You may or may not have noticed that the tag line for this blog is adventures in half-assed step parenting.
Chase McFadden called me full-assed about something a while back, and I took it for the compliment that it was. Hence my new regular feature, Full-Assed Friday.
Every Friday I’m going to share something that I consider Full-Assed. It may be funny, awesome, meaningful, or just different. I’m taking suggestions, so if you have an idea or want to be a part of it, email me at accidentalstepmom at gmail dot com.
For the first Full-Assed Friday, I’m introducing you to Ray St. Ray, the Singing Cab Driver.
When I played Chicago with the Hairspray tour, it was an extended stop, eight weeks, and I ended up having foot surgery because it was the only time in my career I could fit it in. Afterwards I was in a boot. This made the loadout interesting because in typical fashion, a blizzard began while we were loading trucks and the Teamsters made fun of me since they could see my toes poking out of the boot. They wanted to know if my toes were cold.
Weeks before the load out though, there was the Superbowl. I was at a midway point in my recovery and wasn’t supposed to walk more than a block. I needed food and this is how I found myself hailing a cab back from the Whole Foods and being greeted by Ray St. Ray.
Ray totally made my night. He was completely unexpected, entirely entertaining, sang me a song called Sugar Slut and kept me from limping back to my apartment in the boot and the snow.
I googled him a while back and found that he’s still in Chicago, is still the Singing Cab Driver, and still going strong. I contacted him via his website, and even though he doesn’t remember me (I’m pretty sure he does, he’s just not letting on) he was gracious enough to grant me this interview over email.
When you get in Ray’s cab he gets your location then introduces himself, tells what he’s about and gives you a menu of songs to choose from. He’ll sing you one (don’t be greedy).
Me: What song do your passengers choose most often?
In general, however, whatever song is the last on the last list tends to be chosen more than others, probably because it’s the default for those who can’t decide. It was the last thing they remember.
Me: I read on your website, and remember from my ride, that you became The Singing Cab Driver largely to promote your band Chameleon World. Tell me about your band.
Ray: Chameleon World is “more than a band…It’s a world!”
Originally it was friends backing me up for a New Years Eve party twenty years ago. Back then it was all covers, mostly Talking Heads, and we tried to sound exactly like whoever we covered. When I started driving a cab, I started writing original songs and we started slipping them into shows.
Over the years, there were a few “incarnations of personnel”. This group I have now is the most fun and the core of us have been together for over four years. We play all original songs that I write while I drive.
Me: Do you use a voice recorder? Or do you have like a guitar with you in the cab?
I always have paper and pen in my pocket to jot down notes.
A guitar would be useless to me, since I don’t play any instruments. It’s probably just as well because I can hear a whole orchestra in my head.
I do, however keep an mp3 recorder handy to scat or whistle song ideas. I probably have ten hours of these from over the years. It’s important that I make notes like this. The songs I finish I rarely have to go back to listen to, but for every song that’s completed, I probably lost five as soon as someone opened the cab door and said “Hello.”
Me: What’s your most memorable fare?
Ray: I sang for a group of people I picked up at the Opera House. One was Renee Fleming, the opera diva. Another was John Kander, who with Fred Ebb, wrote the songs for CHICAGO and CABARET.
One of the songs from CHICAGO, All I Care About Is Love, I could pinpoint as being the genesis of my music career. Accidentally seeing it performed on TV started a chain of consequences over decades which led to my being The Singing Cab Driver.
How many artists can say they actually met and personally performed for a genuine influence?
Me: That’s fantastic. What song did Kander pick?
He didn’t. We deferred to the ladies and Renee Fleming chose a sexy number called Little Trouble. Not the best example of my writing, but it’s fast, hooky, and it was a short ride.
Me: Who tips the best and who tips the worst?
Ray: IN GENERAL: Best tippers: cool, hip people. Worst tippers: people who aren’t. Also, doctors and their wives.
Me: Do you remember me? I’m cute and blond and had a walking cast and you picked me up at Whole Foods during the 2004 “wardrobe malfunction” Superbowl. This was before I had five step kids and still had disposable income. You sang me Sugar Slut. It was appropriate.
Ray: I remember your shoes didn’t match.
Me: Ouch. Did I tip you okay?
Ray: I can’t even remember if you paid me, Judy.
Me: It’s funny, you using the wrong name like that, like you really don’t remember me. I’m memorable. Can we see the chorus to Sugar Slut, because it’s awesome.
Ray: “She’s a sugar slut! She’ll do almost anything for chocolate! She’s a sugar slut!
Chocolate gets her hot!”
Me: I will believe until the day I die that you totally wrote that for me. Do you like the X-Files?
Me: How about bacon?
Ray: I’m eating some now.
Me: Do you have any songs about bacon?
Ray: Not in the foreseeable future, present or past.
Me: Name your two favorite musical artists.
Ray: The Turtles. David Byrne.
Me: On your website people comment frequently that you’re quite the snazzy dresser, but I couldn’t really see your outfit that night, being that it was winter and you were driving a cab. What were you wearing?
Ray: A long time ago I read or heard an old salesman say: “Every day is special. Dress up for it.” I took that to heart. Even as a kid I tried not to dress like a child but like a adult man, usually guys I saw in the movies. I still dress like that.
It’s all what I call “found art”, that is to say, I bought it in thrift stores for next to nothing.
A lot of next to nothing can add up to a lot of something over a period of time. For example, I own over 1200 neckties. It’s a fact. nine years ago when I was moving I figured I might as well count them as I was packing. Lost count after 1200. Most cost less than a dollar, but still, added up, that’s some arithmetic.
A stylin’ kid of guy? Yes I am. Every day is new so every day is different. I wear the costumes of the story of my life, in which I am the eccentric hero. Might as well dress the part, right?
I have no idea what I was wearing when you rode with me, but I’m sure it was something gentlemanly, seasonally appropriate and possibly anachronistic.
You can see the variety of my outfits in my blogs.
Ray: Avert your glance, please. Right now I’m not wearing anything.
Me: What’s your favorite comic strip no longer being published?
Ray: Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON daily and color strips from the thirties. Each panel is a framable masterpiece of pen and ink.
Me: What’s the greatest thing about Chicago?
Ray: Besides The Singing Cab Driver? The weather, I guess. It does demand that you pay attention to the environment and gives one a reason to own several wardrobes.
Me: “The weather” is not an answer I would have guessed, but you totally sold me on it. When’s the next Chameleon World show?
Ray: The next Chameleon World show is MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26 at HUNGRY BRAIN, 2319 Belmont, Chicago.
We will also play the CLUB LUCKY stage at 1824 W. Wabansia on SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1st at 4:00 pm as part of COYOTEFEST.
You can check out more about Chameleon World on their website.
Ever had any memorable cab rides?