Ray Gillen Biography


Born May 12, 1961, in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, singer Ray Gillen was without a doubt one of the best known unknowns to come out of the rock and roll world of the late 80's and 90's before his tragic and untimely death in December of 1993 at the age of 32. In a career that spanned nearly a decade, Ray found himself performing with some of the greatest names of rock, appearing with such bands and artists like Black Sabbath, Badlands, and George Lynch on a variety of stellar album releases and subsequent tours.

Though he was more of an athlete in school than anything else, Ray's acute interest in music drove him to practice singing on a daily basis in the privacy of his own room at home after school. After a few years of singing "alongside" such personal heroes as Bad Company and Deep Purple, Ray gained enough confidence and strength in his own voice to begin performing with local bands and musicians. At the same time, however, Ray sought additional confirmation that his talent was indeed good enough to allow him to make a career of his passion, and it was with this in mind that he sought out vocal coach Robert Fitzgerald. Under Fitzgerald's tutelage, Ray's voice grew tremendously in both power and range, and Fitzgerald marked Ray as a potentially major talent from the moment he first heard him sing.

The early 1980's found Ray performing in a string of successful covers bands - most notably a band called Harlett, who were well known for their renditions of Van Halen material - before he joined the New York-based ensemble, Rondinelli in 1985.

Founded by former Rainbow drummer, Bobby Rondinelli, the band was something of a family affair, featuring as it did Bobby's brother, Teddy, on guitars and keyboards. Bassist, James Lomenzo rounded out the band's line up, and with Ray on board the band quickly became a popular draw on the East Coast club circuit, earning major label interest along the way. As a result, a demo album was recorded in late '85, and though Lomenzo left the band shortly thereafter, they carried on in good form with his replacement, Tommy Henriksen, until March of 1986, when the band came to an abrupt end with Ray's sudden departure for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the big leagues as former Trapeze/Deep Purple/Hughes-Thrall vocalist Glenn Hughes' replacement with Heavy Metal legends, Black Sabbath.

Having left both Rondinelli and an opportunity to take the lead in the popular Broadway musical, Cats, behind, Ray served as Hughes' replacement on Sabbath's tour in support of the Seventh Star record, before then returning to England with the band to begin work on their next album, The Eternal Idol, in early 1987. Sadly, in the wake of a series of defections by other members, Ray ultimately opted to leave the band himself, joining bassist Tony Franklin of The Firm and legendary drummer, the late Cozy Powell in the initial incarnation of ex Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake guitarist John Sykes' band, Blue Murder. This also proved to be a short lived stint, however, as both Ray and Cozy left the band in quick succession.

Thusly, it wouldn't be until the Winter of 1987 that Ray's vocals would make their vinyl debut, Ray having joined a cadre of all-star singers such as John Wetton (King Crimson/Asia), Glenn Hughes, and Max Bacon (Bronz/GTR) to work on the Phenomena II: Dream Runner record, the second project album from noted British producer, Tom Galley.

The advent of 1988 found Ray returning to America to begin the process of putting together a new band of his own. Ray was quick to contact former Rough Cutt/Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee, and together, along with Ray's former Sabbath bandmate, drummer Eric Singer, they began auditioning a series of bass players before finally settling on ex Steeler bassist, Greg Chaisson. With the line-up complete, and a deal in hand from Atlantic Records subsidiary, Titanium Records, the band, Badlands, went into the studio to record their self-titled debut, which was released to rave reviews in early 1989.

With their first single, "Dreams in the Dark", in heavy rotation on MTV, the band were out on the road in support of the Badlands album for much of the next year, pausing only briefly to recruit drummer Jeff Martin as Eric Singer's replacement before going back into the studio to begin work on their second album, Voodoo Highway in 1990. That album was released in 1991, and the band soon found themselves out on the road again, playing to eager fans in both the United States and Britain. Sadly, owing to a variety of poor business decisions, internal pressures came to a head in 1992, and with Ray's exit a reality, the band threw in the towel after a short series of gigs with Ray's replacement, singer John West.

A third album done with Ray prior to his departure, Tribal Moon, was left unreleased and in the vaults.

Ray would appear as a guest performer on a couple of albums from other artists (Atsushi Yokezeki- Raid/George Lynch- Sacred Groove) before forming his next band, Tariff, with guitarist Joe Holmes. The L.A.-based band were quick to break up, however, and upon his return to New York in 1993, Ray promptly teamed up with former Alice In Chain bassist, Mike Starr, guitarist Al Romano, and former Rondinelli bandmate, drummer Bobby Rondinelli, to form the band Sun Red Sun. In an ironic twist of fate, however, only a handful of numbers were recorded with producer Leif Mases, before Rondinelli left to join... Black Sabbath! The next blow to the band came when Ray, owing to general fatigue and increasingly poor health was forced to suspend any further work on the project, killing any real hopes that the band's debut album would ever be finished.

Rumors that Ray had contracted the AIDS virus had been floating about since 1990, but by the fall of 1993, there was little doubt that Ray was indeed afflicted with the dreaded disease, and on December 3, 1993, Ray ultimately succumbed to AIDS-related complications, dying at his home in New Jersey.

A memorial concert in tribute to Ray was organized by vocalist Glenn Hughes in February of 1994, and a number of rock luminaries including singer Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, former Mariah Carey guitarist, Paul Pescoe, and Glenn's own band, the recently reformed Trapeze, showed up to perform and pay homage to Ray's memory. Atlantic Records expressed an interest in releasing a recording of the concert, but at the request of Ray's family, no such album was ever completed.

Though 1996 would see the release of War Dance, the until then unreleased demo album that Ray had recorded with Rondinelli back in '85, it was in 1995 that guitarist Al Romano succeeded in his efforts to release the debut album from Sun Red Sun. Other singers had been brought in to finish the record, (indeed, Romano himself sang on a couple of songs), but in honor of Ray's memory, his vocals were left intact on four songs, making the release a testimony to Ray's final efforts before his passing.

Today, though Ray's legacy remains a small one in terms of over all recorded output, there can be no question that the quality of his performance on these few gems alone will be sufficient to keep the power of his memory alive for decades to come.

We will not forget.

- Marc Fevre, Napa, CA (1998)

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