Skip to main content

50 Years of Ray Charles: The Early Years.

Rock historian Ed Ward begins a 2-part retrospective on the work of Ray Charles, who celebrates 50 years in show business this year. Much of the music comes from "Ray Charles: Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection" (Rhino)


Other segments from the episode on May 20, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 20, 1998: Interview with Nick Hornby; Commentary on Ray Charles; Interview with Hank Crawford.


Date: MAY 20, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052001np.217
Head: High Fidelity
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Nick Hornby is great at writing about pop culture obsessives. His novel "High Fidelity" was about a guy in his 30s who runs a used record store and judges everyone according to their taste in music.

His new novel, "About a Boy," is about a 36-year-old guy who spends his days and nights immersed in his record collection, or watching television. He can afford to do that -- he lives off the royalties of his late father's novelty Christmas hit.

But it's hard for him to have relationships with women, until he figures out that a lot of men don't like dating single mothers. So, he'd have less competition and more appreciation in that field.

These seems like such a good strategy, he eventually invents an imaginary child so he can pose as a sympathetic singe father, even though he doesn't much like children. Through this little scam, he ends up meeting a 12-year-old named Marcus (ph), who becomes quite attached to him.

Here's a reading. Will, the main character has just figured out that he stands a better chance of scoring if he focuses on single mothers. His current girlfriend Angie (ph) has two kids.

NICK HORNBY, AUTHOR, "HIGH FIDELITY," AND "ABOUT A BOY": They went to McDonalds. Then went to the science museum and the natural history museum. They went on a boat down the river. On the very few occasions when he had thought about the possibility of children, always when he was drunk, always in the first throes of a new relationship, he had convinced himself that fatherhood would be a sort of sentimental photo-opportunity and fatherhood Angie-style was exactly like that.

He could walk hand-in-hand with a beautiful woman, children gambling happily in front of him, and everyone could see him doing it. And when he'd done it for an afternoon, he could go home again if he wanted to.

And then there was the sex. "Sex with a single mother," Will decided after his first night with Angie, "beat the sort of sex he was used to hands down."

If you picked the right woman, someone who had been messed around, and eventually abandoned by the father of her children, and who hadn't met anyone since, because the kids stopped you going out and anyway, a lot of men didn't like kids that didn't belong to them, and they didn't like the kind of mess that frequently coiled around these kids like a whirlwind.

If you picked one of these, then she loved you for it. All of a sudden you became better looking, a better lover, a better person. As far as he could see, it was an entirely happy arrangement. All those so-so couplings going on out in the world of the childless singles, to whom a night in a foreign bed was just sex, they didn't know what they were missing.

Sure, there were right on people, men and women, who would repelled in and appalled by his logic, but that fine by him. It reduced the competition.

GROSS: That's Nick Hornby reading from his new novel About A Boy. The other advantage our main character finds in dating single mothers is that the single mothers are often not yet ready to be in a long-term relationship, so they break up apologetically with him, which means he gets to have great sex without commitment, and that's delightful for him.


HORNBY: That's his logic, yeah.

GROSS: I think a lot of single mothers assume that men find them difficult because of the child. How did you come to see the other side of that?

HORNBY: Well, I know a fair few people who had gone out with almost a string of single mothers, and I think that for some of them, it was kind of a rehearsal for what they wanted to do later on, but not something they were ready to do properly yet.

And so, these people kind of met their needs. I mean, that sounds cynical, but I don't think they were intending it be cynical at the time. But, I think it does have an appeal for men.

GROSS: Your main character Will is actually very afraid of the idea of being a real father. He thinks that children really mess up people's lives, and mess up people's marriages and they're sloppy and messy and time-consuming.

Did you go through a period of -- yourself -- watching your friends who were married and who were having children and who had less time for movies and books and soccer matches, the things that you're really obsessed with?

HORNBY: Well, I think that everyone who knows anyone with a child or has children themselves, goes through this.

GROSS: Did it make you think, "well I'm not going to fall into that trap and have children myself?"

HORNBY: Um, well, no, I mean I have a child so -- and it was a conscious decision to have a child. So, clearly it didn't affect me all the way, but I think if you ask any parent, they have a fantasy that they want time and space. And of course, they wouldn't be without their children, but time and space is a really big deal.

GROSS: The main character in your book ends up meeting a 12-year-old, who is the son of the friend of the woman he's dating. And a lot of the book is about their relationship, and you know, his mother -- the teenager's mother is a vegetarian who won't let him eat at McDonalds or wear Adidas sneakers or listen to the current rock hits. She likes to sing old Joni Mitchell songs.

And that's where you main character comes in. He's a pop culture maven and he can tell the kid about Kurt Cobain and buy him stylish sneakers. Do you think that parents often make a mistake when they try to regulate their kids' pop culture diets?

HORNBY: Yeah, I think that this is a very difficult line to draw. When I was growing up as a kid in England, I was voracious in my consumption of pop culture. But that still actually left me quite a lot of free time, because TV, we had some Saturday morning TV when I was kind of older. And there was an hour of children's television between 5:00 and 6:00 every evening.

But that was it. There was no daytime stuff. We had one pop channel on the radio, and so I could consume all I liked and it didn't -- as I say, it didn't take up too much of my time.

But, I think now parents are faced with a different set of problems.

GROSS: The main character in your book is a -- wants to be basically a pop culture mentor to the 12-year-old who enters his life. And I think that that's the fantasy that a lot of adults have, a lot of adults who are really deep into music and movies and television and that. Or maybe it's hard for them to relate to teenagers, but they can relate to teenagers on the basis of you know, movies and books and television shows and all of that.

Was that a fantasy of yours, that you know, you would have this kind of natural connection to teenagers, no matter how alienated the teenagers were?

HORNBY: I taught for a while, and part of the reason I wanted to teach was because I thought, you know, I could connect with kids because I knew who the Sex Pistols were and who played for Manchester United. But you kind of get disabused of that very quickly, I think, because any cool kid really doesn't want to know what an old guy, especially an old guy who is a teacher, has to say about anything at all.

And Marcus in the book, he knows nothing and because he knows nothing, he's struggling at school. So Will, can fulfill a need in him.

HORNBY: But you found that hard to fulfill, that need as a teacher?

HORNBY: Ah, well...

GROSS: Well, the kids didn't have that need I guess. I mean...

HORNBY: Exactly. I mean I think of when...

GROSS: They already knew stuff.

HORNBY: Yeah, when one has the fantasy that you're talking about, I think it's quite right, adults do have that fantasy, and you have the fantasy that you're going to be sitting down with the coolest kid in the class, and talking about, you know, R.E.M. or Nirvana. And they really don't want to hear from you, those kids.

GROSS: I'll tell you what I think the fantasy really is too, that a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, and maybe early 50s have, I think it's this, that when they were teenagers, they were much hipper than their parents were, but now that they're adults, they're a lot hipper than their kids are.


Don't you think?

HORNBY: I think that's absolutely right...



GROSS: How old were your students when you taught?

HORNBY: I taught 11-16-year-olds.

GROSS: And you were teaching them English?


GROSS: What did you feel you could best relate to them about?

HORNBY: Actually, soccer was OK, because there isn't a kind of hip thing or an unhip thing. It's just kind of knowledge really, and you can just talk to kids about sport as equals.

Whereas, I think with pop music, there's always a lot of jousting going on and that they feel older -- obviously a teacher, you're older than your kids -- and I think you always want to say to them, yeah, well they're good but, you know, have you listened to the Velvet Underground because that's where they're getting this stuff from. And that's where the kids start to -- you know, they start to roll their eyeballs and walk away from it.

GROSS: Well, how would you feel when that happened?

HORNBY: What? With kids walking about from you?

GROSS: Yeah, after you suggested a band as worthy as the Velvet Underground, to have a kid like roll his eyes and walk away and see you as the tedious adult.

HORNBY: Well, it's actually what happens with all culture, isn't it, in schools? That you see a kid reading a book that's one-tenth as good as the "Catcher in the Rye" but tries to aim for the same kind of thing. And you try and suggest that Catcher in the Rye, the kid's going to walk away as well.

And it's -- it's really a way of turning pop culture into high-culture, where some things are better than other things, and some things are worthier than other things. And kids really don't want to know about that. They want to know about who's hip and who's not hip and who means something to them, now, at this moment.

And not who's going to last and who's not going to last.

GROSS: One of the things I found very amusing in your novel is when the adult character will decide -- you know, he'll spend a day with the 12-year-old and try to keep him entertained but he can't think of well, what -- what should I do with him? What's going to keep him amused.

The kid wants to go to Planet Hollywood...


... which is about, about the last place that Will, the main character, wants to go to. And it really made me think about how difficult it is, I think, when -- when there are children in your life who want to go to all these kind of big pop culture extravaganza-type things that you might really hate; that you might think are just like the tackiest, almost kind of false and corporate...


... things out there. But what can you do? I mean, the kid wants to go? What are you going to do?

HORNBY: I mean a lot of that is about belonging to the mainstream. And Marcus is desperate to belong to the mainstream. You know, he's desperate to be able to go to school and say that he went to Planet Hollywood, because he doesn't have very many ways in which he can relate to his classmates.

And I think again, when you're hip, as Will thinks he is, the last thing you want to do is belong to the mainstream. You want to take people away from the mainstream, tell them a place that maybe they don't know about. And of course, that's precisely not the point for Marcus. He has to go somewhere where he does know about it.

GROSS: Nick Hornby is my guest and we're talking about his new novel which is called About a Boy. He's also the author of the novel High Fidelity.

Let's take a short break and then we will talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Nick Hornby. His new novel is called About a Boy.

There's a lot of depression in your new book. The mother of the teenage boy is, is a suicidal-depressive. Kurt Cobain kills himself during the course of the book. There's a teenager who's -- you know -- a depressive.

Were you thinking about how frightening it must be for young people, when there are people who are chronically depressed in their life and how difficult it must be to understand and to cope with?

HORNBY: Yeah. And I had had bouts of depression myself in my late 20s and I kind of -- it is something that interests me I think --depression. I think probably all three of my books have dealt with depression in some way or another. I think Rob in High Fidelity is kind of gloomy, if not depressed, and I wanted to take that a step further.

But one of the things that I do in my spare time, is I'm a patron of the children's charity called "Young Minds" which is actually supposed to deal with kids who have mental health problems. I mean not handicaps, but mental health problems. And there's no other charity like it in the UK. And that is something that I think is incredibly important that we tend to underestimate kid's depression.

GROSS: Do you think you had depression as a kid?

HORNBY: Yeah, I think probably did actually for a couple of years in my early teens. I mean, maybe I was just having teenage blues, but I think for all of us it's very hard to separate one from the other.

GROSS: How did it manifest itself?

HORNBY: Ah, just -- gloominess, really. Great desire to be on my own for chunks of the day and read and listen to music with headphones on. I mean, you know these -- any one who's got a teenage kid I think recognizes these symptoms, whether one would classify it as depression or not, I'm not sure. It felt like it at the time.

GROSS: Do you think that depression kind of helped feed your, your record, and movie and television and book habits, you know, your obsessions with immersing yourself in that part of life...

HORNBY: Yeah. I think that's right. I think that -- you know, I've always had a theory that obsessive do have some sense of depression and that obsession is as form of oblivion in a way, that if you can train yourself to spend three or four hours in a second-hand record shop, flicking through albums sleeves, that you don't have to think about anything else.

So, I think that there's got to be something of that in there. But I think that depression's definitely fueled my writing and I think that one of the things that strikes a chord with people is that a lot of them are gloomy.

GROSS: A lot of the characters are gloomy?

HORNBY: No, a lot of the readers are gloomy, and they kind of recognize that. I mean, it's a -- a lot of it is a comedy born of glumness.

GROSS: Nick Hornby is my guest and his new novel which we're talking about is called About a Boy.

I read a review of one of your books that your son is autistic and I was thinking, you know, after reading this book about an adult who first relates to a teenager, you know, who first has a teenager come into your life. How totally unprepared you must have been to have a child who is autistic, and who is going to be you know, very different from whatever expectations you had when you decided you were going to become a father.

HORNBY: Yeah, I think, especially if you make your living out of words, the kind of basic expectation you have as a parent is that whatever else, you're going to be able to talk to your kid. My kid doesn't talk, so that was a huge readjustment to have to learn about.

GROSS: You probably also had all these fantasies about being this kind of pop culture mentor to your child. You're teaching him about your favorite books, and records and movies et cetera.

HORNBY: Yeah, I mean, you can kind of do that. My son really likes music, and he watches a lot of videos, although he watches the same sort of four videos over and over again. But, that's not such a big deal really. I'm sure that he will respond to music in some form or another. I think that you just have to be inventive in the ways that you -- we relate.

GROSS: How much time -- I know you're also separated -- how much time can you spend with your son now?

HORNBY: Well, I see him every day. I live and work around the corner, so I -- I give him his bath every day and I give him lunch a couple of times a week, when he's not at school. So -- and I spend weekends with him. So, it's really not very much less than it ever was.

GROSS: I'm wondering how -- it's hard to answer questions like this without you know, being false I think -- but how do you think you've been changed by -- by having a son who is autistic and being exposed to a completely different way of relating to the world?

HORNBY: That is a very hard question to answer. I think that it's made me tougher in some ways, that -- I think when I first started writing, and the writing really took off quite quickly, I mean with my first book. And I think it's quite easy to get overwhelmed in those circumstances, that you end up doing what people want you to do, and it's hard to say no to things.

But the moment that Danny was diagnosed, it became much easier, in a way, to keep time for yourself and to almost -- not -- almost to hide behind him to a certain extent. You can afford to be much tougher with people as a result of something like that.

GROSS: What do you mean to be tougher with people?

HORNBY: I -- I don't really -- it's very easy for me now to tell people to shove off, if they kind of get in my face or wanting to take up time, because the time is for Danny. And also money is for Danny as well.

So, it kind of makes you feel better about earning. You know, I've earned quite well over the last few years. And that makes you feel kind of weird I think at first, because you think: what's all this for? But now I know what it's all for.

GROSS: Right.

My guest is Nick Hornby, and he's the author of the new novel About A Boy.

Your current novel About A Boy is going to be adapted into a movie I think by Robert DeNiro's production company. And your previous novel High Fidelity is being made into a movie and I think your first book "Fever Pitch," about soccer, was already made into a movie that didn't make it into the states.

Have you had any input into the screenplays for any of those films?

HORNBY: I wrote the screenplay for Fever Pitch. So, that I had sort of very close involvement with, and I was really working with friends on the project. And that -- that was a great experience. But the other two, I just sold on and I haven't had any involvement in them so far.

I'm actually going to meet the guy who's adapting About A Boy tomorrow so, you know, I'll be talking about it then, but it's his business now.

GROSS: How do you feel about that, about handing over control of your characters to someone else?

HORNBY: I fell absolutely fine about it. It was -- High Fidelity and About A Boy were conceived as books, and I'm happy with the books and that was kind of the process for me. And if people want to take it on and try to do something else with it, I think that they're perfectly at liberty to do so.

And I think that -- you know -- it's as straightforward transaction with writing, that if you want to sell film rights, then do so, but don't whine about what happens afterwards.

GROSS: Your -- the title of your new book About A Boy is named after a record. Do you want to talk a little bit about the record you named it after and why?

HORNBY: Well, yes, it's quite complicated, and it turns out it's named after several records. And it's was -- I thought of the title after the Nirvana song "About A Girl." And the book is set in -- at the end of '93, beginning of '94, and Kurt Cobain's death does feature in it. So, it seemed entirely appropriate. And the boy, as in About A Boy I think you can refer to either Marcus or Will.

But then I remembered actually, I had completely forgotten that Patti Smith wrote a song called "About A Boy," about Kurt Cobain, so I guess I must have pinched her title, rather than the Nirvana title.


GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

HORNBY: I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

GROSS: Nick Hornby's new novel is called About A Boy.

Here's Nirvana's recording About A Girl. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


KIRK COBAIN, SINGER, SINGING: I need an easy friend
I do
With a end to lend
I do think you fit this shoe
I do, but you have a clue

I'll take advantage while
You hang me out to dry
But I can see you every night

And I do

I'm standing in your light
I do hope you have the time
I do pick a number too
I do keep a date with you

I'll take advantage while
You hang me out to dry
But I can see you every night

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Nick Hornby
High: British novelist Nick Hornby, the author of the best-selling comic novel "High Fidelity" about a 30-something record collector, and top-ten list maker who is afraid of commitment. His newest novel "About a Boy" is about a 36 year old man who pretends to be a single parent in order to meet women who are single parents. Robert DeNiro has just optioned About a Boy for a film. High Fidelity is about to be made into a film starring John Cusack.
Spec: Books; Authors; Nick Hornby; High Fidelity; Movie Industry; About a Boy

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: High Fidelity
Date: MAY 20, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052002np.217
Head: Genius & Soul Part I
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Piano player, singer, arranger, composer, jazz musician and soul-singer -- all of these terms and more apply to Ray Charles. He's been on the music scene for half a century and he's still referred to as "the genius."

Rock historian Ed Ward has the first of a two-part series on Ray Charles.


Let me tell you about a girl I know
She is my baby and she live next door
Every morning 'fore the sun comes up
She bring me coffee in my favorite cup
So, I know
Yes, I know
Hallelujah, I just love her so
When I...

ED WARD, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Sometime in 1998, Ray Charles will pass a milestone few other entertainers ever have -- 50 years in show business. If he's true to form, he won't make a big deal out of it. He's always looked more to the future anyway.

The tributes have already started pouring in, from a documentary film to a sumptuous 5-CD box from Rhino Records, and scattered everywhere is the word "genius," which he acquired early in his career and which continues to follow him around.

Genius or not, Ray Charles has changed the face of American music over the course of 50 years, 62 albums, and uncountable singles.

He was born in 1930 in Albany, Georgia and raised by two remarkable women, both of whom died in his youth. As a young boy, he watched his younger brother drown despite his efforts to save him, and not long thereafter, a mysterious illness cost him his sight.

At the age of seven, he was packed off to a school for the blind in St. Augustine, Florida, where he learned to read, repair radios, and systematize his knowledge of the piano, which he'd begun in a honky-tonk near his home.

Most of all, he listened to the radio, soaking in all the styles of contemporary popular music.

At the age of 15, he left school and settled in Jacksonville, forming a trio that blatantly imitated Charles Brown and Nat Cole, the two most popular black musicians of the day.


CHARLES, SINGING: I want to tell you a new story
I'm a boy who was born to love
I want to tell you a story
I'm a boy who was born to love
And how the girl that I loved
Carved me up the happiness I dreamed of

WARD: After three years, he'd gotten nowhere. And one night, he asked his guitarist to get out a map and find the place in American furthest from Tampa, where they were at the moment.

Within a few weeks they were there, Seattle, a city with a large military presence and lots of places to play. Before long, he was in demand and even had his first fan, a kid three years younger than himself named Quincy Jones.

Somehow, Jack Lauderdale (ph) who owned the Swing Time label in Los Angeles, heard about Ray and signed him to a contract.


CHARLES, AND SINGERS: Well, I want to be
Your lover man
So, baby, won't you let
Me hold your hand
Kissamee baby
All night long
Well kissamee baby
All night long
Well, baby
Lubba-dova all the time

Well, I want you
Right by my side
To love and keep me satisfied

Kissamee baby
All night long
Well kissamee baby
All night long
Yes, baby
Well see
Lubba-dova all the time

WARD: "Kissamee Baby," one of his last singles for Lauderdale, shows his mature style coming into existence, with the gospel-edged singing he'd soon use to revolutionize black popular music. It was released in 1953, as Swing Time was going under. A few months later, Atlantic Records bought his contract and Brother Ray was on his way.

Atlantic was based in New York, owned by jazz fans, and very serious about who and how they recorded. At first they used their own musicians to back Ray and the results were unspectacular. But Ray had been working up a great touring band, and one day he called Atlantic's Ahmed Erdigon (ph) and demanded he come down to Atlanta to record him and the band.

Erdigon did and they never used studio musicians for Ray Charles again.


CHARLES, SINGING: Well, I got a woman
Way over town
That's good to me
Oh, yeah
Say, I got a woman
Way over town
Good to me
Oh, yeah

She give me money
When I'm in need
Yeah, she's a kind of
Friend indeed
I got a woman
Way over town
That's good to me
Oh, yeah
She saves her lovin'

WARD: Erdigon's partner in Atlantic, Jerry Wexler, knew that music like this came from the church. In fact "I've Got A Woman" is a rewrite of a gospel song that goes, "I've got a Savior, way over Jordan."

Wexler called the quality he heard in Ray Charles' voice "soul" and the word caught on.

It's perfectly descriptive of the way Charles approaches even the straightest material.


CHARLES, AND SINGERS: Do you know way down
Way down
Way down
Upon the Swannee
Talking about the river

You know so far
So far
So far away
So far away
Do you know that's
Where my heart
Is a turning
Oh, never
And that's where
That's where the old folks stay
Where the old folks stay

WARD: Another idea he stole from the church was female-back-up singers, and the Raylettes, as they became known, were the perfect foil to his gritty voice.

What's hardest to believe about Ray Charles' tenure at Atlantic where he recorded a significant number of the records he's best known for, is that it only lasted until 1960, a mere six years, and that it wasn't until 1959 that he recorded an impromptu jam that became one of his signature hits.


CHARLES, SINGING: Hey, momma, don't you treat me wrong
Come and love your daddy all night long
All right darling
Hey, hey

All right
You see me girl with the diamond ring
She knows how to shake that thing
All right...

WARD: "What I Say," with its suggestive interplay between Ray and the Raylettes, was Ray's first top 10 pop hit, and with it he became one of the top performers in the country.

But Brother Ray was looking forward, and late in 1959, he was approached with a business proposition he really couldn't turn down. In 1960, he signed with ABC Records and started yet another revolution.

GROSS: Ed Ward currently lives in Berlin. We'll feature the second part of his Ray Charles profile later this week.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Ed Ward, Berlin; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Rock historian Ed Ward begins a two-part retrospective on the work of Ray Charles, who celebrates 50 years in show business this year. Much of the music comes from "Ray Charles: Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection."
Spec: Music Industry; Ray Charles; Genius & Soul

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Genius & Soul Part I
Date: MAY 20, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052003np.217
Head: Hank Crawford
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: My guest is Memphis-born saxophonist Hank Crawford. He was Ray Charles' music director in the early '60s and played alto baritone in the band.

Crawford left the band in '63 and became known for his soulful jazz playing. Now, four of Crawford's Atlantic Records from the '60s, "More Soul," "From the Heart," "Soul of the Ballad," and "Dig These Blues," have been reissued on a double CD called "Memphis Ray and A Touch of Moody."

From this new reissue, here's "Angel Eyes."


GROSS: Hank Crawford, welcome to FRESH AIR.

HANK CRAWFORD, SAXOPHONIST: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Would you talk a little bit about playing ballads in your style. The kind of big, soulful sound, the kind of cry that you bring to a ballad like this.

CRAWFORD: Some artists are technical players, you know, play a lot of notes and then they're some that play, you know, fewer notes, like Dizzy Gillespie (ph) once said, it's not how much you play, but how much you leave out, you know.


So, I just naturally play like that. I've never been one that played a lot of notes. Although I come up in an era where a lot of notes were being played, and that was the be-bop era. You know, that's really the music that I studied.

But, when it comes time to play, I'm just more of natural, melodic player than a technical player.

GROSS: Now I think when you started backing up blues and rhythm, blues musicians, you were still under age. Yet, you were probably playing at bars. What was that like? Did you have to lie about your age?

CRAWFORD: We never had any problem about getting in. They would let us go in, and we'd be wall flowers you know, and sit or stand, and listen because usually -- well actually, most of the players at 14, they were playing clubs, they'd stand.

I mean I was playing actually in a nightclub at 14, and we didn't have any problems. The management just wouldn't allow us to certain things like you know, alcohol and smoking. I mean, they took of care of us. We were there. We were there actually playing, at a young age.

GROSS: Did you ever walk the bar when you were playing?


GROSS: Describe what that's like for our listeners who don't know the expression.

CRAWFORD: Well, walking the bars, you know, like bandstands used to be, at that time, a lot of bandstands were behind the bar, you know, where they served the liquor, there was a big stand out behind the bar. And that's where a lot of artists played. And there were dances like at the time there was shake dances, and we played for them. And it was entertainment.

GROSS: So, you would actually get up on the bar and walk the bar while playing a solo?

CRAWFORD: Right, you'd get on your bar, and lay on your back, and people would be standing over you, you know, and dropping quarters. Like you see on the streets sometime, you know, street musicians...


GROSS: Mm-hmm.

CRAWFORD: People come by and drop money in the basket or hat or whatever. But it was, you know, that was part of, part of the business, you know, saxophone players would walk with the saxophone behind their shoulders, you know. It was a big show and it wasn't a drag to do that.

You know, it...

GROSS: It wasn't a drag to do that?

CRAWFORD: No, that was part of the learning experience. It was show business.

GROSS: I mean, how'd you walk around without knocking everything all over?

CRAWFORD: Oh, well, you know, like on the bar -- well then from the bar, you would leave, leave the bar and go out into the audience you know, between the tables, you know.

GROSS: Uh-huh...

CRAWFORD: And just walk between tables and they would make room for you, you know. And sometimes you know, you just made room for yourself. It was no problem. They enjoyed the show and they would just stand back and it was just whatever, whatever came natural.

GROSS: Saxophonist Hank Crawford is my guest.

You became Ray Charles' music director in the late '50s and early '60s. How did you first play with Ray Charles?

CRAWFORD: Ray needed a baritone saxophone, and he was coming through Nashville because the main player on baritone, Leroy Cooper (ph) was taking a leave of absence, and so my buddies recommended that I play the job that night in Nashville. So, I went to the campus.

I was a student like I said. I went to the campus. I had never played baritone in my life, but I was excited because it was Ray Charles and I had heard a couple of his records. I think it was "Drowning in My Own Tears" and "Hallelujah, Love Her So."

So I jumped at the opportunity, even if it had to be on baritone saxophone, an instrument which is bigger than. I'm not such a large person, you know. But I did get the saxophone and I went down and played the job that night.


RAY CHARLES, SINGING: It brings tear
Oh to mind
When I begin to (Unintelligible)
You know I've cried so much
Well, since you've been gone
Well, I know I'm almost drowning
(Unintelligible) now
And I say
Oh, I'm going to sit and cry now

GROSS: So, Ray Charles eventually appointed you music director. What did that mean? What were your responsibilities?

CRAWFORD: I was in charge of the band. I was arranger. And just arranging music, making notations for Ray, and it was just like -- it was 16 guys, now. This was the big band. And most of the guys actually were my senior, you know. A lot of those guys, because I think I was about maybe 23-24, when I joined the band. And these guys were ex-Bassie (ph) members and Ellington members, you know.

And Ray appointed me leader of the band. I think I got the job because I had majored in music theory and composition. So, I was doing a bit of writing and composing at the time, and working with Ray because he was writing -- he's a heck of an arranger himself.

GROSS: My guest is saxophonist Hank Crawford.

We will talk more after our break. This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: Back with saxophonist Hank Crawford. He was Ray Charles' music director in the early '60s. Four of Crawford's own records from the '60s have been reissued on a double CD called Memphis Ray and a Touch of Moody.

When you were arranging music with Ray Charles, what would he communicate to you, about what he wanted to hear?

CRAWFORD: Oh, well, he would just call me when he wanted to do some arranging and like I say, he would arrange the music himself, his music -- his music. And he was just walk around -- I would to his house, you know, at his home, and we'd go down into the den and he would say "we're going to write this today," and tell me how many sheets of paper, and what instruments we were going to write for.

And I would prepare that and he would come in and he would say, "well, we're going to do the first trumpet part." And he would call the notes, you know, and I would write things down. Like I say, he would dictate the notes and I would you know, notate them.

GROSS: When you say dictated, would he would like play it at the piano? Was that the kind of dictation it was?

CRAWFORD: You know, he never used the piano doing this, like most arrangers do. But he would all -- he would just walk around and call the notes you know. I guess he...

GROSS: You mean he would hum it? You mean he would say A flat...

CRAWFORD: No, he would -- yeah, he would say "quarter rest. Two/sixteenth notes, B and C." You now, "then half rest." And he'd say that should end the bar." I'd say yes. And he'd say "next bar, two/thirty-seconds" whatever. You know, it'd go like that and he'd call the notes.

Oh, yeah, he'd write it. He just didn't notate it, but he called it.

GROSS: Did you ever want to do anything to make your part more interesting?


CRAWFORD: Oh, yeah, he would -- that -- you know, after we did this for about, I guess six, seven months, he would come in and he would start an arrangement and after we got familiar with each others' style, because he was listening and -- to the way, you know, I would write some of the tunes that I was composing.

And there was great similarity into the feeling of the music that I would write and his music, although different, but similar, quite similar. And he would say, "well finish the next four bars."

You know, he would leave me out there. But really, he was, you know, he was going to OK it at the end, you know, but he started giving me that liberty when he figured that I had a good sense of how he would write it.


CHARLES, SINGING: I've gotten down to my last pair of shoes
Can't even win a nickle bet
Because them that's got
Yeah, them that gets
I gets
And I ain't got nothin' yet

I'm sneaking in and out
Ducking my landlord
All I seem to do is stay in bed
Because them that's got
Yeah, them that gets
And I tell you all
I ain't got nothin' yet

That old sayin, them that's got
Are them that gets it
Is something I can't see
If you got to have something
Before you can get something
How do you get your first
Is still a mystery to me

I see folk with long cars
And fine clothes
That's why they're called
The smarter set
Because they managed to get
When only them that's got
'Supposed to get
And I ain't got nothing yet...

GROSS: When you were Ray Charles' music director, did you ever have to be his eyes, also, so-to-speak?

CRAWFORD: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I was like 24-7 with him for a long period of time. But it wasn't hard to do -- to even do that. Because he is very independent and...

GROSS: What did you have to do? What did you have actually be his eyes for?

CRAWFORD: Oh, just, say walking in certain buildings, or certain areas, you know, where he just couldn't see, you know, and so we just let him know where everything was, you know, the sink, the bathroom, the kitchen, the bed. And once you tell him, that's it.

You know, you don't have to spend the night with him and go and do this, and that for him. He'd do it himself.

GROSS: There's a story I'm interested in hearing. I believe this is true, that when Grover Washington recorded his date for producer Cree Taylor (ph), you were actually supposed to do that date...


GROSS: But, I think you got arrested for maybe drunk driving...


... or something along the way.


What happened?

CRAWFORD: OK, now the cat's out of the bag. Yeah, it was -- it was traffic. It was a traffic ticket...

GROSS: For speeding or driving while under the influence?

CRAWFORD: No, a little worse than that. It was DWI.

GROSS: Right, OK.

CRAWFORD: Yeah. It was DWI although there was nothing that happened -- nothing. Just stopped and -- and when I couldn't make it back, well Cree just said, well hey, we got all these string musicians here. Here's, you know, 30 or 35 musicians there for this date...

GROSS: Right. So, they just went ahead with it.

CRAWFORD: Yeah, Bob James was there, Ray Gionni (ph) and there's a lot...

GROSS: Well, this is the record that helped make Grover Washington a star.


GROSS: How did you feel about that?

CRAWFORD: Well, you know, I really didn't -- I just said it was -- you know, felt kind of bad, but it was nobody's fault. You know, and I didn't blame it on anybody. It was just something that happened.

And after listening to it, I think Grover did a good job on it. I didn't feel any -- I didn't' have any ill feelings you know. I just took it in stride and just went on to the next, next thing.

GROSS: Well, Hank Crawford, I regret that we're out of time. It's a been a pleasure to talk with you and I really want to thank you a lot.

CRAWFORD: Oh, it's my pleasure.

GROSS: Our interview is with saxophonist with Hank Crawford was recorded a few weeks ago. Shortly after Crawford's wife Gladys passed away. We extend our condolences.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Hank Crawford
High: Memphis-born saxophonist Hank Crawford. Before going out on his own, he backed B.B. King and played with Ray Charles. He eventually became musical director for Charles' band and he credits what he learned about playing soulful from Charles. His newest CD "Hank Crawford: Memphis Ray and a Touch of Moody" collects music from his previous recordings: "More Soul," "From the Heart," "Soul of the Ballad," and "Dig These Blues."
Spec: Music Industry; Hank Crawford

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Hank Crawford
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue