Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Brother Ray

Murph: Tell me a little about this electric piano, Ray.
Ray: Ah, you have a good eye, my man. That's the best in the city of Chicago.
Jake: How much?
Ray: 2000 bucks and it's yours. You can take it home with you. As a matter of fact, I'll throw in the black keys for free.

The first time I saw The Blues Brothers at a young, hairless age was also my first exposure to the grandfather of soul Ray Charles, kicking some serious Hammond funk on “Shake Your Tail Feather”. It broke my fragile, unschooled mind.

There are obituaries all over the ‘net for Ray, so I’m not going to duplicate all that business here. You want to know where he was born, his discography or any of that mess, look elsewhere. This is what the man and his music meant to me.

In an age where “soul” is just as much an overused and abused word as “genius” or “classic”, Ray Charles epitomised all three. My all-time favourite Ray Charles track is still the one I’ve been playing all weekend whenever I’ve been able to snatch five minutes for myself. The title track of Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night (just like the better-known “Georgia on My Mind”) opens with that unique anguished howl yanked out of the dark abyss at the core of the great Soul Men, that gives you minor heart palpitations, like a lovesick werewolf baying for heartbreaking, soul-destroying sex.

Genius + Soul = Ray, and in this age of anodyne pop “idols”, music just got a lot less interesting. I’m mildly placated by the fact that he’s now jamming with Miles, Marvin and Barry White, drinking, cussing, grooving and checking out the heavenly bodies. He deserves it.

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