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Members include John Cody (joined group, 1997), drummer; Ray Condo (born Ray Trombley, 1950, Hull, Quebec, Canada), vocalist, saxophone player; Clive Jackson, bass player; Steven Nikleva, guitar player; Jimmy Roy, steel guitar player; SteveTaylor (left group, 1997), drummer. Addresses: Record company-- Joaquin Records, 254 Scott St., San Francisco, CA 94117.
Ray Condo and His Ricochets didn't always play the songs that they looked like they should have been playing. Dressed like country music stars from the 1950s, they played plenty of western swing and rockabilly tunes, but mixed in jazz and blues, as well. Performing few compositions of their own, their repertoire consisted of well-known and obscure songs covering a wide range of popular American music styles from the first sixty years of the twentieth century. Describing his band to Joel Bernstein of Country Standard Time, Condo refereed to legendary figures from country-western, jazz, and western swing, saying they sound like "Hank Williams having a drink with Billie Holiday, and Bob Wills is the bartender."
While remaining faithful to the spirit of the old songs they played Condo and His Ricochets put their signature sound on each tune. Discussing the band's approach to the music, Condo told Rich Kienzle of Country Music, "We've never been purists. We're not afraid of mixing things in. But I think the archival approach to our music is really important." Steel guitar player Jimmy Roy and guitarist Steven Nikleva arranged the songs for the band, and Roy's instrument makes a unique contribution to the band's sound. Although the non-pedal steel guitar is a staple of country music, it's a stranger in a strange land in the jazz and blues songs Ray Condo and His Ricochets play. Even on the western swing pieces, Roy's steel guitar takes on a different role than usual, playing the part that has traditionally belonged to the fiddle. Condo told Dave Howell of the Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call what makes the steel guitar important to the Ricochets' sound: "The steel guitar was the first synthesizer. Although it's used a lot in country, it really hasn't been fully exploited."
Ray Condo and His Ricochets were formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Condo, the band's lead singer and saxophonist, first met Roy in the 1980s. The two didn't join forces until much later, though. Condo, born near Montreal and raised in Ottawa, began his musical career as a rock guitarist in the 1960s. He went on to play punk rock for a time, before turning his hand to rockabilly. In 1984, he joined forces with stand-up rockabilly bassist Clive Jackson to form Ray Condo and His Hardrock Goners, who put out three albums and toured extensively throughout Canada and Europe.
Meanwhile, Roy met guitarist Nikleva in Vancouver, where he was in a western swing band. In 1990 the two of them, along with drummer Steve Taylor, helped form a honky-tonk revival band called Jimmy Roy's Five Star Hillbillies. When Condo's and Roy's bands came to an end in 1995 they got together with Jackson, Nikleva, and Taylor, to form Ray Condo and His Ricochets. The band wasted no time, releasing their fist album later that year. When Swing, Brother, Swing came out on the small Vancouver label East Side, it caught the attention of Jeff Richardson, owner of Joaquin Records in San Francisco. For years Richardson had been reissuing old western swing recordings, but had never thought of releasing a current artist's material before hearing Condo and His Ricochets. After licensing the album from East Side, Richardson decided the album need some changes. Condo told Bernstein, "Jeff thought it was a little too mellow. We added half a dozen tunes (while removing others) to make it more upbeat."
When the new version of Swing, Brother, Swing came out in 1996, it attracted critical attention for the band's innovative take on a wide variety of old material. The album includes tunes by Count Basie, Carl Perkins, and Stuff Smith. In a review in the Village Voice, Robert Christgau wrote, "They take over the material so completely that it's hard to tell whether the songs were this good to begin with, and beside the point to care." Condo and His Ricochets followed up quickly with their the release of Door to Door Maniac in 1997, and once again the band attracted attention and praise for their diversity of material. John Wooley wrote in the Tulsa World, "Condo and the boys cast their net wide and haul in plenty of gems." While their sound remained the same, their second album brought a personnel change, with John Cody playing drums on some tracks before officially replacing Taylor in the band in February of 1997.
Along with critical praise, Condo and His Ricochets' albums have done well on the Americana charts, which measures sales and airplay of alternative country music. Still, sales have been modest when compared to more mainstream country bands. The band prefers staying outside of the Nashville country music industry, though, so that they can keep their own sound. Roy told Kienzle, "When you hear a country band, they're actually a rock band." Condo added his own thoughts about what would happen to the band if they went to a major label: "They'd have a new marketing term for us. They'd call it 'Hick Hop'."
Although the Ricochets released two albums in two years, performing live remained more important to them than recording in a studio. Condo told Bernstein, "Real music is live. Recordings are only documents." To that end, they have toured extensively throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. They have played at such shrines of western swing as Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, and have opened for country music stars such as Buck Owens. In 1997 the popular swing revival band Squirrel Nut Zippers invited Condo and His Ricochets to open their shows for two weeks. The band appreciated the opportunity to introduce the songs they play to a new, young audience. Condo told Chris Dickinson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I think Americans should know their grand-dads were rocking too."
Condo took heart in the popularity of bands like the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who revived pre-rock era musical styles for audiences too young to remember them. Condo told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "This is really interesting because it really is cross-generational, from 18 to 68¼. Maybe by the end of the century, we all want to see what really is worth keeping and what ain't." On stage and in the studio Ray Condo and His Ricochets have energetically expressed their opinions on that issue.
by Lloyd Hemingway
Ray Condo and His Ricochets's Career
Grouped formed in Vancouver, Canada, 1995; released debut album Swing, Brother, Swing on East Side, 1995; signed with Joaquin Records and released revised version of Swing, Brother, Swing, 1996; released Door to Door Maniac, 1997.
- Selected discography
- Swing, Brother, Swing , Joaquin, 1996.
April 15, 2004: Condo died on April 15, 2004, in Vancouver, British Columbia, of an apparent heart attack. He was 53. Source: Globe and Mail, April 21, 2004.
- Door to Door Maniac, Joaquin, 1997.
- Country Music, January-February, 1998.
- Country Standard Time, December 1997.
- Morning Call, (Allentown, PA), April 25, 1997.
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 5, 1998.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 22, 1996.
- Tulsa World, July 10, 1998.
- Village Voice, May 27, 1997.
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