Guitarist Kenny "Blue" Ray has the kind of fat guitar overtones, complex chord changes, and lightning-fast chops that tend to draw rock fans into the blues fold. Not unlike Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray's playing owes almost as much to his rock influences as to his blues mentors.
Ray's résumé includes performances and recording sessions with William Clarke, Little Charlie & the Nightcats, Charlie Musselwhite, Smokey Wilson, and a bevy of other West Coast blues stylists.
Ray first became interested in music via his father, who played guitars, harmonica, fiddle, and piano. Seeing Elvis Presley perform on the Ed Sullivan Show was a turning point for him, and later that year, his father bought him a guitar. As a youngster, Ray would listen to disc jockey Wolfman Jack at night, who played music by Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, and others. Ray often skipped school to play guitar with his friends. He made his amateur debut at a high school dance in the mid-'60s.
While in the Air Force, Ray was stationed in London from 1969 to 1972. There, he met Ferdinand Jones and began playing '60s-style soul and blues. After coming back to the U.S., Ray toured with the Paul Hermann Band until 1975, when he took a job as lead guitarist with Little Charlie & the Nightcats, then a regional northern California band.
In 1976, Ray left the Nightcats to head back to Los Angeles. There, he became part of the house band at a club run by guitarist and singer Smokey Wilson. On-stage at Wilson's Pioneer Club, Ray had the chance to back up legendary artists like Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulson, and Big Mama Thornton. A few years later, Ray made his recording session debut with the likes of harmonica player William Clarke and vocalist Finis Tasby.
After moving to Austin, TX in 1980, Ray joined the Marcia Ball Band, touring with her for four years around the Texas Triangle. Ray can be heard on Ball's 1985 album for Rounder, Soulful Dress. He befriended guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and continued his career as a session man, recording with Ball, Mitch Woods, Charlie Musselwhite, Greg "Fingers" Taylor, Ron Thompson, and Tommy Castro, among dozens of others.
By 1990, Ray decided it was time to start leading his own band, and in 1994, he recorded Fired Up!, the first album for his own Blue Ray/Tone King label. Ray's releases helped broaden his touring base beyond central Texas and northern California. His other mid-'90s recordings include Cadillac Tone (1995), Pull the Strings (1996), and Git It! (1997), all for his own Blue Ray/Tone King label. Most recently, Ray recorded In All of My Life (1997) for the London-based JSP Records. He was accompanied by John Firmin (tenor sax), of the Johnny Nocturne Band, as well as Rob Sudduth of Huey Lewis & the News on baritone and tenor saxes.
On record and on stages around the U.S., Ray's guitar playing reflects his smorgasbord of influences: Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, and Aaron "T-Bone" Walker. His vocals are powerful and soul-filled. Ray continues to tour around the U.S., Canada, and Europe. ~ Richard Skelly, Rovi