Roy Edward Ayers Jr. was born in Los Angeles on
10th September 1940.
His father Roy was a car park attendant / scrap metal merchant / musician, and his mother Ruby a school teacher / local piano teacher. It was mainly thanks to her that he had a love for music - at the age of three he was pumping out so-called boogie woogie tunes.
One evening in 1945, the Lionel Hampton Big Band was coming to town, and being great fans Mum and Dad bought tickets for the show - on the night they took little Roy with them. After the concert 'Hamp' did his usual stroll up and down the aisles thanking his audience for attending, and in the corner of his eye spotted a very excited boy. He walked straight up to Roy and gave him the present of a lifetime - the vibe mallets he had just been playing with.
During his teens Roy's parents made sure he carried out his education but also bought him a set of vibes. Living a few blocks away was an up and coming vibes player named Bobby Hutcherson whom he used to hang out with and practice new sounds, and then Roy moved on to Jefferson High School which saw the formation of the first ever Roy Ayers led group The Jefferson Combo, later re-named Latin Lyrics. By 1961 Roy had become a professional musician.
All sorts of doors opened up for him, playing with some of the great jazz names of the day including Chico Hamilton, Teddy Edwards, Jack Wilson, Phineas Newborn, and Gerald Wilson. The following year Roy appeared on vinyl for the first time thanks to sax player Curtis Amy, on two recordings "Way Down" and "Tippin' On Through", and then he was booked for a massive event - The 1962 Las Vegas Jazz Festival.
"West Coast Vibes" was Roy's debut album on United Artists, produced by jazz authority Leonard Feather which received much praise within jazz circles.
Roy was now getting busy with tours and had many calls to lead and co-lead bands, one of them coming from flautist Herbie Mann. Roy eventually stayed with Herbie six years, touring mostly the West Coast and appearing on several of Mann's albums for Atlantic Records.
Roy began putting songs and lyrics onto tape, and when he felt he had enough material, took it to Atlantic and they immediately signed him up. For the next three years he released the same number of albums with the help of producer / friend Harry Whitaker - "Virgo Vibes" 1967; "Stoned Soul Picnic" 1968, and "Daddy Bug" 1969.
The Polydor Years
"Change Up The Groove"
It was now 1970 - the start of a new decade, and the beginnings of a long and fruitful relationship with Polydor Records, whereby Roy introduced more crossover elements to his music with the use of wah wah and fuzz tones on his vibes. He brought in some musicians and vocalists, many of them great friends, into his band which he called Ubiquity - meaning a being everywhere - and suddenly the whole Roy Ayers sound took off. For the next ten years he recorded some of his finest work - "Virgo Red", "Change Up The Groove", "Mystic Voyage", "Everybody Loves The Sunshine", "Vibrations","You Send Me", "Lifeline", "Fever" ........... the list goes on [see Discography].
During this period Roy had some very special moments in his career. He was invited to create and record a soundtrack to the black sexploitation movie "Coffy" in 1973, starring Pam Grier and Brooker Bradshaw.
Then there was the release of "Lifeline" in 1977. Many DJs of the time picked up on one track whereby the label eventually made it into a single and which to this day is a penultimate jazz funk anthem on the dance floors, sampled by numerous house and garage producers, and was even used in early 2000 for Spike Lee's movie "Summer Of Sam"..... we are talking about "Running Away".
By 1978 Roy's name was recognised throughout the UK when three of his tracks reached the British charts - "Get On Up Get On Down" - 41; "Heat Of The Beat" - 43; and "Don't Stop The Feeling" - 56.
Another highlight in the life of Roy Ayers occured when he toured Africa the tail end of 1979 alongside the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti, which later spawned another sought after album "Africa - Center Of The World", plus a two track EP "Music Of Many Colors".
"Lots Of Love"
In 1983 Roy felt he was in a good position to form his own record label and called it Uno Melodic. The first album was entitled "Lots Of Love". Musicians and vocalists he had previously come into contact with released material on his label, many of whom did very well for themselves during and after this period, such as Bobbi Bumphrey, Justo Almario, The Eighties Ladies, Ethel Beatty, and Sylvia Striplin.
CBS Records were next in line to sign Roy's good vibes, and in 1984 he released one of his best loved albums - "In The Dark", featuring the humerous "Poo Poo La La".
During the mid 1980's technology became a vital element in the recording studio, and many top producers wanted to re-create the 70's sound but with an 80's feel to it. Sampling was the order of the day featuring mainly two artists' music - James Brown and Roy Ayers. Even today Roy finds it a great compliment when a rap act or house producer samples his music .... so long as it is done legally.
In 1988 Roy was invited to appear in front of a group of 250 specially invited guests at the world renowned Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Central London. Realising his huge popularity Ronnie asked him back for a two week stint - and then the following year another two weeks - and then another two .......... it is now formaility that Roy Ayers Ubiquity appear at the club once a year.
Roy decided to re-establish his own record label, but realising his fans were now buying CDs rather than vinyl, called his company AFI CDs. The first album was "Spoken Word" featuring some excellent vocals by small and big screen actress Bonita Brisker. Many adult radio stations in USA then started to become interested in the mellow sound of jazz, and the new buzz words were SMOOTH JAZZ, so Roy set to work on his vibes and eventually produced a set of instrumental tracks which he released in 1999 on an album called ..... "Smooth Jazz".
"Perfection" is the title of his new album, available from this site via the 'Merchandise for sale' page
Roy has won numerous awards for his contribution to music, has been given keys to cities in the US for his services to local communities, and is constantly striving to help the youth in whatever capacity he can.
© Brian Knivett