I had the good fortune of seeing Ray Charles perform twice, and this was the first — and far more memorable — of the two.
The concert itself was killer. Ray was backed by a full jazz ensemble, plus backup singers the Raelettes, and the stage was full of energy and excitement. They played well-known tracks like “What’d I Say?” “Georgia on my Mind,” “Take These Chains From my Heart” and “Hit the Road Jack,” as well as songs I wasn’t familiar with. Thanks to my close relationship with the promoter, I was able to sit in the 6th row, center section, to take it all in.
As memorable as the concert was, the real highlights for me came before the show. Because of my connection to the promoter — OK, it was my dad — I was able to hang out for a couple hours before the show to watch the sound check and other preparations. I also got to meet and shake hands with Ray Charles himself — something you can bet I mention if I’m talking to someone and the topic of meeting famous people ever comes up.
While meeting Ray was certainly a thrill, the thing that impressed me the most about that evening was watching the sound check. When Ray first arrived backstage, he was treated like the legend he was, and seemed to enjoy all the glad-handing and fawning he got from people. But when the sound check began, he was all business. He repeatedly would stop mid-song and tell a horn player to come in earlier on the stabs, or tell the bass player to loosen the groove, or tell one of the Raelettes to sing louder or softer. Sometimes he would run the band through a particular measure four or five times before he was satisfied. I was amazed at how he could focus on each element of the orchestra, picking out things that the audience never would have noticed. It was then I realized I wasn’t just watching some famous guy, but a real musical genius.