Maybe you don’t know who Tommy Ray is. That’s okay. He knows. He says he’s living the dream. I say he’s living life like he means it. Either way, it amounts to the same thing. Tommy Ray stepped off the ledge, and like Tom Petty so famously sang, “Now I’m free . . . free fallin’.” That’s exactly what Tommy Ray is doing. He’s free falling and enjoying every second of it. Just a country boy who chucked a decent job and decided to follow his passion for writing and playing his songs. He took a chance on himself and continues to do so every day. Even if he never rises above “almost famous,” Tommy Ray has made it big. Here’s my interview with him. Hope you enjoy it.
Carl Hose: Tommy, let’s start with the tour you’re on. You are covering a lot of distance. Are you financing it yourself, and how have you managed to make time to travel this way
Tommy Ray: I resigned my position as a physician assistant in January of 2016. Originally, I was going to take this trip in May, after I resigned , however, the inner voice that I listen to and my desire to travel, write, and play music became too strong, so I was able to leave in March. I used most of January to tie up loose ends and work on a few projects I am currently finalizing. (I am finishing up my first book based on a trip I took in 2012 to Spain). I am financing this trip on my own. My goal when planning was to spend between $20 – $50 a day, camping along the way. I am sleeping in the backseat of my pick-up truck and using Wal-Mart parking lots and campgrounds or quiet places I feel safe to spend the night, preparing my own meals, plus planning to make money street performing/busking and selling EP’s when I perform at open mics and share my music. I have decided this is how I want to spend my life, traveling, writing, and performing, no plan B. I am all in. This inner desire and drive put me on this trip with only one deadline, the Mississippi Music Foundation Music Awards, where I am nominated for three awards on May 7th. If not for this event, I would be on the road for an unknown time limit.
Carl Hose: There are a lot of people who would love to do what you’re doing, just getting out and following their dream. Is there any single event that prompted you to stop dreaming and just jump into it?
Tommy Ray: The dream has been developing for about two years. After listening/reading quotes from Warren Buffett, Jim Carrey, and Will Smith, among others, plus reading the books “The Alchemist” and “Warrior of the Light,” both by Paulo Coelho, I decided it was time. My personal motto is live life like you cannot fail. When I practiced in medicine, I experienced death right in front of me. We all know death occurs everyday, but we never know when our last breath may come, so I want to enjoy, savor, and live each 24 hour span to its fullest. I am willing to be homeless and even die for my dreams. I would rather perish chasing my dreams than live a life without passion, love, and adventure. I love the journey.
Carl Hose: How old were you when you first started writing?
Tommy Ray: I notice at some point as we grow up, we stop dreaming or we abandon our dreams. I recall writing my first book in elementary school, my first song in middle school, and suddenly the dream I aspired to disappeared because I was told it was too big, not practical, and foolish. Thankfully that voice inside me, though dormant for many years, began to awaken again, until I could not sleep at night because I knew I wanted to live my life with creativity and passion. In 2010 my writing took on the dedicated time I needed, even though I was working full-time. That led to my first EP, “Crossroads,’ in 2012. I now spend 4 – 5 hours a day writing, preparing songs for my next recording session, and working on my second book.
Carl Hose: Are there any particular genres of music that excite you more than others? Who are some of your favorite performers?
Tommy Ray: My favorite genres are alternative rock like Five Finger Death Punch, Godsmack, and Seether, though when I write, it is much calmer due to me usually using my guitar for inspiration. When I am coming up with ideas or blessed with ideas, they are written in that 65 – 85 bpm rhythm. My singing style is more Cat Stevens, Jamey Johnson, Neil Young, and Bob Seger, so my songs have that flair. I would love to be on stage in front of 100,000 people who are rocking out to one of my songs with the drums, bass, and face melting solos. I only have been to a few concerts in my life. My favorites were Creed and Seether. I admire Prince. I am still in awe that there was a point where Neil Young, Simon & Garfunkel, and James Taylor could simply sit on a stage on a stool and play guitar solo and people would explode in applause. It feels like that cannot be done anymore.
Carl Hose: What is your method for writing songs. Where and when do you do it best, do you write on paper or use software, or do you just turn on a recording device and capture it?
Tommy Ray: Two of my favorite songs, “Zama” and “My Guide,” came to me in a dream. Other times it’s because I am quite emotional or inspired, so I pick up my guitar and just strum until words come out, I record everything to see if I like a word or sentence, then build from there. I find ways to be inspired everyday, either in joy or tears. I am now writing at times with just a pen and paper, with no music. I also do exercises like write one line a day, and do this technique with like 8 separate songs; I just continue (a few of these are three pages long), then I go through it and pick out what I like, or decide if I want to build on a theme. I also like co-writing when given the opportunity. I tried to use some writing programs but did not like them. It felt too artificial for me personally. I love pen and paper.
Carl Hose: Are you self taught or did you attend school for music?
Tommy Ray: I have an older brother who has an amazing voice and is great on guitar. He tried to teach me right handed when I was 8, but I could not grasp it, either because I was trying to learn right-handed, being I am left-handed, or because I was too young. In 2000, I bought my first left-handed guitar and began teaching myself basic chords. I have taken a few lessons throughout my musical journey, but in hindsight, I wish I would have had a teacher then and now. I would like to devote myself to 4 hours a day of practice and playing guitar to increase my skills. The same with voice training. I have taken a handful of lessons, but would like to be taking at least one lesson a week. I never attended a music class, which in hindsight, I wish I would have.
Carl Hose: Back to the tour. How difficult was it to set up all the shows?
Tommy Ray: I tried to set up shows in advance, but either no one would respond or they told me they would have to see me perform live. I sent You Tube videos, but still nothing. The tour, “Confessions of a Dreamer,” is busking on the streets for tips and performing at open mics when I have the opportunity. I basically made a list of cities that are supposed to be excellent music towns. I arrive at a town/city and do an internet search of the legal framework of busking. If there are open mics, I attend.
Carl Hose: Which cities and venues were favorites from this tour?
Tommy Ray: I enjoyed Austin, even though the cops made me stop using my street amp. Houston, TX was fun and I was able to perform at a nice venue there. In Portland, OR, I was able to perform two nights in a row. The second night was at The Good Foot, one of the best venues in Portland for music. I was pleasantly surprised about Long Beach, CA. I did some street performing there. In Seattle, WA, I was able to perform two nights in two great venues, including the Hard Rock Cafe Seattle. Oceanside, CA was a great city for me because San Diego is 30 – 45 minutes south, the weather was great, and there are lots of cool things to drive to within 2 – 4 hours. Plus, the Oceanside area would allow to perform almost 7 days a week. Due to time, I was unable to perform in Montana, but it’s beautiful.
Carl Hose: Are there any really great stories that stand out from the tour?
Tommy Ray: I am writing a book based on this experience, “A Country Boy Busking Across America.” I believe readers will enjoy the interactions and adventures.
Carl Hose: Is the tour ongoing? If not, do you plan on another soon?
Tommy Ray: I am still on the road (currently in Montana and heading through Wyoming, then to my next big city, Denver, CO) until May 6th. I have to be back for the MSMF Awards Show on May 7th. I am walking my first red carpet as I was nominated for three awards. When I originally planned this trip/tour, I found out quickly I could not make all of the spots I wanted to see in the time frame. I stayed in certain cities longer and did not drive as much each day. When I reached Seattle, WA, I was probably 1500 miles behind my original schedule. If it was not for the awards show, I may still be in California or Oregon and I’d take my time and stay in cities longer. I could have stayed in Portland and Seattle for at least a week and performed almost every day. I want to do something similar on the east coast and in Florida where my mom and brothers live.
Carl Hose: What about Tommy Ray music? How many albums are available and where can they be found?
Tommy Ray: I currently have one EP available, “Crossroads.” It has 5 singles and they all can be found on Reverbnation at Tommy Ray Music, and accessed on most digital outlets. On Facebook, Tommy Ray Music, my music is there as well. You can also visit my blog for tour updates and info. I have the EP available as an autographed copy. Just go to PayPal. I charge $7, which includes S&H. Use firstname.lastname@example.org for payment purposes.
I have a goal to record two new singles in October of 2016 at Hit Music Studios with Producer Jimm Mosher.
Carl Hose: Tell us a little about the awards you’re up for?
Tommy Ray: I am currently nominated for three awards, Christian/Inspirational; Best Mississippi Artist; Best Mississippi Original Song.
Carl Hose: How do you feel about the state of the music industry today as opposed to how it used to be? What are your thoughts on the indie scene, pirating, and a young artist’s chances of making a career of music these days.
Tommy Ray: My feelings are mixed about music. I look back and listen to Neil Young, The Doors, Tom Petty, James Taylor, and most of their songs feel timeless and we still hear them on the radio throughout the day. A lot of things I personally hear on the radio, I am curious how it got there. I respect it, but I don’t know how it made it that far. I do feel the way things are, from a financial standpoint, make it more difficult to make it in the business. There are so many ways to get the songs for free, and the acts that have the backing of millions of dollars are the ones getting on major radio and able to tour, which is where the artists make their money. With technology, so much music can be put out now with minimal income or effort to put it there, so there is an over saturation. This is a positive and a negative. It’s a positive because so many people can live and chase their dreams, but the negative is with the over saturation, and people choose not to buy CD’s/albums anymore. I like to ponder what if I put my music out back in the 70’s, if I would be on a different level. I keep the faith that there are over 360 million people in our country alone, so it seems like it should be simple to sell 10,000, 50,000, 100,000, or even 1,000,000 copies of a single or a full EP/CD/Album. That is my current proces, to figure that one out.
Carl Hose: What can fans expect from you in upcoming months?
Tommy Ray: My first book, “A Country Boy Walks the Camino,” will be on Kindle, Nook, and hard copy in the next three months. Continued pursuit of my dreams, and being grateful that everyone who listens, purchases, and supports are part of my dream. I will edit my second book, “A Country Boy Busks Across America,” and have it ready for those above outlets. I am planning to return to the studio in October of 2016 to record at least two singles. And finally, perform, write, and travel as much as possible. My ultimate goal is to inspire others to figure out their dreams and passions and go for it, all in, To Live Life Like They Cannot Fail.
Carl Hose: It’s been great following your tour and watching you live the dream. Life is too short not to. Thanks for talking with me, Tommy Ray.
Tommy Ray: I am truly grateful Carl . . . . Thank you!