Some people live to make money and some people make money to live. Some people are music lovers, some people are amateur musicians, and then again some people live and breathe music. They are the "real deal", so to speak. Richard Ray Farrell is one of them. He has not only mastered the art of singing and playing the blues - he has literally "lived" the blues for years and years.
Born in Niagara Falls, New York in 1956, Richard Ray left his hometown only two weeks after graduating from high school and backpacked his way through Europe, not knowing at the time that music would be his destiny. More than thirty-five years on the road as a traveling blues musician was to give him substantial credentials as a top-notch talent in the world of the blues.
Richard Ray started as a street musician or “busker” in Paris, France in 1975. Totally fascinated with the music of Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and other legendary blues players, Richard played for hours on end in the halls and tunnels of the Parisian “Metro” subway, scraping out a living as a musician. Literally a "po' boy long way from home.”
Little by little, Richard worked his way up from the subways and streets of cities throughout the continent, eventually forming his own band and going on to perform on some of the largest and most prestigious stages in Europe with some of the giants of traditional American blues music.
In 1978, Richard received an offer to front a blues-rock band in Spain. These were hard times for Richard. He was making even less money than when he was playing on the street and sometimes was down to his last shirt and pair of jeans. All this time, Richard had been living as a "tourist" and was unable to take a normal job, having no official working papers.
Richard lived the life of a true gypsy for years, and actually lived with a gypsy family for six months in Spain in the late 1970s. To make matters even harder, Richard became a father to a baby boy in 1980. He made the move to Germany with his then wife and young child in 1985 and started playing for a local blues band in the Stuttgart area. In 1987, Richard opened for Joe Cocker at the Backnang Open Air Festival. He was still playing on the street, as the blues band just did not make enough money to live on, although things were starting to pick up.
Richard formed his first trio, the Richard Ray Farrell Band, in 1989. Living in Germany and gradually making a name for himself, Richard started touring in Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland and Belgium with a former sideman to RL Burnside, Jon Morris Nerenberg. It was through Jon that Richard started meeting older bluesmen from the American south and accompanying them on tours throughout Europe. Tours with Lazy Lester, Big Jack Johnson, Big Boy Henry, Louisiana Red, Frank Frost and RL Burnside followed.
This was a great development process for Richard. He learned firsthand from legendary masters of the blues, touring on and off with Frank Frost and RL Burnside for a period of about four years between 1990 and 1993. In 1992, Richard caught the attention of German record producer Alf List, founder of Stormy Monday Records. Richard released his first album produced by List, “Live in Germany” (1992).
In 1993, Richard and Jon Morris formed the band "Street Talk" together with David Olson (Grammy Award winning Robert Cray drummer) and Joel Foy (former guitarist with James Harman, William Clarke and Screamin' Jay Hawkins). This proved to be a great band, but they could not stay together for geographical reasons. Richard lived in Germany, Jon lived in Holland, David lived in New York and Joel lived in California. Richard went back to doing his solo acoustic performances and playing with his electric trio.
In 1995, Richard received a phone call from Jimmy Carl Black, legendary drummer with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. Jimmy had recently moved to the area and was looking for a blues guitarist to form a band. Richard and Jimmy Carl soon formed the FARRELL AND BLACK band. The group was very successful and went on to record two CDs for Stormy Monday Records, Cataract Jump (1996) and Black Limousine (1999).
During this period, Richard honed his skills in arranging and songwriting, composing the music and writing the lyrics for eight of the sixteen songs on Cataract Jump and eleven of the fourteen songs on Black Limousine. Richard also recorded an impressive solo acoustic CD on Stormy Monday in 1998 entitled Street Songs, Jazzy Tunes and Down Home Blues.
In an extreme turn of events, Richard Ray decided to return to the United States in 2001, and moved to the Philadelphia area. In 2003 he recorded his first CD for Blue Beet Music, Bohemian Life. This CD features sixteen original songs. It was recorded with the help of an all-star lineup of musicians, including a guest appearance by harmonica virtuoso Jerry Portnoy. Bohemian Life reached number 18 on the Living Blues radio charts in May / June 2003, almost an impossible feat for a virtually unknown artist in the USA. Bohemian Life received airplay on over 200 stations in the USA, Canada, South America, Europe and Australia.
In June 2005 Richard Ray released a second CD on Bluebeet Music, called Acoustic Roots. This CD features classic ragtime and delta blues covers from the 20s and 30s This recording was done live, with no overdubs and features Richard Ray on guitar, vocals and harmonica. Acoustic Roots was recorded, mixed and mastered by Mike Tarsia of Philadelphia, PA. This album reached number 20 on the Living Blues charts.
Down Home Old School Country Blues (2006) with Steve Guyger showcases Richard’s expertise in traditional blues. This CD spent three consecutive months in the Living Blues radio charts nationwide and has been called the best acoustic blues duo album to come out in years by Andy Grigg of Real Blues Magazine, British Columbia, Canada. Stuck On The Blues (2007) is another acoustic duo CD with Italian harmonica virtuoso Marco Pandolfi. This CD is the product of Farrell and Pandolfi’s long musical partnership that started in 1997. Camino de Sanlucar (2009) was recorded in Seville, Spain. The CD features the legendary Spanish flamenco and rock guitarist Raimundo Amador on three tracks. Raimundo is a bona fide rock star in Spain who has recorded with BB King and sold over 300,000 units during his long and illustrious career. All these CD’s charted in the US and have achieved acclaim from music critics worldwide.
I Sing The Blues Eclectic (2011), this CD of twelve Farrell originals entered the Living Blues charts in May 2011 at number 8 and number 13 in June. The CD went to number 2 on XM/Sirius BB King’s Bluesville Picks and has been getting constant airplay since May 2011.
Caleta Rock (2013) is a live CD that came out on the Cambaya Music label of Antequera, Spain and features Richard Ray doing a set of solo acoustic blues gems on guitar, vocals and harmonica.
Richard Ray Farrell’s next CD, released February 1, 2014 on the Bluebeet label, is Shoe Shoppin’ Woman. The CD has 8 originals and 3 covers featuring Richard Ray on hot blues harmonica, smokin’ guitar and heartfelt blues vocals. This is a strong follow up to Richard’s highly acclaimed CD, I Sing The Blues Eclectic. Sometimes serious, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, Richard’s songs shine through with his own definitive stamp on the blues.
Richard released 3 Pints of Gin in February of 2020. His first Acoustic CD since 2013 and it has been very well received. Iain Patience, Blues Matters, wrote, “Whatever he turns his hand to, Farrell masters, and at times the picking is near breathtaking with countless examples of absolute mastery and ease rippling thought the release.” We proudly state this album was a 2021 Blues Foundation Nominee for Acoustic Blues Album of the year.
Back in the studio in 2022, Richard produced an electric album, Life of Leisure, released by Nuba Records in association with Karonte Distribuciones y Cambayá. See NEWS for great reviews on Richard's latest albums.