Like every good story, Rayburn’s tale begins with hope. It’s a dream. A quest that takes them through joy, heartbreak, betrayal – and finally, to redemption. It spans more than 50 years
In 1964, a life-changing musical event happened… For some, it would be The Beatles’ debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. But for two 12-year-old boys, it was a memorable concert performance they were taken to in their hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. No one suspected that the music would still ripple out in 2016. But that was the moment Rayburn was born, and 52 years later, it’s stronger than ever.
“I was with my friend Jimmy Roberts,” Steve Stephens recalls. “His older brother took us to see the Yardbirds. As they played, we looked at each other and said ‘Let’s do that!’” Stephens had an electric piano. Roberts had a guitar and amp. It was the perfect match. They started out as a duo, changing bands names – The Barrons, The Living End – as often as new ideas struck. But they had talent and soon enough they were playing anywhere that would have them, including a local dance where they performed between the set breaks of jazz great Ramsey Lewis.
“As we came off, he passed me and said I might want to think about giving music a serious spin,” Stephens says. It was the last thing his parents wanted to hear. They soon shipped Steve off to prep school.
But, little did his parents know, the school had pianos. By the time Stephens returned to Little Rock, he was a better musician than when he’d left. He and Roberts resurrected the band, naming it Rayburn and bringing in Mack Price on bass, along with a drummer. They played clubs, opened for Three Dog Night, and acted as Chuck Berry’s backing band when he played in town. And they dreamed of the big time.
Finally they booked into Nashville’s Monument Studios to record demos of their own material.
“A man from Mega Records, which was part of RCA, happened by,” Stephens says. “They’d had some big hits and they were looking for a rock act. Right there, he offered us a contract.”
They signed…and then they heard nothing more.
In 1974, Jimmy Roberts died of spinal cancer. With that, the band lost their heart and soul to carry on and Stephens went to work in the family business. In 1980, his father, very ill, decided it was time to divulge the truth. What was said to his son, Steve, was not only hard to take, but hard to believe.
“He told me he’d bought our contract from Mega Records so I wouldn’t go into music. I was devastated.” Father and son were estranged, but before Steve’s Dad passed away they had reconciled. Stephens still played, a mix of blues and the old Rayburn songs, but he couldn’t write anything new.
Fast forward to 2009. Jimmy Roberts’ older brother kept suggesting a reunion of living band members. Eventually Stephens agreed. Price – now making his living as a successful soundtrack composer – was on board. The date was set.
“There were about 350 people there when we played,” Stephens says, “and two-thirds of them were young. It was supposed to finished at midnight but we kept playing until 2:00 a.m.”
After that they knew they had to go back to Nashville and record the old music. They found a producer, Ben Fowler, “a guy who’d won a Grammy, he’d worked with Bad Company. We recorded, and it sounded good. It still sounded right.” The result was Your Mind, Rayburn’s long-delayed debut.
That kick-started something in Stephens. He began writing songs again. So did Price. Fowler brought in drummer Nir Z and singer Danny Archer. In the studio, the new material gelled perfectly. It was The Living End – an homage to one of Rayburn’s early band names.
While the music is still proud progressive rock – with the emphasis on rock – The Living End isn’t about distant glory days. It’s about a push into the future. Like the very best stories, Rayburn’s tale doesn’t end. The road goes ever on…