It's been cloudy and storming all day in central Illinois so I decided against the picture taking plans in Chesterville. Fret not, I go through there just about every week. I will take them, I just want some good light when I do.
Since I don't have pictures to share, I want to talk about Brother Ray. I know it's been over a month now since his passing, but I've never really been able to find the words to express what I feel. I'm still not sure I can, but in the spirit of trying to do something in a timely manner for once, I figure now is as good a time as any. Over the past few weeks I've been listening to a lot of Ray Charles. As a matter of fact, in one of the those odd, mu-psych-ic coincidences, I was listening to Ray about a month before his passing. You may or may not recall the mp3 player random lyrics craze of a month ago and that I was somehwat dismayed that no one recognized the Ray Charles lyric.
Like many people my age, my intial impressions of Ray Charles were influenced by his public persona in the later years of his life: hawking diet sodas, roast beef sandwiches, and overplayed sentimental pap like "Georgia On My Mind". His image was that of an affable, gentle man with a huge grin evidenced by his frequently used "special guest performer" status and cameos in films like The Blues Brothers or on television programs like Who's The Boss?. To be honest, the only recognizable tune I could pin on him outside of "Georgia" was "Hit the Road Jack". But as an amateur student of popular music, it was only a matter of time before I ran into his recordings for Atlantic Records from the 1950's, it just took me a while to get there.
Growing up in the modern rock era, it can be difficult to appreciate music from another era. In fact, I've found the only way you truly can appreciate it is to immerse yourself in the music of a period and read a lot. For the past 10 years or so, I have been doing just that with 40's and 50's era R&B, Soul, and Blues. The only word that begins to describe the recordings Ray made for Atlantic in the 1950's is astounding. He has been called by more than one critic "The Genius", a label which he humbly shrugged off, a word he reserved for "Bird and Dizz", his two musical idols. But genius is appropriate when talking about his music and while it would be a complex task to talk about in depth, it can be summed up neatly in three points:
1) No guitars - Ray hated them
2) Gospel music
3) Unbridled masculine sexuality
As I said it's hard to appreciate the innovation so far removed from the era, but making a recording as intense as "I Got A Woman" as early as 1955 was a remarkable feat. And they kept coming, "Greenbacks", "Hallelujah I Love Her So", "The Right Time", and of course, the monumental "What'd I Say". His blending of jazz with R&B, incorporating gospel melodic elements, and the powerful, sexual manner in which he sang made him a pioneer and many credit him (and justly so) with single handedly "inventing" soul music. Aretha may be the queen and James may be the godfather, but they just put in some of the light bulbs in the house that Ray built.
In "Hard Times", Ray once sang:
There'll be no more sorrow when I pass away
I hope so Ray and for what it's worth, you left behind a good deal of joy.