Remember the Eddie Palmieri interview? Well on that same December afternoon the RMM staff said to me, "We like what you wrote about Ray Sepulveda's Cds. He is coming out with a new album in February, and we expect him to be really busy. We'd like for you to interview him now! Can you do it? Are you interested?" Uhmm let me see, I got nothing better to do other than to go home and get ready for the next day's rat race. "Sure! I'll be glad to interview him, however it will have to be done next week," I answered with a smile on my face (folks, this is literally what happened! This is really how it happens with us at LMOL!) I was smiling because I always dug Ray's work and oddly enough his voice. Not because his voice is the prettiest, but because it is one of the weirdest. "Many people have said to me upon hearing my records, 'yo! who's that girl singing. She has a sweet girl's voice' without realizing it was me singing. My singing voice sounds like a hoarse woman. It's unique and the people like it. I like it and that is what matters," Ray said in a very appreciative tone.
His sincerity is deep because of the stories and the hardship behind the man. "I had been in and out of the business for 6 or 7 years before recording "La Mascarada" with Johnny. During those 6 and 7 years I did coro for Hector Lavoe, Adalberto Santiago. I sang with Johnny when he was 'La Sociedad 76.' There I was known as Ray Ramos - Wow this was almost 20 years ago!" Ray Ramos y su Sonora? Wait a minute there is another salsa guy that goes by that name! "That is precisely why I decided to go by Ray Sepulveda. When I came back into the scene with "La Mascarada," I couldn't go by Ray Ramos. My full name is Ray Sepulveda Ramos. My father was a singer too and his name was Ray Sepulveda. There are already two Ray Ramos, one is a singer and the other is a promoter. I don't want to confuse anybody so, Ray Sepulveda it is." So far so good. His name is recognized with ease in every night club in the city. Besides, it's catchier than the standard two syllable first and last names of some of today's salsa artists. You know, Vega, Ruiz, Nieves, Rojas...
Nevertheless, it's not the name that makes his performances a treat. What makes his performances a treat is the musicianship that is showcased every night in every nightclub around the city. Ray Sepulveda's orchestra (along with Miles Peña's orchestra) is one of the salsa orchestras that always manages to play a song and make it sound better and more dynamic than the recording. "I come from that school man! I love it when the band jams! OK, la salsa romantica is what me dio a conocer (allowed my name to be known) you know. Ballads recorded into salsa made me popular back in 1988, and I have to thank Johnny Zamot for giving me the opportunity to record and Sergio George for producing that first album. It was the combination of Sergio George & Isidro Infante's musical arrangements on that album that catapulted both of us Johnny & Ray. A lot of people don't know that. Sergio George is a hell of a musician and producer. Anything he does that gets airplay is bound to be great. Look at what he did with Victor Manuelle, and Victor is a great singer and sonero! Speaking of Victor, we played basketball together at a benefit in The Bronx, and later that night he was scheduled to perform at Jimmy's Bronx Cafe. So me and my fiancee decided to check him out. You know, both of us love his music. So I see him there and then Victor invites me up on stage to sing with him. I am not a great improviser like him because my Spanish is not that good (laughs), but I had a lot of fun."
"Interesting," I said. I wonder does Ray Sepulveda consider himself to be a singer or a sonero? "I fit fine somewhere in between. I mean, I am not Cano Estremera like I was telling you before because, I feel my Spanish is not as good. I started my musical career in Puerto Rico but I was born and raised in New York so my grammar and maybe the syntax is not as great as theirs in Puerto Rico. So cuando yo soneo (when I soneo), I have to be careful with some of the words and the context in which they are used. Y de vez en cuando me turbo, pero me defiendo (Every now and then I get confused, but yet I manage to do well.) I grew up listening to Hector, Ismael Rivera, Chamaco Ramirez, Marvin Santiago, Tito Allen, Nestor Sanchez. Tito, Nestor, Hector, and Chamaco are my four favorite singers."
So far Ray Sepulveda has had an impeccable recording history. With four recordings as a soloist under his belt, it's a bit shocking not to see his name in the limelight that many of his peers enjoy. "You know, I've wondered the same for quite sometime. I don't know what's going on. I've had many people in clubs, in events, in lots of places tell me the same thing. There are many things that I can say to justify my situation. But you know what, I cannot worry about that. I recently re-signed and renegotiated my contract with RMM. There are a few companies out there that wanted to sign me but frankly, I am happy here. I've been good to RMM, and RMM has been good to me. Ralph puts me in every recording he can. Like the Selena & Beatles projects, La Combinacion Perfecta, I feel very fortunate to had been a part of those recordings." It sounds to me that the RMM machine has not lost money on any Ray Sepulveda record, including the one record that was produced in Puerto Rico. "That was the album before this one. There my style was changed a bit. It is night and day compared with this one that is out now, and this is not a knock on what Julito Alvarado did for me on that record. I love his work and he is a terrific trumpet player! It's just that over there they got me singing on lower keys, and my voice projects better on higher keys. On top of that the music was a bit slower than what I'm used to. It was cool, it was smooth, it is what they like in Puerto Rico, but it was not Ray Sepulveda. We promoted three cuts out of the album: "Llegaste Tu," "Prohibido El Paso," "Cuando Tu Vuelvas Conmigo" y nada paso (nothing happened). That is why on my latest recording, it was decided to come back to New York and have Ricky Gonzalez produce my album." An album that is awesome guys!
"Ricky Gonzalez has been underrated for quite sometime now. He used to arrange for Ray Barretto, he produced the Raulin Rosendo albums. He's been telling me for years now 'Ray I like your stuff since the Johnny & Ray days, I love your style, I know what to do for you.' That's why I am very excited about this production. I feel that 'De Todo Un Poco' it's going to be as good or maybe better than 'Un Poquito Mas'. Wait 'til you hear this! Every song swings! I told Ricky 'I want nothing mellow'. Once we go into the montuno and the coro give me swing. I want swing!" Swing is definitely what Ray Sepulveda got from Ricky to give to the public. George Rivera says it best, "DE TODO UN POCO is by far the best release from Ray Sepulveda, and with the proper marketing, should easily garner the vocalist a Gold record."
Unlike its predecessors, radio has been good to Ray's 'De Todo Un Poco'. The first single off the CD 'Alguien Te Esta Hablando Mal De Mi' has enjoyed a considerable amount of airplay among most of the non-commercial radio stations in the country. Even more shocking is the fact that our commercial FM station in NY is playing Ray's song. "People don't realize that I've had many club hits. People in the clubs know my songs because I've had great support from the DJs and club owners. The songs were not radio hits because they were not played. If they were played, they were not played enough times. However I am glad to know that the first single off my CD is playing on radio and that it is doing very well. The feedback I've gotten on it has been nothing but positive."
Positivity is a must in everything that an individual does, however sometimes experiences in this business can be both positive and negative. "The first time I met Sergio George was when Johnny Zamot took me to the studio. Sergio was at the time working on a production for some Colombians. He sat at the piano and started to play around with the keys. He would say 'OK let's try this key. Man you sound unique! Oh we are going to do some nice stuff with this.' So when we disbanded Johnny & Ray, Sergio spoke to Ralph Mercado and told him 'look let's grab on to this kid!' and as they say the rest is history. As far as Johnny dropping the '&' out and keeping the Ray, eventually people will get hip to that. Many people asked Johnny at performances 'Johnny, where is Ray?' to which it is my understanding that he replies 'I am Johnny Ray'. I've heard so many crazy stories that it doesn't matter anymore. I am a happy person and I wish him and everyone the very best."
I've always been a fan of his music. And every time I see him listed as the night's performer in any club, I put on a smile. Why? I feel that he is a good guy making it happen against all the odds. I'll tell you, interviewing Ray Sepulveda was such a treat that I wouldn't mind losing the next day's rat race.
© 1995 - 99 Nestor A. Louis
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