Ray Charles - Before Atlantic Records ©2001JCMarion


Ray Charles Robinson was born in 1930 in Albany Georgia, and soon moved to Florida where he grew up. He started tinkering on the piano, and tragically lost his eyesight at the age of six from the effects of severe glaucoma. Through his mid teens he was a student at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind in Florida where he learned all segments of music - theory, composition, arranging, and reading and writing in Braille. He was orphaned at fifteen and left school to try and make his mark as a musician. For about two years he led an unsuccessful life on the road in Florida, and as the Ray Charles legend has it decided to move as far away from Florida as he could and so ended up in the Pacific Northwest in and around Seattle, Washington in the post war forties. He had now changed his name professionally to Ray Charles and was producing music that was heavily influenced by Nat "King" Cole and Johnny Moore's Three Blazers which featured vocalist Charles Brown.

After some time as a Seattle area attraction he came to the attention of Los Angeles based recording company owner Jack Lauderdale, one of the few Black entrepreneurs in the recording business at that time. In 1949 Ray Charles entered the recording studio for Swing Time Records and does a recording session that does not produce any successes. In late 1949 a new session for the produces #228 - "Late In The Evening Blues" and "The Ego Song". The blues tune was a good seller for the label especially on the West Coast and a top ten record in the San Francisco Bay area. His next release in 1950 was #229 - "I'll Do Anything But Work" and "Someday". He continued to feature smooth blues tunes a la Charles Brown and also added some jump tunes influenced by Louis Jordan and Roy Milton. In mid 1950 he joined the R & B combo of Lowell Fulson as pianist and vocalist making the group a top R & B attraction. At year's end SwingTime #249 is out - "All To Myself" and a blues version of the old time tune "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?".

In early 1951 Ray began gaining attention with Fulson and recorded again for SwingTime on #250 - "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" and "Lonely Boy". The version of "Baby" starts out as a big seller in Texas and then does well on the West Coast eventually becoming the biggest seller ever for SwingTime. The label has begun to release it's first 45 rpm records and at this time re-releases a couple of early Ray Charles sides for the label in the new format. They are #217 - "See See Rider" and "What Have I Done?" and #218 - "She's On The Ball" and "Honey Honey". At the end of the year Charles leaves Lowell Fulson and organizes his own band and sets up a national tour to begin in early 1952. The tour swings into the Northeast for the first time, and a highlight of the tour is a meeting with his former boss Lowell Fulson where the two stage a "Battle of the Bands" at New York City's Apollo Theater in late February.

In March Ray's new SwingTime record is issued. It is #274 - "Kissa Me baby" and "I'm Glad For Your Sake". There soon develops some confusion between Ray's "Kissa Me Baby" and the like titled record by The Cardinals called "Kiss Me baby" for Atlantic. Surprisingly both records are selling well despite this unusual occurrence. In May Ray and his band join forces with the Joe Morris Blues Cavalcade featuring Laurie Tate for a tour of Southern States. One of the featured dates on the tour will be a river boat cruise on the Potomac River in Washington D.C. to take place in late August. In July SwingTime #297 is issued which features Ray Charles performing "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" and "Hey Now". Soon it is followed by #300 and it features the songs "Guitar Blues" and "Baby Let Me Hear You Call My Name". The tour with Joe Morris and Laurie Tate does huge box office in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Columbia, South Carolina.

At the conclusion of the tour in mid September, Ray Charles takes stock of his career and makes a change by signing on with New York based Atlantic Records and leaving SwingTime Records after three years. He soon goes into the recording studio and has his first Atlantic release on #976 - "Roll With Me Baby" and "The Midnight Hour". Ray is about to change his style, his direction, and in the process will change the landscape of American music forever.

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