McCartney guitarist talks remaking the Smokey Robinson hit song he co-wrote and getting help from the Motown legend
Wicked Cool Records/YouTube

During a little down time from his work with Paul McCartney, guitarist Brian Ray has been keeping busy. He's just released his version of “One Heartbeat,” a song he co-wrote that became a Top 10 hit for Smokey Robinson in 1987. The new “One Heartbeat,' released digitally by Wicked Cool Records, Little Steven Van Zandt's label includes guest vocals from the Motown legend.

The original version was written by Ray and Steve LaGassick and submitted to Robinson even though they were told Robinson had plenty of new songs. But Robinson recorded it and the song became a hit. Ray said in a phone interview that his new version came about after Van Zandt heard a demo of the remake. “'This is genius. We've got to get this out there right now. This is a hit record,' he told Ray. “And I said, 'Well, this was a hit record.' And he goes, 'What do you mean?' And I said, 'I wrote this for Smokey Robinson 30 years ago.' And he said, 'How did I miss that?' And I said, 'Probably because you were out there playing stadiums with that new album called 'Born To Run.'”

The new version has a different and sort of a Motown feel than the original. “I wasn't doing the version that I've done now to be more Motown. I wasn't sort of imitating anything except following the muse, thinking how could I make this different and how could I make this my own,” he said. “And this idea just came around to me of the double-time drums and then this sort of crazy driving bass line in the chorus that's doubled with tenor and baritone saxes repeating that cool line. And then I said, 'It going to need some fuzz guitar and it's going to need some sort of swaggering vocals. And then I got together with my writing partner for 'One Heartbeat,' Steve LeGassick.” The two worked out some new guitar and bass lines.

Ray told LeGassick, “'You're a genius. You're still a genius.' And yeah, we had a great time sort of rediscovering the song we wrote together 31 years ago and finding it in a new venue.” The basic tracks for the new song, produced by Ray, were recorded at East-West Studios in Los Angeles used by the Beach Boys for “Pet Sounds” and also by The Turtles and The Mamas and The Papas. The band on the song includes Elvis Costello band member Davey Farragher on bass, drummer Erik Eldenius and the Texicali Horns, and, of course, Robinson.

Ray said he and Smokey Robinson have long been friends, so he thought, “Well, why not give it a try?” Robinson agreed and put his part down at Village Studios. “It was just fantastic,” Ray said. Robinson posted his thoughts about the new version on his Facebook page. “It was a blast to record my vocals on Brian's rockin' version of the song he wrote for me 30 years ago!.” Starting Aug. 6, the song became “The Coolest Song in the World” on Van Zandt's Underground Garage on Sirius/XM. Ray says the song will be in maximum rotation for two months straight.

Ray was with McCartney during his recent trip to Liverpool to film Carpool Karaoke for James Corden. The filming involved a surprise show at the Philharmonic Pub in Liverpool which, Ray said, seemed to bring a flood of memories for McCartney.

“It was really fun just because we're standing there on the stage and I can see waiting for the curtain to open before the reveal before the actual surprise. And we're behind the curtain and Paul's just sort of taking in the room and he's looking up at the crown moldings in this very old historic pub. And if I wasn't mistaken I thought I saw his memories flash back to when he was young hanging out in this same pub as a young teenager with this dream band that he was with just coming up in his hometown.”

The Liverpool trip also included a show at The Cavern Club, where The Beatles played numerous times in a string that began before their fame went worldwide. “It must have been 110 degrees in there. And I was sweating for an hour after the show was finished. So it was really exciting. It was just a great honor to have played this small club that means so much in the history of rock 'n' roll and Paul's place in the history of rock 'n' roll. ”

McCartney is releasing a new album in early September titled Egypt Station. “I think that Paul has gone above and beyond on this album. And I'm really excited about the possibilities and bringing the songs to the people in a live audience.” Asked if he'll be doing a lot of live shows with McCartney as the year ends, Ray said, “I hope so.”

On that end, McCartney has announced a new tour called “Freshen Up.” It will begin in Canada in September and he'll headline the 17th annual Austin City Limits festival in October. The tour will move to Japan in late October and early November, then Europe and the UK in December and more dates may be added. Some tickets are available here.