Ray Gillen … The Lesser Known Black Sabbath (Hard Rock) [Music History]

I have been a Black Sabbath fan ever since I was a small child, I loved the mystic surrounding the first self-titled album, both the music and the cover I could look at for hours wondering who that mysterious lady was. But the 1980’s era wasn’t for me at the time, but I have the last couple of years started to appreciate it. For example ”The Headless Cross” I find nothing less than amazing. It also have that mysterious occult glow to it. Anyway, Ray Gillen was supposed to sing on ”The Eternal Idol”, but left the band before it was released, so they released it with Tony Martin instead. But the demo recording with Ray Gillen is out there and they are just amazing. I wish they would release them on vinyl as well, but for now they are only on the 2-CD deluxe version of ”The Eternal Idol” from 2010.

This article was translate from Swedish, and was published on Rocknytt in 2013
In 1993, RAY GILLEN left earthly life, only 34 years old. In the short time he managed to make a name for himself by participating in legendary acts such as BLACK SABBATH and PHENOMENA. He probably became best known for his most enduring collaboration with JAKE E. LEE in the band BADLANDS.

Despite this, the information about Ray has been of the more spartan kind and there have been many rumors about his disposition and tragic death. With us as companions in this tribute chronicle, we have none other than JAKE E. LEE who together with Rocknytt’s Sven Mörén tries to give your readers a slightly deeper insight into RAY GILLEN’s life and what made him unique as an established rock singer.

Where is the time limit to be called a legend? This is actually a question that the author of this article has asked himself many times. But the basic criteria for winning a legend status are probably what most people agree on: that you have done something style-forming as in this case, in the forn of music where a large group of individuals take it all to heart, something that leaves deep footprints and will live for decades . Then there are the mythical legends who have not necessarily achieved anything revolutionary in the musical but in the subconscious or consciously created a mystique around their personality / image and have therefore been called legends.

But the big question remains: what is it that makes many consider RAY GILLEN a legend when he did not release any groundbreaking records and when his only really solid platform during his all too short career was the band BADLANDS who managed to release two full-length albums before they decided to throw in the towel? Although these two albums were of a high standard, they did not come close to appearing as something stylistic in the rock’s history. Admittedly, after his death, rumors began to spread that he was not dead. Demo tapes began to flourish with newly recorded material from BADLANDS and it was said that a third album was approaching. Later it turned out to be material the band had time to record shortly before the dissolution and which was then released in the form of a third album called DUSK, which first saw the light of day as late as 1998 and with that this reputation was erased.

If I was going into my own reflections on the question of what will be the main cause, we land in his time as frontman in BLACK SABBATH. It should be a pretty obvious reason that you automatically make a big name for yourself when you get the honor of shouldering the mantle as frontman in hard rock’s most influential band of all time. In Ray’s position, the situation was anything but grateful when he was named as the band’s new vocalist.

In 1986, BLACK SABBATH was in its undoubtedly most confusing period when many believed that the band’s existence had been put on the shelf. But on January 28, 1986, SEVENTH STAR saw the light of day with TONY IOMMI as the only original member, something that created rage and frustration among many fans. Behind the microphone on the said record we found none other than the legend from, among others, DEEP PURPLE, GLENN HUGHES, who had jumped into it good faith that it was all about TONY IOMMI’s solo project for which it was all originally intended.

But the plans changed drastically shortly before the release. Overnight, BLACK SABBATH was once again a fact and a tour was launched in the states. Only five gigs on the tour, GLENN HUGHES ‘departure was a fact as it turned out that the legend’s health was on the brink of ruin and that his voice was a minor disaster on the few appearances he made with the band. It was at this point that Ray came into the picture. TONY IOMMI had heard about him in the former RAINBOW drummer BOBBY RONDINELLI’s short-lived project RONDINELLI, which released the album WARDANCE in 1985.

Pretty soon, the rumor of the then young unknown American with the strong voice began to flourish. So also in European media. I must admit that I wrinkled my nose at it all before the first bootleg recording began to appear on European soil. But when you got to take part in the first sound recordings, the conversion became total. Already in the first beats of the verse to MOB RULES he made me lift from the armchair at my polar bear’s house who had acquired the said recording on double vinyl. But what was it that made Ray’s voice and personality unique? When I call JAKE E. LEE to ask him the same question, it turns out that our theories are pretty much the same.

JAKE E. LEE is in a great mood when I call and he seems more than willing to give his story about his former bandmate. But when I mention that there is exactly one week left until the day Ray left us twenty years ago, he takes a deep sigh and a certain melancholy mixed with a little sadness appears in his voice.

“Oh my God! Is it twenty years ago! It is completely inconceivable as it is exactly as many years ago that I left the music industry. The years have gone by damn fast, I must say. ”

“He was undoubtedly the best vocalist I had the honor of collaborating with. In my opinion, maybe we’re talking about the best singer who has appeared on our planet. It can be said that he was a prodigy among the other legends such as RONNIE JAMES DIO, IAN GILLAN, OZZY OSBOURNE and ROBERT PLANT. That alone makes him unique. He had the ability to make other people’s songs his own because his unique appearance in phrasing lyrics and song melodies was combined into something uniform and waterproof. ”

TONY IOMMI have said in recent days that RAY GILLEN is the only singer who appeared in BLACK SABBATH who in a perfect and relevant way managed to adopt the right elements in both Ozzy and Dios songs, which may well be true as both Dio and Gillan had their weaknesses in adopting the numbers of their predecessors. Not to mention the above mentioned GLENN HUGHES short but oh so catastrophic innings.

Jake continues: “He entered one of the most influential bands in rock history at just twenty-five years old and gave the songs new life. Just listen to his versions of CHILDREN OF THE SEA and BLACK SABBATH. The two strongest landmarks from two legendary eras in BLACK SABBATH history. Then you understand why Ray’s unique as a vocalist. ” But to achieve legend status, more than just a good claw in the voice is required. Jake continues. “His colorful personality occupied an entire room. He loved to be seen and he was constantly trying to create a spectacular aura around himself wherever he was. He never showed any fear of anything but took to himself in all weathers. Again, look at his performances that were filmed with him during his time in BLACK SABBATH and you will understand what I’m talking about. Had he remained in the band and not chosen to quit, I am convinced that BLACK SABBATH would have achieved an even greater commercial success than they did with TONY MARTIN. The girls flocked around Ray and he in turn loved to mingle with them, maybe a little too much as it was probably his downfall ”.

There were a lot of rumors that he was gay when it was revealed that he died of AIDS, but according to Jake, this rumor was false. “I heard these rumors abound, but I can attest that that was not the case as I only saw him surrounded by a whole bunch of girls (laughs).”

Jake explains that if one is to find any shortcomings in Ray, it must be his overly frivolous view of life. He believed that people lived here and now and therefore it was only to drive on as long as possible. But how was he really cooperating?

“There we come to his second greatness as a person. His ability to separate work and private life became something full-fledged. If he saw everyday life in a slightly easy way, it was the exact opposite when it came to jobs. Integrity was probably his strongest point, “says Jake. “This was something he really proved in BLACK SABBATH and because he chose to quit. “He continues:” Ray ended up in the same situation I ended up in during the creation of BARK AT THE MOON with OZZY OSBOURNE. During the creation of ETERNAL IDOL, he was extremely creative and wrote most of all the lyrics. He had just sung all the songs when the management called him to a meeting where they announced that he would not get credit for his efforts as a lyricist, but he would be happy and satisfied that he was allowed to be a part of BLACK SABABTH at all. This resulted in him banging his fist on the table and announcing his resignation from the band as he could not agree to work in such degrading circumstances. There he really showed a test of his enormous integrity, an integrity that I was nowhere near showing when I was in the same situation during the creation of BARK AT THE MOON (laughs). But collaborating with Ray was a joy as it constantly generated something creative and relevant. ”

But something happened in the joint between the years 1992 to -93, an event that would be decisive for Ray and Jake’s future as partners.

“We were in full swing writing songs for a third album and everything went in the same genuine lukewarm since day one of our collaboration, when Ray suddenly exclaims:” Jake! We need to deliver some more hit-accented songs for the upcoming album. I’ve had a conversation with DESMOND CHILD to see if he could think of writing some songs for the record! ” I stood there like a fool and took nothing. Everything he had guessed and the genius he had held so tight about was blown away. I asked Ray what this reversal was? At the same time, I had begun to notice during the creative process on the upcoming album that his health deteriorated significantly and no one including Ray himself knew then that he had contracted HIV. “

Jake thinks after a while and adds: “I think very well that during the last time in BADLANDS, Ray felt that time was running out from him as his health deteriorated extremely quickly. I got the feeling that he was panicking, that he felt that a lot had not been done. That the full-scale breakthrough was slipping out of his hands and that he wanted to bring in outside songwriters to get that hit that would eventually make him the perfect rock star. “

This was the end of the collaboration between JAKE E. LEE and RAY GILLEN. After leaving BADLANDS, Ray managed to participate in a couple of guest appearances on GEORGE LYNCH’s record SACRED GROOVE and on ATSUSHI YOKOZEKI PROJECT’s record HEARTBREAK. During the same year (1993) he would once again have time to form a new band, now again with BOBBY RONDINELLI on drums, MIKE STARR on bass and AL B ROMANO on guitar. The band barely managed to complete the self-titled debut SUN RED SUN before Ray’s health made it impossible for him to continue working in the music business. Only two years after his death did SUN RED SUN see the light of day behind the record counters without reaching any major successes.

There have been many trips whether it is December 1 or 3 which is the date of his death. But Jake is pretty convinced that it’s the 3rd that’s the date of RAY GILLEN’s death.

I asked Jake if he and Ray kept in touch until the very end?

“No! I meet him quickly by pure chance and I remember that he looked emaciated and tired. Then he died shortly afterwards. “

Mention your funniest memory you have from your time with Ray.
“Then I probably want to mention my absolute first meeting with Ray! It was three years before we formed BADLANDS. I think he just joined BLACK SABBATH. I enter a relatively empty bar in London and the first thing I see is a really nice girl sitting in the first room. I focus my gaze on her. Just after a few minutes, I notice that a man is coming towards me from the other room. I thought that now there will be trouble because I have been sitting and flirting with someone else’s bride. But it turned out to be Ray who with definite steps stepped up to me and introduced himself by name and said almost verbatim. Hey! My name is Ray and I’m damn good at singing. I think you’re a great guitarist and you and I will one day work together. (Laughs). This was Ray in a nutshell (laughs). I said to myself: “Now you’re talking in the nightcap man. We will probably never cooperate in the future. ” I had neither heard him sing nor heard his name before, so I really wondered what kind of “tjomme” was standing in front of me and outlined our future as partners (laughs). Anyway, we changed numbers and three years later and after some fun conversations with his mother who was a stubborn old woman who assured that her son could sing shit out of most people, Ray called me and asked if I wanted to form a band with him. This was the starting shot for what would become BADLANDS. ”

For many, RAY GILLEN is still a relatively unknown name. But for those of us who took part, who got to take part in his short time in BLACK SABBATH, for those of us who sat and drank beer and enjoyed the bluesy tongue that BADLANDS delivered with a touch of the hairmetal genre of that time, for us he is and remains a legend with a voice that will never die. For me personally, together with RONNIE JAMES DIO, he is without a doubt the most unique rock vocalist that our planet has seen. His love for the song could be felt in every note he took and in every line of text he phrased. Getting into a torn BLACK SABBATH as an unknown card where in his short time he succeeded in the feat of laying the foundation for the band’s continued acceptance and success story only makes it RAY GILLEN the legend he deserves to be.

Questions and amazement at what his career would have been like if he had been in life is a constant question that arises in the author of this article, questions that I will never get answered. That is perhaps best so. In any case, for me he will always remain an ETERNAL IDOL for as long as I live.

He is buried at Fairview Cemetery in Fairview, New Jersey, US.