In short, within the musical world, a “hired gun” is a musician that an A-list talent knows they can depend on. Oftentimes, these musicians are in the background, which means that the casual music fan may not think twice about who is playing with that major artist. However, a lot of these top-tier musicians have also had success as a songwriter and/or producer, and in turn, they have a lot of interesting stories to tell about life in the shadows.
For the movie Hired Gun — which hits theaters on June 29 for one night only, courtesy of Fathom Events — director Fran Strine had access to a virtual who’s who of modern-day musicians. Musicians for the likes of Billy Joel, Rihanna, Bon Jovi, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan, P!NK, Katy Perry, and Michael Jackson are among the participants interviewed for the documentary. In addition, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, and producer David Foster also go on-the-record about how important “the hired gun” is. The documentary is not just stories, however, as performances and studio footage are woven into the two-hour presentation.
On behalf of the Inquisitr, I had the opportunity to talk with both director Fran Strine and one of the film’s interviewees, Ray Parker Jr. Prior to making Hired Gun, Strine had worked on video projects for Dolly Parton, Nickelback, Staind, and Shinedown. Ray Parker Jr., one of the subjects featured in Strine’s movie, is known to most as the recording artist of the theme song to Ghostbusters. However, Ghostbusters is only one credit for Parker. He started as a session player in Detroit as a teenager, eventually playing on thousands of albums. His credits include Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, New Edition, Run-DMC, and Aretha Franklin, beyond scoring over two dozen Top 20 hits.
More information on Hired Gun can be found online via www.hiredgunthefilm.com and Fathom Events. For those unable to make it to a movie theater on June 29, keep an eye out for a DVD release, rumored to be happening on August 1.
You had one of the biggest hits of the 1980s with the Ghostbusters theme, yet you were very active as a musician for well over a decade before then. How do you feel about most people primarily known you for your pop success?
Ray Parker Jr.: I don’t really mind that. I appreciate all of it because I just love music. I’m never going to get away from Ghostbusters, but I’ve actually had 29 Top 20 Billboard hits.
What was your first session as a hired gun? Was it with Marvin Gaye or The Spinners?
Ray Parker Jr.: It was The Spinners.
Beyond your playing, you have also had a lot of success as a songwriter. Do you view yourself primarily as a songwriter that can also play? A musician that can also write?
Ray Parker Jr.: A musician that can also write.
Is there a credit that you are most proud of?
Ray Parker Jr.: Ghostbusters.
Did you ghost on a lot of sessions?
Ray Parker Jr.: Yes. Thousands. I can’t even count how many. I used to do 15 records a day every day, including Sunday, but most of them did put my name on as a credit.
— Loni Love (@LoniLove) October 30, 2016
Did you know a lot of the other artists featured in Hired Gun?
Ray Parker Jr.: Several. Jay Graydon, David Foster, Alice Cooper…
Fran, do you remember the first “hired gun” you ever noticed?
Fran Strine: I do! It was Al Pitrelli when he played guitar for Alice Cooper, and the next thing you know, he’s playing in Megadeth, and now is a bandleader from Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Such a talented guitarist!
Did you encounter any potential interview subjects that resented being thought of as a “hired gun?”
Fran Strine: No, not at all. These musicians understand their roles and are just happy to be playing in front of large audiences and getting paid to do what they love.
Ray, do you like the term “hired gun?”
Ray Parker Jr.: Yes, I thought that was a clever title for the film. It’s not something I would have thought of.
Fran, around how many hours did you film for the movie? Is there a lot of unreleased footage?
Fran Strine: We have close to 300 hours of footage. The toughest part of making this film was what not to use in the final cut. It was gut-wrenching, actually. There are so many hours of jaw-dropping stories that I hope will see the light of day in the future.
— Barnraisers Podcast (@barnraiserspod) June 27, 2017
What was the hardest part of making the movie? Traveling to the artists? Clearing the music? Getting people to go on-record?
Fran Strine: Funny enough, the money was the easiest part! We had a great investor who saw the potential in not only the film, but trusted my ability to bring home a highly-polished, compelling movie that would attract a wide audience. Clearing the music was a task, no doubt, but we had an ace music clearance supervisor who worked her magic and cleared some very big songs for us. The talent we interviewed was also a easy task, we pretty much sat for a few hours and just had conversations, so it never felt like a typical Q&A. I feel I gained the trust of these musicians and pulled the best out of them and it translated to the big screen.
Where did the idea come from to make this a Fathom Events movie event rather than a traditional theatrical run?
Fran Strine: Fathom Events was the perfect outlet for this film. The film was meant to be seen on the big screen. It’s like going to a concert with the music, the excitement and the sound! We mixed the film at Skywalker Ranch, so you really feel the sound moving your organs around! Fathom bring the very best of event programming to a wide audience in many markets that Hired Gun may not have been available otherwise, so I’m grateful they gave my film this wonderful platform.
What’s coming up for your career-wise? Are you still doing a lot of sessions?
Ray Parker Jr.: I just built a new studio. I am doing a new album and I just finished a Motown cartoon series. I just finished touring in Japan. I am hosting Berry Gordy’s fundraising show, Heroes And Legends, in September. Yes, I am still doing a lot of sessions!
Fran Strine: I do have one more music-centric film in me that I am developing right now. The exciting thing for this one is that it will be shot on film! It’s been a dream of mine for a long time and I finally get the opportunity to do it! I’ll be announcing it shortly.
— Pinkies Family (@pinkiesfamily) June 24, 2017
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Ray Parker Jr.: I play tennis every day. I work out with my trainer twice a week. I like to spend time with my wife and kids. I like to go in studio with my sons Gibson and Jericho and create new music.
Fran Strine: I live in the Bay Area in a beautiful city, San Rafael. So in my free time, I love getting in the car with the dog and drive to the coast and hike with him. I am also a full-blown foodie!
Finally, any last words for the kids?
Ray Parker Jr.: You’ve got to take a shot at it if you are really serious. Burn up plan B. Stick to plan A. You’ve got to do what feels real.
Fran Strine: Take it from me, if I can do it, anyone can. It’s never easy, but if you really in your heart and gut believe in a project deeply, then you have to go for it. And, always ask — no matter how big the ask is — always present the question. If you would have told me that I would have mixed this film at Skywalker Ranch, had Alice Cooper in my film, record the live musical pieces at the world-famous EastWest Studios, get to interview the greatest musicians on the planet, I would have told you there is no way. Well, you have to ask for all these people to say YES!
[Featured Image by Zuzana Korda]