Little Ray, along with Little Willie G., was the biggest star
in the East L.A. firmament in the 1960s. His forte was
rhythm and blues and he sang, danced and performed with energy,
excitement and professionalism that was beyond his teenage
years. He had a great voice that could sing up tempo
R&B tunes with the proper emotion and style, and croon
a ballad that would rival anyone on the national music scene.
He made records on mostly small independent labels that had
an impact on the local scene, but didn’t achieve the
level of stardom his talent warranted.
Little Ray Jimenez was born and grew
up in Delano, California, where some of his relatives were
farm workers. His older brother was friends with the
legendary Cesar Chavez before Cesar became famous for his
work as a labor leader for the farm workers. As a small
boy he demonstrated a talent for singing when he would sing
along with a jukebox located behind a fast food stand next
door to a store where his brothers worked. Ray would
memorize the words to the songs on the jukebox by artists
such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Fats Domino. His
brother Vincent took the seven year old Ray to a dance at
the Philippino Hall in Delano, where The Rhythm Aces (later
to become Al Garcia & the Rhythm Kings) were playing.
Vincent convinced the high school age band to let his little
brother sing. They let Ray sing and he was a sensation
singing “Hound Dog” by Elvis and “Reddy
Teddy” by Little Richard. He started to be featured
with the band, billed as “Little Elvis.”
He was such an attraction that he became a regular member
of the band, eventually billed as Little Ray. When he
was about eleven years old, Ray was approached by Ed Cobb
of the famous Four Preps to cut a record. His first
record was “There’s Something On Your Mind,”
a song originally recorded by Big Jay McNeely.
When Little Ray was about 13 years
old, he would spend his summers with his brother Robert in
Los Angeles. Robert would take him to rhythm and blues
shows featuring the legendary Johnny Otis band. Robert
convinced Otis to let Ray sing. Ray got a good response
and began to sing regularly in these shows, usually promoted
by Art Laboe or Hal Ziegler. Little Ray got a great
education watching the likes of Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton
and Ray Charles perform at these shows. When Little
Ray was about 15 years old, he moved to L.A. to stay.
He attended my alma mater, Garfield High School, where I had
gym class with him one semester. By this time he was
singing with Thee Midniters alongside Little Willie G.
I was fortunate to see one of the shows they did together
in 1963 or ‘64. It was the show I alluded to in
my article on Little Willie G., where the band and vocalists
wore Lone Ranger style masks adorned with glitter to the sounds
of “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
It was a great band with two great lead singers. Ray
did one recording with Thee Midniters, a version of Mary Wells’
“My Guy,” changed to “My Girl,” backed
by a Little Ray original called “Loretta.”
Little Ray’s career with Thee Midniters ended 6 months
to a year later when Ray missed a gig at a rock & roll
show at East L.A. College due to being caught in a snow storm
on the way down from Delano. Ray had been scheduled
to sing “Land of a Thousand Dances” in the show
which was to be recorded live. It was inspired by the
Cannibal & the Headhunters version that Ray had recently
heard them do at a show. When Ray didn’t show
up, Little Willie G. did the lead vocal which wound up on
the national charts. At that point Thee Midniters felt
they didn’t need Ray, and Ray wanted to pursue a solo
Ray went on to form his own group
called Little Ray & the Progressions. I saw their
debut at an East L.A. College rock & roll show and they
were very polished and professional. Little Ray did
a great record with them, a version of the Ben E. King classic
recording “I Who Have Nothing,” originally a French
song to which legendary songwriters Lieber and Stoller wrote
English lyrics. Tom Jones covered it later, but I didn’t
like it as well as Ray’s version. The flip side
of Ray’s record was “I Been Trying,” a great
song written and produced by Arthur Lee, lead singer of the
popular 60s band, Love. Love’s big hit was the
Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, “My Little Red Book.”
Ray’s vocal on “I Been Trying” is phenomenal.
Little Ray & the Progressions evolved into the Little
Ray Revue, which included two four-man vocal groups, the Epics
and the 4 Clefs, and female back up singers called the Rayettes.
I saw the Revue as well and it was an exciting show in the
spirit of the Motown Revue. I have a collection of flyers
from East L.A. dances and shows of the 60s where my bands
performed, and found that I had 18 where my bands, Mark &
the Escorts and the Men from S.O.U.N.D., were on the same
bill with Little Ray. Some of the venues were the Montebello
Ballroom, Big Union Hall, Huntington Park Ballroom, Boulevard
Theater and Shrine Auditorium.
In the late sixties, Ray got an opportunity
to write and produce for Seymour Stein, who later discovered
such artists as Madonna, The Pretenders and Talking Heads.
Ray, who liked my original material and band of the time called
the Men from S.O.U.N.D., tried to get us involved in a project.
Neither Ray nor I remember why the project never happened,
but I do remember doing a session for Ray at Columbia Recording
Studios in Hollywood where I played a 12 string Rickenbacher
guitar on some songs. Ray then moved to New York, where
he worked on projects as a writer and producer for Stein.
One of the artists he worked with at the time was a band from
Boston called Chain Reaction, who later became Aerosmith.
He also did a few gigs with Cannibal & the Headhunters,
when they were based out of New York, and produced some recordings
by them. Those recordings, as well as some by Little
Eva of “Locomotion” fame, were never released.
After about a year and a half to two years, he returned to
L.A. where he had a wife and kids by then. In the early
70s, Ray teamed up with his old friend Willie G. to form a
group called God’s Children, which included three female
singers. It was a secular group who recorded a single
for Uni Records, which became the theme song for the television
series “Matt Lincoln.”
Since the 60s, I didn’t see
Ray until I ran into him in 1980 at a gig in Stanton, California
where I was playing with a cover band. In 1985, he came
to hear a band I was with at the time called the Armstrong
& Guerrero Band at a gig in Fountain Valley, California.
I reciprocated by going to see Ray perform with his current
group, Ray & the Idols in Long Beach, California, where
he proceeded to show me that he still possessed his vocal
and performing powers. A couple of weeks after that,
the Armstrong & Guerrero Band were scheduled to do a gig
following a band Ray was booking at the time. Ray saw
to it that we could use his band’s P.A. system so we
wouldn’t have to bring ours. It was a very thoughtful
courtesy on his part. In the early nineties, I was a
guest on a cable TV show called "Rock & Roll House
Party" hosted by disk jockey Steve Propes, on which Little
Ray and his band also performed. I did some of my songs acoustically,
backed by musicians Alex Armstrong and Leo Valenzuela.
Ray squeezed his whole band into the studio and blew the roof
off the place with his version of Al Green's "Take Me
To the River" and other r&b classics. I didn't
see him again until we reconnected when I called to interview
him for this article in 2001.
Little Ray has always made his living
as a singer and performer, since the eighties with Ray &
the Idols and Ramon & the L.A. Band. He’s
played mostly night clubs and the country club circuit.
However, Ray Jimenez has not had a recording released since
the early 70s. Happily, this will soon change since
he now owns his own professional recording studio in East
L.A. called Sanctuary Studios, where he’s already begun
his first project and is starting his own label. He
bought a two story building several years ago and customized
it to accommodate a rehearsal and recording studio.
It’ll be great to hear new recordings by one of the
great singer/performers in Chicano music, Little Ray.
Talent runs in his family so the legacy continues. Ray’s
son, Dennis, is a singer in a band, and his daughter, Stacy
Chavez, sings in Ray’s shows. One of his nephews,
Michael, has been a member of Chicano rock band Tierra.
There are very few recordings available
by Little Ray today. You can find one of his recordings
from 1964 entitled “Karen” on the Chicano Alliance
CD, which is featured on this website. “Karen”
and “Come On and Swim” are featured on the Varese
Sarabande volume two of the four CD collection called “Eastside
Sound, Vol. 1,2,3 and 4 (Varese Sarabande VSD-6018).
After writing this article, I called a friend who owns a reissue
label and asked him if he’d be interested in a Little
Ray compilation CD, and he is. I spoke to Ray about
it and, with a little luck, it looks like we might all be
able to enjoy such a CD in the future. In addition to
Sanctuary Studios, Ray has a management company called Vista
Entertainment Group and a booking agency by the name of Total
Performance. All three companies can be reached at 323-888-9884.
is based on an audio taped telephone interview by Mark Guerrero
with Little Ray on September 25, 2001.
In 2004, Ray and I met up again when I was working on an album
with Chan Romero at Ray's Sanctuary Studios. I was initially
involved because Chan recorded a song I wrote for him called
"Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow." As it
turned out, Chan, Ray, and I sang all the background vocals
for the project and had a great time doing it. It also
sounded great. At the same time, Ray was releasing the
first CD on his new label, Cosa Buena Records. It's
a Christmas CD in Spanish entitled "Nuestra Navidad"
and features lead vocals by several artists, including Little
Ray going by his full name Ramon Perez Jimenez. He's
also planning a new CD of his own in English which will have
R&B and Latin elements. It's great to see
Little Ray Jimenez recording again.