Ray Burton: Thank you for inviting me to have a chat with you Jessica, you ask some very interesting questions. I hope to catch up with you one of these days in beautiful, sunny Spain. I will leave you with a few of my websites to peruse when you have the time. All the very best of Love ‘n’ Luck to all of your readers. I thank you again!

2 thoughts on “Interview with Ray Burton

  1. Great interview with invaluable insights for aspiring songwriters. Hopefully this interview and Ray Burton’s career can inspire more original real music making and less of the manufactured studio pop.

  2. As a person that has known Ray for many years,I have good knowledge of his talent/achievements in the music field so all I can add here is that he is also a great/fun friend to have….that is all!

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