Roy Mason – Silvertoned songsmith
Ray Mason has spent his life pulling rock ‘n’ roll music out of his beat-up Silvertone guitar and Peavey Mace amplifier. Mason’s country-gentleman smile seems to dwarf the green Silvertone, making it seem like half a guitar. And the Mace behind him isn’t exactly a stack of Marshalls. It’s an unlikely combination. But then, so is Mason’s music.
Listening to any one of the Ray Mason Band’s four CDs, you might expect Mason lives somewhere between Motown and Nashville, someplace where soul and twang live happily side by side. Swing the compass a little wider, to Northampton, Massachusetts, just a stone’s throw from Boston, and you’ll find a lively music scene. Three decades of touring and recording has earned Mason a reputation as the godfather of that scene.
Not that you could ever get the easygoing Mason to admit it. Earlier this year, Tar Hut Records released It’s Heartbreak That Sells, a tribute album of Mason’s songs featuring Eric Ambel, Cheri Knight, the Ass Ponys, Charlie Chesterman and others. Mason was surprised it got off the ground. He’d been hearing about it for years, as different bands recorded his stuff, and didn’t think much of it until the album actually came out. “Eventually people started approaching me in the street, saying, ‘So and so is recording one of your tunes.’ And I’m going, ‘Well, what would he want to do that for?'”
Mason was too busy playing his own music to worry about a tribute album. He was recording the Ray Mason Band’s latest, Castanets, and playing with his two other bands, the Lonesome Brothers and the Ware River Club. That’s in addition to holding down an average of fifteen gigs a month, not to mention recording with other area musicians such as Knight and Wolf Krakowski.
Jeff Copetas of Tar Hut attributes Mason’s popularity to his tireless touring and recording. “Ray’s been around forever,” Copetas says. “The people who recorded his music grew up listening to Ray. Most of the artists on the record are a generation younger than Ray. There’s the guy from Claudia Malibu — this is a 21-year-old kid. He just adored Ray. He snuck into the clubs when he was 15 and 16 years old so he could hear Ray play.”
Mason’s respect for rock ‘n’ roll tradition extends to his Silvertone. The picture on the cover of Castanets shows a preteen Ray holding his first guitar — a Silvertone — in 1964. That guitar is long gone, but he has two more he uses almost exclusively live and in the studio. “It means something to me, too, that I started on a Silvertone, as you can see in that picture,” he says. “It’s so neat to me to be 48 and still playing one.”
When Frank Marsh found himself between bands five years ago, he considered it a stroke of luck that Mason was looking for other musicians. “Ray needed a drummer, he called me up, and I jumped at the chance because I respect his writing so much,” Marsh said.
Castanets is the band’s most cohesive effort to date. While the other three albums featured a revolving cast, Castanets stays with Mason, Marsh, and ex-Scud Mountain Boys Tom Shea on bass and Stephen Desaulniers on guitar, with occasional help on keys and other instruments from producer Jim Weeks. ” It’s more the way you would here the band live at this point,” Mason says of the new record.
Mason says he’s already written most of the music for the band’s next album. With a new Lonesome Brothers CD also in the works, Mason is right where he wants to be.
“A lot of people around are working jobs they don’t want to be at,” Mason says. “As far as I know, you only go around once, so it’s kind of nice to be doing something you really like to do.”