Kenny "Blue" Ray -
One of the most interesting features on the modern blues scene has been
the advent of the non-singing guitarist/bandleader, artists like,
Grand, Anson Funderburgh and Dave Spector, whose prowess as
instrumentalists has led to their names appearing on billboards and CD
sleeves with the vocalists
appearing as "featured artists."
This is not to denigrate the role of the vocalist plays in these
sessions, because invariably talented
instrumentalists enlist talented vocalists, mutual respect being the
catalyst that fires the emotional
intensity that is such an integral part of the blues.
The listener is ultimately impressed with who the bandleader is and why.
To the above list of talented
instrumentalists, you can now add the name of Kenny Blue Ray. Kenny is a
blues veteran of 35 years
whose pedigree includes recording and appearing with artists the caliber
of William Clarke, Little Charlie
and the Nightcats, Charlie Musselwhite, Smokey Wilson,
and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Kenny Ray was born in Lodi, California on January 11, 1950. His interest
in music was forged by his
father, who plated guitar, harmonica, accordion, piano and fiddle.
Seeing Elvis perform on the Ed Sullivan
show in 1956 sealed Kenny's passion to play guitar.
His father bought Kenny his first guitar in 1958 for $7.00, a Danelectro,
who Kenny named "Stella." After
paying his dues, his dad later bought Kenny his first real guitar, a
1959 black Danelectro for $38.50. This
sowed the seed that was to grow and blossom into one of today's great
blues virtuoso's, "Mr. Tone," Mr.
Cool," aka Kenny Blue Ray.
Kenny's obsession with the blues was triggered by the infamous Wolfman
Jack, when as an eleven year
old, Kenny would lie in bed listening as his older sister played the
radio to the sounds of Jimmy Reed and
Howlin' Wolf on XERB-FM, from Chula Vista, California, and was inspired
by music that Kenny claims "just
totally blew my mind." The hypnotic sounds that came out of the tiny
speaker hooked Kenny on the Blues
forever! He was mesmerized. Ever since that time, Kenny has practiced,
honed and perfected his Blues
and guitar skills.
Kenny and his friends would skip school to learn Albert King's album,
"Born Under A Bas Sign" and B.B.
King's live album, "Blues Is King." They eventually became good enough
to make their professional debut
in 1965 at a high school dance.
Serving in the Air Force from 1969-72, Kenny was based in London,
England, where he hooked up with
ex-JR Walker band member, Ferdnand Jones, in a nine piece soul review
called, Ell Jade, where they
covered Al Green, Aretha Franklin and "lots of blues." On his return to
the States, Kenny spent two years
touring California with the Paul Herman Band.
In 1975 he took over the guitar spot in Little Charlie and the Nightcats,
which at the time was fronted by
Charlie Baty on guitar, harp and vocals. Rick
Estrin joined the band in
1976, and not long after Kenny left
and moved to Los Angeles where he became a member of the house band at
Smokey Wilson's Pioneer
club, backing artists like Big Joe Turner,
Pee Wee Crayton,
Fulson and Big Mama Thornton. The late
70's were a productive time for the blues in L.A., and Kenny became
immersed in the Watts scene and
made his recording debut with William Clarke and Hollywood Fats ("Diggin'
My Potatoes") and Finis Tasby
(a set which remains unreleased) in 1978.
In 1980, Kenny moved to Austin, Texas, where he joined the Marcia Ball
Band, touring with her for four
years on the Crawfish Circuit and appearing on her 1985 Rounder release
"Soulful Dress." During this time
Kenny met and became good friends with
Stevie Ray Vaughan. Further
recording sessions followed with
Greg "Fingers" Taylor ("Harpoon Man"), Marcia Ball on Varrick, Mitch
Woods, Charlie Musselwhite, Ronnie
Earl and the Roomful of Blue Horns on Blind Pig ("Solid Gold Cadillac"),
and sessions with Dave
Welhaussen, Tommy Castro,
Gary Smith, Wendy DeWitt and
In 1990, Kenny with his big, fat toned, Texas guitar sound, liberally
laced with Albert King and Magic Sam,
honed to perfection, took center stage and formed his own band.
In 1994, Kenny released the first of nine CD's on his own Blue Ray•Tone
King label. Each CD garnered
critical acclaim from all corners of the blues world, and amazingly,
each surpassing the previous in sheer
quality. Few artists could release so many CD's in such a short period
of time without staleness and a
sense of repetition setting in. The fact that Kenny has not only
achieved that, but imbued each successive
release with a freshness and vitality that is impossible to ignore and
only demonstrates the depth of his
Kenny plays his guitar through the organ speaker, ripping out wicked
chords the way a B-3 player would.
Don't be misled into thinking Kenny is merely a copy cat. His talent is
such that he can pay tribute to
artists he admires and although, you'll easily recognize the influences,
everything comes out of the amps
sounding like pure Kenny Blue Ray and smoldering instrumentals allow him
to stretch, demonstrating his
virtuosity in a variety of blues styles.
Kenny, like Otis Grand, has no pretensions about his vocal prowess,
preferring to let others step out front
while he lets his guitar do his singing. Like all great musicians, he is
a supreme accompanist, confident in
his own ability to utilize singers whose talent won't be overshadowed by
his own virtuosity.
Since 1994, Kenny has put out two to three CD's a year, as well as,
producing and playing on others
recording artists projects. Kenny is a big fan of Jazz, as well.
Especially the bluesy side of Brother Jack
Smith, and Jimmy McGriff.
Kenny has appeared on thirty three CD's and albums since he began his
music career. He's also done
seven Blues Guitar Instructional videos.