Ray Jehovy is a familiar face on the cover of drum magazines across the world. Call him an encyclopaedia of drumming knowledge, and you won’t be wrong. Jehovy is blessed with a deep understanding of the drum set’s socio-cultural role in the development of Western music. He rose to fame as the drummer of choice from the late 80’s as a session drummer, musician and, later, a renowned bandleader and composer. Jehovy discusses his extensive achievements with Adedayo Adejobi and says he never thought playing drums could bring him so much fame and success
How did you get bitten by the “drum bug”?
I got bitten by the drum bug in the church about 38years ago.
Why drums? Why did you choose an instrument that takes five times longer to pack up than a guitar and amplifier?
Well, I found it most exciting because it involves the four limbs and there are so many parts to play with.
Who were some of your earliest influences?
Phil Collins, Steve Gadd, and Buddy Rich.
When did you start writing and producing?
Way back in the 90s.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you?
For me, I just wanted to play the drums not for any special reason. Which made me develop originality and I found my sound and style.
How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own drumming style?
I will describe my own development as an artist as a gift from God, leading me through thick and thin to developing my own drumming style.
You are a very melodic drummer. Do you think that stems from your training and the fact that you can read music and are a classically trained percussionist?
Yes, gone are the days where drummers use to be just time and rhythm keepers. I found it necessary to have a formal music training to sharpen myself and enhance my vocabulary on the drums.
The drum separation and solo patterns have really become quite iconic. It’s very rare that an audience makes a connection to the drummer. How do you feel any time you play that and look at the audience and see people air drumming along?
I really do not see the audience when I perform; rather they see me, so I do what is required to ensure a wonderful performance, which makes me capture the heart of my audience.
Is that the ultimate compliment for a drummer?
For others, maybe, for me, no. Seeing my audience go away happy is my ultimate compliment.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Hmm!! That’s a clever one. Improvisation simply means charting your own cause from the original. While composition means using different elements to create. They are building blocks, so I separate them when the need arises.
Listening to pot-pourri music from the 60s, 70s, 80s and into the 90s, it wasn’t unusual to have a time signature change or tempo change within a song. But now we seem to get just a straight 4/4 in songs. Why do you think this happened? Is it a lack of musical proficiency with the people coming up behind you or are the label executives not wanting their musicians to take risks?
In those days we used to have automobile companies build cars with steel/ iron body, but nowadays the bodies are so fragile that with one child- like punch the car goes to a panel beaters shop. Will you judge them to be inefficient? No. Development called for that change. So it is with music. People like listening to more steady music these days.
You do a lot of session work with up-and-coming artists. When you’re given a song and asked to do a basic drum part, do you ever make suggestions when it comes to the arrangement?
Of course, I make suggestions. No man knows it all.
The list of people that you’ve played with is extensive. Who haven’t you played with that is on your drummer’s bucket list?
There is nothing in my drum bucket list because I don’t have any. I don’t esteem one above the other. The best are still coming. Music is relative. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Can you conjure up a typical day in your life at the height of your success?
The height of my success can’t be narrowed down to any physical reward from human. It is to see my students become greater than I and carrying the flag to the next level.
Can you give me an idea of what the greatest surprises were, and maybe the saddest moments for you?
My greatest surprise is, I never thought that playing the drums will take me this far. I just wanted to play drums and nothing more.
Papa Ray, you’ve been travelling a lot lately. How would you describe the tour experience?
Amazing, That I could share my thoughts with people internationally and they see something undeniable come out of Nigeria and Africa that they labelled as third world in the League of Nations, is something to be grateful for.
Of all the countries you’ve travelled to, which are some of the countries you enjoyed the most?
France and Sweden
How would you summarise the impact the internet has had on your career?
The internet is the world at your disposal. I could reach out to anyone. Everything I want I get from the internet.
Hypothetically, if someone recorded a performance of yours and posted it to YouTube, would you find that undesirable?
Yes, without my permission.
If you are between two states of mind – let’s say depressed and happy – is it easier to be creative?
As a composer and song writer, these elements are triggers to help you when the energy that they produce is used positively.
How do you feel on stage and backstage?
Ready to give birth when I am backstage. Business when I am on stage.
What’s your favourite album and artist of all time?
Mary Mackie and the Genesis.
Outside of music, what keeps you busy?
My family and my fish farm.
You’ll soon be on tour again, what’s your favourite part about playing gigs?
My favourite part about playing gigs is the opportunity to experience me express myself to people again.
How does your wife manage your long absence as travel abroad on tours?
That is why it is advisable to marry the woman who loves your calling. She will support your moves.
If you had to shadow somebody for a day, who would it be?
The guy who is much better than I am.
What style/genre of music do you enjoy playing to, and why?
Jazz, for a wider vocabulary, Pop for business, Afro Cuban/Latin, for rhythm cultivation.
What in your opinion is the best arranged recorded album with good drums arrangement?
It’s difficult to point to one, but Michael Jackson off the wall album is one of them.
What was the first song you heard this morning?
‘You are GOD from beginning to the end’ by Nathaniel Bassey.