The life of rhythm guitarist, singer, songwriter, and composer Ray Rivera is a textbook example of the American story of how hard work plus determination equals success. Rivera grew up in an orphanage on Long Island and a foster home in the Bronx. As a teenager, he began to hang out in the clubs in Harlem, where jazz was being played all the time. He had started taking guitar lessons in his early teens and began his recording career in the 1950s.
Rivera's songs have been recorded by Hank Jones, Billy Taylor, Cal Tjader, Joe Williams, Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers, Claus Ogerman, Gale Garnett, Donald Byrd, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Enzo Stuarti, and others. Rivera has sung, recorded, or performed with a who's who of jazz musicians, among them Jones, Ogerman, Dr. Billy Taylor, Milt Hinton, Roy Haynes, Donald Byrd, Art Mooney, Deodato, Irving Fields, and others. One of his best known songs, "You Been Talkin' 'Bout Me Baby,'' was recorded by Janis Joplin's San Francisco-based backing band, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and became a smash hit, in 1968, via that group's album Cheap Thrills. It also became a hit for the Ramsey Lewis Trio, who sold over a million copies of the song.
Rivera began his recording career in the 1950s for Webb Records, followed by singles for MGM and Decca. He's recorded more than a dozen albums under his own name. They include Light 'n' Easy for Rivelli Records, and Ain't That Good News for Merry-Go-Round Records in the late '60s. In the early '70s, he recorded Latin Workout for Mercury (arranged by Claus Ogerman), and The Now Sound of the Ray Rivera Orchestra (MGM Records), as well as A Touch of Latin for Hindsight Records. His 1980 album called Let Me Hear Some Jazz, for Insight Records, was nominated for a Grammy award. While some of Rivera's old vinyl is now out-of-print, fortunately, some of the sides are seeing the light of day on compact disc. He released Nightwind on Studio West in 1990, with Dr. Billy Taylor as guest pianist. Jazz film buffs will be interested to know that Rivera appears in the film The Cotton Club as guitarist in the Cab Calloway Orchestra.