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Influences on The Band:

Ray Charles

[Peter Viney]  by Peter Viney

Copyright © Peter Viney 1998. Thanks to David Powell for his corrections and additions to this article.

Ray Charles was a huge influence on Richard Manuel which extended to the rest of The Band. Levon Helm once said his greatest influence was the drummer on What’d I Say. Every self-respecting early sixties band played What’d I Say and probably Sticks and Stones and Let the Good Times Roll too. While everyone covered Ray’s R&B stuff, only The Band could make equally successful stabs at his standards and country and western material as well.

There are a number of Ray Charles tracks which have been done by The Band and various solo members:

Georgia (On My Mind) (Carmichael / Gorell)
Original : single (US #1, UK #24, September 1960) and on The Genius Hits The Road, October 1960 (US #9).
Band version: Islands. US single, 1976. The single was released to help Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. They performed it on ‘Saturday Night Live.’
Levon Helm: We released (the single) in Mr Carter’s honor … we played (it) on Saturday Night Live, and a few days after that Jimmy Carter was elected President of The United States.
Richard Manuel had been singing this Ray Charles standard since before he even joined The Hawks. The Hawks were doing it in 1965, and it’s on the Dallas 1965 tape. According to Levon’s biography it closed the legendary but unobtainable Pop Ivey’s show in Port Dover:
Levon Helm: Richard ends the show with a beautiful version of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ that defuses the night’s energy and the raw power of the sound we were putting out. Everybody loved Richard’s voice, especially on that song.

You Don’t Know Me (Cindy Walker-Eddy Arnold)
Original: Single (US #2, UK #9, July 1962), and Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music album 1962 (US #1, UK #6)
Band version: The Band Japan Tour video.
A "Texas 1964" live version appears on the Crossing the Great Divide bootleg. This was a part of the Hawks early 60s stage act, with Manuel on vocals. Manuel did it solo and with The Band circa 1984-5, though the Japan Tour video, recorded in September 1983, was its only official release. Incidentally, Van Morrison’s fine 1995 cover on Days Like This reminds me more of Manuel than Charles. When I saw Van Morrison perform this live, I felt that the spirit of Richard Manuel was reverberating through the hall.

Let The Good Times Roll (Thead -Moore)
This R & B classic is also associated with Louis Jordan (cf. The Band’s staple live version of Caldonia which they also performed with Muddy Waters). The Ray Charles version may be the best-known.
Ray Charles version: single February 1960. Opening track of The Genius of Ray Charles LP in February 1960 (US #17).
Muddy Waters version: featuring Levon Helm and Garth Hudson on 1975’s Grammy-winning Muddy Water’s Woodstock Album, produced by Levon Helm.
Robbie Robertson version: duet with Cassandra Wilson on the Jimmy Hollywood soundtrack, 1994

C.C. Rider aka See See Rider (Trad /arr. Ray Charles)
Original: single 1949- writer’s credit Ray Charles
Band versions: frequent live number from mid 80s
The Band would certainly be familiar with many versions of this song, with Ray Charles’ 1949 one being the earliest. Chuck Willis had a major hit (1957) but LaVerne Baker charted with it again in 1963 at a seminal time for The Hawks, as did the Animals in 1966, and Elvis opened his On Stage - February 1970 album with it.

Come Rain or Come Shine (Johnny Mercer / Harold Arlen)
Ray Charles originally cut this in 1946. A later version from The Genius of Ray Charles was used by Robertson on the King of Comedy soundtrack and album

Smack Dab in the Middle (Charles E. Calhoun)
Ray Charles original: September 1964 single from the Have A Smile With Me album. The song comes from Count Basie.
Levon and The Hawks played it on the Dallas 1965 tape. If you want to hear the song in a rock setting, Ry Cooder performs it on Chicken Skin Music.

What’d I Say (Ray Charles)
Original: single 1959 (US#1, UK #1) Recorded live.
Danko does this on a 7 May 1992 tape from the Village Gate, NYC.

Wish you were here tonight?
Original: title track of album, March 1983
Both The Band and Rick Danko solo featured this in live shows during the 1980s

She Knows (Griffin - Royer)
Ray Charles is listed as performer in the ASCAP website - though I can’t trace where he did it anywhere. Griffin & Royer were members of Bread. It appeared on Bread Retrospective as an unreleased track. Then on James Griffin's Breakin Up Is Easy in 1974. This was also issued as a single by James Griffin & Co.
Richard Manuel version on Across the Great Divide. This was recorded on 19 January 1986 at the Lone Star Café, and also features Rick Danko on vocals, and Garth Hudson on sax and keyboards.

Mary Anne (Ray Charles)
Original: B side of Drown In My Own Tears single, 1956, and on the Hallelujah, I Love Her So album, 1956.
Stan Szeleste performed this in Band concerts during late 1990.

Your Cheatin’ Heart (Hank Williams)
There’s a tenuous ‘reverse’ connection with Ray Charles’ hit version of Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart. Ray didn’t cover it until 1962 (single US #29, UK #13 from Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music Vol 2 , album US #2, UK #12).
Ronnie Hawkins, backed by Levon Helm and Nashville session men, had covered this previously on Ronnie Hawkins Sings The Songs of Hank Williams (1960). My guess is that while it was a current hit for Ray, it would have been back in the act for Ronnie. Those with access to Dylan collectors’ tapes can hear Danko & Helm performing the song with Dylan (Lone Star Cafe, New York City, 16 February 1983).

Ophelia (Robbie Robertson)
Ray Charles has reciprocated their interest by cutting a version of Ophelia on the Brother Ray album.

So what about this idea of a Tribute to Ray Charles by The Band? The producer would be obvious - Van Morrison, who shared Richard’s love of Ray Charles’ music (and has cut superb versions of I Can’t Stop Loving You, Lonely Avenue, What Would I Do? and You Don’t Know Me). Van got the best out of John Lee Hooker. They could mix existing versions by both parties and add new ones (they’d have to use everything they could with Richard on). Since 4% Pantomime, Tura-Lura-Lura and Caravan, I’ve wanted to hear Van backed by The Band again.

There is a natural title track, too. Nobody Sings ‘em Like Ray which is an unreleased outake / reject Band track from the early 90s, which name calls (at least) Georgia, What’d I Say and Lonely Avenue.

NOTE: I mention tapes that are around - see the extensive setlists on the website. However, I cannot meet any requests for these!

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