One of my teenage memories is of Flip Wilson’s routine on The Ed Sullivan Show where he plays Queen Isabella of Spain talking to Christopher Columbus about going to America. “Chris you go get me Ray Charles,” says Wilson in his best feminine voice. Well, The Concord Music Group has gone into the vaults and found the best of Ray Charles.
Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music may have been Ray Charles best studio album and remains one of the most influential rhythm and blues releases of the sixties. Volume 2 was only a step behind in terms of quality. Now both have been re-mastered and issued on one CD.
Ray Charles, blind since the age of seven, grew up playing the piano. He signed with the Atlantic label in 1952 and quickly established himself as one of the leading rhythm and blues artists of the period, as such hits as “What’d I Say,” managed to cross over onto the mostly white charts in an era when that rarely happened.
In 1959 the ABC Paramount label made Charles an offer he could not refuse and Atlantic refused to match. He received $50,000 up front, a percentage of his sales, and the development of his own Tangerine label. While this was a remarkable deal in 1959, Ray Charles sold himself short.
He would become a hit making machine as “Georgia On My Mind” (1960) and “Hit The Road Jack” (1961) would both reach number on the American pop charts and sell over a million copies each.
It was in 1962, however, that Ray Charles would reach the zenith of his creativity and commercial appeal. His choice to issue an album of country cover songs seemed odd as country music, like rhythm and blues, was a step-child of mainstream music. Ray Charles would prove that a good song remains a good song when sung by a great singer. He brought his gospel style vocals to the material, added some brass, a different cadence and beat here and there, included some female background singers, and quickly sold over two million copies. Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music would spend an unprecedented fourteen weeks at the top of the pop charts.
This first album is highlighted by “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “You Don’t Know Me” which have become synonymous with the Ray Charles sound. His interpretation of the two Jimmie Davis tunes, “Worried Man” and “It Makes No Difference,” are brilliant. He would replace the country twang of the originals with his smooth, soulful style and move them completely out of the country and western traditions of the day. The Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love” is slowed down a bit and emerges as a smooth up-tempo ballad. If you have not heard Ray Charles sing “Hey Good Looking” you are in for a treat.
He would quickly follow with Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music Volume 2. While it did not have the consistent highs and surprises of the first release, it was still one of the better albums of the early sixties.
He would place all the ballads on one side of the original LP and the big band numbers on the other. Another old Jimmie Davis tune “You Are My Sunshine” would become a top ten hit as it received a soulful vocal performance. He roars through Don Gibson’s “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles.” Two Hank Williams songs highlight the ballad side: “Take These Chains From My Heart” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” both feature his piano and poignant vocal.
Today, several years after his death, Ray Charles is recognized as an American icon and musical genius. Both volumes of Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music not only present him at his best but remain important for crossing both musical, social, and cultural boundaries.
Ray Charles made a conscious decision to integrate musical styles long before other forms of integration were accepted or even attempted in The United States. For that reason alone the music contained on this album was and remains a milestone.