Ray Wanted To Do It His Way

Hit The Road Jack

Today the word genius is thrown around pretty loosely, but in music there have only been a few artists considered by their peers to be at the top level of what they did, almost Cosmically inspired. One of those special people was the great singer/pianist, and songwriter, Ray Charles. Totally blind since he had glaucoma at age 4, Ray said he could ‘see’ through the music that always seemed to be in his head. But more than that, he could take almost any kind of music and make it his own with soul.

Signed with Atlantic Records, Ray’s first hit, "Mess Around," was actually written by the label’s head guy, Ahmet Ertagon. That song put Charles on the Charts, but another tune that he came up with while fooling around with the piano during a break in a recording session became his first #1 hit, and titled, "What’d I Say," the tune had the familiar call and response formula that like so much of Black Music came out of the music of the black Church.

Ray had many more hits over the next decade or two; often standards like, "Come Rain or Come Shine," done with his distinctive voice and instrumentation. Then one day he told the folks at Atlantic he wanted to do an album of the country/western songs he’d heard on the radio as a child in the South, but they were not enthusiastic.

About that time Charles told Atlantic he was leaving for ABC Records, not because of the country album, but because the TV Network owned label, (full disclosure: I worked for ABC), offered him more money than Atlantic was able to give him…and they agreed to give him artistic control and allow him to own his own Masters, the first deal of the kind, and proving phenomenally lucrative over time.

His first single at ABC was the great "Georgia On My Mind," that won him a Grammy, and eventually would become the official State song of Georgia; and then released "Hit The Road Jack," another Grammy winner. ABC’s big bucks bet on Ray Charles was paying off beyond their wildest dreams.

Georgia On My Mind

In 1962 he made the album that he had dreamed of, "Modern Sounds in Country and Western and Western Music, Vol. 1," that contained the monster hit, "I Can’t Stop Loving You," which to the amazement of his old colleagues at Atlantic, not only went #1 for five weeks Pop, but also reached number one the R&B chart for an incredible 10 weeks. Ray then followed up with a Vol. 2, which continued the success of the first. Ray Charles had shown the world that he could insert his brand of soul into all kinds of music and win.

In the years to come Ray would struggle with drug abuse and finally after his third arrest for heroin, he chose to go into rehab instead of jail and finally kicked. He would go on to have many more hits, "Like Hit The Road Jack," and considering his past abuse, "Let’s Go Get Stoned." His version of, ‘America the Beautiful,’ has become an iconic anthem of love for this country. Ray was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1979, among many other honors, and on June 4th, 2004 marched into Rock and Roll Heaven. Ray Charles was 73.

America The Beautiful

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