Ray Parker Jr. :”I strongly believe that you need to chase your dream, your first dream”

To avoid burning out in this business, you need to have fun creating music — if you love it you’ll end up making money. As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grammy winning music artist Ray Parker Jr. was born in 1954 and raised in […]

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To avoid burning out in this business, you need to have fun creating music — if you love it you’ll end up making money.

As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grammy winning music artist Ray Parker Jr. was born in 1954 and raised in Detroit during Motown’s heyday. Inspired by the opportunity Motown represented, he immersed himself in music from an early age. While still a high school student, Parker started playing guitar professionally with the popular Motown act The Spinners. At just 15 years old, he met Marvin Gaye and went on to record and co-write his first songs with the music legend.

In 1972 when Parker was only 18 years old, Stevie Wonder invited him to join his band, and Parker stepped up as the lead guitarist for Wonder on tour with the Rolling Stones. That same year, Parker was a guest guitarist on the song “Maybe Your Baby” on Wonder’s album The Talking Book. After impressing Barry White with his musical prowess, Parker became a sideman in White’s The Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1973. White went on to record Parker’s hit song “Always Thinking of You.”

Parker’s first #1 hit on the R&B charts was “You Got the Love” which became a sensation in 1974 showcasing the vocal talents of Chaka Khan. A prolific songwriter and multi-talented artist, Parker wrote songs and worked as a session musician for an array of music icons, including Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, Patti Labelle, The Temptations, The Supremes, The Carpenters, Boz Scaggs, Herbie Hancock and David Foster.

In 1977 music mogul Clive Davis signed Parker to his label, Arista Records, as a member of the R&B group Raydio. The group’s first self-titled album went gold in 1978, featuring the smash hit single “Jack and Jill.” With their star on the rise, Raydio released their 1979 album Rock On which sold a million copies and featured the Top 10 Billboard hit “You Can’t Change That.” In 1980, Davis, who had always believed in Parker’s solo star power, shined the spotlight on him and the group was renamed Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio. They released two more gold albums: Two Places at the Same Time in 1980 and in A Woman Needs Love in 1981, which skyrocketed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts and #1 on the R&B Charts. Parker went on to have a successful solo career, scoring six Top 40 hits, including the single “The Other Woman” which charted at #4 in 1982.

1984 would become the biggest year yet in Parker’s career when he achieved global fame with “Ghosbusters,” the song that went on to cement his place in pop culture history. “Ghostbusters” led the nation at #1 for three weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. Parker won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. The iconic song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, though Stevie Wonder took home the Oscar that year for “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” With the emerging music video market poised for explosive growth, the timing was perfect for Parker’s “Ghostbusters” video, helmed by the film’s director, Ivan Reitman, to break through as one of the first movie-themed videos to achieve success on MTV. In 1989, Parker wrote a rap version of “Ghostbusters” performed by the seminal hip hop group Run-DMC in the movie Ghostbusters II.

In 2006, Parker released the album I’m Free featuring a roster of his original songs. In 2014, he accepted an invitation to record with Latin rock legends El Chicano as well as Alphonse Mouzon, Brian Auger, Alex Ligertwood, Siedah Garrett, Walfredo Reyes Jr., Spencer Davis, Lenny Castro, Vikki Castro, Vikki Carr, Pete Escovedo, Peter Michael Escovedo, Jessy J, Marcos J. Reyes, Salvador Santana and David Paich.

In 2016, Parker performed on the ABC network television show Greatest Hits featuring the hits of the 80’s brought to life by the original artists along with special guest performers, including John Legend, Celine Dion, Little Big Town and Aloe Blacc.

In the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, Parker was recognized for his entertainment legacy by receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2014. At the ceremony, he electrified the audience by performing an acoustic medley of his greatest hits.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Ray! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Detroit, MI. Ten blocks away from Motown!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in first grade, I didn’t want to be enrolled in dance so I joined my two best friends in music class. I had a long walk to school so I chose the flute because it’s the lightest instrument. Unfortunately, the flutes were all spoken for so I decided to play the second lightest instrument — the clarinet. I had a wonderful teacher named Mr. Kirby who was very supportive and kind — he helped guide my decision to pursue a career in music.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I was only fifteen years old, I was in the studio with Marvin Gaye. He was an incredible talent and a great guy. I didn’t have a car, I didn’t even have a driver’s license, but he tossed me the keys to his superfly cadillac. I drove that around my high school and it felt great.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Prince asked me to produce his second album. I listened to the music and told him that he didn’t need a producer — it was that good. It would have been nice to be involved that project, but I was bening honest.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

At the moment, I’m working on a documentary called Who You Gonna Call: The Ray Parker Jr. Story. It’s my life story from the early days in Detroit to current day. Together with documentary filmmaker Fran Strine and global financier Ola Strøm, we formed an L.A. based production company called Power Chord Films. The film is completed so I’m now working on a new album to accompany the project and a book.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Five things I wish someone someone would have told me when I started in this business is 1. Understand the hierarchy; 2. Know how to write songs, sing and produce; 3. Learn how mortgages work; 4. Understand the stock market; 5. Plan for retirement early

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

To avoid burning out in this business, you need to have fun creating music — if you love it you’ll end up making money.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I strongly believe that you need to chase your dream, your first dream. Don’t settle for a Plan B.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Many people have helped me throughout my life, but the person with the greatest influence, who helped me the most, was Stevie Wonder. He taught me how to write songs — how to write songs differently from what I knew. Stevie also explained the business side of a recording studio — how musicians get paid and so forth.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Always remember that the most important thing you have in life is your word. In the end, the good guys really do win.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a conversation with Paul McCartney.

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter at @rayparkerjr.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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