When a teen-ager takes up rock 'n' roll and sticks with it, it's not uncommon for the parents to wonder when the kid will get a real job.
Kevin Gray gave that scenario a twist: He gave up a real job--as a doctor , no less--for rock 'n' roll.
"I finished school and although it wasn't that clearly defined, I guess I was on my way to yuppie-dom," says Gray, 34, founder and singer-songwriter-guitarist of Nashville's White Animals.
"I was starting to try various pipes and read about wine, things like that--enjoying being Dr. Gray," he continued during a recent phone interview.
"But I was squirming a bit too. I had always been more of a free spirit, always really loved the whole wild 'Tutti-Frutti' spirit of rock 'n' roll--you know, being at a dance where some song would start up and seeing everybody get out of their chairs. . . . At the time it just seemed like everybody was forming a band. And there I was sitting on top of 10,000 records that I had bought as a dutiful fan."
Dr. Gray began taking guitar lessons, then he and his teacher began performing together. It wasn't long before Gray hooked up with bassist Steve Boyd, and in 1979 the White Animals were born. (They're due tonight at Club Lingerie.)
Over the course of seven singles, one EP and three albums, the group has covered considerable musical ground, both '60s-flavored and contemporary.
The records include some intriguing pieces of outside material, highlighted by a bizarro reggae version of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." Breaking two of the band's traditions, the White Animals' new LP, "White Animals," features an outside producer (bassist Busta Jones) and no outside material.
Sharp and varied as the Animals sound on much of the record, the band is truly distinctive live--thanks not only to the four musicians on stage, but also to the off-stage work of soundman-keyboardist Tim Coats.
Constantly making adjustments at the soundboard, Coats gives the Animals excellent live sound, as well as adding keyboard fills and dropping out instruments to create spooky "dub" effects.
They're even spookier when Coats can't be seen by the audience. When the band played Raji's in Hollywood a few months ago, more than a few audience members were scratching their heads as keyboard sounds were added--and guitar sounds removed--rather mysteriously.
"Well," Gray said with a laugh, "ideally, we have Tim set up in an optimum place for him, where he's kind of elevated and people can really see him--some sort of prime real estate. . . . At some clubs he's got his own groups of fans."
While the group has broken attendance records at several key clubs in the Southeast, it's remained relatively unknown, partly because these tattered, unpretentious fellows project no clearly defined image.
"We fall through the cracks so much of the time because we can't force ourselves to be cute enough to fit into some idealized teen- dream mold, or be smooth and Top 40," Coats said.
"On the other hand, we've been way too square and successful to be real underground. Like the last time we were at Club Lingerie, our joke was that everybody in the club looked like they were in a band except us--and we were the band!"