Ray Charles Video Museum

Mediagraphy - Discography - Trackography - Videography - Gigography - Biography - Chronology

28 August 2015

Ray Charles In An Early Seventies Concert

Episode 2 of Tony Palmer's series The Story Of Popular Music, titled God's Children - The Beginnings, has a rare color sequence, where Ray Charles and his keyboardist John Henderson deliver part of a concert's finale.
The footage is most probably from 1972, and may be related, somehow, to Gary Keys, who also claimed directing the failed documentary Soul Of The Holy Land - The Lost Concert.
Charles was also featured in part 5 of the series (Who's That Comin' - Blues), but I haven't been able to check that episode yet.

15 July 2015

Ray Charles Live In Ithaca (1984)

On November 8, 1984, the Ray Charles Group performed at Cornell University's Bailly Hall in Ithaca.* Someone in the audience had his Nakamichi ready to tape the concert.

The line-up of the band probably wasn't much different from the Warsaw concerts in late October:
Robbie Kwock, Mark Curry, Jim Seely, Jeff Kaye - trumpets; John Boice, Dan Marcus, Dan Weinstein, Dana Hughes - trombones;  Brian Mitchell, Clifford Solomon (band leader), Ricky Woodard, Rudy Johnson, Louis Van Taylor - saxophones; Bobby Floyd - organ; Dennis Nelson - guitar; Roger Hines - bass; Ricky Kirkland - drums; The Raelettes: Trudy Cohran, Anne Johnson, Janice Mitchell, Elaine Woodard, Estella Yarbrough.

The setlist was:

  1. Project S (Ray Charles Orchestra)
  2. The Time Is Right (Ray Charles Orchestra)
  3. The Shadow Of Your Smile (Ray Charles Orchestra)
  4. Sister Sadie (Ray Charles Orchestra)
  5. Intro RC
  6. Riding Thumb
  7. Busted
  8. Georgia On My Mind
  9. Oh, What A Beautiful Morning
  10. I've Got News For You
  11. Some Enchanted Evening
  12. She Knows (partial, truncated) 
  13. Alexander's Ragtime Band
  14. Guess Who I Saw Today
  15. Hit the Road Jack
  16. I Can't Stop Loving You
  17. Knock On Wood
  18. 3/4 Time
  19. Born to Love Me
  20. What'd I Say (intro: I'm Gonna Keep On Singin')
  21. Outro
* Special thanks to Nick Hoorweg for notifying me.

02 July 2015

Bobby and Ray (1966)

Ray Charles, taking over the cockpit of his company plane "the Buzzard", a Viscount 400 (tail# N923RC), during a flight
 from LA to NYC on May 7, 1966.
On May 7, 1966, Ray Charles' company plane, the Buzzard, carried the complete troupe (1 genius, 4 Raelettes, 16 musicians, manager Joe Adams, a roadie and Ray's personal assistant) from Los Angeles to New York.

Caption from Life: "In his 50-seat private plane, Ray talks to a control tower. He likes to sit up in the co-pilot's seat and knows so much about the operation of the plane that, in an emergency, he could take over. 'That would really be flying blind, baby.'"
One of the cats in the back of the plane was Bobby Womack. who was hired as a guitar player in the first leg of the Ray Charles 1966 USA tour (which started on March 22 and ended in July). In his biography Midnight Mover: The True Story of the Greatest Soul Singer in the World (John Blake, 2007), he shared a few vivid memories of flying with Ray:

“A blind man playing chess was one thing, but flying a plane - now that was different. The first time it happened it tripped me out. I got aboard the rig we were flying on. It seated about 40 and all the band was there. It was Ray Charles’ own plane and I saw him up front in the cockpit clicking all kinds of switches and flipping buttons.
[...] [A]s soon as we hit the air, the buckle was off and Ray raced up the aisle towards the cockpit. I said, 'Where's he going? He never runs like that when he's going on stage to play the piano.'
The pilot handed the controls to Ray. One of the band filled me in. 'Ray always takes over the controls.'
That freaked me out. 'Oh, Jesus me. Dear Lord,' I prayed. [...]."

The band's tour bus, on its way from NY airport to Carnegie Hall on May 7, 1966. Bobby Womack (still a bit shaky 
after the adventures in the Buzzard?) is just visible between Ray and manager Joe Adams. 
Ray only rarely traveled with the band bus, so the scene in the photo above was probably just staged for Bill Ray's photo-essay in Life Magazine*, which marked Ray's actual full comeback after his rehab year in 1965. The Life article was the result of a well planned PR effort to re-position Ray not only as a singer/composer/musician and band leader, but also as an omnipotent record music business mogul and a solid family man. A man who, despite being blind, wasn't disabled. A man who could "see" and manipulate his environment.

The auditions for Ray's 1966 "comeback band" probably had taken place by late February or early March. Bobby remembered:

"I sat at the audition with my guitar and a book of music in front of me. The book was about an inch thick. I didn't open the book. Ray walked in. He shouted out a bunch of numbers, like 48, 92, 31, 15.
Then he said, 'These are the songs that we're going to play on these page numbers [...]. I still didn't open the book, just looked ahead - waiting. Someone must have pointed that out. Ray said, 'You know, young man, you ought to open your book.
   I said, 'I don't read music, Mr Charles, I play by ear.'
   He laughed. Then spat out 31.
   [...] I left the book unopened, but joined in. [...] Suddenly Ray stopped the band. 'Second trumpet player. You are flat, tune up.' The guy tuned up.
   Ray kept switching song, going from one number to another, trying to lose me, I'm sure. I kept up. I was in there playing. He stopped the band. 'OK,' he said to me, 'just you and me play.' Then to the band, 'See what kind of ears this guy really got?'
   [...] He didn't know how I did it, but he was impressed."

On March 10 Stanley G. Robertson, staff writer of the Los Angeles Sentinel (and in 1963 freelancing as the writer - assigned by Joe Adams - of the brief biography that was published in Ray's concert brochures) wrote a newspaper article about attending a 'sneak preview' (together "with a cross section of people - college students, selected members of the press, radio, and television professions here, fellow musicians and recording and promotional people, and a few just plain Ray Charles fans") of "the New Sound of The Genius".
Adams, who hated all band musicians because they all loathed him, fed the journalist with a few venomous squibs about Ray's pre-1965 band, plus some erroneous French:

"He has a completely new band. None of the old faces, the stars of former years, such as David 'Fathead' Newman, are with him. He has assembled a group of musicians who as a unit sound much sharper and much more cohesive than the old band. As individuals, they possess more enthusiasm, more drive, and more, as the French say, 'joie de vie' than did the old group."

On March 22, 1966 Ray's 'new' band began touring. The line-up was: Steve Hufsteter - lead trumpet; Herbie Anderson, Marshall Hunt, Ike Williams - trumpets; Henry Coker, Sam Hurt, Keg Johnson, Fred Murrell - trombones; Preston Love, Curtis Peagler - alto saxophones; Curtis Amy, Clifford Scott - tenor saxophones; Leroy Cooper - bariton saxophone; Bobby Womack - guitar; Edgar Willis - bass, band leader; Billy Moore - drums; The Raelettes: Gwen Berry, Lillian Fort, Clydie King, Merry Clayton.

Bill Ray's Life reportage started at a band rehearsal at Ray's still quite new RPM International Studio in LA, in March - probably also early that month - 1966.
This picture of Bobby at this rehearsal strongly resembles his memories of
his audition (read quote above).

Touring band's rehearsal at RPM, LA, in March '66. With all four Raelettes (L-R: Gwen Berry, Lillian Fort, Clydie King,
 Merry Clayton), Ray, the trumpet section (with Steve Hufsteter's full profile), most of the bone section, bass player Ed
 Willis, drummer Billy Moore and Bobby Womack on guitar.

The complete group on stage during Ray's walk-off at Carnegie Hall, on May 7, 1966. Bobby Womack standing left from 
bass player Ed Willis.
Bobby's suit looks good enough on these photos, but in his biography he recalled a previous, more precarious, situation (which was maintained by Joe Adams until the very end of the big band):

"To play in the Ray Charles band, all the new guys had to get themselves kitted out in the house style. Man, that was the opposite of slick.
   To save money, the suits were handed down. Every musician who left Ray's band or retired passed their suit on to the new guy, so these outfits were well past retirement age. They were high water pants, but high water hadn't been in fashion that century. Also, the last guy who wore my jacket must have weighed 300 pounds. [...] It was a whacky mess; the coat was supposed to be beige, but had faded yellow, there were patches in the ass. There were name tags in it going back to the stone age. [...] I'd go out front and whisper, 'Mr Charles, Mr Charles. Can I just sit?'
   'No, stand, young man. Go out there, they like you.'"

Womack was a great musician and a fine storyteller. In the discography added to Midnight Mover he claimed that he had contributed to all of Ray's 1966, 1967 and 1968 albums (Crying Time, Moods, Listen, Portrait). I doubt if he was consciously lying here, but regrettably probably none of that part of his story was true...
It's sad that probably nothing of Bobby's work during his period with the Ray Charles band was ever recorded, not during that tour, not in the studio.

* All photos by Bill Ray; except for the 2nd they are taken from a batch of so far unpublished rest materials from his shoots for the Life Magazine article published on July 29, 1966. The narrative to Bill's photos was written by Thomas Thompson, Music soaring in a darkened world - The comeback of Ray Charles. Pain and blindness have shaped his genius.

20 June 2015

Ray Charles Guesting At Gala-Abend In Berlin

On August 28, 1971, Ray Charles performed What'd I Say, as the finale of the "Internationalen Starparade des Gala-Abends der Schallplatte". He probably played with his own big band and The Raelettes.

The show was televized live by Sender Freies Berlin/WDR-2, and shortly after a commemorative elpee was released in a limited edition by Sender Freies Berlin (TST 77 244, 1971; produced by Teldec).

Who knows more about any surviving TV footage of that show?

This article is based on findings by Joël Dufour.

19 May 2015

Ray Charles Live In Warsaw (2000)

On his 70th birthday, on 23 September 2000, Ray Charles appeared for the third time at the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree - this time a symphony concert at the Wielki Theatre. The show, directed by Dariusz Goczał, was broadcast by TVP 1.

From his band's Rolodex he picked Brad Rabuchin - g, Tom Fowler - b, Peter Turre - ds, and Larry Gillespie - tp; and he invited Victoria Bond to conduct the Łódź Philharmonic.

Someone uploaded his - incomplete - VHS-copy to YouTube (before #1 two to four more tunes must be missing from it):
  1. Georgia On My Mind (partial)
  2. Almost Like Being In Love
  3. The Good Life
  4. Say No More
  5. Blues For Big Scotia
  6. A Song For You
  7. All I Ever Need Is You
  8. Yesterday

20 February 2015

More Pictures Of Ray Charles At The Salute To Freedom Benefit (Birmingham, 1963)

The Salute To Freedom benefit evening in Birmingham on August 5, 1963 was co-organized by AGVA (the American Guild of Variety Artists). Here's their chairman Joey Adams, clowning and dancing on stage with a little girl - while Ray Charles is performing, playing piano, accompanied by his own orchestra's bass player Edgar Willis and by the Apollo Theatre Band. 
The girls in white (right) are probably The Shirelles.
(This apparently is from an impromptu other than Ray's concert during this event).
Photos by Grey Villet (Getty Images). For much more on the event, read this.

07 January 2015

Ray Charles: "The Music That I Liked Was Music I Felt" (Interview, 1982)

The 2014 ebook re-release of Peter Guralnick's magistral Sweet Soul Music - Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom (1st ed. 1986) was enhanced with old and new interviews with a.o. Ray Charles, Bobby Womack, and Solomon Burke, and an additional new chapter for each.

The interview with Brother Ray took place in 1982, at RPM International in Los Angeles. Guralnick remembers:
“We were in the control room—but things were constantly happening. Ray, as you can tell from the way he talks, was a restless soul, and he was continually getting up and walking around, pouring himself a drink from his Thermos, and just generally totally engaged. At one point, he was supervising an overdub for the background singers, and he just ran back and forth between the control room and the studio, down the steps and across the hall, without a hint of hesitation or guidance.”

11 December 2014

An Album That Was Never Released: Ray Charles Sings For You (1964/65)

In the last quarter of 1964 ABC-Paramount made full preparations to release a compilation album titled Ray Charles Sings For You - the liner notes were compiled, the artwork was ordered, the release numbers for the mono and stereo versions (ABC-Paramount #500 A&B) were claimed, and the following tracks - until that date all only released as singles - were selected:*
  1. My Baby Don't Dig Me
  2. Without Love (There Is Nothing)
  3. The Brightest Smile In Town
  4. Hide Nor Hair
  5. My Baby (I Love Her, Yes I Do)
  6. No One
  7. Don't Set Me Free
  8. Something's Wrong
  9. At The Club
  10. Worried Life Blues (Someday Baby)
  11. Who You Gonna Love
  12. My Heart Cries For You
Instead, the September 1964 live concert at the Shrine Auditorium was issued: Ray Charles Live In Concert (ABC-Paramount 500, January 1965).
Ray Charles fans had to wait until the His Greatest Hits (Uh-Huh) anthology (1992, remastered by Steve Hoffman) to collect most of the tracks, or until the Genius & Soul - The 50th Anniversary Collection (1997) to lay their hands on all of them.

Joe Adams (left) and Ray Charles negotiating an improved
contract with ABC's management (March 1965).  Photo by
Steve Schapiro.
Remastering guru Steve Hoffman, who spent many hours with Brother Ray, and the source for this information, also reveals that Ray Charles "hated" the live album.
Hoffman believes that Ray felt the Shrine gig "was an off night for him. He owed ABC an album and couldn't come up with it for reasons we all know. At first ABC was going to issue a compilation of leftover tracks as ABC-500 but ended up doing the [...] live concert thing with the same number."

With "reasons we all know" Hoffman is suggesting that Ray's drugs issues (1965 was the year he kicked heroin) were the cause of the suggested inability to come up with a new album.
That'd be a surprise. First and foremost, the live album was a brilliant release. What was there to hate? In fact, it seems more feasible that "[...] Ray himself decided to record the show"** at the Shrine.
Secondly, in these years Ray simply didn't release compilations of singles; all his new albums contained new work, so he much sooner may have hated the idea of a compilation.
Furthermore, in retrospective, 1965 turned out to be one of Charles' most productive and creative years. This was the year he started producing his records in his own studio. His detox wasn't very time consuming, he didn't tour at all and just took a few TV & film gigs, so he had all the time in the world to work his ass off at RPM.

I suppose the artwork and liner notes for the unreleased album have been archived at RPM. It would be nice if the Ray Charles Foundation publishes them.

* With obvious corrections of erroneous titles. **Michael Lydon in a review of the extended live album.

04 December 2014

It's The Unreal Thing

On April 23, 1985, Coca Cola did the unthinkable: they announced that they were reformulating their soft drink, "spawning consumer angst the likes of which no business has ever seen".

The night before they invited Ray Charles at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta (Robert Winship Woodruff was the president of The Coca-Cola Company from 1923 until 1954).

Brother Ray was possibly introduced as a 'friend of the brand' - the guy who had given Coke the fabulous Things Go Better With Coca Cola radio and TV commercials in the late 1960s.

It's unclear if this was a public event, or an internal party for Coca Cola employees or marketers. In imperfect harmony with an as yet unidentified* lady singer, Ray performed a questionably weak symphonic version (with a huge choir) of It's The Real Thing, the Coke campaign's theme song in the mid '80s.

Who knows more about what happened that evening?

* Is it Yolanda Adams?

30 November 2014

Ray Charles Speaking At Great American Talk Festival

The Great American Talk Festival was a lecture series - held between 1977 and 1984 - featuring writers, actors, musicians, journalists and politicians such as Alex Haley, Cicely Tyson, Pearl Bailey, Ray Charles, David Letterman, Mike Wallace and Dan Rather. Profits from ticket sales went to Grand Rapids Junior College scholarships.

Ray Charles spoke in the late '70s (audio & photos):