Arthur Rhames was born on October 25, 1957 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY to Laverne Ashley and Arthur Rhames Sr. He attended public schools in Brooklyn including the High School Of Music And Art.
He began playing piano at age nine and practiced conducting with a baton, listening to European Classical music. He began to play guitar at fourteen, his first influences being Johnny Winter, Jimmy Hendrix and John McLaughlin. In junior highschool he experimented with acoustic bass, flute, all the clarinets, cello and finally studied alto saxophone with his highschool band director, Gigi Gryce. By age 17, his much-admired technical virtuosity had begun to emerge along with a legendary dedication - he was notorious among local musicians for daily practice sessions frequently lasting up to 18 hours, divided equally between the piano, saxophone and guitar.
He began his career on the electric guitar in funk/R&B acts in the early Seventies. In 1978, Rhames formed a trio, Eternity, with bassist Cleve Alleyne and drummer Adrian Grannum (later replaced by percussionist Collin Young). He played numerous gigs in the tri-state area as Eternity's guitarist, including annual shows on the Prospect Park soundstage and at local colleges. A record date made at Electric Ladyland Studios remains unreleased. While the Mahavishnu Orchestra-inspired power trio remained unsigned, word-of-mouth buzz surrounding the band began to spread, ultimately culminating in a series of dates opening for Larry Coryell's fusion ensemble Eleventh House.
Unfortunately, although these performances won Rhames a great deal of audience acclaim, and even his own Guitar World profile, backstage tensions between Arthur and the concerts' headliner emerged: Coryell refused to acknowledge him as a guitarist, referring to Rhames only as "the piano player." After five or six shows, they left the tour. Nevertheless, Arthur made a cameo appearance as a session player on Coryell's 1978 solo album, ironically titled Differences.
Rhames also studied music with mentor Reggie Workman at the Brooklyn music school The Muse. Rhames began to use John Coltrane as a model and following a similar spiritual path studied Swami Prabhupada's writings on Vaishnava philosophy and the Bhagavad Gita. He worshiped at the Hare Krishna Temple on Henry Street in Brooklyn, sometimes with his entire band, and wrote over a hundred devotional songs with Krishna and Christian lyrics and themes and Coltrane influenced chords. There are photos of the band performing in saphron robes with shaved heads.
After Eternity dissolved around 1980, and a long stretch busking as a street musician in and around Manhattan on sax with keyboardist and drummer Charles Telerant. A CD of this duo was later released on Ayler Records.
In August 1980, he was hired to play alto sax for guitarist Steve Geraci’s record Aliqae Song for producer Bruce Calabrese’s Beat City label. Rhames was included on the session at the suggestion of his friend and mentor John Stubblefield who played tenor and soprano saxes and flute on the date. Other musicians on the date included drummer Rashied Ali, pianist John Esposito and drummer Jeff Siegel. The date remained unreleased for years, finally becoming a Sunjump Records CD in 2008.
John Esposito hired Rhames, bassist Otto Gardner and drummer Jeff Siegel for a two week long engagement at L’Air Du Temps in Montreal, Canada. The band was received enthusiastically by packed houses nightly.
Rhames returned to NYC and, obtaining a personal manager with John Stubblefield’s help, he formed the Arthur Rhames Quartet with Esposito, Gardner and Siegel. The band worked regularly for several years in NYC and the Northeast starting with gigs at the Jazz Forum, Seventh Avenue South, Green Street, Columbia University, Princeton, Gerald’s and a regular gig at Rashied’s Soho club Ali’s Alley. Rhames met Jaco Pastorious at Ali’s Alley where Jaco was playing a regular early evening solo electric bass set. This led to gigs as a trio with Jaco and Ali.
Rhames also worked, playing saxophone and piano, with Rashied Ali, as The Dynamic Duo. They appeared at the 1981 Willisau Jazz Festival in Switzerland. A CD of this concert was later released on Ayler Records. Rhames began a rigorous program of body building in 1980 and he transformed his slim six foot frame into a massively muscular Olympian’s body.
In October 1981, Rhames played a trio concert at a NYC performance loft, Verna Gillis’ Soundscape with pianist John Esposito and drummer Jeff Siegel. Rhames performed with this trio combination whenever Otto Gardner was unavailable, saying that since other bassists were unable to match Gardner’s command of the difficult repertoire, complex reharmonizations and songs played through various key cycles it was best to work without a bassist. Some of the music was later released on the Japanese DIW label ( Arthur Rhames Trio Live From Soundscape). The CD features typical Rhames expansions of Coltrane classics "Giant Steps," "Moment's Notice" and "Bessie's Blues," as well as a version of the spiritual "I Want Jesus To Talk To Me."
During this period Rhames replaced John Stubblefield in Reggie Workman’s Top Shelf, playing at the Village Vanguard and other NYC venues. The changing cast of the band included Leon Thomas, Albert Dailey, Mickey Tucker, Howard Johnson and Steve McCall. He toured Japan with bassist Richard Davis’ band, toured Canada with Archie Shepp, and played on a record by pianist Albert Dailey. After being invited to sit in with Elvin Jones Jazz Machine at the Village Vanguard, Rhames was hired on the spot to play for the rest of the two week engagement. The other saxophonists in the band were Pat LaBarbera and Dave Liebman. Rhames also worked with Beaver Harris 360 Degree Experience and played a concert at the Public Theater with Sam Rivers. Other musicians Rhames gigged with included Walter Davis, Jr, Bob Cunningham, Stanley Jordan, Wallace Roney, Frank Foster, Walter Booker, Marvin Bugalu Smith, Pharoah Sanders and Sangeeta Michael Berardi at whose loft Rhames frequently jammed.
In 1984 Rhames joined Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame, a popular funk group which lost its multi record contract after a year with Atlantic Records over lyric content disagreements between the newly born again Christian Arrington and the record company. Rhames also ended his relationship with his manager and at the invitation of pianist John Esposito, moved to New Paltz, NY which had a busy college town music scene. Rhames supported himself as a counselor at the Highland NY State Division For Youth Facility and played in the Hudson Valley and Albany, NY with Esposito and various combinations of musicians including drummer Hal Miller, bassists Avery Sharpe, Will Woodard, Pat O’Leary, Otto Gardner and Allen Murphy, guitarists Kevin McNeal and Flash Johnson and saxophonists Hugh Brody and James Finn. He recorded some of his originals and a reharmonization of the spiritual ‘Soon I Will Be Done With The Troubles Of This World” with Esposito, bassist Pat O’Leary and drummer Christer Hennix. He continued his daily instrumental practice and bodybuilding regimens. He was featured in a live performance and interview on WKCR, Columbia University by DJ Mitch Goldman with a band consisting of John Esposito, piano, Mark Johnson, bass and Christer Hennix, drums.
By 1986, Rhames was back in NYC, supporting himself as a security guard and playing occasional gigs with Rashied Ali’s band including a concert at the Knitting Factory in 1988. He also toured playing guitar with George Clinton.
The last year of Rhames life was spent in Brooklyn, homeless and ill with AIDS exacerbated by crack cocaine use until he disappeared from his usual environs. He was located in an AIDS clinic in Newark, NJ after a search by John Esposito, John Stubblefield, Jeff Marx and Jeff Siegel who, along with friends James Finn and Kevin McNeal began to make arrangements to move him to an apartment in Woodstock, NY for his recovery and his return to playing music. Rhames stated that his new goal was to play music that would bring the public’s attention to ending the AIDS epidemic and homelessness. He died in hospital on December 27, 1989 in Newark, NJ. Services were held at the Suburban Home Of Cotton Funeral Service, Orange, NJ and he was interred at the Rosehill Cemetary, Linden, NJ.
On the first anniversary of his passing guitarist Vernon Reid arranged a memorial radio show on WKCR with DJ Mitch Goldman and recordings and commentary provided by Reid, John Esposito, Cleve Allene, Jeff Siegel , Reggie Workman and others. Reid graciously acknowledged Rhames as an early inspiration and influence during his 1988 Grammy acceptance speech.
Bandmates Cleve Alleyne and Charles Telerant have been active in making the public aware of Arthur Rhames’ life and work. Alleyne has created the www.arthurhames.net website project and Telerant has contributed recordings and stories to the site as well as an Ayler Records release. Jan Strom of Ayler Records has released two CDs: Arthur Rhames & Charles Telerant “Two in NYC” and The Dynamic Duo “Remember Trane and Bird” and has compiled the discography found below.
John Esposito’s Sunjump Records released Rhames work on Steve Geraci: Aliqae Song. Cassette recordings of live performances are being digitally transferred and prepared for a Sunjump CD release and digital downloads.
1. Larry Coryell “Difference” (NYC, 1975 Egg Contact, 900.558)
2. Arthur Rhames & Charles Telerant “Two in NYC” (NYC Summer 1981 Ayler aylDL-108)
3. Arthur Rhames & Charles Telerant “Two in NYC” (NYC March 24,1980 Ayler aylDL-108)
4. Arthur Rhames & Charles Telerant “Two in NYC” (Soundscape NYC March 6, 1982
Ayler aylDL-108. Cachalot CA 125 (LP))
5. Steve Geraci: Aliqae Song (Sunjump 2008)
6. Steve Arrington’s Hall Of Fame “Positive Power” (Atlantic Studios, NYC 1984 Atlantic 7 80127-1 (LP))
7.Albert Dailey “Textures” (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. June 4, 1981 Muse MR 5256)
8. The Dynamic Duo “Remember Trane and Bird” (Willisau, Switzerland, August 29, 1981 Ayler aylCD-050/051)
9. Arthur Rhames Trio Live AT Soundscape 1981( DIW)
10. Steve Arrington’s Hall Of Fame “Positive Power” (Atlantic Studios, NYC 1984 Atlantic 7 80127-1 (LP))
11. Beaver Harris Quintet Private tape (The Public Theater, NYC July 1984)
12. Wallace Roney Quartet Private tape Hartford, CT (1985 or 1986)
13. Arthur Rhames Memorial broadcast Private tape ( WKCR, NYC March, 1990)
14. Eternity Trio Private video My Father’s Place , NYC (September 7, 1978)
15. Reggie Workman’s Top Shelf Band Private tape (Unknown date)
16. The Dynamic Duo Private tape, radio broadcast (Burghausen Jazz Festival March 19, 1982)