You can bet soulwriter Ray Prim and vocalist extraordinaire Mexican Chocolate are gonna’ make it do what it does. Whether they’re jammin’ with the seven-piece Ray Prim & Band or just shootin’ the ish in the “Ghetto Lounge,” these are two of the realist musicians touring the neighborhood.
Prim, the grey whiskered, seasoned vet, has navigated the Austin music scene for the better part of two decades. While his wingman, Mexican Chocolate, born Mike Robledo, is the relative newcomer that Prim has helped groom into a local favorite and one of the city’s top male vocalists.
Never one to bite his tongue, Prim aka Freddy Primstone, is the outspoken and opinionated funnyman of the pair. He’ll tell you exactly how he feels often coating his message with a quick-witted sense of humor. Mexican Chocolate, on the other hand, is the cool and reserved family man a little more methodical in his demeanor. On stage they create melodies that rock and swing as Prim sings lead and strums Adele, his Martin J-40 acoustic, and Mexican Chocolate paints the background with sugary sweet vocals evocative of his namesake.
Ray Prim & Band deliver one of the more entertaining live performances you’ll see. Their shows are soulful, passionate and nothing short of comedic as the wisecracking Prim imparts his wisdom between tracks. Their recent performance at the Scottish Rite Theater was so charismatic it garnered Ray Prim & Band a 2016 Black Fret nomination. The band looks to keep rollin’ in 2016 as they continue to create fresh, soulful tracks and rock live performances. You can see Prim, Mexican Chocolate and the whole band make it do what it does at the Townsend on May 21.
TMI recently caught up with Prim and Mexican Chocolate after a recording session. Here’s what they had to say.
TMI: How did the two of you get together?
MC: We met in 07.’
RP: Oh, I thought you said “Mo 7,” like we met in a motel or something.
MC: We met in 2007 through work and started recording together about 2 years later.
RP: I still work at the same place but Mike tried to better himself and then got canned.
MC: Yeah, I did. I took a promotion and then lost a contract and got laid off. So, now I do hair. I should have a permanent shop in Round Rock real soon.
RP: Yeah, he’ll give you a real tight fade too. He’ll even do it at the shows, man. C’mon out.
TMI: What is Ray Prim & Band currently working on?
RP: We’re working on demos right now for a record I’m hoping to put out next year. I do a lot of demos in my room so we don’t waste money in the studio. Some bands will go in and try to write a song in the studio. But, I learned my lesson a long time ago. That don’t work unless you got money behind you. So, we do it all at my house and then go into the studio. We also just got nominated for Black Fret. If you win then there’s certain things you have to do over the course of the following year to unlock the money. Which is cool I guess so people won’t get the money and just go off to Vegas. But, we’ll worry about all that if we win. I’m just thrilled to be nominated right now.
TMI: How long have you been performing?
RP: In this town? Since 94.’ I was in a band called Seven Stones.
MC: Man, 94’? I was 16 then.
RP: Let’s see, how old was I?
MC: You were probably 40 already.
RP: Nah, I was 24.
TMI: And how about you, Mike?
MC: I grew up singing in church. But, I really didn’t start performing out in town until I started singing with Ray. I had actually quit singing for a couple of years before Ray pulled me up on stage with him. I’ve been trying to just get comfortable being on stage again. I think I’m just starting to get there.
RP: He and this other guy were singing. You know what? If I liked the other guy’s personality I probably would have had him sing with us too. But, he kind of worked my nerves. They were singing harmony so I brought my guitar to see how they were. It sounded good. But, I didn’t know about the other guy though. So, I pulled Mike aside and was like, ‘you want to do this?’
TMI: How did you get started in music?
RP: Man, you know what? Honestly, I went to a Depeche Mode concert and was blown away. At the time, I had two Casio keyboards that I was trying to write songs on and I realized I had the ability to make melodies. So, I was “forcing” this girl, my downstairs neighbor, to come up and play one of the keyboards while I played the other. Then she got sick of me and said, ‘you need to find a band or something because this ain’t working.’ She had a boyfriend at the time and he came up and started playing guitar. And that’s how Seven Stones was born.
TMI: Do you still tour at all?
RP: Hell naw! I ain’t touring nothing but the refrigerator and the neighborhood. I did that for 10 years, man. Played shows for three or four people most of the time. Played to the bartenders. Sometimes we’d sprinkle in some real good shows in New York or New Mexico. But, out of 10 years, I can name the great shows on two hands. It just wasn’t for me.
TMI: A lot of attention has been given to the struggles of live musicians in Austin recently. Do you encounter similar issues?
RP: I don’t really encounter it because I’m not trying to be a full-time musician. I don’t see how they do it. I don’t like playing shows that I don’t want to play. Like I told you, I did that for 10 years and I’m not going back. I’d rather just have the ability to turn a show down that I don’t want to play. I get offered shows all of the time. We played one show at a local grocery store to remain anonymous and they tried to put us in the freezer.
MC: I remember that.
RP: I was about to walk out. They tried to put us in the freezer section by the chicken. We were playing for a gift card. It was that gig right there I decided, ‘you know what? I ain’t doing that no more.’
TMI: What about some of the better shows?
RP: We play a lot of good shows now. That’s all we really play. I can’t remember the last time we had a bad show at a place we don’t enjoy. We play One-2-One Bar, the Cactus Café, Strange Brew, Rawhide. Believe it or not, Central Market…that’s a good gig. They pay you and it’s packed. We’ve gotten several other gigs out of Central Market.
TMI: How was the Black Fret nomination process?
RP: They had 800 bands to choose from and they narrowed it down to 20. We lucked out though because we don’t have recordings that I feel do us justice. And there’s definitely not enough videos of us out there. So with us, if you get a chance to see us live…that’s where it’s at. Black Fret has listening shows and members pick from watching those shows live. We played the last one of the year on Valentine’s and that show had the largest audience. Voters could actually see us. I honestly don’t think we would have made it if we hadn’t played that one.
MC: The voting started the next day.
RP: We lucked out. Now we just got to keep the ball rolling…play some more shows like that and show them what we can do live.
Catch Ray Prim, Mexican Chocolate and the whole band at The Townsend on May 21st