FORMULATING FRIENDSHIPS: Flanagan grew up in Medina but initially didn't have anyone who he could identify as a musical mentor. Instead, he looked to his dad's record collection for inspiration. "My dad had all the Bruce Springsteen records," he says. "I grew up with Springsteen and some classic rock stuff like ZZ Top and Pink Floyd. Those things were there for the beginning of my guitar playing, but the main thing that stuck was Springsteen." Flanagan initially formed a hard-rock group in high school. He started to meet other musicians at the annual High School Rock Off and formulated friendships with many of the participants.
THE JAM'S THE THING:After high school, he worked at McDonald's for a year and found camaraderie at the Bad Boys of Blues jams. "I had gone to some jams in Streetsboro, and we went to the Bad Boys of Blues jams thinking it would just be a bunch of old guys, but it wasn't like that," says Flanagan. "I eventually worked up the courage to talk to Michael Bay and I learned to play these blues songs. I learned that you could be a working musician in Cleveland." Flanagan started frequenting the 10X3 singer-songwriter nights that local singer-songwriter Brent Kirby hosts at Brothers Lounge, and he also sees local singer-songwriter Becky Boyd perform on a regular basis. "There's this great family of musicians in Cleveland," he says. "There's so much original music coming out here. I really relate to the ways people express themselves around here, and I try to learn from them."
ON GOING SOLO:Initially Flanagan intended to record a three-song solo EP with local producer Jim Stewart. During the first recording session, Flanagan churned out 15 tunes and quickly realized he had enough material for a full-length. "From those 15 songs, I whittled it down to seven that made sense together," he says of his first solo album, Passerby. He released the first four singles last year during a residency he held down at the Winchester Music Tavern in Lakewood. A few local musicians appear on the album. "Fords of Jordan" features drummer/percussionist Anthony Taddeo. "Your Sweet Smile" features bassist Kevin Martinez and cellist Sam Kristoff from the Speedbumps, violinist Julian Spiro, as well as Flanagan's brother Russ Flanagan on Fender Rhodes. Martinez composed the tune's string arrangement.
WHY YOU SHOULD HEAR HIM:Album opener "Positive Nihilism" finds Flanagan singing over a simple guitar riff. "I'm a failure by many standards/except by mine," he drolly intones. "How I Look at You" comes off as a beautifully brittle folk ballad. "It's what I've been working toward all this time," he says of the disc. "If you see me play out around town, you'll know some of these tunes, but I've never recorded this side of me. I feel like this record is my own personal take on the blues because I try not to appropriate or imitate that stuff too much. I try to use that guitar as a second voice to carry a message."
WHERE YOU CAN HEAR HIM: rayflanagan.net.
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HIM:Ray Flanagan performs with Madeline Finn at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Winchester Music Tavern in Lakewood.