The birth of our underground brand, Factory 93, not only brought on an adrenaline rush reminiscent of the renegade warehouse era of raving—on which Insomniac was founded—but it also had us thinking back to all the people, places and parties that made this whole operation possible. And with that came a burning desire to crack open our collection and dust off the classic records we couldn’t live without. Through our From the Crate series, we’ll be breaking out seminal and obscure cuts alike, imparting some knowledge in the process.
How many former McDonald’s employees do you know who have made dance music history? After saving money from a job working for the Golden Arches in Manchester, Gerald Simpson bought equipment to make music, experimented, and later made a timeless and charting house classic. A Guy Called Gerald’s “Voodoo Ray” was released on UK label Rham! in 1988, followed by an American release on Warlock, with remixes by house godfather Frankie Knuckles. That should give an idea of how this song was respected even while it was in the making, some three decades ago.
To hear A Guy Called Gerald truly shine and shatter genre boundaries, pick up his John Peel Sessions—recordings of his live appearances on the classic BBC Radio show that was adept at promoting exciting artists early. The late broadcaster was an early champion of Simpson’s, and that radio exposure helped make “Voodoo Ray” a top 20, gold-selling hit in the UK, as well as a song known the world over. It stayed on dancefloors from London to Los Angeles for years, hitting the latter at the beginning of the burgeoning rave scene and digging in for longevity.
Collaborator Colin Thorpe told RBMA that the title of the song is actually based on a mistake made while recording it in a Manchester studio: “[Simpson] found this vocal sample from a Pete and Dud record that said ‘Voodoo Rage,’ which sounded pretty cool, so we sampled that up. We had two samplers, and neither me nor Lee the engineer really knew how the bloody things worked. Lee chopped off the end of ‘rage’ by mistake, and it became ‘Voodoo Ray.’ We thought: Actually, that sounds even cooler. The whole record is a series of experiments. You know: ‘Ooh, how does that work?’”
Simpson made a new nod to the mistake in the ‘90s, when he was more known as a drum & bass artist. Incidentally, Pete and Dud were the British comedic duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; Americans might remember the latter as the star of the 1981 movie Arthur.
A Guy Called Gerald released a new version of the song called “Voodoo Rage” on his 1995 album Black Secret Technology. It’s also been subsequently covered in two very interesting ways: brass band by Williams Fairey Brass Band in 1997, and steel drums by Jeremy Deller in 2013. Both are further testament to the strength of the song and the once chip-flipping artist who wrote it.