I just learned this evening that Kenny Rankin, singer-songwriter, died early in June. He was a unique talent. I first heard him in my teens on his first album, Mind Dusters, singing the songs in the two videos below. If you have never listened to him, the videos are worth watching. Below the video is most of the current entry on Rankin from Wikipedia. (I never thought my musical tastes would have anything in common with Johnny Carson’s, but one never knows.) He was no Bob Dylan or Miles Davis, but he never tried to be. I liked him best when it was just him and his guitar…..his voice, as always, uncannily sweet and heartfelt.
Three facts about Kenny’s life that I just discovered: he played guitar on Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” album, often opened for George Carlin, and Laura Nyro was a tremendous influence on him (as she was on others, including Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan). According to the L.A. Times:
One of his major influences was Laura Nyro, the late songwriter who wrote “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Stoned Soul Picnic,” whom he met in Greenwich Village in 1960. [Unlikely it would have been 1960, as opposed to the 1960s, since Nyro was 12 and 13 in 1960– M.A.]
“She profoundly changed my musical life and affected it to this day, more than anyone or anything else,” Rankin told the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto in 2007. “She was deep, dark and light, the spectrum of passion.”
Mind Dusters (jacket)
In the mornin fun when no one will be drinkin anymore wine,
I wake the Sun up by givin him a fresh share
full of the wind cup
And I won’t be found in the shadows hiding,
I can wait for fate to bring around to me,
Any part of my tomorrow….tomorrow
Cause it’s oh…oh so peaceful here
No one bendin over my shoulder
Nobody breathin in my ear.
Oh uh oh… it’s oh so peaceful here
In the evening shadows are callin me
And the dew settles in my mind
And I think of friends in the yesterday
When my plans were giggled in rhyme
I had a son while on the run
And his love brought a tear to my eye
And maybe some day he might say
That I’m a pretty nice guy…Oh Oh my
end: It’s (oh so peaceful ) (3 times) here
Rankin was raised in New York and was introduced to music by his mother, who sang at home and for friends. Early in his career he worked as a singer-songwriter, and developed a considerable following during the 70s with a steady flow of albums, three of which broke into the Top 100 of the Billboard Album Chart. His liking for jazz was evident from an early age, but the times were such that in order to survive his career had to take a more pop-oriented course. By the 90s, however, he was able to angle his repertoire to accommodate his own musical preferences and to please a new audience while still keeping faith with the faithful. Rankin’s warm singing style and his soft, nylon-stringed guitar sound might suggest an artist more attuned to the supper-club circuit than the jazz arena, but his work contains many touches that appeal to the jazz audience.
Rankin appeared on The Tonight Show more than twenty times. Host Johnny Carson was so impressed by him that he wrote the liner notes to Rankin’s 1967 debut album Mind Dusters, which featured the single “Peaceful.” Helen Reddy would reach #2 Adult Contemporary and #12 Pop in 1973 with a cover of it, released as her follow-up single to “I Am Woman”. Georgie Fame also had a hit with this song in 1969, his only songwriting credit to hit the British charts reaching number sixteen and spending 9 weeks on the chart.
Rankin’s accompanists from time to time included Alan Broadbent, Mike Wofford and Bill Watrous, and on such occasions the mood slips easily into a jazz groove. His compositions have been performed by artists such as Mel Tormé and Carmen McRae, while Stan Getz said of him that he was “a horn with a heartbeat”. Rankin was deeply interested in Brazilian music and his Here In My Heart, on which he used jazz guests including Michael Brecker and Ernie Watts, was recorded mostly in Rio De Janeiro. More contemporary songs were given an airing following his move to Verve Records, including the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and Leon Russell‘s “A Song For You.”
Rankin’s own unique gift for reworking classic songs such as The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which he recorded for his Silver Morning album, so impressed Paul McCartney that he asked Rankin to perform his interpretation of the song when McCartney and John Lennon were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Rankin died in Los Angeles from lung cancer on June 7, 2009. He was 67 years old. Alternate source, The Los Angeles Times’ obituary, says Rankin was 69.
Bonnie and I first met Kenny Rankin in 1974 at a party at Monte’s home. Since I was the Creative Director at the agency for the label, Monty wanted me to meet the acts and start interacting with them. The entire label was there, they were very friendly and everyone loved our MJQ album. Kenny, George and I bonded immediately. Before the party was over, George said that he wanted me to do the cover for “Occupation Fool” and promised to get me the rough tracks within the next week. George was super cool and very crazy! – Ernie