Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ray Charles

Ray Charles

Baby What'd I Say...... I was 13 or 14. It was 1959. I remember leaning into the speaker cabinet as my older cousin played her new record. I felt like I was soaking in the sound. Something was different about this music. It had something about it. It was drawing me into a more basic mode of music. I could feel my whole sense of rhythm changing.

Ray Charles

I played the record over and over. My cousin, soon bored with my obsession, and left me alone with the big record player. I would never forget that evening or the singer or his music.

Ray Charles Happy !

I never heard music the same after that. Subconsciously, I had begun to judge music with a new standard. I learned I could enjoy a song. I could dance to it. I could spend money on the record. I could sing along in my car. I could really, really enjoy the music but the final judgement fell on how does it compare to whatever rhythm he put in my head. Ray Charles brought rock and roll up about five notches. He was what I call a game changer.

Ray Charles performing

When he combined the blues and country with gospel, well, we had a whole new ball game. Little did I know this voice belonged to a man who Frank Sinatra called "the only true genius in the music business". Genius because he was a superb musician, arranger, writer, vocalist, band leader, record company executive, publisher you name it.. He was also one of the smartest businessmen ever to go into the music business.  Not bad for a blind black guy with a limited education.

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So what did Ray Charles mean to me ? Before that night and "What'd I Say", I had an ear for country, big band, western swing, rockabilly, rock and roll and a limited amount of blues. Afterward I had an ear with a direct channel to rockin' "soul".

The Main Man, Ray Charles


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