Ray Shulman, born Raymond 8 December 1949) is the multi-instrumentalist, and the youngest of three brothers in progressive rock band Gentle Giant.
Formed at the dawn of the progressive rock era, Gentle Giant seemed poised for a time in the mid-’70s to break out of their cult-band status, but they somehow never made the jump. Somewhat closer in spirit to Yes and King Crimson than to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or the Nice, their unique sound melded hard rock and classical music, with an almost medieval approach to singing.
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Gentle Giant were born out of the ruins of Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, an R&B-based outfit led by brothers Derek, Ray, and Phil Shulman. After switching to psychedelia in 1967 and scoring their only major hit that year with “Kites,” as Gentle Giant the group abandoned both the R&B and psychedelic orientations of the previous band. Derek sang and played guitar and bass, Ray sang and played bass and violin, and Phil handled the saxophone, augmented by Kerry Minnear on keyboards and Gary Green on guitar. Their original lineup also featured Martin Smith on drums, but they went through several percussionists in the first three years of their existence.
Acquiring the Taste
In 1970, Gentle Giant signed to the Vertigo label, and their self-titled first album — a shockingly daring work mixing hard rock and full electric playing with classical elements — came out later that year. Their second effort, 1971’s Acquiring the Taste, was slightly more accessible and their third, Three Friends, featuring Malcolm Mortimore on drums, was their first record to get released in the U.S. (on Columbia). The band’s fourth album, 1973’s Octopus, looked poised for a breakthrough; it seemed as though they had found the mix of hard rock and classical sounds that the critics and the public could accept, and they finally had a permanent drummer in the person of John Weathers, an ex-member of the Graham Bond Organisation.
In a Glass House
In 1974, however, Gentle Giant began coming apart. Phil Shulman decided to give up music after the Octopus tour and became a teacher. Then the group recorded the album In a Glass House, their hardest-rocking record yet, which Columbia’s U.S. arm rejected as too uncommercial. The two-year gap in their American release schedule hurt their momentum, and they weren’t heard from again until the Capitol release of The Power and the Glory in 1975.
Gentle Giant issued Free Hand, their most commercial album, in 1976, but then followed it with the jarringly experimental Interview. After the 1978 double album Playing the Fool, the band went through a seeming change of heart and issued a series of records aimed at mainstream audiences, even approaching disco, but by the end of the 1970s their popularity was in free fall. Gentle Giant called it quits in 1980. Ray Shulman later became a producer and had considerable success in England working with bands like the Sundays and the Sugarcubes, while Derek Shulman became a New York-based record company executive.
By Bruce Eder / Source: all music
Instruments: Bass, trumpet, violin, vocals, viola, drums, percussion, recorder, guitar
Ray was Gentle Giant’s bassist and one of the main composers. He is also known for his quadraphonic violin solos that sonically circled the concert hall as he played.
As a bassist, Ray is perhaps one of the most underrated in rock. Thomas Wictor, in his column “Unsung Bass Stylists” (Bass Player Magazine, January/February 1994), writes about Ray’s performance on Playing The Fool:
Ray Shulman certainly qualifies as one of the most creative and innovative bassists ever. He weaves unbelievably complex and confounding lines that draw on medieval, classical, funk, rock, and jazz influences. His attack often sounds like a cross between picking and slapping, adding intensity and power to his already unforgettable licks. “Free Hand,” from its syncopated intro to its thunderous finale, is a textbook example of how this brilliant musician improvises and plays off the other members of the band to produce a stunning live performance.
After Gentle Giant
From approximately 1982-86, Ray wrote lots of music for TV and cinema commercials, including some for the US: most notably, two for Nike Air Jordan, and one for Budweiser. He stills write the occasional commercial, having recently completed a pan-European campaign for Gordons Gin and Tonic.
From 1986 onward, Ray got more involved with record production. He produced The Sugarcubes Life’s Too Good, The Sundays Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, Ian McCulloch’s Candleland. These all sold rather well, particularly the first two which sold over a million copies. Ray also produced and played bass on A.R. Kane’s album 69. (He plays on the tracks “Crazy Blue,” “Baby Milk Snatcher” and “Spermwhale Tripover.”) He reportedly produced and arranged tracks on A.R. Kane’s “Americana” album as well.
Ray did two 12-inch vinyl records under the pseudonym “Head-Doctor,” recording on Millenium Records. He also appears on a techno collection on CD.
Ray started Orinoco Sound Source with partner Tom Astor a few years ago, to provide all audio elements for computer games. They have a troup of actors they use regularly, and sound designers. Ray writes a lot of the music. The highest profile game he’s written music for is Privateer 2: The Darkening, starring Christopher Walken and John Hurt. He also wrote the music for Azrael’s Tear.
In early 2000, Ray produced a British artist called Tam for his brother Derek’s record company, Roadrunner Records. The release date for “Hello My Friends Do You Read Me” is March 2000.
Other artists Ray has been involved with include Boo Hewerdine (production on History and Ignorance), Grace Kairos (produced her album Emotions Park), The Veldt Afrodisiac, Lulabox, and Granati Brothers Hard Core.
In 2005, Ray Shulman created the music for the DVD, African Skies, which he co-produced with his nephew Simon King, an award-winning natural history cameraman and TV presenter.
At some point, I hope to get a complete list from Ray of all his musical accomplishments since Gentle Giant.