Ray Torres, a virtuoso drummer who backed up R&B legends with a signature style that influenced many musicians, died May 19 of diabetes complications, his family said. He was 68.
A professional musician in Sacramento for more than 35 years, Mr. Torres was "an innovator and an inspiration" in the industry, according to musician and author Jim Payne of "The Great Drummers of R&B, Funk and Soul." During shows, the drummer known as "Good Rockin' Ray" swayed and moved his hands and feet constantly while improvising grooves that excited fans and musicians alike.
Mr. Torres was "one of the greatest drummers of all time and probably the funkiest drummer I've ever heard in my whole life, bar none," jazz drummer Mike Clark told Payne in the mid-1990s.
"When he does 'the Ray thing,' the whole club does it, the band does it, the people in the parking lot do it, the people down the street do it," said Clark, who won acclaim playing with Herbie Hancock. "Everybody seems to be smiling and having the best time of their lives as soon as he starts."
Mr. Torres found early success in his native Texas with the Straitjackets, a bar band with Delbert McClinton. He was 19 when the band played on Bruce Channel's "Hey Baby," which topped the pop charts in 1962. The group also performed with B.B. King, Freddie King and Jimmy Reed.
Mr. Torres moved between Texas and California before settling permanently in Sacramento in 1967. He joined an organ trio led by Leo Valentine and played at the legendary Momo Club.
His reputation as a top funk drummer grew with another group, the Patchwork Quilt. He played with Barbara Johnson and the Roll On Band in shows broadcast live from the Showcase Lounge and infused country music with an R&B feel while performing at clubs in Nevada.
During the 1970s, he performed on an album for Ike and Tina Turner in Los Angeles and was asked to be their studio drummer. He instead returned to Sacramento, where he spent his days raising four sons at home and nights working in clubs to put his wife through California State University, Sacramento.
"Family always came first for Ray," said his wife of 48 years, Betty, a retired teacher. "He said he didn't fit in with the drugs and party scene in Los Angeles."
Raynaldo Torres was born in 1942 in San Antonio and grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. His mother worked as a cook, and his father was a civilian employee at military bases. He began playing drums professionally at age 16 in a band called The Plaids.
He enjoyed bass fishing with his family. Trained by his mother, he was an excellent Tex-Mex cook who frequently invited friends over for backyard barbecues and dishes smothered in his mole sauce.
Despite his talent and renown among musicians, Mr. Torres shunned fame and fortune as a professional drummer for the simple pleasures of family and making music.
"If there are a million people watching you, or a club full of drunks, or if you're in a rehearsal room, it doesn't matter," he told Payne. "The magic in the music is the payback that you can't measure in money. It's why we do it."