Ray Stinnett

A Fire Somewhere

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In the early '60s, Ray Stinnett was a kid from Memphis who dug R&B and wanted to have a hit record just like Elvis. By mid-decade, Stinnett had scored that monster hit single as a member of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, playing guitar on "Wooly Bully," and by the dawn of the 1970s, Stinnett and his wife were living on a commune in California and searching for spiritual enlightenment. Stinnett's life path reflects the shifting cultural Zeitgeist of the 1960s with commendable accuracy, but thankfully he never stopped playing guitar like a Memphis boy who dug the blues, as evidenced by A Fire Somewhere, an album Stinnett recorded in 1971 that finally earned a long-overdue release in 2012. Stinnett was a protégé of Booker T. Jones, and when Jones signed a deal with A&M Records, he persuaded them to sign Stinnett as well, and if what Stinnett was writing was a long way from classic Memphis R&B, Stinnett's sharp, emphatic guitar work and easygoing sense of timing suggest he learned more than a little from the cats at Stax Records, though his vocals weren't always on a par with his picking. As a songwriter, Stinnett conjures up a fine, swampy fusion of soul, country, blues, and rock, with occasional side trips into psychedelia and gospel, and though it's true Stinnett's spiritual and philosophical conceits sometimes sound a bit clumsy after 40 years of gathering dust, Stinnett never sounds less than entirely sincere, and when he deals with the nuts and bolts of love and relationships, he strikes a bull's-eye. And Stinnett was blessed with a rhythm section as idiosyncratically gifted as he was in bassist Mike Plunk and drummer Jerry Patterson. Differences with A&M over marketing and management caused Stinnett to walk away from his record deal, and A Fire Somewhere got left by the wayside, buried in the label's vaults; Light in the Attic's release of the album doesn't quite resurrect a lost classic, but this is an entertaining, often fascinating set of well-crafted swamp rock that showcases a talent that deserved a hearing it didn't get in 1971. The album was remastered from the original session tapes, and Jessica Hundley's liner notes (with plenty of quotes from Stinnett) tell as much as you could care to know about Stinnett and his long lost album.

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