Ray Lucas: 1939-2017
The loyal NYC drummer had the music in him.
Ray Lucas was an unsung hero of the dynamic New York City R&B/soul scene of the ’60s and ’70s, recording with Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, George Benson, and many others. A self-taught drummer who didn’t read music, his motto was “If I can hear it one time, I got it.”
When King Curtis auditioned Lucas in the basement of Smalls Paradise, Curtis asked jazz great Roy Haynes to come along and help him check out the nineteen-year-old prospect. Haynes gave his stamp of approval, and Lucas went on to perform with Curtis for five years as a member of one of the most famous rhythm sections of that era, which also featured Chuck Rainey on bass, Cornell Dupree on guitar, and either George Stubbs or Richard Tee on piano.
When a young Jimi Hendrix—who’d also played with Curtis—offered to take him to the U.K. to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Lucas turned him down. He didn’t want to leave New York. As Ray said later, “In less than two years Hendrix was the biggest thing out there.”
But Lucas’s natural talent couldn’t be hidden. Reflecting on his performance with Dionne Warwick and the Lincoln Center symphony, the non-reader said, “I was scared, but I knew the music. That’s when I realized that it goes both ways. I had something that [more schooled drummers] didn’t have, or I wouldn’t be there.”
“Ray was absolutely phenomenal,” Bernard Purdie says.The secret to his success? Lucas modestly said it was “being with good musicians. And I’m not talking about name musicians. I’m talking about listening to good musicians and being very conscious of what they’re doing.
“With me,” he added, “if the music’s good, that’s good enough for me. There’s nothing like playing in a good live band.”Jim Payne
Frank Capp: 1931-2017
Drummer and friend Gerry Gibbs remembers the life and career of a giant of L.A.’s golden age of music making.
This past September the legendary drummer and big band leader Frank Capp passed away in Los Angeles, at the age of eighty-six. Many of Capp’s fans knew him for his work with some of the most legendary big bands of all time. Others knew him as one of the most swingin’ small-group drummers who’d accompanied the world’s great soloists. Truth is, Frank was one of the last of the legendary drummers who was known for being able to do it all, a reputation built on a lifetime of experiences working with the most revered bandleaders of all time.
Capp hit the scene as a teenager in the late 1940s and in time began working in a number of well-known swing bands. In the ’50s his musical journey deepened as he began working with the finest beboppers on the scene. And in the ’60s, as a result of his well-honed ability to play anything and everything correctly the first time he attempted it, he became an in-demand studio musician for everything from blockbuster Hollywood film sessions with orchestras to jazz dates to rock and pop studio recordings—and not just on the drums, but on whatever percussion instruments were needed.
In the ’70s Capp branched out even further, becoming a first-call drummer for all kinds of television work, playing steadily with Terry Gibbs, my father, on The Steve Allen Show, in addition to many other television jobs. Several decades after he’d begun, in the ’80s, Frank began a second career as one of the busiest and most respected music contractors in all of Los Angeles, entrusted to put bands together for important Hollywood projects and concerts due to his ability to inherently know who was the right person for any job.
From the ’90s right up until his passing, Capp was able to use all of his varied skills, essentially doing whatever he wanted to, whether it was performing in top big bands, tracking a Hollywood studio session, playing with a little jazz group, or contributing to a big-budget rock session, even if that meant simply playing a tambourine part.
“We’ve lost a true keeper of big band drumming. Frank was a friend, a golfing buddy, and a real character. I remember that he was proud of a remark he made after I hit a golf ball into a grove, ricocheting off five trees and dropping into the weeds. ‘It sounds,’ Frank announced, ‘like I’m out here with Chick Webb!’”
The world has certainly lost a one-of-a-kind player with the passing of Capp. Just take a look at a partial list of his credits and try to think of more than a handful of other players who could possibly have covered them all—Ben Webster, Sonny and Cher, Frank Zappa, Dinah Washington, Stan Kenton, Frank Sinatra, the Wrecking Crew, Peggy Lee, Chet Baker, the Monkees, André Previn, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Steve Allen, Neal Hefti, Shorty Rogers, Glen Campbell, Phil Spector…. I’ll stop there, though I could easily add another hundred names.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, there’s an astounding amount of music that you’ve most certainly heard featuring contributions by Capp, from hit records to national commercials to TV show themes. Remarkably, however, in the heady days of the ’70s and ’80s, his proudest musical accomplishment was the Nat Pierce/Frank Capp Juggernaut Orchestra, which recorded three albums that remain well known among big band lovers today.
As a kid growing up in L.A., I saw many big bands that were either all white or all black; Capp’s sixteen-piece group was the only one I knew of that featured an even number of white and black musicians. Frank helped so many musicians—black, white, Hispanic, Asian…. If you were a great player, he helped you get into the scene. That tells you the kind of person Frank was.
I knew Frank my whole life; he hooked me up a lot too, whether lending me drums or recommending me for prime gigs with SuperSax, Lalo Schifrin, and others. He was a huge part of my life, a great musician, and a wonderful friend—and not just to me, but to so many musicians from all over the world. We all loved and will miss you, Frank. Thank you for the music you made, which we will listen to for the rest of our lives.