Ray Kennedy - A Life in Music
Ray Kennedy is a singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer based in Los Angeles, California. His work spans multiple genres including R&B, pop, rock, jazz, fusion, acid rock, and country. During the course of his career, he has performed or written with many legendary musicians, most notably Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys (with whom Ray wrote Sail on Sailor), Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Mason, Jeff Beck, Michael Schenker, and Wayne Newton.
A Musical Childhood and American Bandstand
Ray was born Raymond Louis Kennedy on November 26, 1946 in Philadelphia, PA. He was a musical prodigy at an early age, playing the flute at five, the clarinet at seven, and the tenor saxophone at eight. Ray sang in a cappella groups during his early teen years, drawing his musical influences from performers such as Frank Sinatra and The Platters.
In 1960, when Ray was 14, local DJs encouraged him to audition for American Bandstand. The plucky teen heeded the advice and hitchhiked from his home (then in New Jersey) to Philadelphia where he waited in line with hundreds of other hopefuls. Although the minimum age to perform on American Bandstand was 16, Ray convinced producers to make an exception. He was cast for the show and eventually became a dance regular, even receiving fan mail.
Impressed with Ray's stage presence, Dick Clark promoted him to "band performer," backing the show's featured artists. Famous singers would lip sync to their records, and Ray would act out the saxophone portion of the performance. Ray worked with The Platters, The Drifters, Chubby Checker, Little Richard, and many other top acts on the show.
Ray's first released recording, Mr. Cupid, was made during this time under the moniker Eddy and Tri-Counts. It was an a cappella song released on Virtue Records (which was owned by Frank Virtue who was also leader of the band The Virtues).
Early Jazz and Soul
In 1961, when he was only 15, Ray lied about his age and landed a tenor sax gig with Gerry Mulligan, one of the top baritone jazz saxophonists in the world. The youngster left home and toured with Mulligan for a few months, then left the tour to play freelance one-night gigs with other jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson, Buddy Rich and the Gene Krupa Jazz Group.
It took less than a year for Ray to decide that the life of a jazz musician was not for him, so he began experimenting with other musical genres.
In 1962, Ray went to Paducah Kentucky to play with Brenda Lee. But the young musician was still searching. After one month, he moved on to one-night "filler gigs" with Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and others.
It was Otis Redding who told Ray, "You should put that horn down and go sing."
So in 1963 Ray moved to New York City where he teamed up with a musical partner, Jon Misland. The duo was signed by Ahmet Ertegun to Atlantic Records (the connection being that Otis Redding was also signed to Atlantic). As an Ertegun protégé, Ray was an early part of the "blue-eyed soul" movement.
His first album was titled Jon and Ray. It was produced by music legends Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Arif Mardin.
In 1965 Ray recorded his first single as a lead vocalist, Number 5 Gemini. It was produced by then-unknown Kenny Gamble (who later went on to produce over 170 gold and platinum records), and it was released on Guyden Records.
Pop, Rock, and Film
One year later, Ray formed another band called Group Therapy. The band's first album was released in 1968. This was also the year that he moved to Los Angeles. According to Ray, he said to his bandmates, "I'm going out there and not coming back." So they followed him out.
The band's second album was released in 1969, and then Ray left Group Therapy for a solo career and his first solo album Raymond Louis Kennedy which was released in 1970 on Cream Records.
Shortly afterwards, Ray teamed with Dave Mason (formerly of Traffic) and toured for nearly two years in support of Mason's then number-one album Alone Together. Ray also co-wrote a song with Mason, Seasons, that was later released on Let It Flow.
The gigs kept coming. Ray toured with Jeff Beck, and he also wrote a song for Beck's 1973 album Beck, Bogert & Appice. The song is titled, Why Should I Care? Also that year, Ray's song, Sail on Sailor, was released on the Beach Boys album Holland (Ray co-wrote the tune with Brian Wilson in 1970).
In 1974 Ray contributed a track, Life at Last, to Brian De Palma's film Phantom of the Paradise.
1975 to 1995
Building on his solid reputation as a hit songwriter and stage performer, Ray did an astounding amount of work over the next twenty years.
In 1975, Ray joined the "super-group" KGB, the letters being an acronym for the last names of the founding members Ray Kennedy, Barry Goldberg, and Michael Bloomfield. The band put out two albums, KGB and Motion. The former record was especially notable for the track Sail on Sailor, which was the first released version of the hit song to use the original lyrics as written by Brian Wilson and Ray in 1971 rather than the revised lyrics that were used on the Beach Boys' Holland album.
Ray wrote, recorded, and toured with KGB through 1977. That year, his song Isn't it Time was a hit for the British group The Babys. The group scored another hit in 1978 with Ray's song Every Time I Think of You.
During this period, Ray began work on his second solo album, Ray Kennedy, which was released in 1980. The album went platinum, and he did an international concert tour.
He also found time to write two songs for the film Uncommon Valor (starring Gene Hackman) which was released in 1983.
Ray toured with Aerosmith and MSG (Michael Schenker Group) during the mid 80s. He also opened a recording studio in Los Angeles. And he wrote, arranged, and conducted music for the 1988 Summer Olympics broadcasts in Seoul, South Korea. Many legendary performers including Laura Branigan and Engelbert Humperdinck sang Ray's songs for the Olympics telecast.
By the turn of the decade, the musical relationship between Ray and Engelbert Humperdinck deepened, and the two were working together regularly. Humperdink did a whole year of shows featuring Ray's songs. The series was called The Starlight Tour.
In 1990, Ray went to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to entertain U.S. troops during the Gulf War.
Then Ray took a sabbatical of sorts and spent nearly a whole year hanging out in Maine with famed painter Andrew Wyeth. Ray lived on a farm with Wyeth, ate corncob dinners every night with the painter, spent a lot of time on boats, and generally lived a secluded life writing music and enjoying the natural beauty of the northeast.
In the fall of 1991, Wayne Newton heard Ray's song Can You Tell Me Who the Heroes Are? (recorded for a charity supporting orphans of war in Kuwait). Newton was deeply moved by the tune, and he asked Ray to meet him in New York City. The two quickly became friends, and Ray, at the urging of Newton, subsequently left his quiet life in Maine for the glitter of Las Vegas.
The two musicians worked together for a while, but Ray's tendency to roam remained strong. One year later he was living and working in Nashville, and one year after that he was writing music with Mick Fleetwood and touring with Fleetwood Mac. Ray's song These Strange Times was included on Fleetwood Mac's album Time.
1995 to Now
In 1995, Ray signed a publishing deal with the Walt Disney Company. Since then he has continued to write and play with major acts, and he produces music for various media. His work includes tracks for the comedy flick Head Above Water (1996) starring Cameron Diaz, and Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning blockbuster The Departed (2006).
In 2009, Ray provided music for Kelsey Grammer's network television series Hank which aired on ABC.
It's been many decades since Ray's humble beginnings, but in his heart, he is still a kid who likes to sing and play. He is the archetype of his most famous song, Sail on Sailor. Ray is an artist who continues to sail on, devoted to the magic of making music.