IT’S hard to say no to Jesse Rae. The singer once persuaded me to take part in a music video he was filming to spearhead a campaign close to his heart.

Rae asked me to perch on top of a giant farm tractor as he powered through a forest in the Scottish Borders.

When we reached a hilltop, there stood a 32ft tall stone statue of Sir William Wallace – built by the Earl of Buchan in 1814 – which had fallen into disrepair.

His mission was to raise funds to restore the monument of the iconic warrior who inspired Robert Burns and Walter Scott … and was the subject of the Academy Award winning 1995 movie, Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson.

The experience proved highly enjoyable. I’m delighted to say I emerged unscathed, which is more than can be said for Steve Jordan.

Will the US drummer ever forget the day he was Rae’s co-star in a stunning video for his 1985 hit single, Over The Sea?

The singer has worn a steel battle helmet, leather breastplate, kilt and sporran - on stage and off – for almost 40 years.

In the promo, he throws his claymore from New York City “over the sea” to his lassie back home in Scotland. The object of his affections was wife Audrey, a world champion pipe band drummer.

He insists the song was NOT written as a pop single. Instead, it was the soundtrack to his ambitious self-financed video shot at Eilean Donan Castle.

But it was spectacular aerial footage of Rae and Jordan performing on top of The Brooklyn Bridge in New York City that captured the imagination.

“I told Steve – who was a member of the house band on the David Letterman TV show – to get a rucksack big enough to carry his small practise drum kit. While I had my claymore, a flag, a sound system and a walkie-talkie strapped to me,” recalled Jesse.

He got official permission to scale the massive structure, assisted by two steel workers, who carried out maintenance on the bridge.

“We only had an eight-inch pipe to stand on with monkey wires on each side. It was really hairy. I kept telling Steve jokes to take his mind off what we were doing,” he said.

On top of the stone tower – 272ft. above the East River – Rae lip-synched to the song while directing the helicopter cameraman via a mic hidden beneath his facemask.

Originally, he’d planned to shoot the promo on the World Trade Centre but felt he wouldn’t be able to get near the edge of the Twin Towers.

“I got the helicopter to come in really close a couple of times and the wind from the rotor blades blew Steve’s cymbal off like a frisbee. Had it fallen over the edge it would have sliced somebody in two,” said Jesse.

“There were also these huge stone nuts you couldn’t see. So I’d be running along the top swinging my claymore over my head and when my foot hit them I nearly went over the edge. But when you’re performing so enthusiastically you don’t really think about things like that.

“We were the first people who’d been on top of The Brooklyn Bridge for 100 years.”

Jordan lived to tell the tale. In August, he joined was The Rolling Stones, to replace the late Charlie Watts.

When Over The Sea was screened on TV pop show, The Tube, Rae was offered a deal by WEA Records in London.

It became lead track on his impressive 1987 debut album, The Thistle.

In the video for the title song the singer performs while standing precariously on the front of a steam locomotive thundering over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, later made famous by the Harry Potter movies.

It was Rae’s lifelong love of US funk which first took him across the Atlantic in the Seventies.

“I was born with the funk and thought, I really need to work with the best musicians in the world, so how do I do that?” he said.

“I answered an advert in Melody Maker from a heavy metal band in Cleveland who were looking for a singer. That was my ticket out to the States.

“They split a month or two after I arrived. I had no Green Card so was stuck in Ohio for three years.

“I played covers in local clubs to make a little money, and would also try to sneak in a few of my own songs where I could.”

But a move to Boston proved pivotal. He had a chance meeting with Bernie Worrell, who played keyboards with Parliament-Funkadelic, led by the legendary George Clinton.

“I had a bag of funk tapes and got into an elevator in the Holiday Inn and there was Bernie,” recalled Jesse.

“I told him I did Scottish funk and he invited me up to his room to listen to my stuff. We hit it off straight way.

“The only time I’d heard Parliament was on a record I’d bought for 99p when I was 17. That was my introduction to their music.

“He invited me to see them play the Sugar Shack Club. I was the only white face in the venue. When I heard the band, with all these great vocalists and musicians, that was it.

“And as soon as they realised I was funky too they were great. Bernie had real credibility and wanted to work with me.”

Rae wrote songs for other artists, most notably Inside Out, a hit single for Odyssey in 1982.

After the success of Over The Sea, he signed to WEA in a deal he now describes as “a disaster”.

“I was supposed to sign to Warner Brothers in the States. I thought it would be a nightmare trying to sell my music to England first before it could go out to the rest of the world,” he said.

“I knew it was gonna be tough. I wanted to retain all the rights to my videos. They agreed on the condition I paid for them myself.

“I financed Over The Sea and The Thistle which cost around £30,000 each, which was a lot of money then. MTV had just really taken off and I knew the future was going to be music videos.

“It seemed to be all ex-public schoolboys who were running the company. It’s to their credit they knew I wasn’t some kind of novelty act. They realised musically they were on to something good.

“But, let’s put it this way, they weren’t helpful. Everything I tried to do was a real fight to get it over the line. I could tell my time with the label was limited.”

The Thistle included impressive songs like Be Yer Sel, Hou-Di-Ni and That Kind O’ Girl and was recorded at Troutman Sound Labs in Dayton, Ohio.

It was produced by US multi-instrumentalist Roger Troutman, whose CV includes records with Zapp, Bootsie Collins, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and Dr. Dre.

“Roger was in such big demand he’d always be off doing some other project,” recalled Jesse.

“On the first day, his dad drove me to the studio. He knew all about Scotland because he’d been based at the Holy Loch with the US Navy.

“One of the reasons Roger took the job was because he’d been fed the Brigadoon stories about Scotland. He’d grown up with his father’s tales of working there.

“When we got into the studio it was gung-ho all the time, sometimes for 18-20 hours a day. I still have images of Roger, immaculately dressed with his guitar around his neck, fast asleep on the studio couch, then springing into action when he woke up.

“He was great to work with and so were all the musicians he brought in. I had no idea until years later about all the big funk artists who’d come out of Dayton. It was the funk centre of the world.”

Rae has compiled a new version of The Thistle with vocal performances and remixes he feels best represent his album. It’s available via his website.

He’s still rightly proud of his unique brand of what he terms “Scottish Borders funk”.

“I was full of the flu when I recorded some of the original tracks, so my vocals weren’t really up to it,” he revealed.

“But I did the best I could in the circumstances. I’m now singing much better than I used to. I think The Thistle is still a great record.”


I’VE known Jesse Rae for more than 35 years … but I still don’t know what he looks like.

Every time I’ve met the singer he’s worn his trademark steel helmet and facemask.

He causes havoc going through the metal detector at airports around the world.

“I’ve always worn the kilt. In 1983, I realised I’d need to go to war with these un-funky creatures in the music business. I knew I would have to take on a lot of s***,” he revealed.

“That’s when I decided to put the helmet on. I reckoned it might help me get a little bit further in funk music in America not just being a typical white laddie.

“My dad used to always say … son, you’re a good looking lad, what are you doing this for?

“But before he died he said to me, I understand now. That made me feel good because he was against it for so many years.”

The impact of his look was underlined during recording sessions for The Thistle in Ohio.

“All these wee black kids came around the studio wearing brown paper grocery bags, with holes cut out for their eyes and mouth,” he recalled.

“I realised the whole pop video thing could appeal to children. So I thought, if I ever reveal my face it might be game over. They saw me as a complete character. From that point on the helmet has never come off.”

In 1979, Jesse predicted the music video boom pioneered in America by MTV.

His early promos – for the singles D.E.S.I.R.E. and Rusha – enjoyed heavy rotation on US cable channels.

Over The Sea was a reference for director Russell Mulcahy in his 1988 movie, Highlander, which starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery.

“There’s a sequence where the claymore is flying down which is the same as in my video,” said Jesse.

“They also shot at Eilean Donan Castle with the lassie up on the bridge banging the drum.

“So they used Over The Sea as a blueprint for the film.”

And Jesse has NO plans to unmask any time soon.

“I’m still here - wearing my helmet and my kilt – doing Scottish funk. And that’s the way it’s always going to be. It’s not a choice,” he said.

* THE Billy Sloan Show is on BBC Radio Scotland every Saturday at 10pm.