Ray CharlesFrom Ray's Vaults
In celebration of what would have been the 75th birthday of Ray Charles, Rhino is releasing two albums by the icon this week: a collection of duets, "Genius and Friends," and, as previously reported, a 146-track boxed set of his seminal work, "Pure Genius -- The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959)." Charles, who would have been 75 Sept. 23, died June 11, 2004. Before his death, he asked the label to complete and release the duets project.
The latter album has Charles singing with Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, Chris Isaak, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, George Michael and Angie Stone. He also teams up with John Legend, Italian pop star Laura Pausini and Idina Menzel, star of the Broadway play "Wicked."
As for the boxed set, the most amazing material is 36 unreleased studio "rehearsal" performances. By all rights, former Atlantic execs and producers say, they should not exist. The reason: Atlantic suffered a major vault fire in its Long Beach, N.J., warehouse Feb. 8, 1978. The blaze destroyed an estimated 5,000 reels of session tape, including outtakes from such artists as Charles Mingus, Aretha Franklin and Charles. Many of the tracks were of fine quality and were not released simply because the vinyl LP format demanded shorter recordings.
Many of the outtakes heard on the boxed set would have been lost to the fire, were it not for a reel-to-reel dub copy of two early Charles rehearsal sessions made for Atlantic co-founder Jerry Wexler by late Atlantic producer/recording engineer Tom Dowd, shortly before the fire. "I kept it for years," Wexler says. "Then I made a cassette copy, and then a CD."
One rehearsal documents longtime Atlantic chief Ahmet Ertegun in the studio with Charles, teaching him the lyrics to "The Mess Around," which he wrote to get Charles singing more rocking material -- a session re-enacted in the "Ray" film.