Nearly a year after losing him, many in the Tampa Bay music scene still feel Ray Villadonga's vibrations. The local music linchpin and lover of all things Tampa passed away last summer at the age of 62 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
"I only knew Ray from the time I got to WMNF in 2015 until his death but he had a massive impact on me, we bonded quickly" Craig Kopp, general manager at WMNF 88.5 FM told CL, adding that he and Villadonga shared a mutual interest in experimental music. "Although Ray’s went much deeper than mine."
Deep is an understatement. By most accounts, Villadonga was an encyclopedia, not just of music, but of history, too, especially that of his hometown, Tampa.
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"At his last Volunteer party I talked about how we first met — the day I was introduced to the WMNF community at a party at Program Director Randy Wind’s home. There was a guitar and I thought I could show my cred by playing a little. I did," Kopp remembered. "And then Ray picked the guitar up and blew my humble picking away. First Ray lesson learned. He had real music chops."
Fans and friends can hear some of the last recorded bits of those chops on Brother Ray, a new album by WAHH World Fusion Band, which Villadonga co-founded with composer and tabla player Shankh Lahiri.
"I felt his presence all the way through our recording sessions to mixing,” Lahiri told CL for our cover story on Villadonga. Lahiri — who met Villadonga nine years ago and played with him in another band, Rayzilla’s Dreamboats — says that Villadonga never got to finish recording “Brother Ray” since he was hospitalized during some of the sessions.
Now, fans can hear Brother Ray's title track, where new WAHH bass player Elias Tona picks up the torch Villadonga left behind. Lahiri says that Tona has the same fun-loving spirit as Villadonga, but also acknowledges that there will never be another Ray Villadonga.
"I think Ray is missed in the Tampa Bay music community because of his completely open musical mind. Without somebody like Ray, a lot of musical avenues remain untraveled because nobody has the guts or the interest to go down them," Kopp said in closing.
"I think Ray’s effect on WMNF is stronger than WMNF’s effect on Ray. Ray would have had an impact even if there was no WMNF. He was a force of musical nature that simply could not be stopped."