Sugaray Rayford has the heart of a prizefighter and the humility of a bluesman. That’s why he’s called the Heavyweight Champion of the Blues.
Rayford, who debuts Tuesday at Squaw Valley’s Bluesdays, is the reigning Blues Music Awards Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year.
“I am just lucky,” Rayford told Tahoe Onstage. “Since I came back to my music career I have been really blessed. I work hard, but a lot of people work hard. But I’ve been lucky.”
At 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, Rayford is a big man with a sweet voice. He appreciates a good cigar, but after attending the BMA’s in Memphis last May, he didn’t have time to light a celebratory stogey.
“I didn’t get a chance to smoke a cigar because the day after the awards show we had to meet the band in St. Louis – they drove in from California,” he said. “The next day we had to be in Ohio. The next day we had a show in Michigan, then North Carolina, then South Carolina, then back to Memphis and then flew to California and then flew directly to Europe. I think I had zero days off in 14 days.”
Rayford explained how he’s able to sing every night.
“Everyone talks about water but vocal cords are muscles,” he said. “Like any athlete, it’s about. warming up and keeping warm. I’ve heard of singers who don’t want to talk between shows but that would be the worst thing. That’s like an Olympic sprinter who doesn’t run between meets. You go out there and run hard and then you end up pulling something.”
Speaking of Olympics, Sugaray had a gold-medal-winning performance Tuesday at the site of the 1960 Winter Games. His band includes guitarist Alastair Greene, who joined about nine months ago. Bluesdays fans remembered Greene from his show last summer with Debbie Davies and last winter opening for Samantha Fish at the Crystal Bay Casino.
“People throw around the term ‘Real Deal’ a lot, but Sugaray really is,” Greene said. “He is an incredibly powerful singer and a great entertainer. He’s one of the great ones of our generation, for sure.”
Greene has two recent critically acclaimed albums: The studio recorded “Dream Train” and “Live From The 805,” which is nominated for album of the year by Blues Blast Magazine. He toured for seven years with the Alan Parsons Project and occasionally plays with Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. For those shows, Greene emulates those bands’ original albums. But with Rayford, he can improvise.
“Every night with him is inspiring,” Greene said. “It’s high energy. We don’t use a set list and he gives everyone a chance to shine.””
In its 11th year, Bluesdays is held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday during the summer. The shows in The Village at Squaw Valley are free to attend.