Kenny Rankin: Guitarist and singer who played with Bob Dylan
Saturday 13 June 2009
Many of the reviews of Kenny Rankin's dozen albums compare him to James Taylor and certainly he fits into that soft rock, easy listening mould. He was as much influenced by the pre-war songwriters as his contemporaries, however, and this quality is noted both in his own songs and in the standards which he recorded. Paul McCartney was impressed with his exquisite versions of Beatle songs such as "Blackbird" and asked him to collect an award for Lennon and McCartney from the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987.
Kenny Rankin was born in New York in 1940 and grew up in a multi-cultural society where he enjoyed Latin-American and other rhythms as much as the rock'n'roll records he heard on the radio. He loved Dick Clark's TV show, American Bandstand, and wanting to be a teenage idol himself, he made his first singles, "Cindy Lou, My Cinderella" and "Sure As You're Born", around 1959, although they did not sell.
Rankin was friendly with the hit-making Dion Dimucci, who introduced him to his arranger at Columbia Records, Robert Mersey. Mersey spotted his songwriting potential and "My Carousel" was placed with the jazz singer, Carmen McRae. While at Columbia, he took on session work and played rhythm guitar on "Maggie's Farm" and a few other cuts on Bob Dylan's ground-breaking album, Bringing It All Back Home (1965). As Rankin was writing songs in a structured, Tin Pan Alley manner, he was intrigued as to how Dylan would make each chorus a little different, as though he did not want to repeat himself.
Rankin had little success with his own recordings for Columbia but Peggy Lee recorded "In The Name Of Love" (1964) and Mel Tormé "Haven't We Met" (1966). He spent some time in Europe, performing at the San Remo Song Festival and recording in other languages. He released his first album, Mind-Dusters, for Mercury in 1969, which included Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man". The sleeve notes were written by the American chat show host, Johnny Carson, who featured him nearly 20 times. The album included "Peaceful", which became a hit for Helen Reddy and was featured on her album, I Am Woman (1973), and Fred Neil's "The Dolphins".
By this time, Rankin was high on speed but within a couple of years he had gone into rehab and then written the album, Like A Seed (1972). It included "Comin' Down", an unlikely choice for a UK single, in which he declared, "What a waste of time, to live your life as I've lived mine." Despite this, Rankin's work was branded as mellow easy listening.
The title track of his album, Silver Morning (1975), was written with his wife, Yvonne and the LP also included fine versions of Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" and Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready". The following year he worked with a 60-piece orchestra and Frank Sinatra's arranger, Don Costa, on a collection of standards and new songs for The Kenny Rankin Album. It included "On And On", which became a US hit for Stephen Bishop. Rankin worked again with Costa on After The Roses (1980).
In 1995, Rankin recorded another album of standards, Professional Dreamer, as well as a Latin American album, In My Heart. His final album was the jazz-tinged A Song For You (2002). He had signed a new album deal for Sly Dog Records at the time of his death.
Kenny Rankin, guitarist, singer and songwriter: born Manhattan 10 February 1940; married (marriage dissolved, one son, two daughters); died Los Angeles 7 June 2009.
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