Billy Sloan: Jesse Rae – Le Chardon – Released – 1987
It’s hard to say no to Jesse Rae. The singer once persuaded me to participate in a clip he was shooting to lead a campaign that was close to his heart.
Rae asked me to perch on top of a giant farm tractor as he drove through a forest in the Scottish Borders.
When we reached the top of a hill there was a 32 foot tall stone statue of Sir William Wallace – built by the Earl of Buchan in 1814 – which had fallen into disrepair.
His mission was to raise funds to restore the iconic warrior monument that inspired Robert Burns and Walter Scott… and was the subject of the 1995 Oscar-winning film Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.
The experience turned out to be very pleasant. I am delighted to say that I came out unscathed which is more than can be said for Steve Jordan.
Will the American drummer ever forget the day he co-starred with Rae in a stunning video for his 1985 single, Over The Sea?
The singer wore a steel combat helmet, leather breastplate, kilt and sporran – on and off stage – for nearly 40 years.
In the promo, he throws his New York claymore “over the sea” at his daughter back in Scotland. The object of his affections was his wife Audrey, world champion pipe band drummer.
He insists the song was NOT written as a pop single. Instead, it was the soundtrack to his ambitious self-funded video shot at Eilean Donan’s castle.
But it was the spectacular aerial footage of Rae and Jordan performing atop the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City that captured the imagination.
“I told Steve – who was a house band member for the David Letterman TV show – to have a backpack big enough to carry his little practice drum kit. While I had my claymore, a flag, sound system, and walkie-talkie were strapped to me, ”Jesse recalls.
He obtained official permission to climb the massive structure, assisted by two steel workers, who carried out maintenance on the bridge.
“We only had an eight inch pipe to stand on with monkey wires on either side. It was really hairy. I kept telling Steve jokes to make him forget what we were doing, ”he said.
At the top of the stone tower – 272 feet. over the East River – Rae lip-synced to the song while directing the helicopter cameraman through a mic hidden under his face mask.
Originally, he had planned to shoot the promo on the World Trade Center, but felt he would not be able to approach the edge of the Twin Towers.
“I brought the helicopter very close a few times and the wind blowing off the rotor blades made Steve’s cymbal explode like a frisbee. If he had fallen overboard he would have cut someone in half, ”Jesse said.
“There were also these huge stone nuts that you couldn’t see. So I was running along the top swinging my claymore over my head and when my foot hit them I almost got over the edge. But when you play so enthusiastically, you don’t really think of things like that.
“We were the first to be on top of the Brooklyn Bridge for 100 years. ”
Jordan lived to tell the story. In August, he joined the Rolling Stones, replacing the late Charlie Watts.
When Over The Sea was screened on the pop TV show The Tube, Rae was offered a contract by WEA Records in London.
It became the main track on his impressive 1987 debut album, The Thistle.
In the title song video, the singer performs while standing precariously at the front of a steam locomotive thundering over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, later made famous by the Harry Potter films.
It was Rae’s long-standing love for American funk that first brought him across the Atlantic in the 1970s.
“I was born with funk and thought I really needed to work with the best musicians in the world, so what do I do? ” he said.
“I responded to an ad in Melody Maker from a heavy metal band from Cleveland looking for a singer. It was my ticket to the United States.
“They broke up a month or two after I arrived. I didn’t have a Green Card and was stuck in Ohio for three years.
“I played covers at local clubs to make some money, and I also tried to squeeze in a few of my own songs where I could.”
But a move to Boston proved crucial. He was fortunate enough to meet Bernie Worrell, who played keyboards with Parliament-Funkadelic, conducted by the legendary George Clinton.
“I had a bag of funk tapes and got on a Holiday Inn elevator and there was Bernie,” Jesse recalls.
“I told him I do Scottish funk and he invited me to his room to listen to my stuff. We immediately hooked.
“The only time I had heard Parliament was on a record I bought 99p when I was 17. It was my introduction to their music.
“He invited me to see them play at the Sugar Shack Club. I was the only white face in the room. When I heard the band, with all these great singers and musicians, that was it.
“And as soon as they realized I was awesome too, they were awesome. Bernie had real credibility and wanted to work with me.
Rae wrote songs for other artists, including Inside Out, a hit single for Odyssey in 1982.
After the success of Over The Sea, he signed with WEA in an agreement that he now calls “disaster”.
“I had to sign with Warner Brothers in the United States. I thought it would be a nightmare to try to sell my music in England before it could be released to the rest of the world, ”he said.
“I knew it was going to be tough. I wanted to keep all rights to my videos. They agreed on the condition that I pay them myself.
“I funded Over The Sea and The Thistle which cost around £ 30,000 each, which was a lot of money at the time. MTV was just really taking off and I knew the future was going to be music videos.
“It seemed like all the old school kids in the audience were running the business. It was to their credit that they knew I was not some kind of novelty act. They musically realized that they were on to something good.
“But, let’s put it this way, they weren’t helpful. All I tried to do was really fight to cross the line. I could tell that my time with the label was limited.
The Thistle included awesome songs like Be Yer Sel, Hou-Di-Ni and That Kind O ‘Girl and was recorded at Troutman Sound Labs in Dayton, Ohio.
It was produced by American multi-instrumentalist Roger Troutman, whose CV includes records with Zapp, Bootsie Collins, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and Dr. Dre.
“Roger was in so much demand that he always left for another project,” Jesse recalls.
“On the first day, his father drove me to the studio. He knew all about Scotland because he had been based at Holy Loch with the US Navy.
“One of the reasons Roger took the job was because he had been fed Brigadoon’s stories about Scotland. He had grown up with his father’s stories about his job there.
“When we walked into the studio, it was all the time, sometimes for 18 to 20 hours a day. I still have images of Roger, immaculately dressed with his guitar around his neck, fast asleep on the studio couch, then kicking into action when he wakes up.
“It was great working with him, as were all the musicians he brought. Until years later, I had no idea all the great funk artists that had come out of Dayton. It was the funk center of the world.
Rae has compiled a new take on The Thistle with vocal performances and remixes that he says best represent his album. It is available through its website.
He is still rightly proud of his unique brand of what he calls ‘Scottish Borders Funk’.
“I was full of flu when I recorded some of the original tracks, so my vocals just weren’t up to par,” he revealed.
“But I did my best under the circumstances. I now sing much better than before. I think The Thistle is still a great record.
I’ve known Jesse Rae for over 35 years… but I still don’t know what he looks like.
Whenever I meet the singer, he wears his steel helmet and face mask.
It is wreaking havoc by going through the metal detector at airports around the world.
“I have always worn the kilt. In 1983, I realized I had to go to war with these little funky creatures in the music business. I knew I would have to face a lot of bullshit, ”he revealed.
“That’s when I decided to put on the helmet. I thought it might help me take funk music a step further in America, not just being a typical white boy.
“My dad always said… my son, you are a beautiful boy, why are you doing that?”
“But before he died, he told me, I understand now. It made me feel good because he was against it for so many years.
The impact of her look was highlighted during The Thistle recording sessions in Ohio.
“All these little black kids came into the studio with brown paper grocery bags, with holes cut out for their eyes and mouths,” he recalls.
“I realized that all pop video could appeal to children. So I thought if I ever revealed my face, maybe the game would be over. They saw me as a complete character. From that point on, the helmet never came off.
In 1979, Jesse predicted the music video boom launched in America by MTV.
His first promos – for the singles DESIRE and Rusha – had a strong rotation on American cable channels.
Over The Sea was a reference for director Russell Mulcahy in his 1988 film Highlander, which starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery.
“There is a sequence where the claymore flies down, which is the same as in my video,” Jesse said.
“They also toured at Eilean Donan Castle with the girl on the bridge banging the drum.
“So they used Over The Sea as a shot for the movie.”
And Jesse does NOT intend to unmask any time soon.
“I’m still here, with my helmet and my kilt, doing Scottish funk. And that’s how it’s always going to be. It’s not a choice, ”he said.
* THE Billy Sloan Show airs on BBC Radio Scotland every Saturday at 10 p.m.