Sunday, February 23, 2014

Passings: Ray Kennedy, Multi-Talented Singer/Songwriter (1946 - 2014)

Raymond Lewis "Ray" Kennedy, a multi-talented singer / songwriter / producer, died on February 16 at the age of 67.

Kennedy was best known for writing the Beach Boys' hit Sail On, Sailor and two hits for the Babys, Everytime I Think of You and Isn't It Time, but his career in music went much deeper.

Kennedy began playing the flute at the age of 5, the clarinet at 7 and the tenor saxophone at 8 before branching out into performing with a cappella groups in the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas. At the age of 14, Ray hitchhiked to Philadelphia and convinced the producers of American Bandstand to let him audition as a dancer.  They were impressed so much that they broke their standard "16 and over" rule to let him be a regular on the show. Before long, host Dick Clark had Ray promoted into the house band.

The next year, at the age of 15, Kennedy became a tenor sax player with Gerry Mulligan, who thought he was much older. After a few months, he began freelancing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa and, later, Brenda Lee, Fats Domino, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding.  It was Redding who convinced Ray to try to become a singer.

In 1963, Ray teamed with Jon Misland to form Jon and Ray and signed with Atlantic Records where they released an album produced by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Arif Mardin. After the album wasn't a hit, he formed the band Group Therapy which recorded two albums before Kennedy finally went solo.

Kennedy released his first solo album, Raymond Lewis Kennedy, in 1970 which led to him touring in support of such acts as Dave Mason and Jeff Beck. As a songwriter, Ray also wrote music with both artists but it was the Beach Boys' release of the song Sail On Sailor, written by Kennedy, Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Tandyn Almer and Jack Rieley, that established Kennedy as a true songwriting presence.

In 1975, Kennedy formed the supergroup KGB with Barry Goldberg and and Mike Bloomfield, releasing two albums. While still a part of the group, Ray's song Isn't It Time became a hit for the John Waite led The Babys, following it up with another Kennedy composition, Every Time I Think of You.

Over the next decade, Kennedy wrote for film, recorded further solo material, opened his own recording studio and toured with Aerosmith and the Michael Schenker Group. He also wrote, arranged and conducted all of the music for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. One of the artists he worked with in Korea was Engelbert Humperdinck, a relationship that grew to the point where Engelbert toured for a full year performing Kennedy's songs (The Starlight Tour).

Since the start of the 90's, Kennedy took a sabbatical to live with and study under artist Andrew Wyeth, worked extensively with Wayne Newton and continued to write for film.

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