Texas born Caron “Sugaray” Rayford began singing in the church, and while he has roots in gospel and soul. In San Diego, he began fronting a funk/R&B band, the Urban Gypsys, but while dabbling in the blues he realized his heart and soul were in this idiom. He started fronting Aunt Kizzy’z Boyz, with whom he made some recordings and competed in the International Blues Challenge. Moving a couple years ago to Los Angeles, Sugar Ray he hosted up a jam in Sherman Oaks and then hooked up with guitarist Chuck Kavooras whose CK All Stars became the house band for the jam. The house band is a rotating group of musicians who have played with numerous legends and famous folk like Al Kooper, Slash, Steve Lukather (Toto) and Mike Finnigan have sit in. Sugaray recently issued “Blind Alley” (self-produced) recorded at Kavooras’ Slideaway Studio with a variety of musicians joining them as well as contributing material.
Sugaray is a big man and has an equally powerful voice. The church roots are clearly evident when he sings on a nice varied mix of material. He comes roaring on “ Nuthin’ I Wouldn’t Do (For A Woman Like You),” one of two songs Al Kooper contributed here. It features wailing harp, some blues-rocking guitar and a busy accompaniment that, however, doesn’t smother his personality. With Kavooras’ stark slide and use of tremolo guitar, Sugar renders a field holler moan on the rendition of a Blind Willie Johnson recording “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground,” a performance dedicated to his mother. Sugaray’s strong sing does justice to Son House’s “Death Letter” which opens simple hand clapping and tambourine behind Kavooras stark delta groove before the band kicks in and the guitarist rocks out a bit on his solo.
The title track, which Sugaray co-wrote, takes us from updated country blues to an uptown soul-blues with a funky groove, riffing horns, and a vocal that evokes Artie ‘Blues Boy’ White and the late Little Milton. Phil Parlapiano’s piano break adds to this tracks strong appeal. Some nice Albert King styled guitar opens the slow drag groove reworking of B.B. King’s “ You Upset Me Baby,” that again showcases his ability as a singer as provides a convincing low-key reading of the lyrics.
Al Kooper’s soulful ballad, “ I Let Love Slip Thru My Fingers,” provides an opportunity for him to show another side of his style with some nice saxophone from Jimmy Z. His rendition of a terrific Arthur Adams song, “You Can’t Win For Losing,” is another strong soul-blues performance that evokes classic Little Milton. A short gospel performance with just organ and vocal chorus, “I Got to Move,” is followed by the strong “I Sing The Blues,” about him being raised in the country and his whole life has been a struggle,” set against a moody horn arrangement as he really reaches deep in the gut for his vocal here. “Overnight Sensation” has a jazzy flavor with some nice clarinet from Geoff Nudell while Kavooras taking a more low-key approach here.
Sugaray Rayford impresses this listener more each time I play “ Blind Alley.” Not many singers can take us from the delta to the modern chitlin’ circuit as easily as he does. A big man with a big voice and plenty of personality that makes “Blind Alley” a recording to savor. His website is http://sugarayblues.com/ and this can be purchased at cdbaby.com. He impressed me enough that I am likely to check out the two discs by Aunt Kizzy’z Boyz that he was vocalist on.