Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1941, “Killer” Ray Appleton was blessed to begin his career in the best possible environment. Mentored from an early age by the slightly older Freddie Hubbard, Ray had his first professional gig at the age of fourteen playing drums with another fellow Indianapolis native, Wes Montgomery. By the age of nineteen, Ray had followed trumpeter Kenny Dorham to join his band in New York, there meeting such jazz icons as Philly Joe Jones and John Coltrane. In the mid-60s, Appleton toured and performed with Coltrane and Hubbard, his drumming appearing on Coltrane’s albums Infinity and Cosmic Music and playing a crucial role on Hubbard’s Backlash.
During the 1970s and 1980s Appleton lived and performed primarily in Europe, enjoying work in the jazz community abroad and taking part in such international jazz festivals as the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Antibes Jazz Festival, and The Vienna Concert with Dizzy Gillespie. Towards the end of his period abroad however, Appleton’s fate took a turn when he was involved in an accident that eventually required the amputation of part of his leg. This setback forced Ray’s absence from the jazz scene for a period of a few years while recovering his health, but Appleton’s subsequent comeback showed him still playing with the fire and magic he previously exhibited. Living in New York City, in his later years, Ray Appleton continued to record and perform with his own sextet and quartet. He passed away on October 7th, 2015.