Ray Charles had been such a fixture on the American music scene for so long, it's still hard to reconcile the fact he's been gone for over two years now. True, it's been a long time since he had a bona fide hit, but his presence permeated our culture through the music of others.
But y'all already know that, so I don't really need to go into any detail about his immense legend. To me, his legend was established when he melded gospel and blues to form what is now known as Soul. That's what makes the Blues disc of the 1994 Blues+Jazz compilation some of Brother Ray's very finest work.
Included on that disc is a bluesy soul single he recorded back in 1958 called "Night Time Is The Right Time." The lyrics were probably slightly raunchy for its time even as the way the music is played screamed "gospel." Ray is preaching the lines, with the Raylettes following with "night and day" as if to say "amen." Margie Hendrix, giving it all she got in her turn on lead vocal for one verse, is downright righteous; I'm ready to praise Jesus on the spot. If that wasn't enough, Fathead Newman is wailing on the saxes. There's so much good stuff going on in this song you'd probably overlook the electric piano Charles plays, which has to be one of the very first recordings with one.
Earlier in 1958, Ray Charles performed this song at the Newport Jazz Festival with pretty much the same crew. Now, Ray had a reputation for being demanding in the studio and the single described above was a combination of the 21st and 22nd takes, so it's astonishing how much the Newport live version sounds like the studio recording. Note for note, it's almost identical, even down to the most minor vocal phrasings and ad-libs! About the only thing to tip it off that this is a different recording to the casual ear is the applause at the end and an acoustic piano in place of the electric Wurlitzer, but that's about it. You better believe it was just as inspirational.
You don't have to be a connoisseur of music to appreciate Ray's attention to detail and that's why everybody loved him. Nonetheless, the live rendition of "Night Time Is the Right Time" proves the genius of Ray Charles shone on the bandstand just as it did in a more sterile setting.
"One Track Mind" is a weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too. Downloads are low quality rips available for only about a week.