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29 June 2012

Ray Charles In Salute To Georgia Music, And In A Georgia Commercial (1980s)

This article in The Augusta Chronicle described how producer Tim McCabe was involved in a local TV-program with Ray Charles, and - later - also in a TV commercial titled Georgia On My Mind. In the interview part of the story McCabe recalled:
Tim McCabe and Ray Charles, probably at RPM in LA.
"The first time that I met him, was producing a Salute To Georgia Music program for WAGA-TV in Atlanta. We went to Bossier City, LA, to film him being given his Georgia Music Hall of Fame induction award, which he never had received. He wasn't present in 1979 at the Georgia Terrace Hotel when he and Bill Lowery became the first two people inducted in the state Hall of Fame.
Later, when I was working with him on the Georgia On My Mind commercials, I arranged some short versions of the song and recorded it with just a piano in Atlanta. Then I flew to Los Angeles for him to sing on the master tape.
We were in his own studio, just Ray and myself, and, even though he's blind, he ran the recording console and told me what buttons to push. It was one of those moments I had to say to myself, `Lord, look at me. Here I am with my idol.' It was really special."
I guess the photo reproduced here was taken during the first half of the 1980s, possibly at Ray's RPM studios in Los Angeles, during the production of the soundtrack for the commercial.
So far, I haven't found any other trace of either the WAGA tv-program or the Georgia commercial.

Who knows more?

25 June 2012

Ray Charles Ft. In The Super Dave Osborne Show (1987, 1990, 1995)

Still from the TV show.
Vegas Spectacular, aired Jan. 7, 1995.
I knew that Ray Charles had a (not overly funny) cameo as a bus driver in the 2000 comedy The Extreme Adventures Of Super Dave, but I wasn't aware that this was preceded by at least three guest appearances on Bob Einstein's Super Dave TV-shows. The 2 first ones were in the Canadian/American production The Super Dave Osborne Show, a comedy series that ran from 1987 to 1991 on Showtime in the U.S. and on Global Television Network in Canada. During its first year the program was taped at the fictional "Super Dave Compound" or  "Super Dave Complex", actually the Glen Warren Studios at CFTO-TV in Toronto. Ray first appeared in the 3d episode of the (first) 1987 season, on November 29.
He participated in the car stunt that opened the program, and came back on the studio stage (backed by his Orchestra's rhythm section) to play They Can't Take That Away From Me, and a little Super Dave Blues ditty. You can watch it all here [sorry, video has been removed by user; here's a clip with just the stunt, and here's a stunt compilation with a sliver of one of Ray's blues ditties]. also lists an appearance in episode 51 of the 4th (1990) season. Einstein's own website has the photo at the right, with the following caption: "Ray Charles (whom Bob called his 'good luck charm') guest stars on the premiere episode of  Super Dave's Vegas Spectacular, which originally aired January 7, 1995 (USA  Network)."

A considerate reader sent me a copy of another Super Dave show, probably from the 1990 show described above. This time Ray first performs a good and long version of What'd I Say. The rhythm section described above appears to be part of a bigger Super Dave house band (here extended with 5 horn players). Four girls take care of the call & response parts, but I can't swear they are The Raelettes.
Ray again plays a (very) little blues ditty - solo on electric piano this time. In the closing sequence Ray acts out another driving stunt, this time convincingly destructing a bed (!) with Einstein in it.
Here Einstein reflects on this show:

13 June 2012

Ray Charles Playing Some Blues At The Sunset Terrace (1951)

This newspaper article, from the Indianapolis Recorder of March 3, 1951, is one of the oldest print publications about Ray Charles that I've found so far.
The story announces a dance gig with Lowell Fulson at the Sunset Terrace in Indianapolis, describing Ray as an "added attraction", a "song stylist", and a "sensational songbird", "who'll give with" (i.e. 'will be performing' or 'will be backing Fulson on'?) "such numbers as Everyday I Have The Blues, Blue Shadow, Sinner's Progress and Old Time Shuffle".
Looking closer at this little 'setlist' it becomes clear that Ray was only playing the piano:

Every Day I Have the Blues
Ray never put the song out on a regular record, but we have a special version from More Music From Ray, the follow-up to the soundtrack of the biopic Ray, where Charles dubbed in his piano playing (watch here how it landed in the film). For Fulson's 1949 version, listen to this.

Blue Shadow
I don't know of any song with that title, but it can almost certainly be identified with Fulson's Blue Shadows, from 1950.

Sinner's Progress
Any tune with this title is unknown to me, but it's highly probable that this is a corruption for Sinner's Prayer, a song penned by Lowell Fulson and Lloyd Glenn, and recorded by Fulson in early 1950. Ray recorded his famous version in 1954.

Old Time Shuffle
Old Time Shuffle Blues is another (instrumental) song composed by Lloyd Glenn; he recorded it in November 1950. Fulson released it as the flip side of his Sinner's Prayer in early 1950.

In the 1950s Ray developed a strong fan base in Indianapolis, performing there several times a year, at several venues. Some girls even started a local, socially very active, Ray Charles fanclub. After his drugs arrest in '61 he stayed away from the city for 5 or 6 years.

After reading the article above, Ray Charles expert Joel Dufour shared some valuable bits of information with me:
  • Renald Richard told Joel (about Ray Charles) that the common practice for a singer in the 1950s was to begin his show by singing covers of current hits and to finish the set with his own most successful songs.  
  • It is just impossible that Fulson would have let Ray perform his own songs in his place on his show – especially as Blue Shadows and Everyday I Have The Blues were his biggest hits (#1 and #3 in the Billboard charts). Those probably constituted Lowell's climax songs by which he closed his performances. While Sinner's Prayer wasn't a smash for Lowell, and Ray would record it later on, it is also extremely unlikely that Lowell would have allowed Ray to sing it on his show.
  • It could be that Lowell let Ray play Old Time Shuffle Blues during his solo spot in the show, since it wasn't a Fulson record, but a Lloyd Glenn hit release. (Although the label indicated “Lloyd Glenn with Th' Fulson Unit”, Lowell himself did not play on Glenn's record).
Many years ago Dick Shurman shared a few interesting anecdotes about the early days of the Lowell/Ray relationship with Dufour:
  • Joel recalls the first of Shurman's stories as follows. "[...] One day while Lowell Fulson was singing and playing, backed by his band including Ray (who had played his own set earlier), he spotted a young attractive woman in the audience whose attitude was making it very clear that she had a crush on him. So much so, that Lowell suddenly put down his guitar and left the stage to get better acquainted with her, leaving his band to go on with the show… Thus Ray took over while Lowell was busy buzzing around his new conquest… Only to have to (angrily) run back to the bandstand, as Ray was breaking the house down, stealing the show."
  • Lloyd Glenn himself was Shurman's direct source for the following story, as retold to me by Dufour. "Lloyd played with Lowell Fulson in the studio, but he didn't like to travel, and thus scarcely played with him on stage. This is why Jack Lauderdale [the boss of Down Beat/Swing Time Records] eventually suggested that Ray Charles should fill Lloyd's chair when Lowell was touring. On one of those rare occasions when Lloyd did perform live with Lowell Fulson (the posters outside were announcing “Lowell Fulson & his orchestra featuring Lloyd Glenn”), a woman in the audience started yelling at Lloyd, “You are NOT Lloyd Glenn! Lloyd Glenn is a blind man!” This is how Lloyd discovered that Lowell had Ray pass for him…"
  • Lloyd Glenn told Shurman that Ray Charles had 'stolen' two tunes from him: Blues Hangover and Rockhouse. "While it is evident that [Ray's Atlantic recording] A Bit Of Soul is Blues Hangover, I never actually heard any Lloyd Glenn tune which sounded exactly like Rockhouse – even if that tune is obviously in the Lloyd Glenn style. As for the wrong title and writer credits for Blues Hangover, the Atlantic people, rather than Ray, are probably responsible for them [...]." 

Ray Charles Small Big Band Acting As House Band In Fantabulous Show (1957)

On November 14, 1957 the Fantabulous Rock 'n' Roll Blues Show, with "More Than 50 Top Stars" was staged at Tomlinson Hall in Indianapolis; with Mickey and Sylvia, The Moonglows, The Velours, Larry 'The Short Fat Fannie' Williams and his orchestra, Big Joe Turner, Bo Diddley and his Trio, Ray Charles "and his dance orchestra [...] of nine men who were also the house-band", Mary Ann Fisher, Roy Brown, The Del Vikings, Nappy Brown, Vikki Nelson, Annie Laurie. Also read this.
Ad in Indianapolis Reporter, Nov. 2. Don't miss the "Shinleg Ray" label.

12 June 2012

Ray Charles Performing With The Dyerettes (1954)

On June 6, 1954 Ray Charles (don't miss the wrong portrait photo - of Lowell Fulson - above) was part of 'the 1954 Rhythm 'N' Blues Parade' at the Sunset Terrace 'dancery' in Indianapolis, He was billed with Mantan Moreland, Bud Harris, The Spiders, tap dancer Flash Ford, Tanya 'and her exotic dance', and Floyd Dixon & band.
What caught my eye in this article from the Indianapolis Reporter (May 29, 1954), was the morphology of one additional act: Sammy Dyer's Dyerettes, a dancing and chorus group, announced as "the most beautiful and dancingest girls in the world'' and probably therefore "world famous"...

05 June 2012

I've Got A Woman At Alan Freed's WINS Radio Show (1955)

The excellent Vocal Group Harmony website offers a highly entertaining, 70-minute copy of an Alan Freed radio show ("Rock 'n' Roll Party") on the New York station WINS 1010 AM, as it was aired on February 12, 1955.
The Top 25 of that week had Ray's ("the great blind blues singer") I've Got A Woman on #18 (at 33:00). The song had topped the Billboard R&B chart in the previous month.

RealAudio Stream: here.
RealAudio Download (11 MB): here.

03 June 2012

Ray Charles Performing At New Jersey Vigil (2001)

On September 23, 2001 the State of New Jersey organized Remembrance and Reflection: An Observance to Remember New Jersey's Victims and Honor Our Heroes, an observance and candlelight vigil hosted by Chris and Dana Reeve at the South Overlook of Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

It featured appearances by Ray Charles and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

New Jersey Network Public Television aired and NJN Public Radio (through video-streamed the program live. Source here.

02 June 2012

Ray Charles Crossing Over To Teenagers (1961)

Photo top by Jim
Marshall, probably
from another concert;
photo bottom by
"Skeetz", shot at the
Hollywood Bowl.
In April 1961 Ray Charles formed his first, "temporary" bigband, for a 3-weeks tour in the U.S. This "A Salute To Genius" tour was promoted by Hal Zeiger. During the last part of Spring and early Summer Ray alternately played with his "small bigband" (as in Antibes), and with his "augmented" bigband.
After returning from Europe, a 3-day concert series was staged at Big Wilt's Smalls Paradise in New York (from July 31 to August 2), with "his 19 Piece Band and Raylets Quartet". Through August he toured through the U.S., probably doing all concerts with the augmented band.
On September 10, Hal Zeiger staged a huge show at the Hollywood Bowl, re-using the title "A Salute To Genius".* It required a week of rehearsals - according to one of my sources with a "19-piece string section and 12-voice chorus".
I assumed this information (about the strings, and the size of the chorus) was false, but contemporary descriptions of Ray's shows are extremely rare - any information about this period is therefore very hard to check (and, as I prefer, to doublecheck).
That's why I was very happy to receive a copy of a very evocative review of the Hollywood Bowl concert in my email today - another generous gesture from my friend Joël Dufour. The article, titled The Genius & The Kids At Hollywood Bowl, appeared in Down Beat on December 7, 1961, and was signed by that magazine's editor, [John] Tynan.
The importance of this article, however, is much bigger than in the surprising conformation of the odd line-up at this show (I guess Zeiger must have used this particular concert as a show case to convince local promoters and agents to book Ray). The story also describes and analyzes the essence of Ray's unsurpassed fame and recognition in the year 1961, stating that The Genius' established appreciation among fellow jazz musicians, jazz critics and jazz fans had now also crossed over to an entirely new audience segment: the teenagers - who turned out to celebrate Ray's music in entirely new ways:
"Since increased popularity invariably runs neck and neck with increased income, the fallacy of thought exists among some jazz musicians that critics are opposed in principle to economic improvement.
Ray Charles may change all this.
Not only is his music beloved of professional jazzmen, most critics, and jazz fans, his singing also seems to reach an ever-growing public of remarkable variety.
A recent Charles concert [...] revealed a[...] possibly revolutionary shocker: The smoldering blues singer has captured the hully-gully set, the great U.S. teenage bloc.
For more than an hour [...] Charles, backed by his 16-piece band, a 19-piece string section and a 12-voice choir, stirred mounting excitement among some 6,000 fans - mostly teenagers concentrated in the lower-priced seats - until the audience scaled heights of enthusiasm that assumed near-riot proportions before the close of the program. [...]
At concerts and in night clubs throughout the country the impassioned singer works with his own band, and it is seldom 16 pieces. On this occasion, though, the trappings were lavish. [...]
From the first measures of Moanin', he had them. Then, when he hit Let the Good Times Roll, the lusty tenor of Newman alternating with Charles' high hoarseness, the teenagers responded with impromptu performances all their own. Screaming, they leaped onto seats, hands wriggling in air, torsos twitching. They erupted into the aisles, hully-gullying solo or in pairs. [...]
With each new flare-up of dancing, police moved from aisle to aisle, shining their flashlights at the gyrating dancers, urging them back to their seats.
Finally, at about 11 p.m., Charles announced, 'I am shocked, shocked to learn there's fighting in the audience. The police have asked me to cut it off.'
Defiantly, the children responded, What'd I say... What'd I say...! Shrugging, Charles returned to the keyboard.
With the opening of the familiar What'd I Say?, the teenagers went wild. Beyond restraint now, they poured into the aisles once more and flowed in a human torrent down the steps from the cheaper sections to the edge of the pool separating audience from stage. Two youths leaped onto the low wall of the pool; a dozen followed. In moments the top of the wall was alive. A line of youths was silhouetted against the lighted water, arms madly waving, bodies jerking in ceaseless motion to the music.
From the packed mass at their jigging feet came roars of appreciation. [...] The entire audience was now on its feet witnessing in mixed amazement and laughter the dervishlike display of the pool-wall prancers.
Then, from either side, police moved in cautiously, quietly, gradually breaking up the throng [...].**
And then it was over/ The children dispersed quietly. [...[ Charles brought What'd I Say? to a shouting close and the audience, still agog, moved toward the exits.
Thus has Ray Charles, proclaimed "Soul Genius" etcetera, traversed musical taste from the professional jazzman and dedicated jazz fan to [the] teenage screamer."
This level of appreciation for Ray Charles by teenagers was a shortlived phenomenon. It ended somewhere in 1963 or 1964, and surely did not survive Ray's sabbatical year 1965. In later interviews, the Genius himself has several times explained why:
"My stuff was more adult. It was more difficult for teenagers to relate to; my stuff was filled with more despair than anything you'd associate with rock 'n' roll. Since I couldn't see people dancing, I didn't write jitterbugs or twists. I wrote rhythms that moved me. My style required pure heart singing."
* After that, this tour's title remained in use until the end of the year. ** An article in the St. Petersburg Times reported a more serious situation: "'A crowd of 500 teen-agers rioted [...], in a frenzy over music of the Ray Charles Quintet [sic!]', police said. They were among an audience of more than 6,000. Some of the screaming youngsters organized a 'dance group' and staged what police said were objectionable dances. Ten arrests were made on various charges." Source here.