Vocalist, instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer Ray Greene ’96 knows that solid careers come with perseverance, consistency, and preparation. When he received a call from the legendary group Tower of Power (TOP) to sub for a night, Greene was ready; but he never imagined the opportunity would lead to a full-time touring gig as the band’s lead singer. Interestingly, Greene had fielded similar calls years earlier while a student at Berklee. One was an offer to play trombone with the horn section for a tour with Rick James. Calls to work with Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole followed.
“That call from TOP took me back to all my years of performing and working in Boston, New York, and Vegas,” Greene says. “I reflected on all I’ve done over the years, and it all culminated in that one call. It felt like a pinnacle moment.”
TOP was on the road and there was no time to rehearse. They sent Greene their set list and everything he would need to prepare, and then it was show time.
TOP leader Emilio Castillo told Greene up front that the gig was not an audition; he was just helping out for one show. The current singer was planning to leave and the band planned to hold formal auditions at a later date. To Greene, the situation represented the best of both worlds. He would have the freedom to simply perform and fully showcase his voice without the pressure of an audition.
The gig went so well that a few months later Greene received an unexpected phone call with an offer to become TOP’s new lead singer. “I thought there was a possibility that I could be offered the job, but you never really know,” Greene says. “I took a day to mull it over and then called back to accept the gig.”
Greene’s soulful singing owes much to gospel roots nurtured at his church in the small town of Americus, GA, where he grew up. “We didn’t have the instrumentation the modern churches had,” he says. “I remember my uncle starting a hymn in the far corner of the church and the congregation joining in with rich harmonies that reverberated off the wooden pews. That sound stays with me even today.”
Greene celebrated his faith with the release of two gospel CDs in 2003 and 2011. For his latest, Heaven Bound, he wrote and produced the music and released it on his own SoulVision Records label. The title track Heaven Bound was a collaboration with his daughter Daraiha. “Once, while I was on tour, we were walking through a small town in Germany,” he recalls. “Daraiha started singing a melody and the words, ‘One time only, I’m gonna sing my song,’ and that developed into the title track.” The new CD blends the sounds of traditional hymns with the more contemporary gospel sounds that Greene was exposed to at Berklee.
The well-seasoned Greene has added his voice to jingles for Converse and Disney and has had success getting songs placed in popular TV soap operas through collaborations with fellow alumni Dow Brain ’88 and Brad Young ’88. Greene also contributed vocal tracks to music written by Professor Sheldon Mirowitz for the Grammy-nominated HBO documentary Legacy.
Greene’s assimilation into TOP has been smooth. Castillo, TOP’s bandleader, offers Greene feedback after the shows to enhance the next performance. “He’s also leaving it completely open for me to be who I am,” Greene adds. The band’s current tour with Greene as the front man began on New Year’s Eve in Sacramento, CA. “I’ve heard people refer to ‘the tour’ as a train that moves, and moves quickly,” Greene says. “You either jump on and hold on tightly or get left behind. I’m holding on the best I can.”
With more than 200 shows scheduled in 2014, Greene has successfully navigated the crossroads where preparation meets opportunity, and the train is moving full speed ahead.