Stretch your arms, it's YMCA time
You probably know him only as "the cop", but Ray Simpson has been lead vocalist for the Village People for over 30 years now, ever since hastily replacing Victor Willis just before the filming of the band’s notorious flop-turned-cult-classic, Can’t Stop The Music.
“I started in '79, Jeff Olson [“the cowboy”, who replaced Randy Jones] started in '80, and the newest person is Eric Anzalone [“the biker”, replacing the late Glenn Hughes] and he's been there for probably like twenty years now,” he laughs.
Simpson comes from legendary musical stock (his sister Valerie is half of soul legends Ashford & Simpson), and he had a solid career as a sessioneer before being tapped as a Village Person. But is it still fun after all these years?
“It's funny you ask,” he chuckles. “I was just thinking about that, and it's so much fun to see the looks on people's faces. When you first come out on stage they’re kinda looking at you, and then after you start to do songs, then they get into it, and then they're up, and they're being themselves. To put a smile and some energy in people is really a thrill, even today.”
So there’s never been a point when you turn up at a venue, take out the costume and go “oh, for fuck’s sake…”?
“No! It's funny – when you put on the cop uniform it's kinda like an actor going to work,” he insists. “I’m sure Felipe [Rose, “the Indian”] puts on his feathers and stuff he feels the same way. It’s a joy. It's like Halloween all the time, kinda.”
He gets a little uncomfortable when the subject turns to sexual politics and how he, a straight man (Simpson has lived with his wife and family in New Jersey since the late 70s) felt joining a band with an fiercely out-and-proud ethos in the far-less-tolerant US of 1980.
“Well, let me say this,” he says, after a long pause. “The group is prideful about everybody. And obviously there are gay members, there are straight members, there are all different kinds of people in there and we've been getting along for thirty-five years, you know? It seems like a lot of other people found that titillating [at the time], our sexuality or that type of thing, but… uh… I don't even know, these days is that really important?
“Like, are you doing music, and trying to reach as many people as you can? And… those that are into it, great… those that ain't into it, then… so be it, and… [laughs] You're doing what makes you happy. We did some silly songs and we're wearing silly costumes. It's really not that heavy.”
And how much longer can Simpson see the Village People continuing?
“Well, I mean, God willing we stay healthy,” he replies. “We've been blessed that as a group, we've only lost one person, that was Glenn many years ago [to lung cancer]. We try to stay healthy. On tour we workout and run and ride bikes and do the things that will give you longevity.”
So it really is like the 'YMCA' video, then?
“Kinda!” he laughs. “You have to, to do a full show singing and dancing, you know? You'd be lying across the stage if your body isn't ready.”