Bayou City

Music Scene Stunned by Killing of Beloved Guitarist Kenny Cordray

Kenny Cordray at Houston's Wire Road Studios last week
Kenny Cordray at Houston's Wire Road Studios last week Photo courtesy of Andrew Bradley
Kenny Cordray, a longtime beloved member of Houston’s blues-rock community, is being mourned by friends and fans after a shocking double homicide Sunday night. Houston’s ABC 13 reported that police are investigating the deaths of Cordray, 62, and his son Kelly, 33, as a possible murder-suicide. “According to neighbors, there was an argument followed by gunshots [earlier] Sunday,” the station said.

After the news broke, Cordray’s Facebook page received a deluge of messages offering condolences. This morning, those who knew him around town were still struggling to make sense of what happened.

“It’s very difficult,” says Cordray’s close friend, veteran Houston recording engineer Andrew Bradley. “Losing somebody from cancer or from a heart attack is one thing, but not to have one of your friends killed with a gun. It’s a different scenario completely.”

“He was the kind of person you’d talk to almost on a daily basis,” Bradley adds. “He became like a long-lost brother to me because I’m an only child.”

Bradley says he became friends with Cordray after working with him on House of Hits, the 2010 history of SugarHill Studios Bradley co-wrote with Down In Houston and Texas Zydeco author Dr. Roger Wood. The two men met around 2002, Bradley says, and bonded over Cordray’s stories of being a teenager who, while himself playing in a popular local psych-rock band called The Children, would also help out around the studio while it was the headquarters of the seminal Texas psych label International Artists, whose artists included Roky Erickson’s Thirteenth Floor Elevators and San Antonio’s Bubble Puppy.

“He told me stories about what the Bubble Puppies were up to, of going back while the Elevators were rehearsing in the big studio in the back, and watching Roky guiding the band through rehearsals before recording, watching some of the [other] misadventures that went on there with International Artists,” Bradley says. “Also, he hung out with Todd Rundgren’s band, The Nazz, when they came to town. The Nazz did some recording there but we never found out what they actually did.”

Bradley later left SugarHill and set up shop at Wire Road Studios in the Heights. Between the two places, he estimates recording Cordray in the neighborhood of 200 different sessions. “I knew he was a monster guitar player, so from that day [we met] on, he became my No. 1 go-to guitar player on just about any style of music you’d care to name,” Bradley adds.

Cordray also co-wrote ZZ Top’s early single “Francine.” Under the auspices of producer Lou Adler (Janis Joplin, The Mamas & the Papas, Carole King), also future owner of L.A.’s famous Roxy nightclub, The Children recorded the 1968 LP Rebirth for ATCO. Later, Cordray became a member of Wayne Cochran’s C.C. Riders alongside legendary jazz-fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius and Skylark with adult-contemporary superproducer David Foster. According to his website, Cordray also appeared on the music-themed 1970s TV programs Midnight Special and In Concert in Jerry Lee Lewis’s band, and had performed with blues greats John Lee Hooker and John Mayall.

In 2012, Cordray and his group at the time, Love Street, released the album It Takes Everything. Writing in the Houston Chronicle, Andrew Dansby said, “Cordray and Love Street have applied a kitchen sink approach to making an album. The album includes straight blues, and fuzzed out psych-rock blues, some cinematic instrumentals and a few songs that allow him to stretch out on acoustic guitar. It's a stylistic travelogue that represents Cordray's far-flung tastes as well as his far-flung career.”

When he played out in public, Cordray favored low-key, bluesy joints like 19th Hole Bar & Grill in The Woodlands and Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar in the Heights. Earlier this month, he participated in the “Guitarzilla” tribute in honor of Dan “Uncle Mojo” Workman, the late bassist whose 19th Hole jam sessions Cordray often joined in, at Katie’s Bar in Bacliff. However, Cordray was happy enough doing session work and teaching lessons at Clear Lake-area music store Danny D’s that he could pick and choose his gigs.

“He chose not to play unless it was meaningful,” Bradley notes. “He did not want to be a bar-band guitar player. If he was going to play a place, it was going to be his music, [with] the people he wanted to play with. It had to be an event of some proportion that made it worthwhile.”

“Kenny had recorded at SugarHill as long as I have been here,” adds current SugarHill president Dan Workman. “Besides being a wickedly talented guitar player, he was one of the kindest people I have ever met. It was always a joy to see him in the halls because I knew that we would have a moment to connect and catch up. To say that he will be missed is a gross understatement. There is a Kenny-sized hole in my world today – one that I’ll grieve for a long time to come.”

Several of his other colleagues in the music scene have also memorialized Cordray on Facebook.

Guy Schwartz, New Jack Hippies:
50 years ago, Sean Carroll brought a 13 year old kid over to my rehearsal house. I was 16 years old , and skeptical about playing with a 13 year old. The kid blew me away. He was the best guitar player I had ever played with up to that point. during the next year of rehearsal and gigs, he forced me to get better on my instrument. He kept blowing me away through the years. I'm so sad to see him go.

Carolyn Wonderland:
Thank you for your kindness and for the many years of great music. Love and condolences to your whole family.

Lisa Morales:
In 1989 I put together a group of some of the finest musicians in Houston: Kenny Cordray on lead guitar, David Foster on bass and Todd Harrison on drums. Then I called my sister, Roberta, to come sing background vocals with me. It was before we became Sisters Morales -but this was the band. The boys had never played together before. It was a really hot band.

I learned tonight that my dear friend, Kenny Cordray, passed away. He had been fb messaging me that he was going to come see me. This just plain wipes me out. Hug and tell the people that you encounter in this journey of life what they mean to you. Life is very short.
Last week, Cordray posted that he and bandmates Todd Harrison and Mark Andes were working on a new version of Texas psych-rockers Bubble Puppy’s 1968 hit “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass” at Wire Road. The final thing he shared on his timeline was a link to an article from titled “Charles Bukowski’s Top 10 Tips For Living a Kick-Ass Life.”
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray