Speaking recently to Taste of Country Nights in an interview, Michael Ray mentioned his friendship with other musicians, including Kid Rock. In fact, this unlikely friendship is apparently what inspired Higher Education, the title track from Ray’s new extended play.
“For me, just being good buddies with Kid Rock … he’s been there for me during some low times. He’s just one of my favorite artists and people.”
Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top and songwriter Tim Montana also joined Ray for the star-studded song. This huge collaboration may be why the new song is a bit more rock-centric than previous ones since it basically showcases Ray’s influences and what inspired him to be where he is today.
Montana seems to have served as the glue for Higher Education, according to Ray. It began when Ray and Montana were in a garage playing songs for one another. Expressing a desire to take the song to new heights, Ray talks about how Kid Rock came into the equation.
“He (Montana) is how I know Kid Rock and Billy Gibbons. Him and Billy Gibbons have a hot sauce together, they’re in business together so they’re really, really tight, as well as Kid Rock. So I was like, ‘You think they would do it?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, man, absolutely.
Upon further reflection, Ray realized Kid Rock’s Devil Without a Cause album was the first he ever bought.
“This kid … when we were in sixth grade, this random kid on the school bus was like, ‘Hey man, you play guitar … I got a CD for $2, bring it tomorrow.’ I think I did my first drug deal like this (Laughs). It was like, ‘You bring the money, I got the stuff.'”
Ray’s admiration seems to have come full circle. You can listen to the Higher Education EP through Ray’s Instagram.
‘Higher Education’ Sees Michael Ray Rediscovering His Florida Roots
Michael Ray’s Higher Education serves as both a love letter to country music fans and a method of forging his own identity. The latter is especially important, as Ray feels he “played the game” for a while, chasing trends instead of making his own identity.
“If I’m being very honest, it really hit me in the last year. There were times where it felt like I was playing the game. I’m very proud of the success that we’ve had,” Ray told Outsider in an exclusive interview.
Reflecting on this, Ray remembers songs that inspired him during his youth. Holy Water is one song he specifically mentions.
“I really wanted that old story-song. I fell in love with those story-songs. You don’t hear a lot of them anymore. I wanted that throwback, kinda swamp, Jerry Reed-type feel. Take me back to back to Jacksonville when Skynyrd and them were rocking. The Allman Brothers and all that stuff. There’s a lot of Florida sprinkled all over this record.”
In a way, Higher Education serves as a homecoming for Ray and he’s proud of it.