To understand the impact Richard Caire had on Minneapolis’ music, one needs only to look back to the early 1960s.
It was a peculiar time in rock ‘n’ roll, following the runaway success of Elvis Presley but before the British invasion led by the Beatles. It also was when budding and energetic rock bands were making the Twin Cities one of the major scenes in rock music, playing with a sound that was raw, eccentric and loud.
Caire, known as Tony to his friends and Kai-Ray (a play on his surname) to his fans, was there first. A guitarist and songwriter who inspired local legends such as the Trashmen, Caire died June 2 at his home in Farmington. He was 81.
His daughter Julie Devereaux, a Boston radio DJ, remembered her dad as most of his friends did: a man whose life revolved around music.
“He’s a part of Minneapolis music history,” Devereaux said. “But he was very down to earth, very honest, sensitive, artistic [and] creative, obviously.”
Caire was born in Wichita, Kan., in 1935, and met his first wife while serving in the U.S. Air Force. They were in a band together; she sang, he played guitar.
Music took him to Minneapolis, where in the early 1960s his first recordings under the Kai-Ray name were released.
One of them was “I Want Some of That,” a 45-inch single released in 1961 on Lodestar, a record label based in Bloomington. The song was an oddity for its time, with Caire humming a melody by making a motor sound with his lips. His ideas burst at the seams — surf-rock drums, chanting, falsetto vocals and a rockabilly hook, all in the span of little more than three minutes.
The single’s B-side, “Trashman’s Blues,” was a more straightforward affair, featuring a jangly guitar lead and shuffling drums. The song was the namesake for the Trashmen, a Minneapolis group widely known for the 1963 hit “Surfin’ Bird,” and for whom Caire would later write songs.
Larry LaPole, whose song “King of the Surf” was the B-side to “Surfin’ Bird,” said Caire was one of the best guitarists in Minneapolis. He would find him everywhere music was playing, in studios, clubs and record stores.
“There were only a few of them that could play the guitar as well as Tony Kai-Ray,” LaPole said. “He was always in demand whenever anyone was doing a recording.”
Caire is credited with being one of the first in Minnesota to play his guitar with a fuzz distortion effect. His early recordings predicted the psychobilly, garage rock and even punk rock movements that followed, and his work is now seen as ranking with that of heavy hitters like Link Wray and Dick Dale.
He continued to perform and record in the decades that followed, when his sound became more rooted in folk and country traditions.
Leo Moe, a Twin Cities musician who played and recorded with Caire, has memories of him in his South St. Paul studio. Singles bearing Caire’s name hang on the wall. “He was really good,” said Moe. “I’d say the best at the time.”
Caire lived in Farmington for at least 40 years, Devereaux said, working most of that time at the South Cedar Garden Center. Although conversations with her father always revolved around music, she didn’t learn of his own musical accomplishments until the internet emerged.
“It was surprising that he didn’t talk about it,” she said. “It’s just something that he had, that he maybe didn’t realize how important it was.”
Besides Devereaux, Caire is survived by daughters Bonnie Barbieri of Nevada and Jessica Rowe of Minnesota, brothers Daniel and Joe of Wichita, nine sisters and four grandchildren.