Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been crazy about Ray Charles. Ray Charles was one of the greats. I was lucky enough to see him perform three times over the years. Each time he played disappointingly short sets. But each moment was special. If I had to vote for the best pop/jazz singer of the past generation it would be for the late, great Ray Charles. I don’t think there’s any competition. I can remember a moment, a certain feeling I had, when I was a kid back in the early 60’s. I was throwing a Spauldeen ball against the wall of the IRT train trestle outside my house on Sagamore Street in the Bronx, and a transistor radio on somebody’s window sill was playing “I Can’t Stop Loving You”. I remember being thoroughly captivated by the music in a special, soulful way. It’s a very clear memory. The way Ray shouted and wailed: the pace and the emotion of the song was something I had never before heard in music.
Luckily, not long afterward, my father bought a Ray Charles album for our new hi fi phonograph console. He bought some Toscanini, and some Thousand Strings records, but also one by Ray Charles. It was “Genius Hits the Road”, which included Georgia on My Mind, Moonlight in Vermont, Moon Over Miami, Sweet Georgia Brown, and Chatanooga Choo Choo. What songs! Ray Charles of course did them all to perfection. He did all sorts and genres of songs throughout his career, and he was always able to turn them into ‘Ray Charles’ songs.
Ray was celebrated for “crossing over” and dipping into the Country Western music charts for songs. His Crying Time album took a couple of Buck Owens’ tunes and gave them that special voice, plus a rhythm and blues feel. Earlier, his version of an Eddy Arnold hit “You Don’t Know Me” had also been a big hit on the radio. Indeed, “You Don’t Know Me” had an almost anthemic resonance at the time among Black people.
Ever the businessman, Ray wasn’t very vocal about politics, though. He minimized the significance of his “cross-over” song selections. He would say that he just liked to find a good lyric. Anyhoo, here’s Maybank doing You Don’t Know Me the last time we played, which was months ago. We were working on the song, so this version is far from perfect. Still, I think Maybank approached it off nicely, adding some sweet jazz chords – which takes us quite a way from the original Country Wester version that was written by Cindy Walker in 1955 for Eddy Arnold. Of course it ain’t Ray Charles, but that would be impossible anyway.
I know the above recording wasn’t perfect. One day, after this pandemic is over, Maybank and I will work on it again. I just figured I’d post it anyway. I just tried to record it again by myself, this time on the piano, but it’s nowhere near perfect either. And neither recording comes anywhere close to Ray Charles. We’re only human. Still, when we play these songs we think of the great Ray Charles, and that ain’t bad either.