E X C E R P T

Jerry Wexler: Discussing hearing the Ray Charles “sound” for the first time.

“We literally ran down the stairs, ran across the street, up the flight of stairs to this rehearsal, and there’s this band, and Ray sits at the piano and they start playing this incredible music. It’s Ray Charles. It was like it had sprung full blown like that.”

Jerry Wexler with Ray Charles

Wexler: Well, first of all, Ahmet Ertegun signed him before I came to the company. I came to the company in ‘ 53, and Ahmet signed him in ‘ 52. He bought his contract from a label called Swingtime, owned by a man named Jack Lauderdale who was a black man, and this was a black owned and operated label and that’s where Ray started. Ahmet negotiated for his contract, and it’s a matter of record he paid two thousand dollars for Ray Charles’ release, which was like one of the bargains of the century. And so, the first year or two that Ray was on Atlantic, we recorded him more or less in the tradition that we recorded everybody else. We’d call in a songwriter, or we’d have a song written. Ahmet actually wrote a couple of great songs for him. Ahmet wrote Mess Around, he wrote Heartbreaker for Ray, and we had people like Rudy Toombs, Jesse Stone. We had a songwriter, we had arrangements, give Ray the material and hire the studio and hire the backup musicians. And we did make some terrific records with Ray in that modality, of recording in the standard way. Especially Losing Hand and Sinner’s Prayer, two tremendous records that were made that way with great guitar work by Mickey Baker. But, they didn’t establish Ray, they didn’t go anyplace significant. And Ray did it himself. He found the way. He organized his own band, and it was four horns and three rhythm and no guitar. Isn’t that interesting that Ray Charles...Who made a bigger impact on the blues and rock and roll than Ray Charles? Without a guitar. The reason is, the guitar would have clashed with his piano, because Ray’s music, the foundation of his music was the piano. And the arrangements that he wrote and later on like Hank Crawford wrote, those beautiful small band arrangements were based upon his piano concept of these songs. So, this new dawn came about...Ray called us and said, “Come down to Atlanta, we’ve got this new band and maybe we can record here.” So we did. And he was staying...there was a night club called the Peacock and there was a hotel associated with it, and we met Ray at the hotel and he said, “Come with me fellas.” We literally ran down the stairs, ran across the street, up the flight of stairs to this rehearsal, and there’s this band, and Ray sits at the piano and they start playing this incredible music. It’s Ray Charles. It was like it had sprung full blown like that. Out of his vision. Out of his brain. And so the next day we went to record. We went to...actually it was a radio studio, a broadcasting studio on the campus of Georgia Tech. It was called WGST, I guess it was 1954. And we cut four tunes there, including I Got a WomanGreenbacks, Come Back Baby. But it was really a session from hell, in that studio, because the engineer was an elderly engineer who didn’t know the first thing about records. And he was not quick with the cues, we’d say, “Watch it. Four bar saxophone solo coming up.” And he’d say, “Say what?” (chuckles) And then, the thing was, for the first three hours we couldn’t get a sound-back into the control room. Not a sound. Finally the sound came, and then we got going, but then, we had to stop every hour because they had to give the news. We stopped every hour. (chuckles) But, we got out of there with some great records, and that was the beginning of Ray Charles. The real Ray Charles.”

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L  I S T E N   T O   T H E   M U S I C :

California Rhythm and Blues Music: 1945-1955

1. Everyday I Have the Blues: Earl Good Rockin’ Brown with Lowell Fulson’s band (1949)

Everyday I Have the Blues

2. Double Crossing Blues: Johnny Otis with Little Esther Phillips (1949)

Double Crossing Blues

 

3. Honkey Tonk: Bill Doggett (1956)

 

Honkey Tonk