Raymond Nemetz, better known as SugarRay SoloJam, played with multiple bands throughout the years, but now he performs as a solo guitarist/vocalist across Northeast Pennsylvania. He performs everything from British invasion pop songs and Motown to country and doo-wop and everything in between.
He is at a point in his music career where he won’t play anything he doesn’t like — which isn’t a lot considering he covers a wide range of genres — but wants his audience to feel his authenticity when he plays. Nemetz’s goal is to have the audience drive the song selection and then sing along with every song he plays.
He plays straight through the night for NEPA, even indulging in requests from the audience.
“I don’t play a few songs then break and come back, that doesn’t work for me,” he said. “I like the flow of one long set. I’m on break until the next gig, so I have plenty of time to rest.”
Q: How did you get involved in music?
SugarRay SoloJam: As far back as I can remember I enjoyed listening to music. My father and grandfather were players on a small scale. At home, there was always a radio on or an album playing on the stereo. My mother’s youngest sister was into early rock ‘n’ roll like Buddy Holley, Elvis and Bobby Darin and I’d listen to her 45s. Then, The Beatles hit the scene and I was hooked! I took a few guitar lessons — thank you Mom & Dad! I wish I stuck with it, but I started playing in local bands with my friends, going to local dances at halls, school gyms and the CYC where the established local bands performed.
Q: What do you remember about the first time you performed in public?
SR: I sang in grade school plays like everyone probably did. My first band gig with a guitar was at a bazaar in a neighboring town. I do remember that we only knew three or four songs and we didn’t know them all that well. We just sort of got it close musically and jammed. We did work on the vocals and had some good harmonies for young guys. We were more of a novelty to fill in time for the real band. It was a good experience nevertheless.
Q: How did you come up with your name?
SR: I currently perform under my long time nickname of SugarRay. I can’t even remember how that got started, but I stuck with it for lack of something better. My friend and owner of a club I play at tacked on the SoloJam part, he said, “man, you just get up there and go, you go with the flow of the crowd, it’s like a jam session, like a solo jam.” I liked it, so I added it to my performing name.
Q: How have you changed as a musician over the years?
SR: For most of my career, I was a singer and a bass player. The last five or six years I’ve played guitar almost exclusively. I was so scared to perform first as a duo member, then as a solo performer. I didn’t think I could carry an entire night without a band or, God forbid, by myself. I have my former band mate, duo partner and great friend, Greg Riley to thank for my solo career. Greg pushed me to perform on guitar in the duo and later as a solo performer. Greg had confidence in me that I certainly didn’t have in myself at that time. I owe him big time.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories as a musician?
SR: Certainly playing for President Clinton at his inaugural ball in the White House and at a few parties the first couple attended were all huge highlights. The band received so much attention from those gigs, we were in the paper and on TV numerous times. A reporter from a Philadelphia newspaper interviewed us and we ended up with two pages of write up in the paper. It was pretty awesome.
Q: How has the NEPA music scene changed over the years?
SR: Years ago, you could go out just about any night of the week and hear a great band. There were so many venues that supported live bands and so many great bands and musicians. Now, there are far fewer venues and as a result far fewer bands. There are plenty of duo’s and solo performers, which is good. There are still great options for live entertainment. Some bands are still performing at a high level and doing well, but no where near as many as there were even 10 years ago. Another side of this loss of venues is that it forced younger musicians into the studio, which I see as a good thing. I see so many younger bands doing only originals, it’s awesome.
Q: Who has influenced you over the years?
SR: I’ve been influenced by the people closest to me. My family, my children; not so much by any musical artist but by events and circumstances.
Q: What is the biggest challenge?
SR: I think the biggest challenge for me is to keep my energy up and not to get in a rut. I never use a set list or play the same songs every gig; in fact, I try to not play the same songs in the same week, regardless of venue. Some songs I do again just because I like them or they’re new for me and I’m refining my delivery, but generally I rotate them around. I find that keeps it interesting for me and the audience. I try to put two new songs — new for me, not necessarily new time-wise — in a week. That’s challenging and keeps me energized, looking for new material.
Q: What are your future goals for your solo career?
SR: I’m exploring a couple of new venues. I want to keep my existing venues for sure. I work with the most awesome owners/managers you could ever imagine. I am extremely grateful to them all for the opportunities they provide me. I want to meet new people and see old friends. I want to learn new songs that the folks I play for will enjoy as much as I do.
— samantha stanich
Meet the artist
Genre: Rock/Classic Rock
Based out of: Scranton
Upcoming shows: “Jamming for Greg”, May 20, 6:30 p.m. at Arcaro and Genell’s, 442 S. Main St., Old Forge.