James Ray

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James Ray remains a tragic footnote in the annals of R&B history -- a gifted singer best remembered for the classic "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody," he died of a drug overdose while his career…
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James Ray remains a tragic footnote in the annals of R&B history -- a gifted singer best remembered for the classic "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody," he died of a drug overdose while his career was still in its infancy. Born James Ray Raymond in Washington, D.C., in 1941, the diminutive vocalist first surfaced on the Gallant label in 1959 with "Make Her Mine," credited to Little Jimmy Ray (also a nod to his uncanny vocal similarities to R&B legend Little Willie John). The record flopped, and like so many details of Ray's brief life, his activities over the next two years are largely a mystery. By 1961, he was homeless, singing on street corners for spare change and living on the roof of a D.C. apartment building -- there he was discovered by aspiring songwriter Rudy Clark, who in turn introduced him to producer and Caprice Records founder Gerry Granahan, whose previous signings included the Angels and Janie Grant. Granahan immediately signed Ray to Caprice, purchasing him a new wardrobe and setting him up in an apartment of his own -- in October 1961, he released the Clark-penned "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody," which crossed over to the pop Top 40 on its way to cracking the R&B Top Ten. The single was also issued in the U.K. in 1962, and a cover rendition was a staple of early Beatles live sets -- another British Invasion act, Freddie & the Dreamers, recorded their own smash version the following year. In the interim, Ray began work on his self-titled debut LP, releasing his second single, "Itty Bitty Pieces," in the spring of 1962. The record was a minor hit, and while the follow-up, "I've Got My Mind Set on You" (like its predecessors authored by Rudy Clark), earned little attention on radio, it nevertheless captivated Beatle George Harrison, who in 1988 scored a solo number one hit with the song. By that time Ray was long dead, however -- a majority of sources suggest his fatal drug overdose occurred sometime in 1963, although the circumstances of his passing are largely unknown and not even the Social Security Death Index contains an official entry. Clark went on to even greater success, however, writing a series of now-classic hits including "It's in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)" and "Good Lovin'."