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24 November 2015

Ray Charles Contributing To Smothers Brothers Show's Theme Song

Halfway through the production of the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967–1969) a theme tune (written by Perry Botkin, Jr., Mason Williams, and Nancy Ames) was introduced. While it became more and more popular, the stars who appeared on the show were asked to contribute to a montage, which probably was broadcast only once: during the very last show on April 20, 1969. Ray delivered his bit when he appeared on the show that was aired on January 19, 1969.
Among the other contributors I recognized The Smothers Brothers, Jackie Mason, Harry Belefonte, Nancy Sinatra, Donovan, Andy Williams, Victor Borge, Bob Einstein, Barbara Feldon, Bob Newhart, and Jonathan Winters.

25 October 2015

A Radio Commercial For An Integrated Ray Charles Gig In Memphis, 1961

This acetate belonged to Julie Wall, "a North Kesteven Council employee who rifled more than half a million in loose change from car park cash boxes – and spent the lot on Elvis memorabilia".
Sometimes collecting Elvis memorabilia turns out to be a relevant passtime. The B-side of this acetate is a promotional jingle for Ray Charles' August 20, 1961, concert at the Ellis City Auditorium, the first integrated gig in Memphis.
That may be special, but its A-side is much bigger Music History News: it's a so far unknown recording of Elvis Presley, singing Suspicion – three years before it was released as a single. The disk, made by the Tennessee radio station WHBQ, "is set to spark a bidding war when it goes under the hammer [...] on November 4".

On September 2, 1961, The New Pittsburgh Courier wrote:
"Last week down in Memphis, Ray Charles scratched a niche for himself in the history book of our times, when he became the first to ply his talent before an integrated audience in the heart of the segregated South. It was a dual victory. Even the "for colored only" signs in front of the ladies and men's rest rooms were discarded for his performance at the auditorium. Though blind, the "soul" singing pianist, was well aware that the entire house was well mixed looking like what a human American flag should. Another significant angle of the affair was that it was promoted by William Mitchell, owner of the Club Handy, who's also colored. It might be of interest to those died-in-the-wool segregationists to know that there were no incidents of any kind, as people, whom they said would never do it, sat side by side and exchanged the oohs and aahs of those caught up in the ecstasy of unadulterated good singing."
This photo, by Ernest C. Withers, was probably made at this Memphis concert (my source, though, says the picture is from December 1961). F.l.t.r. David Newman, Hank Crawford, Ray Charles, Leroy Cooper. Photo by Ernest C. Withers.
From Jet magazine, Aug. 14.
From Variety, Aug. 23.

14 October 2015

Ray Charles Live At Jazz In The Rockies (1982)

On September 4, 1982 the Ray Charles band performed at KUVO-FM's Jazz In The Rockies, in Winter Park (CO). The other acts were The Charlie Haden Quartet/Quintet, Art Blakey, Chick Corea/Gary Burton, Pat Metheny/The Charlie Haden Duo, Betty Carter and her Trio, and Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition.

Recently, a reasonably good 'audience taping' of Brother Ray's concert at the festival emerged. The setlist was without surprises:
  1. Intro Ray Charles
  2. Riding Thumb
  3. Busted
  4. Georgia On My Mind
  5. Oh, What A Beautiful Morning
  6. Just Because
  7. Some Enchanted Evening
  8. Intro Raelettes
  9. Guess Who I Saw Today
  10. Hit The Road Jack
  11. Crying Time
  12. Don't Change On Me (intro to #13)
  13. I Can't Stop Loving You
  14. I Want Your Love (EY - vo)
  15. Baby Please Don't Go
  16. What'd I Say
  17. Outro

Probable line-up*: Carmell Jones, Carlos Chavez, Brian Pearcy, Dean Congin - tp; John Boice, Dan Marcus, Mayo Tiana, Steve Davis - tb; Ricky Woodard, Brian Mitchell - as, Clifford Solomon, Rudy Johnson - ts, Leroy Cooper - bs; Ernest Vantrease - kb; Tony Matthews - g; Jeff Takiguchi - el-b; Rick Kirkland - dm. The Raelettes**: Trudy Cohran, Anne Johnson, Janice Mitchell, Elaine Woodard, Estella Yarbrough.

* Inferred from the line-up at the Constitution Hall concert on November 1, 1982. ** Specified in source materials.

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.”