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11 May 2010

Ray Charles Contemplating Hillbilly Music In A 1959 Interview

This is quite an interesting, bluntly honest, interview with Ray Charles, from Billboard, 2 February 1959 (written by Ben Grevatt). The transcript:
"If I don't feel what I'm doing on a record, then I'd rather forget it. If an artist feels the song he's doing then he can do a great performance. The trouble is that a lot of singers do just what somebody else tells them to do on a recording session. They never feel it. So they don't make a good record." The great blues artist Ray Charles, was talking with us from Atlanta, GA, where he was doing a one-nighter.

"I guess you might say I'm influenced by gospel material. I love a good gospel song if it's really soulful. And if you love something, then it's bound to rub off on you a little. I'm a religious man. I don't go to church very often but if I can get up on a Sunday morning after playing a date and there's a Baptist church nearby, I go every chance I get. About the only records I buy myself are gospel records. I think Mahalia is the greatest and I like the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Harmonizing Four. But even in that field, just because they are singing gospel songs doesn't automatically make them good. From the blues and gospel songs to the classics there is good and bad. It has to be a fine song and the artist has to feel it or it's no good.
"It used to hurt me when rhythm and blues was considered bad music. It's unfair to call anything all bad. But rhythm and blues was scandalized. Then along came people like Elvis Presley, Pat Boone and Little Richard and they called it rock and roll and it was all right. To me when they got a couple of guitars together with a backbeat, that's rock and roll or rockabilly. Rhythm and blues is genuine, down-to-earth Negro music. Joe Turner is a real great rhythm and blues singer. Fats Domino used to be too, but they changed him around and tried to make him pop. That's nothing against Fats because he's a good friend of mine.
"There's good in every music like I said. Before anybody criticizes any kind of music, they ought to listen to it more. You don't make up your mind on just one or two hearings. I think a lot of the hillbilly music is wonderful stuff. When I was a kid in Greenville, Fla, I used to play piano in a hillbilly band. I liked it. I think I could do a good job with the right hillbilly song today. If you really have the ability, that's what counts. One of the best guitar men in this business is Chet Atkins and he's in the hillbilly field in Nashville.
"I think record companies often ruin good artists with songs that don't fit them. Nat Cole is great on his sweet stuff but I think they make a mistake when they try to record him in rock and roll. Harry Belafonte recorded my song "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," and man, I was very grateful and honored, but I don't really think that song fits him. His field is calypso and folk songs. If you ask me about Presley, I say it's hard to say what you think of a man who sells a million records. I guess you can't argue with the public. With the pop artists, well I can say that Jo Stafford just sings like nobody's business and there's nobody greater than Frank Sinatra.
"When you speak of the blues, well that's something else again. Of the white singers, there are very few who can really sing the blues. I heard a little girl, what was her name, Jo Ann Campbell, I think. She swings pretty nice. And there's another girl singer. I think her name is Connie Francis. She's got a real fine feel. She can do it. She has a little soul in her voice.
"I'd say the problem with any artist is very simple. If all artists would do what is really right for them and would feel within themselves what they are doing, they would stay up there longer. A new star is born every day, but it's always a question how long he will shine. But a true artist will be around for a long time."

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