Dreams in the Dark: Remembering Ray Gillen
I remember when I first heard about Ray Gillen. It was 1986. My best friend Mary and I were planning to see Black Sabbath in Pittsburgh, with the great Glenn Hughes as lead singer. We loved hearing Glenn on the new Seventh Star album. We went to the first date of the tour, which was at Public Hall in Cleveland, Ohio on March 21. The sound was atrocious, but we didn’t care, as long as we could see Glenn. Later that evening, we met Glenn in the bar of the Bond Court Hotel. Unlike the other members of the band, he was gracious and friendly. We drove back to Pennsylvania with good memories and anticipation for the upcoming Syria Mosque show. We had seats in the fourteenth row and we knew that the sound at the Mosque would be a lot better than Cleveland.
But on April 4, we found out that Glenn was no longer with Black Sabbath. An unknown singer named Ray Gillen was replacing him. We were so mad that we sold our tickets, practically giving away three tickets for $20. If Glenn wasn’t singing with Sabbath, we didn’t want to see them. Who was this Ray Gillen, this usurper who thought he could replace “The Voice”?
But a year later, Ray entered our rock radar again. I heard rumors that he would join Blue Murder with John Sykes, Tony Franklin and Carmine Appice, but that didn’t work out. In 1987, he was featured on the second Phenomena release, as was Glenn Hughes. Then, along with drummer Eric Singer, his band mate in Black Sabbath, Ray joined former Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee and bassist Greg Chaisson in a new group called Badlands. Once I heard Ray’s soulful, soaring voice on “Dreams in the Dark,” I was hooked. I had to admit, that boy was damn good, almost as good as “The Voice” himself! Mary and I decided that we had been too hasty in disregarding Glenn’s Black Sabbath replacement. I bought the band’s first release on cassette and played it until the tape was ready to warp. Then I bought it on CD. And once Ray was featured in Metal Edge, I realized that not only could he sing, he was stomp-down gorgeous! In 1989, I had a picture of Ray on the bulletin board above my desk as I worked as an eligibility worker in Redwood City, California. After the Loma Prieta Earthquake in October 1989, that photo was the first thing I saw when I got from under my desk after the shaking. The band’s second release, Voodoo Highway, carried on the funky, blues/rock vibe of the first album. I saw the band at Shoreline and bought a tee shirt, the back emblazoned with the words from the first album, “Feels so good to be so bad.” In 1993, Ray sang “Flesh and Blood” a track on George Lynch’s “Sacred Groove” album.
But a months later, Ray was gone, dying of AIDS on December 1, 1993, just ten months before one of my favorite relatives would succumb to the same fate. Even though Ray has been gone almost nineteen years, I still have my CDs of the first Badlands album and Phenomena II: Dream Runner and my cassette of Sacred Groove. I still have my Badlands tee shirt.
Ray has not been forgotten. On February 13, 2010, Mary and I went to Las Vegas to see Dokken. Before the show, eighties rock videos were displayed on a screen. One of the videos was “Dreams in the Dark.” As we watched, we absorbed the energy of the dark haired singer who was so alive and vibrant. The next morning, as we sat in our hotel room talking about Ray, the fire alarm went off in the hotel. We both started laughing uncontrollably. I looked up to the ceiling. “Yes, Ray,” I shouted, “We remember you. We still love you.”
I wish I could have met Ray, but I’ll always have his music. Because of his magnificent voice, he will never fade away. It is one of my dreams to write a book about Ray. But if I don’t do it, I hope someone will. Now is the time to celebrate the life and the career of the beautiful man with the voice of an angel, who left us way too soon. Happy Birthday, Ray.