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Remembering Ray Charles

The great singer and pianist Ray Charles died Thursday, June 10, at the age of 73. He was about to go back on tour, but died of complications of liver disease. Charles shaped American music since the 1950s, at first copying the styles of black vocalists like Nat King Cole and Charles Brown. But he soon developed a style all his own. His career grew along with Atlantic records, which signed him as a fledgling label. Charles' first hit was "I've Got a Woman" in 1955. He went on to record more bluesy, gospel-charged hits, country, jazz and rock. He spoke after the release of his four CD box-set Ray Charles: The Complete Country and Western Recordings 1959-1986. (Rebroadcast from Oct. 19, 1998.)




Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on June 11, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 11, 2004: Obituary for Ray Charles; Interview with Quincy Jones; Interview with Hank Crawford.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Ray Charles discusses his life and musical career

This is a special edition of FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're going to remember the great Ray Charles, who has died at the age
of 73 from complications of liver disease. We'll listen back to an interview
with Charles, and we'll hear from two musicians who worked with him, Quincy
Jones and Hank Crawford. Ray Charles virtually invented soul music. Music
critic Peter Guralnick writes, quote, "It's hard to imagine the impact his
record `I Got A Woman' had in 1954 and '55 for blacks and whites, for a young
Elvis and an only slightly older Sam Cooke. The very stratagem of adapting a
traditional gospel song, putting secular lyrics to it and then delivering it
with all the attendant fanfare of a Pentecostal service was simply staggering.
For the next 10 years, his success was without artistic or commercial
parallel," unquote.

Ray Charles was nicknamed `the genius,' and it wasn't just his style of
singing that set him apart. It was also his piano playing, arranging and his
choice of songs--jazz, pop and country, as well as soul music. I spoke with
Ray Charles in 1998 after the release of a box set collecting his complete
country and western recordings from 1959 to '86. It included his 1962 version
of "Your Cheating Heart."

(Soundbite of 1998 interview)

(Soundbite of "Your Cheating Heart")

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) Your cheating heart will make you weep. You cry
and cry and try to sleep. But sleep won't come the whole night through. Your
cheating heart will tell on you. When tears come down...

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Tears come down...

GROSS: This is just a really wonderful example of you doing a song your way.
I mean...

Mr. CHARLES: Thank you.

GROSS: might even be using different chords on here than the chords
that were written, but...

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, that's right. That's right. Well, that--see, that's what
makes you become me.

GROSS: Uh-huh. And the singing, too, of course.

Mr. CHARLES: Why, thank you, ma'am.

GROSS: Would you say a little bit about what you did with the song to make it
your own?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, it's like any song that I'm going to do. I first sing it
to myself and see if I can genuinely feel it, you know. Any song--I'm that
way about all music, all songs I do. I sit there and maybe sometimes I may
sit at the keyboard and fool around with the chords and see if I can find a
way to sing it where it makes me feel good inside. And sometimes, you know, I
can run into songs that are good songs, but I can't make it do anything for
me. But the song is a great song. And, you know, to give you for an example,
like I've always loved "Stardust," a beautiful song, but I never could quite
get it to sound like I wanted it to for me. So, you know, it's really a true
feeling, what you feel inside, where you can put yourself into it. Can you
really feel what you're doing. And that's important to me to feel what I'm

GROSS: OK, now "Stardust," you had a huge hit with Hoagy Carmichael's

Mr. CHARLES: That's right.

GROSS: How come "Stardust" doesn't work for you?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, I just could never get into it. I mean, "Georgia," was
something--I used to hum "Georgia." As a matter of fact, my chauffeur said to
me one day, he said, `You know, Mr. Charles, you're always humming that song
"Georgia," you're always humming it all day. Why don't you record it?' Well,
I had never thought about recording it, I just liked the song, you know. But
it was the chord structure in "Georgia." I mean, especially in the middle
part of it, it's got some beautiful changes to it. Hoagy Carmichael, I have
to give him some skin, he wrote some beautiful stuff on that song.

(Soundbite of "Georgia On My Mind")

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through.

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) The whole day through.

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Georgia on my mind.

Mr. CHARLES: I said now Georgia, Georgia, a song of you comes as sweet and
clear as moonlight through the pines. Other arms reach out to me. Other eyes
smile tenderly. Still, in the peaceful dreams I see the road leads back to
you. I said Georgia...

GROSS: Now your biography back from, I think, 1978 begins, `Let me say right
here and now that I am a country boy, and, man, I mean the real backwoods.'
Tell us a little bit about where you grew up in the country.

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, well, I'm from a little small town in--well, actually, I was
born in Albany, Georgia, but I don't know anything about it because my parents
moved to Florida when I was about six months old, so you know I wouldn't
remember anything. So I was raised in a little village, I guess you could
call it, called Greenville, Florida. It's about 42 miles east of Tallahassee,
you know. And it was just a little country town, and we had just like a
little general store, and there was a post office. And there was a bus stop,
not a bus station, but, you know, where you sit on the bench and wait for the
bus. And that was about it. And everybody knew everybody. And, of course,
I'd say the bulk of the people were people that were more or less poor, you
know. So if Ms. Jones needed some sugar, she would borrow it from my mom, and
if my mom needed some flour, she would borrow it from Ms. Wiggems(ph), or
whatever. I mean, that's the way we got along.

GROSS: And what did you hear on the radio then?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, basically, in the daytime you heard country music on the
radio. I mean, that was it. All day long was country music all over the
dial. And at night, you could hear things like Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey
or Count Basie because they would have--in those days, they had programs that
were live that was coming from some of the various hotels and nightclubs, and
so you could hear various bands at night. And in the daytime, you heard
strictly country music. And, of course, being in a black neighborhood,
naturally, I heard the blues. I mean, that's where the blues was. And, of
course, the religion thing because, you know, you went to revival meetings and
BYPU. And I went to Sunday school and church on Sunday morning and Sunday
evenings. So, you know, that was the mixture that I grew up in.

GROSS: Now you know a lot of African-American musicians grew up listening to
country music on the radio in the South because that's what was on the

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah.

GROSS: ...then. I'm wondering if you ever felt any more distance from that
music because the performers were white and you were African-American. Did
that matter to you at all?

Mr. CHARLES: No. No. You know, that is the marvelous thing about music. It
is the one thing that I want to say there was no segregation or anything. I'm
not saying that--but it was very, very small. I mean, if you look around, you
saw guys like Benny Goodman. I mean, there was Lionel Hampton and his band.
You know, there's white bands, there were black people in the bands and when I
was coming up, I worked with a hillbilly group in Florida called the Hillbilly
Playboys--the Florida Playboys. And it was a hillbilly group; they taught me
how to yodel.

GROSS: Yeah. Now could you yodel for us?

(Soundbite of yodeling)

Mr. CHARLES: I'm a lot better than that, but that's the idea. (Yodels) My
voice is too early in the morning, but you get the idea.

GROSS: You know, I have to say that is not unlike some of the things that you
do on your soul records.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: No, really.


GROSS: Did you think I was nuts when I said that about yodeling sounding not
unlike some of the things you do on your soul records?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, no, no, no. I heard every word of it, girl. I really did.

GROSS: We're listening back to a 1998 interview with Ray Charles. We'll
continue the interview after a break. This is a special edition of FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're remembering Ray Charles, who has died at the age of 73. Let's
get back to the 1998 interview I recorded with him.

(Soundbite of 1998 interview)

GROSS: Now it's funny, you know, when I was young, some of your country songs
were really big hits. You know, "Born to Lose," and "You Don't Know Me" and
"Crying Time." I didn't think of them as country songs; I thought of them as
Ray Charles records.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHARLES: You're very sweet, honey. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: No, I mean that.

Mr. CHARLES: But, you know, actually, what...

GROSS: I didn't find out till much later they were country songs. Who knew?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, actually, what it is, I'll tell you something which I
think would be helpful to the people, to our listeners. You see, I am--just
so they will really know what I am about. You see, I am not a country singer.
I'm not a jazz singer. I am not a blues singer. What I am is I am a singer
that can sing country music. I can sing the blues. I can sing a love song.
But I'm not a specialist, you know what I mean? I'm kind of like a baseball
player, you know? I can play a little first base, second base, shortstop and
third base. I might even catch and pitch a little bit for you if you need me
to. I'm sort of like that in the music world as opposed to being, say, a
specialist like you would say B.B. King is a blues singer.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CHARLES: There's no question about it. But I'm not a blues singer. I'm
a singer that can sing the blues.

GROSS: I want to play another personal favorite from your country recordings,
and this is "You Don't Know Me."

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, yeah. All right.

GROSS: Would you tell us about why you chose this song?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, I think, again, the songs that I choose--I start with the
lyrics. What are the lyrics saying to me? What kind of story are they
telling me? You know, it's like--I guess it's like an actor who looks at a
script, you know, because, you know, when you look at lyrics, you know, you
got to tell a story in three minutes. You know, you don't have two hours like
you do when you got a script. You've got to say what you got to say and make
it believable within three minutes. So I start with the lyrics, you know.
And when I start with the lyrics, I tell myself, `Now how many people will
this song fit? I mean, `Does it sound like most people can relate to it?'
And you tell yourself, `Yeah, mm-hmm. You give your hand to me and then you
say you--I watch you walk away,' you know. You can see--when you hear
somebody that says, `I can't stop loving you. I've made up my mind,' just
think of the people that say that, you know. And so I always start with the
lyrics just to see does the lyrics carry any real meaning not just for me, but
for the people who are going to be listening to it.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "You Don't Know Me," and the song was written by
Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold, and this is Ray Charles' 1962 recording of it,
now reissued on his CD box-set, "The Complete Country & Western Recordings

(Soundbite of "You Don't Know Me")

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) You give your hand to me and then you say hello. And
I can hardly speak, my heart is beating so. And anyone can tell you think you
know me well. Well, you don't know me.

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) No, you don't know me.

Mr. CHARLES: No, you don't know the one who dreams of you at night and longs
to kiss your lips and longs to hold you tight. Oh, I'm just a friend, that's
all I've ever been 'cause you don't know me.

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) No, you don't know me.

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) For I never knew the art of making love, though my

GROSS: As you mentioned, you grew up in the country. And I think it was at
about the age of seven that you lost your sight, and you lost it gradually
over a period of a couple of years. Did you realize what was happening?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, as far as losing my sight, I knew that because my mom was
very astute. I mean, I don't know how she managed to come up with the idea
she did, you know, but, see, because she didn't have no psychologist to tell
her to do this and tell her to do that. But she started--she knew I was going
to lose my eyesight, and so since she knew I was going to lose my sight, she
started showing me how to get around and how to do things without seeing.
Like she would tell me, `OK, I'm going to show you where this chair is, OK.
Now since you can't see that chair, you're going to have to teach yourself to
remember that that chair is there' or `You got to teach yourself to remember
that that table is there' or `You got to teach yourself to remember to turn
right when you get to'--da, da, da, da, da. And, of course she started with
that--with me when I started to lose my eyesight, so I gained an awful lot.
And, of course, being that age, it wasn't as much of a shock as, say, it would
be if I was, say, losing my sight at the age of 30 or 40 or something, where
you've seen all your life.

GROSS: Did you go through a long period of depression afterward?

Mr. CHARLES: No, because when I--by the time I started losing my sight for
sure I was going to a school for the deaf and the blind. And, you know,
children--you know, I'm sure you're aware that children can be very brutal--I
mean, to each other.

GROSS: Yeah, no kidding. Yeah.

Mr. CHARLES: You know what I mean?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHARLES: And so if you go in there--like when I first went there, I was
very homesick, and I was crying and--you know what you go through because
where I went to school was about 130 or 40 miles from where I lived, you know.
So there was a state school for the blind and deaf, as I said. So I was
crying and missing my mom and all that. And, see, kids, instead of
sympathizing, they would pick on you and make you feel bad, you know. So, you
know, they'll get you out of that kind of groove.

GROSS: Did you have good medical care at the time?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, no, honey. You know, you're thinking about much later in
life. I mean, bless your heart, I appreciate the question, but, no, no,
medically--I mean, I don't think anybody in those days even knew what that

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CHARLES: As a matter of fact, we had one hospital on the campus, and you
won't believe this, but this is the facts. There was one hospital there, and
it was on what they called the white side. It was not--we had to go over to
the white side if we needed to go to the hospital. I mean, that was just the
way it was. Nobody thought nothing about it because, hey, if that's the way
it is, that's the way it is.

GROSS: But it's kind of amazing--Isn't it?--that here you are going to school
for people who are blind and it's a segregated school.

Mr. CHARLES: That's right.

GROSS: So you're segregated by color, which you can't even see.

Mr. CHARLES: That's right. That's right. That's right. But, you know,
I--well, you know, you and I--I'm sure you'll probably never understand it
because I never understood it and I've lived a lot longer than you, and I can
tell you, I never understood how somebody can be against me and yet let me
cook their food for them, feed them, you know. Don't make sense, does it?

GROSS: Your mother must have been pretty determined to have you in the
school, I mean, to--considering that she was pretty poor, that you lived in a
backwoods area, to manage to get you to this school and maybe even force you
to go because you probably wanted to stay home.

Mr. CHARLES: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: That was pretty good on her part.

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, yeah. Well, as I say, she was very foresighted. I'll
always love my mom, when I stop to think about the things that she--you know,
she really is responsible for me being what I am today because she instilled
in me that it was vital that I be independent, it is vital--because she would
always tell me, `Even people who love you, your friends, you know, you need to
do things for yourself because, I mean, there are times when they're busy,
when they might want to do it for you but they don't have the time, and you
need to know how to do things for yourself, take care of yourself.' And she
did her best to teach me every little bitty thing that she thought would be
helpful to me in my life. Therefore, I know how to clean up a house. I know
how to cook. I know how to wash clothes. You know, I know how to do things.
That's why people are so surprised when they see me packing my bags. They
say, `You mean you pack your own bags?' I say, `Yeah. Well, even if somebody
else pack them, I have to tell them how to do it.'

GROSS: Was it at the boarding school for children who were blind and deaf
that you first learned to play music?

Mr. CHARLES: Exactly. Yeah, I started--I couldn't get into piano class, so
I started taking up clarinet. That's why I can play clarinet and saxophone.

GROSS: So you played clarinet first?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: How did you like the instrument?

Mr. CHARLES: I loved it. Well, I was a great fan of Artie Shaw. I used to
love him. Everybody was talking about Benny Goodman, but I was an Artie Shaw
man, I mean, 100 percent. And I was very impressed by what he could do with a
clarinet. And naturally, he was my mentor; I wanted to play. But, obviously,
I wanted to be in the piano class, but since I couldn't, I figured, `Well, OK,
I'll play clarinet.' And I did that. And, of course--but the next year I was
able to get into the piano class.

GROSS: Did you give up clarinet?

Mr. CHARLES: No. I studied both. I kept studying both instruments. But
naturally, my heart was with the keyboard because, I mean, that's
just--because there's so much you can do when you play piano. You know, by
the time I was 12 years old or 13 years old, I could write a whole arrangement
for a 17-piece band. See, that's the great thing; if you study piano, it
gives you a whole outlook on a lot of different things that has to do with

GROSS: Ray Charles recorded in 1998. We'll hear more of the interview in the
second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and we're remembering Ray Charles
on this special edition of FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is a special edition of FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're remembering Ray Charles, who has died at the age of 73. Let's get back
to the interview I recorded with Charles in 1998 after the release of a box
set collecting his complete country and western recordings from 1959 to '86.
When we left off, we were talking about the school for the blind where he
learned to play piano.

(Soundbite of 1998 interview)

GROSS: Now how old were you when you left school and set off on your own?

Mr. CHARLES: I was about 15 when my mom died, so I left school that year.

GROSS: And what was it like for you to first be on your own like that?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, it was tough, but I was lucky. I mean, I was lucky because
my mom had a friend that lived in Jacksonville, which, as I say, was about a
hundred and some odd miles from Greenville. And my mom had always talked to
me about her and had told me that, you know, if I ever needed someone to talk
to or--that this lady and her were very good friends. And so when my mom
passed away, I fooled around for a little while in Greenville and Tallahassee,
and then I decided I would go to Jacksonville because Jacksonville was a city,
and I wanted to see if I could, you know, get started in music and do

So I went there. And this lady's name was Lena May Thompson, and her and her
husband, Fred Thompson, they took me in and treated me just like I was their
own kid. They fed me because I sure didn't have no money, didn't have
nothing. They bought me clothes. I mean, I was lucky, you know. And when I
would get a job, maybe once or twice a week or something like that, I'd give
them the money, you know, because, I mean, it wasn't that much money involved
in the first place and I know they spent way more money than I was able to
give them back.

GROSS: Now what were the early kinds of places you performed in?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, they were like places where--one way in and one way out.
You know what I mean? They were places like dance halls, and a lot of them
would sell beer and they'd sell fried fish and chicken and stuff like that.
But like I said, it was one way in, one way out. So if a fight broke out, you
know, it was kind of rough. Those were the days, I have to say, that--they
were good experiences, but I would not like to do them again, you know,
because like I said, we were playing dances in those days. And, of course,
anything could happen.

GROSS: Now early in your career, you went through a period, like many people
do early on, of trying to figure out who you were musically. And before you
really figured that out, you sounded very much like you had patterned yourself
on Nat Cole and Charles Brown.

Mr. CHARLES: That's right.

GROSS: What do they both mean to you? Why did you feel so strongly about

Mr. CHARLES: I just loved the way--well, Nat Cole, the reason he was so
powerful in my life was the fact that I wanted to do exactly what he was
doing. You know, most people think of Nat Cole as a great singer. You know,
they know his voice. But I was looking at Nat Cole as a pianist. I mean, he
was one of the--people don't realize it, but Nat Cole was a hell of a pianist.
He played some of that tasty stuff behind his singing, and that's what I
wanted to do, was to be able to play little tasty things behind what I was
singing. So I really tried to pattern myself after Nat Cole in the early
beginnings of my career.

GROSS: And Charles Brown, the rhythm-and-blues singer.

Mr. CHARLES: And Charles Brown had that real--I don't know how you would
call it. He always sounded like he was pleading, begging, you know, really
pleading in his songs or crying, you know; and I liked that. He always
sounded like he was sincere. Whatever he was singing about, he was genuine.
He meant it. That's the way I took Charles Brown, and I liked especially when
he was singing the blues or something like "Merry Christmas Baby" and stuff
like that.

GROSS: Well, I thought we could listen to the very first recording that you
made, which is "Confession Blues."

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, my goodness. Where did you find that?

GROSS: Oh, on one of your box sets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It was easy.

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, brother. Yeah, that's one of the things that I was--you
got me down pat. I guess I must have been about 17 years old at that time
when I made that.

GROSS: This was 1949. Let's hear it, and then we'll talk about it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) I want to tell you a story of a boy who was watching
love. I want to tell you a story of a boy who was watching love and how the
girl that I loved brought me all the happiness I dreamed of. She called me
fine, sweet and mellow, but that didn't mean a thing.

GROSS: That was Ray Charles' first recording made in 1949.

Now how did you start to get a sense of who you were as a singer and start to
establish your own sound?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, well, around about 19--well, you know, I started thinking
about it in the--1951, somewhere in there, in 1950 or '51. But I was scared
to try it because, you know, I could get a lot of work sounding like Nat Cole,
you know. I could work in nightclubs, and I could make a living, you know,
with his sound. You know, I could take the amplifier and tune it and add a
little bass and a little bit of treble or something like that to it, and sound
pretty close, almost just like it, you know. But then I was--I knew-I woke up
one morning, and I started to thinking that--I said to myself, `You know,
nobody knows my name.' Everybody said to me, `Hey kid, hey, kid, you sound
just like Nat Cole. Hey, kid.' It was always, `Hey, kid.' Nobody never
said, `Ray,' never, never, never. So I started telling myself, you know,
`Your mom always told you to be yourself, and you've got to be yourself if
you're going to make it in this business. You got to--I know you love Nat
Cole, but you got to stop that,' you know. It was just a question of thinking
one morning when I woke up, people don't even know my name. I'm just, `Hey,

GROSS: We're listening to a 1998 interview with Ray Charles. We'll play the
final part of the interview, and we'll hear from two musicians who worked with
Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and Hank Crawford, after a break. This is a special
edition of FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Quincy Jones discusses his friend Ray Charles

Before we get back to the final part of our 1998 interview with Ray Charles,
we're going to hear from two people who worked with him, Quincy Jones and Hank
Crawford. Upon hearing of Charles' death, Quincy Jones said, quote, "Ray
Charles was my oldest friend, my brother in every sense of the word," unquote.
Ray Charles was one of the first musicians that Quincy Jones became good
friends with. They met when Charles was 16 and Jones was 14. In 2001, Quincy
Jones told me how they met.

Mr. QUINCY JONES (Musician; Producer; Arranger; Composer): I think it was at
the Elks Club, Terry, where after we played two jobs--we'd work from 7 to 10
in the white tennis clubs and the--well, we'd play cup music of the popular
music of the day, "To Each His Own" and "Room Full of Roses." And then at
10:00, we'd go play the black clubs, The Black and Tan, The Rocking Chair and
the Washington Educational and Social Club. And we played for strippers. We

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. JONES: We had choreography. We had everything. As kids, we were pretty
cocky because we had a great band. We could read music very well. And we did
everything. It was a show band, too. So we got most of the jobs that came
around. It was nice.

We played with Billie Holiday in '48, behind her. And then in '49, we played
with Billy Eckstine and Cab Calloway and all the bands that came through, so
we were pretty confident in those days. And the band just kept getting
tighter because we rehearsed a lot.

GROSS: You said that you admired Ray Charles' independence. He was 16 years
old. He was blind. But he had his own apartment, he got around town himself,
he had a girlfriend; I mean, he had a lot of things that you wanted.

Mr. JONES: Yes, he did. He had his own apartment, too, and two suits. It
was amazing. But I guess what impressed me the most with Ray is that he was
so independent, and sightlessness did not hinder him at all. It's one of the
treasured, cherished friendships that I really have, because as kids we used
to talk about everything. He'd show me how to write music in braille, Dizzy
Gillespie songs like "Emanon" and bepop, etc. And we used to dream about the
future, like `Wouldn't it be great to work with a symphony orchestra? One day
we're going to do that. One day we're going to have three girlfriends each,'
you know? `One day we're going to do movies together.' We're going to do all
of that stuff, and we did it. And that's what's amazing. We did, you know,
"In the Heat of the Night" together. And we did "We Are The World," all of
those things. Everything--the girls. So we did--it's amazing to dream and
have your dreams executed like that, you know?

GROSS: I thought I'd play a 1959 recording that you arranged for Ray Charles,
and this is from "The Genius of Ray Charles" album, which was recorded in
1959. We're going to hear "Let the Good Times Roll." Would you like to say
anything about this track?

Mr. JONES: I would just like to add that we had half of Count Basie's band
on that session, and half of Duke Ellington's band on that session. And in
those days, that's when I first started to work with Phil Ramone, the
engineer, who's now producer. And Ahmet Ertegun, Nesuhi Ertegun and Jerry
Wexler came by, because in those days what you heard was what you got. It
wasn't about fixing in the mix. There was nothing to mix, because it was
mono. And we went in the booth to listen to a playback of that tune--I
remember this very vividly--and when it was playing back, I said, `What's
that, Phil?' And he said that there was something coming out of the left
speaker and a different thing coming out of the right speaker. He said it's
called stereophonic sound. Never forgot it. Because I had heard it earlier
in Portland--put on earphones. It was called binaural sound by the man that
invented stereo.

GROSS: This is Ray Charles' arrangement by Quincy Jones, "Let the Good Times

(Soundbite of "Let the Good Times Roll")

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) Get everybody, let's have some fun, you only live
but once, and when you're dead, you're done, so let the good times roll. I
said, `Let the good times roll.' I don't care if you're young or old, you
ought to get together and let the good times roll. Don't sit there mumbling,
talking trash, if you want to have a ball, you got to go out and spend some
cash, and let the good times roll now. I'm talking about the good times.
Well, it makes no difference whether you're young or old, all you got to do is
get together and let the good times roll.

GROSS: Our interview with Quincy Jones was recorded in 2001.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Hank Crawford discusses his music and how he began
playing with Ray Charles

In 1998, I talked about Ray Charles with Hank Crawford, who was Charles' music
director in the late '50s and early '60s and played alto and baritone
saxophones in the band. Crawford was a student in Nashville when he first met
Ray Charles. Crawford had heard that Ray Charles was about to perform in
Nashville, but Charles' baritone player had just left, so he was looking for
another one. At the suggestion of Crawford's friends, he decided to show up
with a baritone.

Mr. HANK CRAWFORD (Saxophonist): I never played baritone in my life, but I
was excited because it was Ray Charles and I had heard a couple of his
records. I think it was "Drowning In My Own Tears" and "Hallelujah I Love Her
So." So I jumped at the opportunity, even if it had to be on baritone
saxophone, the instrument which is bigger than me. I'm not such a large
person, you know. But I did get the saxophone. I went down and I played the
job that night.

(Soundbite of "Drowning In My Own Tears")

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) It brings a tear to my eye when I begin to
realize, you know I've cried so much, well, since you've been gone. Oh, but I
know I'm almost drowning, drowning in my own tears now. And I say, oh, I'm
going to sit and cry now.

GROSS: So Ray Charles eventually appointed you music director.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What did that mean? What were your responsibilities?

Mr. CRAWFORD: I was in charge of the band. I was arranger, and just
arranging music, making notations for Ray. I think I got the job because I
had majored in music theory and composition. So I was doing a bit of writing
and composing at the time and working with Ray because he was writing. He's a
heck of an arranger himself.

GROSS: When you were arranging music with Ray Charles, what would he
communicate to you about what he wanted to hear?

Mr. CRAWFORD: He would just walk around. We'd--I'd go to his house, you
know, in his home, and we'd go down into the den and he'd say, `We're going
to write this today,' and tell me how many sheets of paper and what
instruments we were going to write for. And I would prepare that, and he
would come in and he said, `Well, we're going to do the first trumpet part,'
and he would call the notes, you know, and I would write things down. Like I
say, he would dictate the notes and I would, you know, notate them. It was

GROSS: When you say dictate it, would he like play it on the piano? Is that
the kind of dictation it was?

Mr. CRAWFORD: You know, he never used a piano doing this, like most arrangers
do, but he would just walk around and call the notes, you know. I guess he...

GROSS: You mean he'd hum it? You mean he'd say A flat?

Mr. CRAWFORD: No, he would--yeah, he would say, `A quarter rest, two
sixteenth notes, B and C,' you know, then `half rest.' And he'd say, `That
should end the bar.' I'd say, `Yes.' And he'd say, `Next bar, two
thirty-seconds' or whatever. You know, it'd go like that and he'd call the

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHARLES: I've gotten down to my last pair of shoes, can't even win a
nickel bet because them that's got are them that gets, and I ain't got nothing
yet. I'm sneaking in and out, duckin' my landlord. All I seem to do is stay
in bed, because them that's got are them that gets, and I tell you all, I
ain't got nothing yet. That old saying, `Them that's got are them that gets,'
yeah, is something I can't see. If you got to have something before you can
get something, how do you get to first is still a mystery to me. I see folk
with long cars and fine clothes. That's why they're called the smarter set
because they managed to get what all them that's got supposed to get, and I
ain't got nothing yet.

GROSS: Our interview with Hank Crawford was recorded in 1998. We'll hear the
conclusion of our interview with Ray Charles after a break. This is a special
edition of FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Ray Charles discusses his life and his music

We're remembering Ray Charles. Let's hear the final part of the interview we
recorded with him in 1998.

(Soundbite of 1998 interview)

GROSS: Your sound, you know, draws on rhythm and blues and also, I think,
gospel music. Did you sing in a church when you were young?

Mr. RAY CHARLES: Oh, yeah, sure. Yeah, like I said to you earlier, I went to
all the BYPU meetings and the Sunday school and Sunday morning service and the
evening service and the revival meetings they would have during the week, you
know, whenever that was going on. So that--I didn't star in the church, but I
did sing, you know, a little in the choir.

GROSS: Is there a record that you think of as being the first recording that
you made as yourself, really establishing yourself?

Mr. CHARLES: Probably "I Got A Woman." I mean, because when I did that, that
seemed to upset a lot of people, but it was really me. It was really...

GROSS: It upset a lot of people?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, yeah. A lot of people thought that it was too religious and
I was bastardizing the church, and oh, man, I got all kinds of criticism for

GROSS: Oh, you mean you were using too much of a sanctified sound for...

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: ...a sexual record?

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, that's right. But it was really me.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. CHARLES: It was 100 percent me. And, of course, I just said, `Well,
I'll have to be criticized because I'm going to sing the way I sing.' And
later on, after some other people started doing it, then they started calling
it soul music. It just goes to show you I guess I was a little ahead of my
time or something.

GROSS: Well, I think that's inarguable. Why don't we hear "I Got A Woman"?
And this is my guest, Ray Charles.

(Soundbite of "I Got A Woman")

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Well, I got a woman way over town that's good to me,
oh, yeah. Say I got a woman way over town, good to me. Oh, yeah. She give
me money when I'm in need. Yeah, she's a kind of friend, indeed. I got a
woman way over town that's good to me. Oh, yeah. She saves her lovin' early
in the morning just for me. Oh, yeah. She saves her lovin'...

GROSS: That's Ray Charles, the recording that he said was the first one that
really sounded like his own style.

The record that we just heard, "I Got A Woman," was one of your early
recordings for Atlantic.


GROSS: When you started recording for Atlantic, what was it like for you to
find your audience?

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, it was very--Atlantic was a great company, I have to tell
you. They--I mean, for me. Now I'm only speaking for myself because I know
some people who'll say, `Oh, man, Ray, you're wrong.' But for me, it was a
great company because what Atlantic did, they were smart in the sense that
they never ever tried to sway me in any form, shape or fashion as to what
should I do when it comes to music. All they did was whenever I wanted to
record, wherever I wanted to record, they would come and pay the bill. That's
all they would do. And it left me open to record, wherein like a lot of kids
today, they have producers and they've got to record what the producers say.
And the producer says, `I want you to sound like who had the last hit.' So
you don't have--when I was coming up, I didn't have no pressure. I could
just--Atlantic just said, `Hey, you might not have a hit now, but you're going
to have a hit.' And it was true because I made three or four records for
Atlantic before--you know, that didn't do anything. But then we came up with
a song called "Don't Mess Around(ph)," which was a big hit. "It Should Have
Been Me," and next thing, we had "I Got A Woman." So--but the first two or
three records I made didn't sell. But you can't do that in today's age. You
make two or three records that don't sell now and you're out.

GROSS: I'd like to end our interview by asking you to choose a favorite, if
you have one, from the new country music box set. There's a big selection
there, but...

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, that's true, and it would be very hard to find what I call
a favorite, but I can tell you one of the songs that I really love. There is
an old Johnny Cash thing that I did on that called "Ring of Fire," but I got
it from Johnny Cash. I think it'd be real nice to play that "Ring of Fire."

GROSS: I love that song, and it was written by his wife June.

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, really? I didn't know that.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, no kidding.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, well, thank you for telling me that.

GROSS: So we'll end with "Ring of Fire." Why do you love the song?

Mr. CHARLES: Well, just think of the lyrics. Just think of the lyrics. Oh,
love is a burning thing. You know--oh, it talks, it speaks to you, you know?
I really didn't know what you just told me, but, boy, oh, boy, I have to say
I'm very happy to hear that.

GROSS: Well, Ray Charles, it has been so wonderful to talk with you. I
really thank you so much for your time.

Mr. CHARLES: Well, Terry, it's been good talking to you, and I just want you
to know not only is it good to talk to you, but I'm going to keep on listening
to you, too.

GROSS: It is an honor to hear you say that. Thank you.

Mr. CHARLES: I really mean it; and thank you very much.

GROSS: Ray Charles recorded in 1998. He spoke to us from his own studio,
which was recently declared a Los Angeles city landmark. Ray Charles died
Thursday at the age of 73.

(Soundbite of "Ring of Fire")

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Oh, love is a burning thing, yes, it is, and it
makes, you know, it makes a fire a ring. Girl, you know, I'm bound, bound,
bound by wild desire. That's what you do to me, girl, because I done fell, I
fell into your ring of fire.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We here at FRESH AIR are among the many fans who are
grateful for the great music Ray Charles leaves behind.

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Oh, every time we say goodbye, I die a little. Every
time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little why the gods above me who must be
in the know think so little of me they allow you to go. And when you're near
there's such an air of spring about it. I can hear a lark somewhere...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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