What started out as a song written as a favor to the mother of welter-weight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard may mark the start of a musical career for another young Washingtonian also named Ray.
The song, "It's Your Day, Sugar Ray," received local radio and television exposure during Leonard's matches with Roberto Duran and Tommy Hearns and at last month's "Sugar Ray Day" celebration at the U.S. Capitol. The writer is Ray Latney, 28, known musically as Rayy (Slyy) Latney, who says he's been a friend of Leonard's family for many years.
Just as boxing became Sugar Ray Leonard's ticket to stardom, the slender Latney hopes the song he wrote for his friend will ignite a musical career and end his years of drifting.
"That boy has tried some of everything, so I'm just glad if he's found something he will stick with," said Latney's father Arthur, who is a supervisor at the Department of Transportation. His mother Lydia is an accounting technician at the Department of Housing and Urban Department.
His school years -- at Mott Elementary and McKinley High in the District and Potomac High in Prince George's County where his family later moved -- were "mostly spent wishing I was someplace else," Latney recalled. He left Potomac High in 1970 without a diploma, although he earned his high school degree a year later through an adult education program. He says he drifted through a variety of jobs -- printer, auto mechanic, chauffeur, and concert emcee. But he also took music classes at the University of the District of Columbia. And the only work that seemed right for him, he says, was music.
His interest in music grew, and in 1971, Latney began a six-year stint with local artists Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, first as an engineer and eventually as a singer.
It wasn't until his musical tribute to Leonard got airplay and local acceptance, however, that Latney began to believe a career in music held any promise for him. Latney said the response to his Sugar Ray Leonard song encouraged him, but it was hard to convince record companies to back him.
"A lot of people seemed interested, but never came up with the money," Latney said. "So my family and I put the money up ourselves."
Latney did all the legwork, hiring arrangers, musicians and a recording studio. About $15,000 and many rehearsals later, Latney produced 5,000 singles, 20,000 tapes and big hopes that the Leonard tribute, recorded on his own label, Cabbit, would be a hit. He peddled the record to radio stations, but wasn't having much impact. A small recording production office in New York agreed to help him and successfully promoted his song on several television networks and on Home Box Office's broadcast of the Leonard-Hearns fight.
But his biggest problem was getting his song played locally after the Leonard-Hearns fight. "Now, most radio stations won't play it because they say it's a novelty," Latney said.
Still, Latney is undaunted. With help from his cousin, Frankie Beverly, lead singer of Maze, a popular progressive rhythym and blues group, he is planning his first album.
Currently, Latney is touring with Maze as an assistant road manager until January. He also wrote a song, "Keep on Going," which he says Maze will include on its next album. Latney said he has also been asked to perform as an opening act for Maze next year.
"I feel that with their help, I just can't miss," Latney says. "It just feels like all the pieces are finally about to come together."