Sugaray Rayford is ready to get out on stage again.
The Grammy-nominated blues man has been as impacted by the COVID pandemic as any performer. He’s seen his band’s tour schedule go from almost 200 dates a year down to about 10 over the past couple.
In the meantime, his Sugaray Rayford Band has spent the downtime putting together a new lineup, and Phoenix blues fans get to see him do what he does best this Saturday night with an 8 p.m. showcase at the Valley’s famed Rhythm Room. It’s a smaller club than he’s been playing with an audience that has grown with each album and live performance, but the Room’s rich history is the perfect venue to “put legs under the band,” as he says of the new lineup, which will go out on a 15-date European tour in April, following a dozen U.S. dates up first.
“I got a bunch of young cats working with me now,” the frontman said Wednesday, from his home in Maricopa, about 35 miles south of Phoenix. The band will be working out new material from the forthcoming album “In Too Deep,” due out March 4 on Forty Below Records. “Nothing beats playing live and being in front of people and working out all the problems before we start doing the big shows.”
Q: You have history in Texas, California and Arizona. How does the Southwest and West influence you?
“I grew up gospel, and gospel and blues are so intertwined. What happens to a lot of gospel singers is if we quit doing gospel we usually wind up in the soul world and the blues world. I think it’s a natural progression.”
Q: Who are your biggest musical influences?
“People ask me ‘Did I hear blues?’ The only blues I ever heard was my uncle. I had an uncle named ‘Abeya,’ and don’t ask me how to spell it because all these years I’ve never known how to spell it. And he’d be playing some Johnnie Taylor, Jimmy Shine, that sort of thing. I heard him playing some Bobby Bland on 8-track in his truck, and I really dug that but I was a gospel kid and I wasn’t allowed to listen or play that music. I really didn’t have my ‘come to Jesus moment’ with the blues until I started doing music again out in California.”
Q: What’s in heavy rotation in your listening these days?
“Dude, it’s kinda funny, because I do so much music I don’t listen to music. My son was telling me the other day ‘You tour all over the world but you don’t know who that person is, this person is, this person is.’ I’m old school. If I am listening to anything I’m gonna be listening to like Curtis Mayfield, some Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire. I like Anthony Hamilton. I like that kid’s voice. He reminds me of a mix between Al Green and Marvin Gaye.”
Q: What will 2022 bring for the blues?
“There’s a great group of about 20 young blues players that are really making the scene. And I know these cats.”
Evolving is what Sugaray does best.
While living in San Diego, Sugaray didn’t even play music for almost 20 years as his journey led him to working his avocado ranch. Then, his wife inspired him to return to music.
He joined an R&B group at first, then found himself part of a spontaneous jam with other musicians in, in his words, “of all places the tiny town of Temecula.” The right network of people soon followed, he developed a blues band, and five months later they were recording. Things started changing fast.
Just six months after that, the Texas-born song-belter and music-shaper placed second overall at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. He moved to Los Angeles and decided the time was right to strike out on his own, formed the Sugaray Rayford Band, and recorded his first solo album, “Blind Alley,” in 2010, on a bed of blazing horns and bluesy bass lines. Living Blues magazine that year noted that “Sugaray is a first-rate blues artist with a deep-running, church honed soulfulness.”
He joined the L.A.-based supergroup The Mannish Boys and their classic blues in West Coast, Texas and Chicago styles, and, boy, did he arrive on the scene. By 2017, just as he was coming off a tour, his wife/manager told him about these guys in Italy who wanted to record with him. Some 48 hours later he flew to Italy to record the album “The World That We Live In” with the horn-based The Italian Royal Family band.
Things kept rolling. In 2019, his album “Somebody Save Me” was among the top blues selling albums that year and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Meanwhile, Sugaray won Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year at the 40th Annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis in December 2019.
Right about the time COVID slowed everything down to a halt.
He and his wife kept a house in Maricopa for when they needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of L.A. and slow down, and it’s become their permanent home base since the pandemic.
Sugaray opened his return to the music flow with “Miss Information,” the lead single from his new album, in 2021 followed by November’s follow-up single “Invisible Soldier.”
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