The budding teen idol talks about his hit song and meeting his own idol

Are You Jimmy Ray?

Jimmy Ray is still all shook up over last night’s close encounter with God, or about as close as a barely postadolescent British neo-rockabilly comer with a ’50s jones and a coif as big as all outdoors is likely to get to Him. Here on his first visit to Hollywood, young man Ray happened to bump into an associate of idol Little Richard in the hotel; later, Richard, himself — a full-time resident of this same Sunset Strip hostelry, it turns out — rang him up. ”I got a call at 1:30 in the morning in my room from Little Richard!” he gushes. ”Unless someone’s seriously winding me up.”

Ray does not report whether his early-morning caller inquired (as anyone with a sense of humor might be inclined to), ”Are you Johnnie Ray? Are you Link Wray? Are you Fay Wray? Are you Stingray? Are you Satyajit Ray?” All except the last are posed in the chorus of his top 20 hit, ”Are You Jimmy Ray?” which borrows a tip from another archival rocker, Bo Diddley, in adding the otherwise polite and unassuming singer’s own moniker to his name checklist; the references obviously hark back to Ray’s favorite era, the dawn of rock. (”Stingray,” incidentally, refers to Gerry Anderson’s English marionette TV series, not the car; as for Fay Wray, Jimmy thought till recently that King Kong was made in the ’50s, but he is just 22.)

There and on his self-titled debut album, Ray — a childhood Eddie Cochran fanatic turned techno-band vet — makes some kind of pop history by putting the beat box in period beat music. ”When [producer] Con Fitzpatrick first came to my flat, he said, ‘Oh, I love the way you’ve mixed that Buddy Holly guitar progression with that loop.’ And I was like, ‘Is that what I’ve done?”’ If it was unconscious at first, now Ray’s proud of ”combining hip-hop rhythms, which is predominately a black pastime, and rockabilly, which has been connected with an outdated political or even racist connotation, what with Public Enemy having commented on Elvis.”

Rockabilly purists may blanch at Ray’s bubblegum approach, but the little girls understand…and want to know whether the long face and luscious lips of this self-proclaimed ”skinny runt” are too good to be hetero. ”I did some gay press in London, and a gay night in a club,” the budding teen idol explains, before a recent Tonight Show gig. ”But I’m actually straight, for what it’s worth. Even though we came early to do the sound check here, and I haven’t been nervous, I walked up to the mike and the first thing I said as a check was ‘Thank you very much for being my boyfriend!’ I don’t know where it came from. All I can imagine is I started doing Little Richard.”

Are You Jimmy Ray?
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