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26 February 2010

Soul Of The Holy Land - The Lost Concert (1972)

The concert film Ray Charles: Soul of the Holy Land - August 1973 documents five concerts in Tel Aviv (and possibly also at other locations in Israel), and includes footage of the Genius visiting David Ben Gurion in his kibbutz, and touristic and religious sites in Jerusalem.
Looking at the footage, it is obvious that this film was shot in the middle of the Israeli Winter, and not in "August"..., as the DVD title says. The two photos from this tour that were reproduced in Brother Ray, were both dated in (December) 1972. (This year is also  confirmed in the contemporary publications quoted below). So why-o-why was "August 1973" added to the title of the DVD?

The December time frame is also confirmed by 3 articles and 3 letters to the editor in The Jerusalem Post. The first one announced Ray's arrival on December 8, "to film a television program Ray Charles in the Holy Land", appearing in concerts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.

Photo prob. by Joe Adams.

In his autobiography Brother Ray (1978) the Genius revealed that "Like my earlier film, Ballad In Blue, this movie was also under financed and never distributed. But I still had a ball making it [...]."

The Tel Aviv auditorium looks so overcrowded in some of the scenes because the audience of an early concert wouldn't leave after their show was over. According to his own story, Ray suggested to the promoter to let them stay, but to ask them to give up their seats for the second audience shift.

The Ray Charles Orchestra in Tel Aviv.
The Jerusalem Post of 13 December reported that the "first audience refused to leave because the performance [at Jerusalem's Binyeni Ha'ooma ...] had begun an hour late, was cut to 45 minutes and was perpetually interrupted by television crews on and off the stage [...]. Several of these 45 minutes were taken up by a blind children's choir singing Jerusalem Of Gold for the benefit of the television show."

In a follow-up story the next day, the same journal published an interview with Ray (conducted at the Hilton Hotel on the 13th), who stated that he kept to his contract and performed 11 numbers at his concert. "I returned to the stage at the end of my performance to thank the Israelis for their enthusiasm and apologize for the fact I could not sing any more. I was very tired after having flown to Israel directly after two performances and a recording in Los Angeles on Sunday night. However, when an obviously over-enthusiastic fan jumped on the stage, put his arms around me and kissed me, I had a feeling that real trouble might develop. The best thing was to get out at once." He also told the reporter that "the root of the trouble was the two-hour delay at Lod [Airport] going through customs and other formalities. Their El Al flight also arrived two hours late [... and as] a result, the first performance started well behind schedule and without adequate preparation."
The journalist then quoted someone who had witnessed the evening: the "choir of blind schoolchildren were led onto the stage and with great difficulty grouped off to one side. [...] It was a painfully unrehearsed performance. [...] The feeling [of the audience] was that they had been gypped, that the show was more for the benefit of the four motion picture crews [...]."
This story is confirmed by press agency JTA: "A riot was narrowly averted at the [Binyeni Ha'ooma] concert hall last night where the black American singer Ray Charles was giving a concert. The audience at the first show refused to leave the hall when it was over because an American television crew filming the performance had repeatedly disrupted the concert. The audience for the second show surged into the auditorium despite efforts by the ushers to keep them out. Fist fights broke out in front of the stage but more serious trouble was averted when the management decided to allow the first audience to remain for the second show. Members of the first audience who had paid high prices for admission were angered because the show was 45 minutes late in starting. They said that during the performance they were disturbed by lights held up by the TV crew and that prop men and technicians repeatedly traversed the stage. Charles refused to give an encore when the first show ended. The blind singer arrived here yesterday to make a film, Ray Charles in the Holy Land."

In an interview from July 2004 The Raelettes' lead singer, Mable John, had slightly contrasting memories of the event: "It wasn't just the show but how they treated us and that gave me such a love for Israel. Our flight going into Tel Aviv was five hours late so it looked like we would have to perform in the same clothes we wore on the plane. There were people all around the building and we were supposed to do two shows. We went into a dressing room to freshen up and there were all these people on their knees outside the windows looking at us! Now it wasn't that they were trying to spy or see us without our clothes on – it was adoration! We finally got on the stage so late that we didn't do our usual part of the show and we were supposed to do a second show but the people from the first one wouldn't leave. We thought there was going to be a riot! Well, they let the people from outside in and they sat on and all around the stage - we did one show for two shows' worth of people in that room!"

The film, as presented on the DVD, is an ever bigger mess than I already feared. Original rushes must have been mashed-up, probably more than 30 years after the date, by a cutter who had little or no insight in the chronology and who worked obviously without any script. The musical parts of the film do not come from 2 (as the DVD liner notes state) but from 5 different concerts. The climax is in the edit of What'd I Say, where we see a cross-compilation of scenes from the 4th, the 5th, again the 4th and the 3d concerts.

Charles & Ben Gurion. Photos by Joe Adams.
What Ray stated about the poorly financed status of the production is confirmed by the fact that the cited local production company, Israel Motion Picture Studios in Herzliya, does not seem to have survived the year 1974 (for their IMdB records see this). The credits mention Marco Sadde [sic, this should be Sade, BS] (producer), Zivi Ravit (script) and Amson Salamon (director of photography), none of whom seem to ever have made it to any other memorable credited role.
In a few sources Gary Keys is credited for being the director of the documentary.

Billboard, in its "Soul Sauce" column of 16 December 1972, had the following bits of information: "Joe Adams, who recently formed his own production firm, is filming a TV special, Ray Charles In The Holy Land, in Israel next week. Charles and his entourage are working three gigs."

Variety magazine of December 20, 1972 announced that "Ray Charles in the Holy Land will be the title of a one-hour-plus 16m color documentary depicting the visit of the famous blues singer in Israel. He is giving five concerts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa before the end of the year. The agreement [...] was signed between [Ruth Bowen's] Queen Booking Co. of New York on behalf of the singer and his Israeli impresario, Marco Sade, owner of Orot Habama productions in Tel Aviv. Rivka Moscowitz and Shimon Harama [...] will produce the documentary. The idea is to sell the film as a TV special to U.S. and other networks, possibly in connection with the 25th anniversary celebrations of Israel [...]."

Back Stage magazine of June 29, 1973 had an article about Kolinor sound studios in Tel Aviv. "The producer of "Ray Charles in the Holy Land", a TV special produced in Israel by Ray Charles Enterprises, was similarly impressed with the quality of Kolinor's on-location recording. 'Unbelievable,' Joe Adams said when he heard the results. ([The program] will also be distributed commercially in color and for LP release under ABCs label." All this, obviously, never happened.

If this all is true, then it may have been Adams' production company that ran out of money. My conjecture is that Brother Ray refused to allow the release of the film, and that Adams personally was involved in the sudden publishing of the video in 2004, after Ray died.

The Genius was right. This film should have stayed canned.
Remarkable: recent Japanese DVD 
with correct year of concert.

The correct order of the songs & scenes is:
    The 2004 DVD.
  1. EXT.: Landing of plane
  2. Interview at airport
  3. Nothing Wrong (trombone solo by Steve Turre) [concert #1]
  4. Intro [concert #1]  
  5. Marie [concert #1]
  6. The Long And Winding Road [concert #2]  
  7. [Intro The Raelettes] [concert #2]  
  8. Hold On, I'm Coming (Raelettes) [concert #2]  
  9. The Bright Lights & You  [concert #2]  
  10. EXT.: Plane & car trip to Negev, Ben-Gurion's kibbutz
  11. Conversation Ray and Ben-Gurion
  12. Let The Good Times Roll  [concert #3]    
  13. Ben-Guriun's Kibutz, Ray at piano, playing Hava Naguila and Heaven Help Us All
  14. Blues For Big Scotia (piano) + untitled instrumental (keyboards) from Genius + Soul? [concert #2] 
  15. Yesterday [concert #3]    
  16. Feel So Bad [concert #2]  
  17. Look What They've Done To My Song [concert #4]    
  18. EXT.: Street scenes Jerusalem, Ray sightseeing-by-touch in Church of the Holy Sepulchre, at mosque, and at Wailing Wall
  19. Shake (Raelettes) [concert #5]      
  20. I Can't Stop Loving You [concert #3]      
  21. So Soon (Henderson also singing) [concert #2]      
  22. What'd I Say [concert #4/5/4/3]    
  23. Outro (police on stage!) [concert #3]
Musicians: Mike Conlon - cornet; Tommy Cortez, Joe Mitchell, (Brother) Day Kelly - trumpets; Glenn Childress; Al (Sanifu) Hall Jr., Fred Murrell, Steve Turre - trombones; James Clay, Don Garcia, Andy Ennis, Fred Smith, Leroy Cooper - saxophones; John Perrett - drums; Ralph Byrd - guitar; Edgar Willis - bass; John Henderson - piano, organ. The Raelettes: Vernita Moss, Mable John, Susaye Greene, Dorothy Berry, Estella Yarbrough.

DVD: Xenon VXEN4312, 2004.

1st Trailer:

2nd Trailer (with small part of Nothing Wrong):

The Long And Winding Road:
Hold On, I'm Coming (Raelettes):
Let The Good Times Roll:
Chat with David Ben-Gurion:
Hava Naguila:
Heaven Help Us All:
Feel So Bad:
Look What They've Done To My Song:
I Can't Stop Loving You:
Blues For Big Scotia:
So Soon; John Henderson sings and plays piano with Ray:

1 comment :

  1. I was at the gig in Tel Aviv in December ' first concert ever,fantastico,..haha!