Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 10 February 1940, Manhattan; d 7 June 2009, Los Angeles, of lung cancer) Singer, songwriter, guitarist. Never a prolific maker of hit records, and covering others' songs more than writing his own, his easygoing style was nevertheless influential and much liked. He was heard as an introspective singer-songwriter in the mold of the late 1960s and '70s (à la James Taylor and many others), but he was also influenced by the likes of João Gilberto, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and the great songwriters of earlier decades, such as Cole Porter. He described himself in an interview in 1997 as 'a jazz singer who likes to mess with the melody.' After a few singles for Decca when he was a teenager, Rankin played on Bob Dylan's landmark Bringing It All Back Home album in '65. His own first album was Mind-Dusters '67 on Mercury, introducing his best-known song, 'Peaceful', which became a Top 20 hit for Helen Reddy a few years later. By the time Rankin made that first album, The Tonight Show's Johnny Carson was already a fan; Carson wrote the notes for the album, and had Rankin on his show over 20 times.

Some of Rankin's other songs were covered by people like Peggy Lee and Mel Tormé, and Stephen Bishop had a top 20 single and won a Grammy in '77 with Rankin's 'On And On'. But Rankin's unique interpretations of others' songs were evident from the beginning: that first album also included his original take on Dylan's 'Mr. Tamborine Man', and he soon recorded several of the Beatles' songs. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, McCartney asked Rankin to represent them at the ceremony.

As a sideman, Rankin also played on Jackie DeShannon's album Your Baby Is A Lady '73, Joni Mitchell's Wild Things Run Fast '82, and perhaps others. Rankin's own albums went on to include Family '70, also on Mercury; Like a Seed '72 on Little David again included 'Peaceful' and reached the Billboard top 200 albums. Silver Morning '74 was Rankin's best chart placing at no. 63; Inside '75 and The Kenny Rankin Album '76, still on Little David, both made the top 100 albums. (The Little David label had been formed by Birdland manager Monte Kay and comedian Flip Wilson; mainly a comedy label, the main artists on the roster were Wilson, George Carlin and Rankin. There was a connection, probably distribution, with the Atlantic label. Some or all of the Little David albums were later available from Atlantic/WEA, and Rankin's out-of-print items command high prices for second-hand copies at Amazon. Little David disappeared when Carlin bought it out and started his own Eardrum label.)

Rankin's After the Roses '80 on Atlantic was his last chart entry, slipping down to no. 171. Further Rankin albums were Hiding in Myself '88 on Cypress, Because of You '91 on Chesky, Professional Dreamer '94 (accent on standards)  and Here in My Heart '97 (with a Bazilian flavor) both on Private Music, A Christmas Album '99 on Rankin Music, and A Song for You 2002 on Verve. Peaceful: The Best of Kenny Rankin was released on Rhino in 1996. He had not concentrated on making lots of records, but The Bottom Line Encore Collection, a live concert recording made at the NYC club '90 but not released until '99 (on Velvel) captured his ability to entertain an audience with just his voice and a guitar.