Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kenny Rankin is an artist who possesses a rare and multifaceted talent. A singer's singer, Rankin moves listeners with inventive phrasing, uncanny strength of melody and distinct, clear-throated scat vocalizing. Rankin is the first to admit that his music defies categorization. "I like to exercise my freedom to explore all corners of the musical spectrum," he says. "I'm as comfortable with Irving Berlin as I am with the Beatles." (Long-known for his imaginative Beatles covers, Rankin was the artist tapped to perform for Lennon and McCartney's induction to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1989.) Says Rankin, "Jazz, salsa, standards, pop, rock, folk...the labels make me feel uncomfortable. It's the music that I love."
Rankin's musical odyssey began in New York City. "All I ever cared about was music," he declares. "I never formally studied anything, so my training had to come from the streets. I just started hanging out and singing in hallways."
At seventeen, he made his first record. He was sent to Europe on tour, and he recorded in six languages for Columbia Records. Back in New York, at age 21, he picked up the guitar- six months later he was in the studio with Bob Dylan playing rhythm guitar on the album Bringin' It All Back Home.
Another warm musical memory was an experience with Jimi Hendrix. "We were in an attic," he remembers. "Jimi was wearing a crimson cloak and we played classical guitar, just the two of us, for hours on end. He was one of a kind. He heard and felt things nobody else ever dreamed." Joao Gilberto also provided a strong early influence. "Brazilian music really turned me around-- I heard Joao and I was in heaven."
Rankin compositions like "Haven't We Met", "In The Name of Love" and Top Ten hit, "Peaceful", were recorded by a diverse collection of artists. In the early 70's, after relocating to Los Angeles, Rankin made a series of critically-acclaimed albums on the Little David and Atlantic labels: Like A Seed, Silver Morning, Inside, The Kenny Rankin Album and After The Roses. Then, as he explains it,"The times changed. Music is ruled by trends. I couldn't really find my place, so I stepped back, and pursued my first love: live performance." He's played Lincoln Center, toured with Manhattan Transfer and has sung with the New American Orchestra and numerous community symphonies in addition to his regular club dates. Says Rankin, "I've dragged my guitar just about everywhere. I sing for nothing...I get paid to travel."
In 1988 he recorded "Hiding in Myself" for Cypress/A&M Records, and in 1991, he made his recording comeback with his Chesky Records' release, Because of You, which steadily climbed its way up the charts in 1992. On recording his first release with Chesky, Rankin stated, "I have been 'making' records for many years...But, until I met up with David and Norman Chesky's innovative recording techniques I'd never had my 'aural' photograph taken--Thanks guys!"
Says Rankin, "I like to sing the story and tell the song. Like everybody, I love a good love song, but also like singing about what is going on in the larger universe."