Alvino Rey, a pioneering jazz musician who came to call Utah home, died Tuesday in Sandy of complications resulting from a broken hip. He was 95.
Credited with developing the pedal steel guitar alongside the likes of Les Paul and Leo Fender, Rey made his mark in big-band jazz, pop and a novelty brand of music called "exotica."
In the 1950s, just as the concept of stereo was sweeping the nation, many people experienced it for the first time by listening to Rey's album "Ping Pong." He recorded the music so that his guitar playing switched from one speaker to the other. In 1979, Rey was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame for his innovations.
But to many Utahns he will be remembered as the rhythmic backbone behind the King Sisters, a sextet of singing sisters who hailed from the Beehive State. His wife, Luise King, was the second-eldest King Sister. They met in the 1930s while touring with famed big-band leader Horace Heidt. Through the 1960s and '70s, Rey was an integral cast member on "The Family Variety Hour," which aired on ABC television network and then in syndication.
"In the '60s and '70s, when jazz had fallen out favor because of rock and pop music, Alvino made a good living as part of the King Sisters television programs. But during the '30s, '40s and '50s, he was 'the King' to any jazz guitarist worth his salt," says Gordon Hanks, who produces the popular Jazz at the Sheraton concert series in Salt Lake City.
Born Alvin McBurney, July 1, 1908, in Oakland, Calif., he later added the "o" to Alvin and chose the surname Rey because it means "the King" in Spanish.
He began his professional music career at age 18 while living in New York City and playing the banjo in the orchestra pit for the Broadway production of "Porgy and Bess."
His youngest son, Jon Rey, remembers watching old movies with his father and "he would start talking about watching them build the Empire State Building or how he knew this musician or that musician had been to visit Al Capone. He had many wonderful stories about the people he met and the places he played."
A funeral is set for March 5 at Larkin Mortuary in Sandy.
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