Mediagraphy - Discography - Trackography - Videography - Gigography - Biography - Chronology

27 March 2011

Ray Charles Live In Rome (1999)

On 28 July 1999 Ray Charles, the Ray Charles Orchestra and The Raelettes played a concert at the RomaLive Festival. Read review here; according to this source a.o. the following tunes were on the setlist:
  • Angelina
  • I Can't Stop Loving You 
  • I Want Your Love
  • Smack Dab In The Middle
  • People Will Say We're In Love (with Raelettes)
  • What'd I Say  
The concert was recorded for TV illegally. The day after some band members - much to their surprise - saw back the whole concert in their hotel rooms, on a local channel.* The Italian promoters had possibly allowed the station to tape the gig to make some extra money on the side.

Who knows more?

*Information kindly provided by Brad Rabuchin. 

24 March 2011

Ray Charles Live At Salute To Freedom (1963)

I’ve written a few times about Ray Charles’ position and actions against racism. One of these actions was his contribution to Salute To Freedom, a concert against segregation, held on 5 August 1963 in Birmingham, the capital of U.S. racism in the 1960s. Today I found a contemporary article that I will quote below because it looks as if it may disappear from the web anytime soon.
It’s a fascinating read, mainly depicting the hero’s role – in almost biblical terms - of comedian and AGVA president Joey Adams.
Another alibi to publish it here is because one of the last paragraphs carries proof that a number of news organizations filmed at the event. Some of that footage must have survived. Who knows more?

The article, Neither heat, bombs, nor Birmingham cops shall stop the show - it must go on, was written by Leo Shull, and published in Show Business, Vol. XXIII, no. 32 (10 August 1963), pgs. 1, 10:
Two invasion planes flew into Birmingham, Alabama, Monday August 4 and captured the city. "They captured the right people, too," said Reverend Martin Luther King, "the Negroes and whites who are fighting to attach Birmingham and the whole South to the United States of America." Joey Adams, President of AGVA, had decided to integrate Birmingham for the entertainment industry.
The first plane of show people drafted by Adams had 76 aboard. "The Spirit of 76," said Joey, who had conceived, produced and financed the show and was now the den mother & nursemaid to the apprehensive collection of talent. The second plane departed afterwards and had Ray Charles and his orchestra, crewmen and staff. Mr. Charles and his manager [formally: Ray’s booking agent, BS], Milt Shaw, with Stan Seidenberg [another agent, BS], had chartered and paid for this plane.
In the first aircraft with Joey Adams were his wife, Cindy, and stars, celebrities, newspapermen, Life and Sat Eve[ning] Post and other photographers, disc jockeys and commentators of radio and TV stations, plus several hundred pounds of food and drink, donated to Mr. Adams and his Salute to Freedom riders by Max Asnas, Stage Delicatessen. The planes were paid by donations which Mr. Adams got from Northerners, including $500 from Radio City Music Hall, Maurice Uchital ($2,500); David Dubinsky of ILGWU ($500); Jacob Potofsky of the Hatmakers' Union ($250), Union official Harold Gibbons ($1,000) AGMA ($200) and Int'l Building Trades ($200) plus many smaller contributions.
To dare say, and a Yankee at that, that an integrated show would be smuggled into Birmingham to encourage Negroes and whites to integrate into a black and white audience was like waving a red flag in front of a bull O'Connor—an intolerable insult.
The enemy camp decided to meet it with volleys of silence, from the Mayor of the city, the police, political figures and the Birmingham press which never printed a stick of linotype before or after the event.

The police and Mayor had refused protection, because "this was the first integrated show and audience in the history of Birmingham," declared Rev. A. D. King, brother of Martin Luther, who had organized 500 volunteers to deal with the local problems and preparations, including ticket sales for the show.
Taxi drivers had refused to transport the show's cast and personnel. Rev. King then collected a caravan of 50 private-car volunteers. Hotels had refused lodgings; Adams got a motel, run by A.G. Gaston, former Negro undertaker and now owner of the motel, the local Negro bank and Negro insurance company to provide lodgings. Restaurants refused service. Adams brought along his own food. The city theatre and auditorium owners had refused a meeting hall.
Adams and King got a Negro college campus. There were no chairs. Adams issued a radio call via Negro disc jockey in Birmingham asking people to carry their own - on the night of the show, for three miles people could be seen walking to campus, carrying their own chairs - they had also paid $5 per ticket to see the show.
There was no stage nor lights.
"Build one, buy lights," said Adams. "I'm sending a check for the lumber, lights and electricians. And don't spend a cent of the ticket sales, keep it all to pay for 'The March to Washington Aug. 28,' I'm paying all expenses for this 'Sale to Freedom in Birmingham.'"
Threatening calls and letters, promises of bombings, riots and physical injury all failed to deter the group or the show which went on 9 pm and lasted for five hours. Klu Kluxers and white violence groups began to hold meetings.
Joey Adams had collected for his production Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone, comedian Al Bernie, writers James Baldwin and Harry Golden, Dick Merson, assistant director of News; Billy Taylor and Wm. B. Williams of WNEW; Paul Duke, magician; Billy Rowe, former NYC Deputy Police Coor., now Joe Louis' partner, and Conrad Buckner, dancer, the Gamm Sisters, The Raelettes, Clyde McPhatter, The Shirelles, Dick Gregory, Magid Triplets, the Alabama Christian Movement Choir of 150, the whole orchestra of The Harlem Apollo Theatre led by its conductor, Reuben Phillips. The Alabama musicians union refused to permit Negro and white musicians to play in the same stage.
The cast and crew got off the plane, had lunch at the Gaston motel, then went to a nearby hall and began rehearsals with the orchestras. Sid DeMaye, of AGVA, began co-ordinating the stage routine.
Meanwhile in New York and over press wires the story began to go out. The radio stations from the North began phoning in for progress reports. The newsmen and photographers - about 50 - began work. So did Cleveland Robinson, chairman of the "March on Washington Committee," Clarence Jones of the Ghandi Society.
On the campus, Dr. Lucious H. Pitts, president of Miles College, had mustered volunteer students and alumni to prepare an organization of ushers, service personnel; the carpenters and roof-makers, lighting men and technicians were working in the 98 degree heat - an unusually hot day.
Civilian defense guards had been gathered to take over the protection job that the police refused and had always given to all other public gatherings - and these Negro volunteers came with shot guns to protect the audience from Klu Kluxers who had paraded a few days earlier in protest against the show.
Makeshift floodlights had been set up to light the way for the ticket buyers and to show up any lurking hoodlums or invaders. There were no toilet or rest room facilities, no water, since the field was about a half mile from the college, and five miles from the center of town...
Altho the show was not scheduled till about nine, the audience began to come at noon. Adams had expected 5,000; more than 20,000 people bought tickets, and brought chairs. Many white ticket agencies accepted tickets for sale, a new first.
The Negro people, who had reason to dislike whites, treated the Salute to Freedom members with generous welcome and affection. The response to the show at times was deafening, and great roars greeted many of the acts and the quips of MC Adams, Rev. Martin Luther King, Joe Louis. Adams made a point of publicly embracing many Negro members of the local committees, a sight that would have caused instant arrest a few months ago. The Negroes watched with disbelief and amazement as Negroes and whites chattered, worked and mingled on stage and at the Gaston Motel (which had been bombed a few months ago when they found that Martin Luther King was sleeping on the second floor. A wall of new bricks replaces the old shattered one). Some Negroes asked if they could walk on the street with white members of the show; never seen in Birmingham before.
NBC and other television companies had brought their cameras, as did many of the film newsreel companies.
White and Negroes sitting and eating together became the big photo catch for Negro photographers shooting for Southern Negro newspapers and magazines. More than a dozen Negro disc jockeys journeyed to Miles College and were introduced on the stage. They had been broadcasting this coming event for weeks.
Said James Baldwin to the audience: "This is a living, visible view of the breakdown of a hundred years of slavery - it means that white man and black can work and live together. History is forcing people of Birmingham to stop victimizing each other."
The only member of the United States Government or any of the fifty states to acknowledge there was a new kind of integration drive, was NY's Senator Jacob Javits. He sent a telegram to Joey Adams saying: "Congratulations to all those participating in this significant variety show, my warmest praise goes out to you for this inspiring show which deserves the support of all America interested in freedom and human dignity. Birmingham is an appropriate site for this event. I think this will become the symbol of the breakthru so long awaited and tell the people present I will work to overcome the Senate filibuster to bring civil rights this year."
About four hours after the show began as Johnny Mathis began his song, the stage collapsed and fifty people were hurled down, some of them struck by the falling lumber. The whole field went dark. Electricians restored lights in about a half hour, the audience stayed, the show went on. One man with two broken legs, and the other wounded were taken to hospitals.
The noise of the crash made people think a bomb had gone off, some jumped, John Mathis dove for the floor. (This writer was thrown clear to the grass below.) One of the Magid Triplets was injured, but he did his turn later anyhow. Orchestra instruments were broken, they will be paid for from the $10,000 fund Joey Adams raised.

Upon the return trip, a warning came that a bomb was on one of the planes. It was searched, then all plane riders were halted at the airport gate and questioned, some searched for possible bomb or weapon. The Ray Charles plane flew off. Then the 76 on the second plane embarked. At 5 am it took off. At 9 am it landed at LaGuardia, New York City, U.S.A., Aug. 6, nineteen sixty three.
For a wider perspective on the event and Ray's role, also read this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.

For the later controversy around Ray's concerts in South Africa, read this.

This is how the great Billy Taylor remembered the day:
Also read this article.

Life (Time) has made these photos (not published before) public:

Photos by Grey Villet.

21 March 2011

Genius And Friends (2005)

When a recording artist dies, their record company always gets squeezed between their (and the artist's heirs') commercial interests and their integrity. The questions they usually (have to) ask themselves are: Should we issue these songs, although the artist didn't explicitly approve any release? Should we (re)mix those tunes to our own tastes, since the artist didn't finish them himself? Should we release these finished tapings, although the artist didn't think they were good enough for a release? Should we delve through our vaults, to see if there are any outtakes that are worth a release – although they were never meant for that?
After Ray Charles' death, all kinds of good, some questionable and incidental bad things happened with his musical legacy.

Genius Loves Company was a triumph at Starbucks outlets, on the charts and at the Grammys. And Ray, the soundtrack, was a neat and relevant selection from his best work. What even was better, was that Ray worked on both projects while he was still alive, and - as far as I know - consciously approved, or at least endorsed, the end results.

The relevancy of More Music From Ray, the latter album's sequel, was less clear. It contained some more film tracks that were left off of the first collection (okay), plus some non-movie songs said to inspire the film (odd). But it also had a great surprise for hardcore fans, where it also entailed three new studio takes, film dub tracks for which no other appropriate recordings existed (marvelous), and also sequences where Ray accompanied Jamie Foxx on piano (documentary value).

Pure Genius from 2005 was almost everything a Ray Charles aficionado could dream of when it comes to a compilation: an abundant overview of his work for this label, liner notes with a reasonable quality, a series of lovingly compiled raw studio outtakes from his Atlantic period, and a great video bonus (the Newport 1960 concert) – all in a carefully designed box set.

Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006) combined archival vocal recordings (taped during a European tour in September 1973) with new performances by a current (2006) Count Basie (Show) Orchestra. Charles was singing his guts out (his voice was probably never better than in the mid 1970s!), but adding the Basie b(r)and to this production was just a marketing trick. The new arrangements lacked balls, and the ensemble lacked the personality of Charles' best orchestra line-ups (a Ray Charles All Stars band and any choice of the historical Raelettes would surely have done a much better job). Combining Charles with Basie in this way, to my taste, came dangerously close to the lack of respect and integrity that more recently infuriated Pat Metheny so much in another case of over the grave-artistry.

Recently, Rare Genius – The Undiscovered Masters  (2010) was another post mortem album release. In itself the release of unknown tracks was good news, of course. But I would have appreciated it if the compilers had made their selection criteria much more clear. Ray was one of the inventors of thematic record albums, but this album was overly theme-less. And as a fan I was disappointed in my expectation that I also would get the opportunity to listen to the pure original, Genius-mastered takes, without the "sweetening" make-over additions – which, to my taste, again were produced with too many outsider studio musicians!

In between all these releases there were all kinds of straight forward, plainly commercial re-releases of other Ray Charles albums and compilations that I won't discuss here. Some of them presented Ray in his original form, some others offered remastered originals. Nothing wrong with that.

And then there was Genius And Friends, from 2005.

  1. All I Want To Do (with Angie Stone)
  2. You Are My Sunshine (with Chris Isaak)
  3. It All Goes By So Fast (with Mary J Blight)
  4. You Were There (with Gladys Knight)
  5. Imagine (with Ruben Studdard & The Harlem Gospel Singers)
  6. Compared To What (with Leela James)
  7. Big Bad Love (with Diana Ross)
  8. I Will Be There (with Idina Menzel)
  9. Blame It On The Sun (with George Michael)
  10. Touch (with John Legend)
  11. Shout (with Patti LaBelle & The Andrae Crouch Singers)
  12. Surrender To Love (with Laura Pausini)
  13. Busted (Live Version) (with Willie Nelson)
  14. America The Beautiful (with Alicia Keys)
According to Rhino/WEA’s press kit, they took a series of studio tracks that Ray had been working on in 1997 and 1998 as a basis for this album, and fused them with vocals by contemporary artists to create another duet album. The album was presented as the end result of a project that Charles initiated a few months before his death. Ray had called James Austin in December of 2003, asking if he could find the masters of an unreleased duets record. Still according to the same Rhino publicity rap, Charles was too sick to work on them, so after his passing the company decided to finish off the project, bringing in producer Phil Ramone to oversee the completion of the album. This also included bringing in singers to record their parts, since apart from the 1991 duet with Diana Ross on Big Bad Love and the live 1991 version of Busted with Willie Nelson (taken from the television special Ray Charles: 50 Years In Music, Uh-Huh!), these were all studio artefacts, with vocalists duetting with a previously recorded Ray. Ramone edited the new recordings with the existing tapes.
It rarely sounded as if the vocalists were in the same room together. To real fans, a critic wrote, the album was just a painful reminder that The Genius had left the building.

But there’s more to this story.

In an interview by Sandra Cesarale in the Corriera della Sera of 27 July 1999 Ray stated that he was working on a record project to be released in September of that year, produced by “my friend Quincy Jones”, where Charles would sing with “the young Brandy”, George Michael, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight. "But in [this] project I also want to involve the queen of disco music: Gloria Gaynor.”

When Genius And Friends was first announced on Amazon (on 25 May 2005) the published track list was:
  1. You Are My Sunshine
  2. Imagine
  3. It All Goes By So Fast - Mary J. Blige
  4. I Believe In Your Touch - John Legend
  5. Big Bad Love - Diana Ross
  6. Busted – Wille Nelson
  7. Living For the City
  8. All I Want to Do - Angie Stone
  9. Compared to What
  10. Shout - Patti LaBelle with The Andrae Crouch Choir
  11. You Were There - Gladys Knight
  12. Blame It On the Sun - George Michael
  13. You Leave Me Breathless
  14. America the Beautiful – Alicia Keys
Track #7 clearly refers to the missing duet with Stevie Wonder, probably more specifically to a release of their magnificent performance of Living For The City during the Ray Charles: 50 Years In Music, Uh-Huh! show in 1991. It's a riddle with whom the duet on You Leave Me Breathless was (planned to be) recorded. Gaynor? Brandy? One of the other artists mentioned in the Fox News article quoted below?

The disappearance of Brandy and Stevie (and possibly also of some other artists) from the track list may have had all kinds of good or less good (business) reasons (e.g. the refusal of their own record companies to clear their collaboration on this album), while Patti LaBelle’s contribution may just have been an incidental matter of bad judgment by the producers (it's very hard to conceive that Ray would have ever even allowed her access to RPM Studios). But on 29 August 2005 Fox News published a story by Roger Friedman, titled 'Genius II' Loves Trouble, that suggested more serious problems. The narrative is clearly based on gossip, and I have seen better fact checking, but the writer's sources must have been people close to Ray and RPM who were truly concerned about the integrity of the whole project:
"Don't get too excited about those announcements last week of a "new" Ray Charles duets album. I'm told there's trouble brewing on this project that has not been addressed.
Earlier this year, Charles won a posthumous Grammy award for his Genius Loves Company album on Concord Records.
That was a collection of digitized duets, but the combination of Charles' untimely death and the movie Ray [...]drove the CD to sales of 3 million in the United States. It caused a Ray Charles renaissance of the first order.
So, what to do? Some at the Charles estate [this most probably refers to Joe Adams, BS] wanted a Genius II but the tracks didn't exist. Then someone remembered that Charles had recorded a bunch of duets years ago and hadn't released them.
The original tracks were recorded for Quincy Jones' now-defunct Qwest Records […].
Estate insiders thought: Wouldn't it be a great idea to release these duets? Maybe. But apparently they also felt the original collaborators were no longer relevant or commercial enough to market.
Charles' collaborators on those tracks included Brandy, Brownstone, Chuckii Booker, B.B. King, En Vogue, Faith Evans and Stevie Wonder. In fact, there's supposedly a duet between Wonder and Charles on Living For The City that's supposed to be spectacular.
Critics of the Charles estate, however, tell me there's such a clamor to make more money from the deceased legend that insiders have gone too far this time. Apparently, all those artists who actually recorded with Charles in the studio have been "erased" and their vocals replaced by Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross [wrong info; the duet Big Bad Love was taped and released by Ross in 1991, BS], and other artists considered bigger stars now.
It is not known whether the original singers have been notified that their vocals have been eliminated.
Two of the new vocalists are Alicia Keys and Ruben Studdard, neither of whom Charles even knew [at least partly wrong, Ray consciously contributed to Keys’ - awful, awful - rendition of America The Beautiful, especially produced for the 2003 Super Bowl halftime show, BS], critics charge. Additionally, there's the matter of LaBelle, who - though revered by many - was not particularly liked by Charles.
Wonder, I am told, declined to sign off on releasing his duet for this new weird collection.
All of this may come as a shock to Atlantic Records chief emeritus Ahmet Ertegun, whose name was used in the press release announcing the album on Rhino Records. You can still find Internet references to an album called Duets, which Rhino declined to release in 1998.
The release claimed that Ertegun was fulfilling a "deathbed" promise to Charles to put out his material. But since Charles had not recorded for Ertegun since leaving Atlantic in 1959, that claim may be dubious at best [wrong for several reasons, but mainly because Atlantic actually was involved in releasing the album through Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, or WEA for short, BS].
It's nothing new that dead artists are exploited. Charles seems destined to join Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and countless others now that he's gone to his great reward. I'm told he left behind hundreds of unreleased recordings that should provide lots of legal tangles."
Also read this article for the point of view of Ray's children.

However, let us pray that the remainder of Ray's musical legacy will be treated with much more respect. And integrity. There's still a lot of work to be done!

Album: Rhino/WEA, 20 September 2005, ASIN: B000AMPYZY.