A few weeks ago, AndersonVision got the chance to speak with the subject and director of Who You Gonna Call. The documentary focuses on the rise of Ray Parker, Jr. and where his life from session musician to R&B superstar and finally pop culture icon has taken him.
Sitting down with Parker and the Who You Gonna Call director Fran Strine, AndersonVision enjoyed a fun afternoon chat about Motown, 70s hits, Ghostbusters and Detroit yesterday and today.
Enjoy the second in our August Interview Series:
ANDERSONVISION: I just watched the documentary for a second time last night and I enjoyed it. I loved your attitude regarding the Ghostbusters theme song and the enthusiasm for your career. It’s a rarity to see an artist this happy over their success. Why is it such a rarity for an artist to enjoy such responses?
Ha! I know what you’re talking about and I don’t quite have answer for you. It doesn’t make sense when you see an artist that has made a lot of money. I mean, they go buy about 15 cars, 20 houses and then get rid of all the money in the first year.
It’s like when you were fortunate enough to get this blessing, why not enjoy it and respect it?Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: That is quite something. I’m a big fan of that period of music. Also, I noticed in the documentary’s end credits that Richie Sambora was in your band during the end credits.
Was he in the rest of the movie and I just missed him?
No, he’s my neighbor. He lives two doors down and we’re pretty close. He decided to do a cameo for us at the end.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: We have a lot of 80s kids that go to the site and I noticed something. There’s no mention of Pryor’s Place.
That was a lot of fun. Working with Richard Pryor was a big one for me. We couldn’t mention everything. I’ll actually let Fran answer that question. It’s his fault.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
Ray’s body of work is way bigger than what we were able to show in the film. It was really a difficult decision to be made, as we were cobbling this film together.
This movie could have been 10 hours long.Fran Strine (Who You Gonna Call)
ANDERSONVISION: I can see that. It almost felt like The Wrecking Crew at points. The music nerd in me was enjoying the talk about the session musician years and felt like that could have been a documentary onto itself.
It’s funny you mentioned the Wrecking Crew guys. I played with all of them. I played with the Funk Brothers in Detroit too.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
Well, if you noticed…Glen Campbell is essentially part of that Wrecking Crew. Ray wound up taking his spot on The Wrecking Crew. That’s how Ray got his chair in the LA session circle.
Glen Campbell was asked to host a television show. That left the spot open for Ray.Fran Strine (Who You Gonna Call)
ANDERSONVISION: I heard that in the documentary, but I didn’t know if my brain just didn’t process it. One of the readers did ask a question they pressed me to get an answer on. What were the details behind the legal battle between I Want A New Drug and the Ghostbusters Theme?
It seems like there was this big legal fight and then suddenly nothing. Everyone knows it happened, but they don’t exactly have any details or aftermath results. Did the settlement keep you all from mentioning the issue in the documentary?
There was a settlement for Ghostbusters in the lawsuit. It had nothing to do with me, but I got named in the lawsuit. And, I don’t know the details of it, so we can’t talk about it.
I really don’t know where it ended at.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
As for me, the filmmaker…I did ask Ray about it and he said WHAT LAWSUIT? He said my attorney asked me if I wanted to know the details and Ray was like…is it going to cost me any money?Fran Strine (Who Ya Gonna Call)
In fact, Fran…let me correct you. It’s not we settled. They settled.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
Sorry, THEY settled. Well, I asked Ray’s attorney…a very famous entertainment attorney. His name was Don Cashman. When I interviewed him for the film, I asked him if we could talk about the Huey Lewis settlement.
He was like, well he just went silent. Then, he said NAAAAH! I’ll take a pass on that.
I think it’s been well documented what happened and the similarities. When I listen to the songs side-by-side, I don’t hear it. Maybe the tempo is the same, but certainly the music and the arrangement…it’s not there.Fran Strine (Who You Gonna Call)
The end result is it’s still my name on the song by myself. I own the song, that’s it.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: This might be more of a question for Fran. Music documentaries are deceptively hard because you’re either having to do one of two things.
Educate people about a subject they don’t know.
Win over people on a subject they know all too well.
How do you achieve the second part? That is getting people to look past what they know to learn what they don’t?
That is very tough. I directed a prior documentary called Hired Gun which is about session and touring musicians. I like to only use the music in the background to introduce the guys to the viewers. Not just the songs themselves.
It’s just like with Ray. He’s worked on so much over the years that these new fans. Well, these young people need to be educated on Ray’s career. And, I interviewed Ray in Hired Gun. He only told me a fraction of the stuff that he ended up telling me now.
He’s forgotten more than he remembers. And, we spent a couple of months together just jogging his memory. He started spilling the beans about all of these crazy songs he’s played on.
We’re really only using music in there as a barometer for the audience to know. I thought the story was worth telling, because he’s so much more than the Ghostbusters guy. Just look at the weight of the music in his past. In that way, the documentary is a great legacy piece.Fran Strine (Who You Gonna Call)
ANDERSONVISION: I was familiar with a lot of his musical past. Raydio, the solo work and even writing New Edition’s Telephone Man. But, then…that Leo Sayer story. I was getting a little upset by it.
Yeah, they really did get me on that. That was the biggest thorn in my butt.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
I’ve got a story for ya. When I was jogging Ray’s memory for a lot of this, there was a knock the door. That’s when Bill Withers showed up. I asked Ray why Bill Withers was here. Ray told me about him working on songs for Bill.
Ray worked on Lovely Day when he was 19 years old. I was like WHAT? You played on Lovely Day, one of the biggest songs ever? It was just one of those things that blew me away.Fran Strine (Who You Gonna Call)
ANDERSONVISION: I loved the scene of you gifting the guitars to the school students. How involved are you in musical education efforts?
Well, I don’t want to teach the students one-on-one on a daily basis. They make a nervous wreck. But, I want to encourage kids in the way I was encouraged. Especially if they really love the music. I just like that classroom setting.
We’re getting involved with a new organization now. The guitars gifted in the movie were something I bought. Now, I’ve got an organization that is giving away 1,000 guitars to kids in need that can play.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: I’d also like to focus on Detroit for a bit. Especially since it was such a big part of the documentary. Speaking as someone from a car heavy production area, watching you go back and tour through your past in Detroit…it was a lot to take in.
It’s their effort among musicians or whatever to try and save Motown’s imprint there. Is there anything underway to save that cultural history? Because it’s heartbreaking to see the Motown HQ and the historical sites surrounded by so much decay.
I can’t even save my own childhood home. Earlier this year, the Detroit Free Press and the Free News called me because they wanted to write an article. I declined, because I didn’t have anything good to say.
They found papers proving the house was where I grew up and they were going to sell the house for $1,000. You can imagine how that felt.
Even at $1,000 dollars, they found out they were unable to sell it to anybody. The house is really only worth about $250 dollars.
They then asked me how do you feel about your house? And, I was like well other than I grew up there? I had a wonderful time there, but they wanted to get a value of the property. I was like, I can’t explain that.
I’m not going to tell someone to pay ten grand for a house just because I lived there.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: Seeing Detroit like that blew me away. I hadn’t been up there in a few years, but we’re right on the precipice of losing so much cultural history.
As a music fan, I don’t want to lose one of the most culturally important music spots of the last century.
There are some places still standing in my neighborhood. The Grande Ballroom. That’s where Jimi Hendrix used to play. All of the rock bands played there including Eric Clapton. It’s still standing, but just sitting there.
The Inner City is in terrible shape. It’s just not believable.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: Well, I wished I ended this on a high note.
Now, you know why I didn’t do the interview with the Detroit Press. What more can I say? It’s just down down down.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: Yep. I’ll say this. Listening to how you constructed the Ghostbusters theme song based on the Roto Rooter commercial…it’s genius. I’ll still catch myself just singing the riff over and over again.
That part of the film where the Ghostbusters stood there for their ad, that’s where I got the hook. You can’t sing Ghostbusters, it’s too crazy of a word to sing.Ray Parker Jr (Who You Gonna Call, Ghostbusters)
ANDERSONVISION: I love hearing that and it’s things like that they made me love the movie.