Although vocalist Ray Gillen first hit the music scene via heavy metal legends Black Sabbath, he was more of a blues-rock singer (à la Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, Steve Marriott), as evidenced by his work with Badlands. Born May 12, 1961, in Cliffside Park, NJ, Gillen began singing in bands as a teenager, inspired by the likes of Bad Company, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin. By the early '80s, Gillen was fronting several regional cover bands, one of which was called Harlett, and in 1985 he joined the outfit Rondinelli, which was founded by former Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli. But before the outfit could issue any recordings, Gillen accepted an offer to join Black Sabbath in late 1986 (strangely, he was also offered the lead role in the popular Broadway musical Cats at the same time). Although guitarist Tony Iommi was the only remaining original member of Sabbath at the time, they toured arenas around the world, as Gillen lent his vocal talents to Sabbath's 1987 release, The Eternal Idol.
But Gillen's stint with the Sabs didn't last long, as he split to join up with ex-Whitesnake guitarist John Sykes in Blue Murder. But once more, before the new group issued an album, Gillen was gone. He appeared on the all-star project Phenomena II: Dream Runner, which included appearances by such classic rockers as King Crimson/Asia's John Wetton, Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes (it was actually Hughes who Gillen replaced in Sabbath), and Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham. But it wasn't long before Gillen longed to be part of a proper, full-time rock group.
Gillen hooked up with former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee (along with his former Sab bandmate, drummer Eric Singer, and bassist Greg Chaisson) in Badlands. Instead of following in the footsteps of their heavy metal past, Badlands were more classic rock/blues-rock-based, returning back to the sound that served as their original inspiration. 1989 saw the release of the quartet's self-titled debut on the Atlantic Records subsidiary Titanium Records, with MTV giving airtime to the videos for the rocking "Dreams in the Dark" and the Zep-esque ballad "Winter's Call," as the album sold modestly (although the group enjoyed major success in Japan). But despite a promising career ahead of them, the group would only issue one more release, 1991's Voodoo Highway, before splitting up (an unreleased third album, Dusk, would eventually see the light of day in 2000).
In the wake of Badlands' breakup, Gillen appeared on albums by Atsushi Yokozeki (Raid) and ex-Dokken guitar shredder George Lynch (Sacred Groove), before forming the short-lived Los Angeles-based band Tariff. Shortly after returning to the East Coast in 1993, Gillen formed Sun Red Sun with former Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr, guitarist Al Romano, and former Rondinelli bandmate, drummer Bobby Rondinelli. But just as the new group was off and running, Gillen was diagnosed with HIV and on December 3, 1993, he died at his New Jersey home due to AIDS-related complications. He was 32.
A Ray Gillen memorial tribute was organized in February of 1994 by Glenn Hughes, featuring performances by singer Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, former Mariah Carey guitarist Paul Pescoe, and Hughes' own band -- the re-formed Trapeze. 1995 saw the release of the self-titled album by Sun Red Sun (followed in 2000 by a second album, Lost Tracks), and a year later, an album of demos that Gillen had cut with Rondinelli back in 1985, War Dance, was issued. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi