FAREWELL TO… Game Theory’s Gil Ray

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1956-2017 R.I.P. Ace drummer also manned the kit for the Rain Parade in recent years. Above photo by Robert Toren.

UPDATE 1/29: Gil’s wife Stacey wrote a moving comment on Facebook, noting that she struggled all week to find the right words. Ultimately, she found the perfect words.You can read it HERE.

By Fred Mills

This one, for obvious reasons to anyone who visits the BLURT site on even an irregular basis, hurts more than most. Gil Ray, erstwhile drummer for ‘80s power pop legends Game Theory, passed away on January 24 following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was only 60, and he leaves behind an extended family of fans, friends, and fellow musicians that, even as I write this obituary, is grieving as heavily and publicly as any artists I can think of from the recent past. Just one visit to Gil’s Facebook page will confirm the outpouring of sorrow, accolades, and remembrances. Many have also posted pictures of Gil from over the years, and one friend also posted an image that I’m taking the liberty of reposting here, because I think it sums the man up in ways I could never match:

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I suppose you can peruse his overall bio readily enough at his Wikipedia page, which summarizes his long career, which started in Charlotte, NC, in the late ‘70s, hit an early peak in the mid ‘80s on the West Coast after he joined Scott Miller’s band Game Theory, and after a spell resumed, as drummer for Miller’s subsequent outfit, the Loud Family. He also embarked on several side projects, additionally cutting a wonderful solo album in 2006, I Am Atomic Man!

Then in 2012 he was tapped for kit duties in the Rain Parade, and enjoyed renewed fame alongside his fellow Paisley Underground alumni. BLURT’s own Jud Cost documented a particularly memorable 2013 concert in San Francisco that featured the Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, the Three O’Clock, and the Bangles.

On a personal level, I feel compelled to add that I’m eternally grateful to have reconnected, if on a long distance level via Facebook, with Gil during the past six months. Whenever I got to see Game Theory back in the day, he and I would chat and catch up on North Carolina goings-on, especially about Charlotte since I was living there at the time. (He was clearly the hometown hero when GT came to Charlotte, with old friends coming up, hugging, asking him what he’d been doing aside from the band, etc.) As it turns out, Gil had seen some of the Game Theory coverage that yours truly and fellow GT fanatic Michael Toland had been diligently publishing here at BLURT. Among those clips:

Dead Center” album review, 2014

Nighttime of The Season” feature, 2015

Lolita Nation” bonus track MP3, 2015

Unreleased Live ’88 track” MP3, 2015

The Big Shot Chronicles” album review, 2016

Then there was a piece written last year by Jason Cohen and featuring exclusive photos by Robert Toren. It concerned the band during its Big Shot Chronicles period, and for some reason I decided to title it “This Band Could Be Your Life”—yes, a nod to the classic Michael Azerrad book about the alt- and college-rock era in the ‘80s—because Game Theory seemed so emblematic of what a lot of us, from fans to writers to musicians, experienced during that time. Below is one of Toren’s photos that he so kindly shared with us.

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Gil seemed particularly surprised and proud that his old band commanded such reverence among both his fans and his peers, and he expressed his appreciation to me for remembering him and his bandmates so fondly.  And after we had reconnected after all these years, he popped in from time to time with an observation, comment, or anecdote regarding something I’d posted at BLURT. A passage from the Cohen piece involving Gil now stands out in my mind, and by way of tribute, I’m going to repost that section here. Meanwhile, to Gil, all I can say is—you are already deeply, permanently missed, and while I know this is a cliché that gets uttered all the time, at least we still have the music and the memories. As I type this, I’ve been spinning GT music for the past hour. I never get tired of it. Please say hello from all of us here to Scott Miller when you run into him…

By Jason Cohen, from “This Band Could Be Your Life” article: In the fall of 2012, The Rain Parade announced that they’d be getting back together to join the Tim Lee 3 at an Atlanta benefit show for Lee’s Windbreakers compadre Bobby Sutliff, who’d been in a bad car accident. The Rain Parade’s Matt Piucci posted on Facebook that they needed a drummer, prompting both Lee and Dan Vallor (the other co-producer of these reissues) to send separate Facebook messages to Ray, who hadn’t played live in 12 years.

He got the gig. “It was one of the best things a 56 year-old guy could have dreamed of,” Ray says. “We were meant for each other. Some of the best shows I have ever been involved with were the Rain Parade shows. The fact that I was a former member of Game Theory made it even more special. Worlds collided in a fabulous way.”

I’d gotten to know Tim and his wife, Susan Bauer Lee, both on the Internet and IRL, when they started playing in the Tim Lee 3 around 2001. When the Sutliff benefit was first announced, I tweeted that I wished the Dream Syndicate and the Rain Parade could follow that up by playing SXSW with the Windbreakers and Game Theory. When the Three O’Clock reunited to play Coachella 2013, I fantasized out loud on Twitter about Game Theory following suit (and more than once). So when the Lees heard from Gil about Scott’s death, Susan knew I’d be almost as heartbroken as she and Tim were, and sent me a Twitter DM.

Losing Scott in the social media era–balancing public virtual grief with private grief–was “one of the most messed up things I’ve had to deal with, ever,” says Ray. “I did not know how to process and handle my loss, his family’s loss, and his closest friends’ loss…on Facebook.” This was especially true in the days before Miller’s death became public knowledge. That ended up happening during the Three O’Clock’s April 17 show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, between the two Coachella weekends.

“I knew it was going to be a very emotional night,” says Ray. “Before the band went on, Matt showed me his phone. It was now public knowledge. We hugged each other and cried. I looked up and a large part of the audience were staring at their phones. I will never, ever forget that. It was the most emotionally charged moment of my adult life. This was the new world. This was social media. This was fucked up. But I made it through somehow.”

Then the Rain Parade came to Texas to play Austin Psych Fest. It’s a show I wouldn’t have missed in any case, but now it was also something of a wake. It was where I needed to be to feel Scott’s loss, but also to temporarily fill the void. And it was where Ray and his Rain Parade bandmates needed to be to expel their own grief at high volume. A show of strength. An offering to the rock’n’roll gods. One more for St. Michael.

“The audience knew,” Ray says. “They gave me great respect, and we played what Matt called ‘our most punk rock’ set ever. It was healing, for the moment.”

Below: Gil and Suzi Ziegler performing at a 2013 memorial for Scott Miller. Via Wikipedia: By Lwarrenwiki – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34079211

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