Friday, April 22, 2011

Ray van Beethoven


Towards the end of January, 1965, an album was released which in the future would not belong to the more famous recordings made by Ray Charles: Ray Charles Live In Concert, his first live-album for ABC (LP # 500). The concert was recorded on the evening of September 20, 1964, in the Shrine Civic Auditorium, Los Angeles (see also the postscript!). It was the opening concert of Ray's autumn tour.

As so often, hearing Ray Charles play in front of a live audience creates a very different feel if compared with his studio recordings. He had picked many of his »old« tunes for this concert, but also included some of his then newly released songs (»Baby Don’t You Cry«, »Makin’ Whoopee«). Right after the intro of the show Ray hits into a 6-minute-version of one his most famous songs, »I('ve) Got A Woman« (the song title appears on the back cover of the LP as »I Gotta Woman«). As is known, he had recorded this song almost ten years before, in mid-November 1954, in an Atlanta radio station converted recording studio. The version of this song which Ray presents in the concert is somewhat peculiar: there is a prelude, closely inspired by Beethoven's Pour √Člise, followed by a short and intensely emotional hymn - well, I call it hymn for lack of a better term. And it is only after this opening that Ray switches to the first notes of the song as we know it. Nobody ever again has played this tune as perfect. The Genius at work. Much ink has been spilled discussing whether »I Got A Woman« should be considered the »foundation song« of R&B viz. modern Soul ... but this must not concern us here. Ray's 1964-recording of the song is remarkable in many respects, quite beyond the prelude: there is a lot of jazzy improvisation going on in the second half of the song, with Ray and his big band variously taking up melody lines from other known tunes. On tenor sax we hear nobody less than David »Fathead« Newman. Listen to it here, in mono:

Ray Charles: »I Gotta Woman« from the ABC-Paramount-LP # 500 (1965):

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Ray's autumn tour of 1964 was overshadowed by not a few scandals. First, Ray did not come to grips with his drug addiction. During the tour he was more than once questioned or detained by the police for being found in the possession of drugs (marijuana and heroin), for e.g. in Boston in November. Second, after the tragic events of the »Freedom Summer« the general atmosphere in the southern states was rather explosive and race tensions were high. Thus in October, in Montgomery, Al., the white public was barred from one of Ray's concerts, including those whites who had valid tickets for the show. The local police even entered the tour bus of Ray's band and questioned the passengers. They had orders to only let blacks enter the concert hall. However, a (white) Jewish musician, the guitarist Donald Peake, could pass as well after some discussion ... What times these were! Here is the notice from JET-magazine, Oct. 15, 1964, p. 61:

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POSTSCRIPT April 30, 2011:
Additional information about Ray's autumn tour in 1964 and his show in the Shrine Auditorium can be found here: raycharlesvideomuseum.blogspot. On this page, this concert ad is published:

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