Texas-born Sugaray Rayford may be a new name to blues and music fans outside of his current Southern California base, but he’s got the blues as deep and wide as his commanding, gospel-drenched voice. Starting out, as so many great singers do, performing in the church as a child, he packs a lifetime of hard-won experience and soul into every performance. As he says, “I grew up in gospel and soul.” And with every inch of his imposing six-foot-five frame, he puts his music across in a physical way that leaves you no choice but to believe every word.
After performing in bands that leaned more towards modern sounds for a few years, Sugaray found himself drawn more towards the power of the blues, and led San Diego band, Aunt Kizzy’z Boyz, to a second place finish at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2006. This turned into a big win for Sugaray though, as it brought him to the attention of Delta Groove Music head, Randy Chortkoff. A few years later when Delta Groove’s Mannish Boys were in need of a featured front man to add to the rotating cast of talent, Sugaray was brought in for a few shows. The chemistry was solid and immediate – his powerful and dynamic performances pushed the band to new heights, and the bond was sealed. His work as a featured vocalist under the Mannish Boys umbrella, both live and on their Blues Music Award-winning release for Traditional Blues Album, “Double Dynamite,” made it abundantly clear that he was not only deserving of his own Delta Groove release, but that it was inevitable. So the wheels were put in motion to surround him with the best and most musically compatible blues talent available.
“Dangerous,” released in 2013, represents a cross section of classic and contemporary, originals and seldom-heard covers, all representing the truth at the core of Sugaray’s blues soul. From the Son House classic, “Preaching Blues,” and post-war gems from Junior Parker, Gatemouth Brown and Pee Wee Crayton, to well-honed originals like Sugaray’s own, “Stuck for a Buck,” “Need a Little More Time” and “I Might Do Somethin’ Crazy,” it’s all killer, no filler. Supporting Sugaray is an all-star cast that includes Franck Goldwasser, Willie J. Campbell, Randy Chortkoff and Jimi Bott from the Mannish Boys, plus special guests Kim Wilson, Monster Mike Welch, Big Pete, Kid Andersen, bass man Bill Stuve, veteran pianists Anthony Geraci and Fred Kaplan, and the only other Sugar Ray available (outside of the boxing ring, anyway), powerhouse vocalist and harp master, Sugar Ray Norcia. Of special note is the duet Norcia wrote especially for the occasion, appropriately enough, “Two Times Sugar.”
The Mannish Boys’ seventh release, “Wrapped Up and Ready,” followed in 2014 with Rayford handling the lion’s share of the vocals, in addition to contributing a couple original songs which included the title track. This led to his first two Blues Music Award nominations in 2015 for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year and Traditional Blues Male Artist, along with sharing three additional nominations with the Mannish Boys, including Album of the Year, Band of the Year and Traditional Blues Album.
So although Sugaray Rayford may be a new name to some, he’s definitely no overnight sensation, or this season’s ‘next big thing’ – he’s here to stay, right where he belongs.