You Don’t Know Me

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.

12 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Me

  1. Ray Charles. Definitely one of the best. The whole time I was reading this though Joan Osborne’s song “Spider Web” was going through my head. Can you imagine a world where Ray Charles couldn’t sing?

    Spider Web – Joan Osborne
    I dreamed about Ray Charles last night
    And he could see just fine
    Dreamed about Ray Charles last night
    And he could see just fine you know
    I asked him for a lullaby
    He said “Honey I don’t sing no more”
    No more no more no more
    Ray don’t sing no more
    He said “Since I got my eyesight back
    my voice has just deserted me.
    No ‘Georgia On My Mind’ no more
    I stay in bed with MTV.”
    Then Ray took his glasses off
    And I could look inside his head
    Flashing like a thunderstorm
    I saw a shining spider web
    Spider web
    Spider web
    Spider web
    In Ray Charles’ head
    I dreamed about Ray Charles last night
    He took me flying in the air
    Showed my own spider webs
    Said, “Honey, you had best take care.
    The world is made of spider webs
    The threads are stuck to me…

    1. That’s beautiful. The fact that there was a Ray Charles gives us a feeling of optimism. Joan Osborne’s interpretation of Ray’s blindness is a dark one, tho.

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