The first time I saw Jesse Ray, he was making the back room at Stella’s his bitch during a short open mic stint at the famed Drunken Retort. Most musicians who dare crawl in front of the Retort’s poetry-biased microphone nervously strum and practice their best Tom DeLonge voice while cringing against impending bells. But not Jesse Ray. He smacked the snark off my face with ten minutes of pure energy and good old fashioned rock-n-roll that propelled me toward an after-party of Youtube searches and straight-up internet stalking. Sure, part of the stalking was motivated by the fact that he looks like he waltzed straight out of a John Waters movie. Cry Baby Walker has nothing on him and his effortless cool. A cool, he’s assured me, which is a result of afternoons spent with his grandpa, fixing up old cars and learning how to comb hair like a hep cat heartbreaker and is not a gimmick. Which just compounds said cool, of course.
“He smacked the snark off my face with ten minutes of pure energy and good old fashioned rock-n-roll”
I’d later learn that I wasn’t alone in my quietly growing obsession. Grand Rapids and its simmering local music scene grabbed a hold of Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish and held on like a fifteen-year-old sock-hopper to Elvis’s leg. It wasn’t long until I began hearing about that band all over town. The band, originally helmed by Jesse Ray himself and Josh Worsham on drums, shot rockabilly flavor all over the unsuspecting citizens of Grand Rapids and we hoarded it like it was a collection of Johnny Cash memorabilia plates for our dining room hutch. It wasn’t just the fans that the duo gathered quickly, but the accolades as well. Their debut album earned itself a 2015 Jammy and shouts on Local Spins and basically any other Grand Rapids media outlet with any musical ties.
Now in its sophomore year and ready to get mature on our asses, Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish are struggling with a lineup change in the wake of their second album. Without the magic of Worsham’s “mad style”, Jesse Ray hopes for the opportunity to open the band up to new moods with whoever is lucky enough to replace him on drums. And, as Jesse mentioned, “maybe this new guy will know a bass player”. Of course, a bass player isn’t something anyone has found lacking in their sound so far. The new album, “Dead Man Walking” is an adventure in dark emotion and is much more lyric-driven than the first, giving me nothing but hope for the trajectory of this self-described “Black Tie Garage Rock” band.
I will be watching for Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish. And I’ll be in the front row, doing the twist ironically and screaming un-ironically at that soulfully unintentional heartthrob every time they perform. Every time they perform and make me remember that year I thought I was punk rock but then realized I was at a Fall Out Boy show and it was just the energy levels that tricked me. I was not punk rock. But Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish are fantastic. And going places. Presumably in that car from “Greased Lightning”.
You can find more of Kaira’s unfiltered thoughts at: Kairablogs.com