Bill Ray: “If they want to blackball me...that’s their prerogative.”
“I’ll probably piss a lot of people off, but I’m willing to put it on the line to get things fixed.” Bill Ray (aka Bill Ray Drums) of Ocean Beach has problems with the condition of the electronic drum kit in the V Lounge at Viejas Casino in Alpine. “I’m not asking for anything other than the drums be maintained.” He claims the equipment has been pounded into submission over years of use and abuse.
“You hit the cymbal pad and nothing happens. It doesn’t ring. It just goes thunk and nobody hears it. There’s not a thing you can do about it,” he says. “It takes the joy out of playing music.”
He explains that the internal electronic triggers work intermittently at best. “Those drums are being played by several bands all day long. They weren’t pro quality to begin with.” Because of that, he says, “you’re not getting a proper representation of the band. You’re getting only what they pipe out to the audience.”
The bad drums have taken a toll on his performance. “I was having a meltdown the other day because I was trying to play a gig on this equipment. I’m passionate about what I do.” He says he’d just as soon truck his analog kit into the V Lounge and use that, but drummers are mandated to use Viejas’ electronic kit without exception.
“I approached the stage manager at Viejas about fixing the drums. I left him a phone message and an email,” he says. “I never heard back.”
“We actually have two complete electronic drum kits for that venue in the casino, the V Lounge,” says Bob Scheid, a spokesman for Viejas. “And we keep them in good repair. I just checked with the sound tech.” I ask if Bill Ray has any support in his drum dissatisfaction. “We’ve had no complaints from other drummers that I’m aware of.”
Bill Ray was one of Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm and has appeared on, by his own count, more than 150 albums as a session drummer. His history with Viejas goes back to 1993. That was the year he fell through the stage floor in the Dreamcatcher room.
The problem in Viejas’ V Lounge is larger than busted drums, says Ray. “Nobody in San Diego is stepping up and doing anything about it. Everybody is afraid of making waves and losing their gig.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he says this: “If they want to blackball me, then that’s their prerogative.” For Bill Ray, the ultimate solution is to move on. “I’ve canceled any gigs at the V Lounge and handed them to other players who can handle the casino’s gear.”