Last year, California bluesman Sugaray Rayford stole the show at Bluesfest Windsor. The 49-year old singer/songwriter was a last-minute replacement for Carolyn Wonderland who was unable to attend the annual blues festival due to an injury. Rayford came in and captivated the audience with his soulful voice, stellar stage shows and incredible showmanship. And for that one incredible performance, he was awarded a residency at this year’s Bluesfest with performances on the main stage Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
He’ll be the only artist to perform on multiple nights.
“It’s very strange how this all came about,” Sugaray explained to 519 Magazine. “We were touring through Canada for a month and we had just finished playing Ottawa’s Bluesfest with Pink and 50 Cent. We were on our way to Kalamazoo, Michigan when we got the call. The agency said ‘I know you guys haven’t had a day off and you’re trying to get to Michigan, but could you stop in Windsor and play this show because Carolyn Wonderland was hurt’. At the time I had already flew a lot of my guys back, so I ended up bringing them back into Canada, in Toronto, picked them up and we went to Windsor to play the show. Once we played the show, the festival promoters were like ‘we want you guys back’, so literally that evening they booked us for this year.”
Sugaray prides himself on his authentic take on the blues. He records his albums with vintage instruments, amps and microphones, while putting the sounds directly to tape rather than into the digital realm. On his latest album, “The World That We Live In”, he mixes his traditional blues riffs with a bit of R&B and gospel, creating a masterful old-school vibe.
“It’s kind of a throwback to the old days of Otis Redding and Solomon Burke,” he said of the new album and its title song. “The feel was so warm, fluid and genuine, it made it very easy to write and get deep into my soul. I was hooked up with the Italian Royal Family, who are known for doing old-school soul music, so when they approached me with the song The World That We Live In, I knew right away that this was where I wanted to end up.”
The new sound is actually the most honest and deep-rooted music Sugaray has ever put out. It not only dives into the blues, but the gospel connection goes all the way back to his childhood to a time when he discovered the blues – a time when gospel was his inspiration.
“You know the first time I ever heard blues, I was a little kid in Texas and my Uncle use to play it on 8-tracks in his old truck,” he remembered. “I never really got into it because at that time in my life, I was all about Gospel music. About 24 years ago, I made the transition to blues because it gives me that same feeling that I got all those years back when I was all about Gospel.”
Sugaray is known across North America for his spirited live shows, which he describes as more of a party than a concert.
“I always tell people I don’t believe in concerts, I’m old school – I believe in a party,” he explained. “When you come to a show, you put on your clothes, you come out of your house and you’ve driven. The last thing you want to do is go somewhere to sit down and listen to music. You’ve come to enjoy yourself, dance and have a good time.”
Along with keeping the party going off-stage for the fans, his band has to be well prepared on stage. Sugaray doesn’t use a standard set list and his band is required to know all the songs in his repertoire.
“One of my biggest trademarks is that I don’t do set lists, so every night will be different because I go by how the crowd feels, or how I feel how this crowd feels,” he says. “We never follow a planned list. My guys learn all the songs that I love, as well as the songs that I’ve written and I will call one of those at any given time. It just depends on how I feel. So, every show will be different.”
Fans can check out Sugaray Rayford at Bluesfest Windsor happening from July 12-15 at Windsor’s Riverfront Festival Plaza. Other performers include Extreme, Night Ranger, Colin James and a selection of 90s hitmakers like Vanilla Ice, Naughty By Nature and Rob Base.
Tickets are available at bluesfestwindsor.com.