High class songwriter…
In a remarkable recording career that spans three and a half decades, Kenny Rankin has established an impressive set of creative credentials, as an insightful songwriter, a distinctive guitarist and, above all, a world-class singer possessing an uncanny ability to cut straight to a song’s emotional heart.
It’s the latter aspect of Rankin’s multifaceted talent that’s spotlighted on his Verve recording, “A Song for You” on which the veteran stylist applies his singular interpretive skills to an artfully assembled set of songs drawn from a variety of sources, with sublimely sympathetic instrumental support from some of music’s most respected players.
While his supple, pristine tenor has earned him status as a singer’s singer, Rankin’s songwriting talents have been widely recognized by his peers. For example, his “In the Name of Love” inspired a memorable version by Peggy Lee, while his “Haven’t We Met” has been cut by a number of jazz and pop artists including Carmen McRae and Mel Torme. Other Rankin compositions have been covered by a diverse assortment of artists.
Growing up in the multicultural hotbed of New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, he absorbed a broad array of musical influences, from AfroCuban to Top 40 to Jazz to Brazilian. But he traces his emergence as a performer to a specific childhood epiphany. “I was in the fourth grade and sang ‘O Holy Night’ in a Christmas play,” he recalls. “My teacher, Miss Isabel Pringle, came over to me and patted me on the head and said ‘Kenneth, that was lovely.’ She set me on the path in music that I find myself on today.”
As a teenager, the budding artist signed with Decca Records and released a handful of singles. A few years later, he signed with Columbia Records, and found himself playing guitar on Bob Dylan’s landmark 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. Not long after, he performed on The Tonight Show, whose host Johnny Carson became such a fan that Kenny was ultimately invited to appear on the show more than 20 times. Carson even contributed liner notes to Rankin’s 1967 debut LP Mind Dusters, which introduced his much-covered pop standard “Peaceful.” That album’s mix of original tunes and outside material would continue to yield rewarding results on such subsequent releases as Family, Like a Seed, and Inside.
Rankin’s 1975 album Silver Morning featured a popular reworking of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” that so impressed Paul McCartney that he asked Rankin to represent himself and John Lennon when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. 1976’s much-acclaimed The Kenny Rankin Album was recorded live in the studio, and teamed the singer with a 60-piece orchestra arranged and conducted by the legendary Don Costa to create what many now consider the first contemporary “torch” album; Rankin and Costa continued their collaboration on 1980’s After the Roses.
Through much of the 1980s, Rankin largely concentrated on the live stage, increasingly emphasizing pop and jazz standards using jazz accompaniment. He ended a long break from recording in 1995 with a pair of albums: Professional Dreamer, a collection of standards, and the Brazilian-flavored Here In My Heart, both for the Private Music label.
However one may attempt to pigeonhole Kenny Rankin-as jazz vocalist, pop artist or introspective singer/songwriter-the openhearted emotional forthrightness of his singing renders such classifications irrelevant. “My interpretation of the songs is purely emotional,” he explains. “We’ve all experienced disappointment and heartache, and that’s what I draw upon. When I sing ‘A Song for You’ and ‘Where Do You Start?’ or ‘She Was Too Good to Me,’ I’m really hurting for the people in the song. I never change lyrics, because when I select a song it’s usually because of how the lyric impacts me. I’ve been accused of straying from the melody, but when I sing I’m feeling, not thinking.”
“When I started, I was very young and felt like I was the center of the universe. But over the years I’ve come to understand that it’s not about me, it’s about the work, and about having the opportunity to do good work. If you do anything for any length of time, it’s inevitable that you’re gonna have ups and downs.
You make mistakes, but you learn from that. “I just feel privileged that I’ve been allowed to continue in my craft, and I’ve been encouraged by all the positive feedback I’ve gotten from people over the years,” he concludes. “When someone tells you a song changed their life, or inspired them to look at things in a slightly different way, well, you can’t ask for a better reward than that.”
Miss Pringle would be proud.
Rankin died in Los Angeles from lung cancer on June 7, 2009.
A Song For You
Verve Records 2002
Tracks: When The Sun Comes Out, Where Do You Start, Round Midnight, She Was Too Good To Me, Spanish Harlem, Then I’ll Be Tired Of You, The Way You Look Tonight, I’ve Just Seen A Face, Love Walked In & A Song For You.
Musicians on the A Song For You album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Haven´t Me Met?
Image Records 2001
Tracks: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, When Sunny Gets Blue, Round Midnight, Love Is Here To Stay, Sunday Kind Of Love, Misty Roses, Blackbird, Birembau, More Than You Know, She’s A Lady / In The Name Of Love, Soft Guitar, Blame It On My Youth, Peaceful, Haven’t We Met & While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Musicians on the Haven´t Me Met? album: Kenny Rankin and others.
A Christmas Album
Rankin Music 1999
Tracks: Jingle Bells. White Christmas, Silent Night, Little Drummer Boy, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Oh Holy Night, The Christmas Song, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Winter Wonderland, We Three Kings, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Christmas Eve With You & Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.
Musicians on the A Christmas album: Kenny Rankin, Joe Beck, David Finck, Chanda Rankin & Gena Maria Rankin.
The Bottom Line – Encore Collection
Velvel Records 1999
Tracks: With a Little Help from My Friends, Haven’t We Met, Inside, Peaceful, Time and Love, Penny Lane, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Always, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Birembau, Doralice/Sunshine of My Life, She’s a Lady, In the Name of Love, You Are So Beautiful, Blackbird & Because of You.
Musicians on the The Bottom Line album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Here In My Heart
Private Music 1997
Tracks: A Day In The Life Of A Fool, Life In The Modern World, Puzzle Of Hearts, Those Eyes, A Lover´s Touch, Stay, A Slight Infatuation, I´ve Just Seen A Face, This Happy Madness, Even You And I, Come Rain Or Come Shine, Art Of Survival & Here In My Heart.
Musicians on the Here In My Heart album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Peaceful – The Best Of Kenny Rankin
Rhino Records 1996
Tracks: Cotton Candy Sandman (Reprise), Like A Seed, Peaceful, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, Silver Morning, Blackbird, In The Name Of Love, Creepin’, Inside, Haven’t We Met, Lost Up In Loving You, Sunday Kind Of Love, Penny Lane, Make Believe, Birembau, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, When Sunny Gets Blue, Strings, I Love You & Through The Eye Of The Eagle.
Musicians on the Peaceful album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Private Music 1994
Tracks: You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, The Very Thought Of You, But Not For Me, I Fall In Love Too Easily, More Than You Know, It Had To Be You, At Last, Love Is Here To Stay, I’ve Got A Crush On You, My One And Only Love, Blame It On My Youth, How Can I Forget (Song For Margo) & That’s All.
Musicians on the Professional Dreamer album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Best Of Kenny Rankin
WEA Records 1991
Tracks: Pussywillows Cattails, Regrets, On And On, You Are So Beautiful, Here´s That Rainy Day, What Matter Most, Haven´t We Met, When Sunny Gets Blue, Silver Morning & Peaceful.
Musicians on the Best Of Kenny Rankin album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Because Of You
Chesky Records 1991
Tracks: Berimbau, What Am I Gonna Do With You…Aime?, Haven’t We Met?, Round Midnight, Someone To Watch Over Me, Erienda, I Could Write A Book, Always, This Old Man (For William Henry Rankin), Doralice & Because Of You.
Musicians on the Because Of You album: Kenny Rankin, George Young, Danilo Perez, David Finck, Dave Ratajczak & Steve Kroon.
Hiding In Myself
Cypress Records 1988
Tracks: Lovin’ Side, Before The Fall, Delila, Hiding In Myself, Trouble Man, Keep The Candle Burnin’, Let’s Get it On, She Knows Me Well, Down The Road, Velez, Muddy Creek & She Moves Eyes Follow.
Musicians on the Hiding In Myself album: Kenny Rankin and others.
After The Roses
Atlantic Records 1980
Tracks: Regrets, With A Little Help From My Friends, Strings, Cue #2, Lyin’ Eyes, After The Roses, What Matters Most, One More Goodbye One More Hello, Cue # 1, Down The Backstairs Of My Life, Woman Woman & To A Wild Rose.
Musicians on the After The Roses album: Kenny Rankin and others.
The Kenny Rankin Album
Little David 1976
Tracks: A House Of Gold, Here’s That Rainy Day, Make Believe, On And On, You Are So Beautiful, Groovin’, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, When Sunny Gets Blue, I Love You & Through The Eyes of the Eagle.
Musicians on the Kenny Rankin Album album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Little David 1975
Tracks: Silver Morning, Blackbird, In The Name Of Love, People Get Ready, Killed A Cat, Haven’t We Met, Penny Lane, Pussywillows Cattails, Catfish, Birembau & Why Do Fools Fall In Love.
Musicians on the Silver Morning album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Little David 1975
Tracks: Creepin’, Inside, Lost Up In Loving You, Sunday Kind Of Love, She’s A Lady, Roll-A-Round (A Warmup Lick), The Feeling, Up From The Skies, Marie & You.
Musicians on the Inside album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Like A Seed
Atlantic Records 1972
Tracks: Like A Seed, Yesterday’s Lies, Peaceful, Sometimes, Comin’ Down, Stringman, Eartheart, Bad Times Make You Strong, You Are My Woman, I Was Born & If I Should Go To Pray.
Musicians on the Like A Seed album: Kenny Rankin and others.
Mercury Records 1967
Tracks: Cotton Candy Sandman, The Dolphin, Every Passing Moment, It Never Changes, My Carousel, Mr. Tambourine Man, Peaceful, Come Away Melinda, Song For a Winter’s Night, Minuet, The Girl I Left Behind & Cotton Candy Sandman (Reprise).
Musicians on the Mind Dusters album: Kenny Rankin and others.