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Ray Goren, Young Blues Guitar Phenom, Talks Technology and Fond Memories of Leon Russell

Goren takes Leon Russell’s Advice — And Their Music — Into the Future


Ray Goren is bringing the blues into the future.

The 16-year-old blues guitar phenom is using technology to deliver his remarkable blues message.

“I will never abandon the blues because it’s in my soul,” said Ray, who will bring his wailing blues guitar sound to Genghis Cohen Feb 18. “The blues is more than a style of music.”

Ray has a talent that few come by naturally. With the support of his family, at his young age he has become something of a blues legend in Southern California and beyond, playing with the best of them. Including the late Leon Russell.

Ray Goren is doing what mentor Leon Russell would want: He's making great music - Photo by Donna Balancia

Ray Goren is doing what mentor Leon Russell would want: He’s making great music – Photo by Donna Balancia

Leon Russell ‘Was Like Family’

Ray’s guitar work is so profound, he caught the ear of the late music legend Leon Russell and became Leon’s protege. Russell died last November at the age of 74.

“Leon became like our own family,” said Ray’s father, David. “Ray and Leon co-wrote and recorded songs and Leon invited Ray to Nashville. I asked him why he took my son under his wing and he said, ‘We have to pass on the traditions.'”

David said Leon and Ray spent a week in Nashville and met every morning in the studio. They would work and write all day. They wrote a few songs together, and they have not been released yet.

Leon started playing music with Ray and they shared emails back and forth. Leon would give his opinion.

Ray has taken his blues guitar work one step further. He’s using looper pedals, electronic keyboards and electronic drums to modernize his craft.

Donna Balancia photo Leon Russell

Leon Russell passed away last November at the age of 74 – Photo © Donna Balancia


Ray Goren: Blues with Tech

Ray played a recent show at Genghis Cohen that showed his mastery of looper pedals as well as keyboards and his phenomenal blues guitar work.  He debuted some amazing new songs of love and life that are way beyond the mindset of his young years. He learned some of the tricks of the trade from Leon.

“Leon taught me how to write lyrics,” Ray said. “There’s a lot he taught me about songwriting. He taught me if the song doesn’t come to me, or if I take longer than 10 or 15 minutes, I should move on. Last year around this time we were writing together.”

Ray said he has been struggling without his mentor but he is doing what Leon would want him to do: He’s making great music.

Ray Goren and mentor Leon Russell - Photo Donna Balancia

Ray Goren and mentor Leon Russell – Photo Donna Balancia

‘The Blues Is More than Music’

“Leon was one of the greatest,” Ray said. “He was so humble and he was so giving. He was always working on something for other people. He was a great guy with a great sense of humor.”

But does Ray’s newly discovered love of electronic enhancement give him thoughts to abandon the blues?

“I will never abandon the blues,” he said. “The blues is the roots of rock and and a big part of rythm and blues. The blues is more than a type of music, it’s a feeling, it’s in your soul.”

Bonnie Raitt and Musician Friends Celebrate Marty Grebb at Canyon Club

Bonnie Raitt - photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Bonnie Raitt – photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Musicians, Fans, Raise Money for Marty Grebb to Continue His Battle Against Cancer

Story and Photos © DONNA BALANCIA

Who says Rock ‘n Roll doesn’t have a heart?

Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Ivan Neville and a select group of famous band musicians raised spirits — and cash — for their pal Marty Grebb, who is battling cancer.

Some of the finest ’70s and ’80s players — many, appropriately enough, from the heartland — jammed to raise money for Grebb at the Canyon Club, before about 450 concert-goers who paid upwards of $100 a ticket to attend the benefit.

Marty Grebb - photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Marty Grebb – photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Grebb, Raitt’s longtime band member — who has played with everyone from Eric Clapton to J.J. Cale — said he was overwhelmed by the joy and generosity in the room.

There were people there he hadn’t seen in years, and who came from the East Coast and heartland cities like Detroit and Chicago to see him.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Grebb said. “And I want to thank every one of you. Let’s play some music!”


The performances during the night were top rate and the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills proved it’s great venue to see a show.  Its acoustics are enhanced by the cozy wood-and-plush couches and chairs and the carpeted floors and velvet curtains.

Grebb kicked off the night with several tunes including a beautiful version of  “Come Rain or Come Shine.”  His pep and vigor was in full swing, though he admitted he does have to rest between his performances.

Leon Russell

Russell, in his all-white garb, including white hair, suit and cowboy hat, dispelled his apparition-like appearance with a very real performance that included a duet with 15-year-old blues guitar phenom Ray Goren, who blew the house away.  Goren is mentored by Russell and we can expect some great things from this amazing young talent.

Leon Russell - photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Leon Russell – photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Russell’s voice was clear and strong and his eyes are lively.  Included in his setlist were “Delta Lady,” “Back To The Islands,” and “Hummingbird.”

The Buckinghams

The handsome Dennis Tufano, who was in the band The Buckinghams with Grebb, crooned the throwback “Don’t You Care,” made famous by the band.  The Buckinghams influenced a lot of bands including Chicago, which adopted the horn-influenced big band style sound that brought them fame.

Ivan Neville

Grebb and Neville, who came to support his friend, contributed more great performances that incorporated all the band members. Grebb’s daughter, Malibu resident Anna Grebb, and her mom Lolly were also on hand, with Anna singing a few select tunes with her dad and giving a great hug at the end of her performance.

Anna Grebb - photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Anna Grebb – photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Raitt’s Good Friend

Raitt has been playing with Grebb since the 1970s and showed her affection for her longtime pal with a rousing performance of some of her most noteworthy tunes.

She opened with “Thing Called Love,” segued into “Nick of Time” and jammed with the band on “Three-Time Loser,” and “Think.”

“Marty has been a dear friend and musical collaborator since my second album back in ’72,” Raitt said.  “He is one of the most soulful and talented musicians I know…equally gifted and at home on sax, keyboards, a killer singer and songwriter. That kind of versatility is very rare indeed.”

The Benefit Concert

The gal who ran the event, Jennifer Waterhouse Pietro, accomplished a monumental task in arranging accommodations, meals and donations.

She credited her volunteer team, led by Annie Ellis and Leslie Bixler, and expressed her thanks to the donors, benefactors and the musicians.

Bonnie Raitt and band members play for Marty Grebb - photo © Donna Balancia

Bonnie Raitt and band members play for Marty Grebb – photo © Donna Balancia

“The Canyon Club is a great venue and it was fabulous that they donated the venue for Marty,” Pietro said. “We have really received an unbelievable amount of support and of course the musicians are phenomenal. They each have a really big heart.”

Among some of the auction items were a piano, an acoustic guitar donated by McCabe’s that was signed by the musicians, The Wrecking Crew movie gift basket, posters, several paintings and collector items.  Star Wagons and Casa Escobar provided the trailers and food.

While there were donations from many of those present, there is also the opportunity to contribute online. GO HERE for more information on Sweet Relief and its efforts to support Grebb and other artists.

Bonnie Raitt and Group - photo by Matthias von Bank

Bonnie Raitt and Group – photo by Matthias von Bank

Remarkable Music and Life of Marty Grebb ‘Guided From Above’

‘Best Side Man In The Business’ Gets Support from Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, at Canyon Club Gig on Wednesday

By DONNA BALANCIA — Renowned multi-talented musician Marty Grebb says he’s always had a lucky star.

“Something has guided me and I’m extremely fortunate,” Grebb said.

The Chicago-born talent has been fortunate enough to play with the best musicians in the business and has dodged plenty of bullets.

“Well there are a lot of stories I can’t tell you, but let’s just say I’m having a great time,” Grebb said.

Grebb has played with everyone from Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale and Taj Mahal to The Band, Roger McGuinn and The Knack.

“He’s got this wonderful sense of humor and he’s always looking at the bright side,” said Walt Richmond, his bandmate through the ages and a renowned musician in his own right. “He’s the best side man in the business.”

Marty Grebb has pals like Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell, and they'll all be playing Canyon Club Wednesday.

Marty Grebb has pals like Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell, and they’ll all be playing Canyon Club Wednesday. Photo courtesy of MG

The two will be getting together again — along with Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell and Ivan Neville — this Wednesday for a gig designed to help Grebb raise money to fight the biggest battle of his life — against cancer.

“Marty’s just this positive force,” Richmond said. “He has a sunny outlook. I’m a lot more of a cynical type. And he can play any instrument. He’s really amazing.”

Richmond is one of the guys who knows Grebb the best. The two have had their share of ups and downs in the music business since the 1970s.

“It’s all been fun, except there was the time when we were in the Cessna heading for a gig and almost got hit head-on by a 747 that was coming in for a landing,” Grebb recalled. “If it weren’t for a stroke of luck, I don’t know what would have happened.

“We were all going to a gig and lo and behold the tire of our little plane catches on fire,” Grebb recalled. “Our pilot pulled off into the grass. And it’s a good thing we did because a 747 came in and landed just where we were sitting. It was a close call. It was a great coincidence.”

Of course, being the musicians they were, there had to be a song written about it: “This Wheel’s On Fire,” a hit song recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band. Grebb recalls the song’s co-writer, the late Rick Danko, being on board when the fire erupted.

“Marty has this sunny personality,” Richmond said. “He thinks young.”

“I like to play a prank once in a while,” Marty said. “I pulled a prank on Bonnie Raitt and she changed her whole style on stage. She used to sit on a stool while playing. Well, one day I hid it. To this day, now she stands.”

Ranging from when he played in the influential band, The Buckinghams, to The Fabulous Rhinestones, and almost every superstar musician in-between, Grebb has always kept a love for the music alive.

Bonnie Raitt and bandmembers in 1984 - Photo courtesy

Bonnie Raitt and bandmembers in 1984 – Photo courtesy

Keeping the passion for the music alive, and staying on the healthy side has helped Grebb endure. It will also be his mantra as he continues his fight against cancer. He has sought out his own personal battle plan and he advocates other people to do the same.

“I’ve been fooling around with five different versions of the C-word,” he said. “I stopped partying years ago and thank goodness I did. With this, you have to be your own doctor.

He shared a few secrets to his battle plan: He doesn’t acknowledge the enemy or call it by name to empower it; Grebb seeks multiple medical opinions and strategies; he gets his rest and he increases his positive outlook.

He overcame a few errors in testing that he had to go through, and when he went to seek a second opinion one day in December, he had a great stroke of good fortune. He stopped to play a piano in the atrium of his medical facility.

“They weren’t giving me a lot good news,” he said. “I saw the sign on the piano in the atrium of the facility where I was going for testing. The sign said ‘If you are a professional and you want to donate your time to play, call this number.’

“The woman said, ‘Come and talk to me.’ We met and afterwards she looked me up. She called me and said, ‘Oh you ARE a professional musician. Would you like to play our Christmas party?”

Grebb said he was nervous.

“Three ladies suspiciously close when I get playing ‘Christmas in Chicago’ by Leon Russell,” he said. “It’s a little-known song. Well when the song was finished they all hugged me. One of them says, ‘I am the director of all eight buildings of this hospital’ — and that changed everything.”

Grebb got a new oncologist, a spiritual adviser and a whole new way to approach his fight.

Enjoying The Music

Grebb admits he has his ups and downs but overall, he is enjoying playing music more than ever before. He is honest with himself and others. He feels that if he follows his heart, keeps an open mind and does the work, good things will happen.

“I have had my place in the Woodstock Tumbling Bullshitters Club,” he said. “And now, all these years later, some days are better than others. You have to care of yourself, love your family, and have faith. If you want to call that ‘having a lucky star,’ then that’s fine with me.”

This concert is being conducted in partnership with Sweet Relief Musicians Fund to provide financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet as they battle cancer, ALS, and other debilitating illness, disability, or age-related problems.

The benefit for Marty Grebb will be held at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on Wednesday. For more information, see this Billboard article and go to the Canyon Club website.

To donate to The Marty Grebb Fund through Sweet Relief GO HERE

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