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Ray Russell

Guitarist Ray Russell may be the most successful member of the final lineup of the John Barry Seven, having gone on to a serious and highly regarded career in jazz and rock in England over the ensuing decades. Russell's introduction to the John Barry Seven came when he read in the music press that the band's longtime lead guitarist, Vic Flick, was leaving the group -- he auditioned on a day off his from regular job and won the spot by pretending that he could read music; he learned musical notation as a member of the band, after establishing his virtuosity. The corpulent, stockily built Russell (who resembled Roy Kinnear or Robbie Coltrane) was an improbable looking guitar hero, but his talent was incontestable. He made a good successor to Flick and stayed with the band to its end in early 1965. He next played with Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, and by the end of the '60s he was working in tandem with Chris Spedding in the Mike Gibbs band, alongside bassist Jack Bruce and reedman Alan Skidmore.

During the '70s, Russell passed through such ensembles as the Rock Workshop and the avant jazz-rock combo Nucleus, and co-founded Chopyn (featuring Simon Phillips on drums) with keyboard player Ann Odell. He also played with Roxy Music's Andy Mackay on the soundtrack of the British television series Rock Follies, and became a member of Stackridge for a time. Russell was also the guitarist for the group Smith & D'Abo, and played a role in the benefit performances known as The Secret Policeman's Ball, alongside Eric Clapton, Neil Innes, et al. As a member of the fusion group the British Orchestra in the early '80s, he played and recorded the music of Gil Evans, and he also made his West End debut playing in the musical Time, starring Cliff Richard, in 1986.

Russell later formed his own group, the Ray Russell Band. He was a regular participant at the Montreux Jazz Festival throughout the '80s and '90s, working in various group contexts, and has also played with the Simon Phillips Band. Although Russell is best known for his abilities as a jazz player, he has worked successfully across a vast range of musical idioms, including R&B/soul and heavy metal. Various recordings under his leadership have been issued over the years, including such career highlights as 1987’s Childscape featuring appearances by Gil Evans and Mark Isham on the Theta label (reissued as Why Not Now on Melt 2000 in 1999 and with bonus tracks in 2004 on Angel Air), 1990’s A Table Near the Band on Last Chance Music (reissued by Angel Air in 2008), and 2006’s Goodbye Svengali on Cuneiform.

Secret Asylum, a previously unissued tape from 1973, was officially released by the artist in 2007 and later picked up for international distribution, and some of his sound library work and pop material from his years with Joe Meek surfaced as well. Russell returned to recording proper in 2013 with Now, More Than Ever, a jazz-rock date for Abstract Logix. In 2014, he was convinced by guitarist and friend Henry Kaiser to revisit the approach of his earliest improvisational recordings. The end result was the co-billed The Celestial Squid. The set was recorded live at Fantasy Studios with an octet, and issued by Cuneiform in early 2015. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
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