Ray Charles : The Atlantic Years©2004JCMarion


In October of 1952 while Ray Charles had a new release for Sittin In records on #651 with "I Can't Do No More" , a more significant Charles recording was released one week later by Atlantic Records with the songs "Roll With My Baby" and "The Midnight Hour" on #976. It was the first for Charles on his new label after three years with Swing Time Records. In December of the year Charles lands a two week gig at the Pelican Club in New Orleans. "The Midnight Hour" is a good seller in both Dallas and Houston Texas. In January of 1953 Atlantic comes out with the newest Ray Charles recording for the label - "Jumpin' In The Morning" and "The Sun's Gonna Shine Again" on #984. In March Swing Time brings out a Charles effort that sat on the shelf for the label - "The Snow Is Falling" and "Misery In My Heart" on #326. Listeners note the change in style for the singer from a Charles Brown easy blues style to a more profound reliance on the power of gospel that he is showing on sides recorded for his new label Atlantic.

In the summer of 1953 Charles records a driving tune in his new style that captures listeners immediately. The song is called "Mess Around" and is released on Atlantic # 999 with "Funny" on the flip side. In late August Charles hits the road with Roscoe Gordon for a number of one nighters in the Midwest. In September Atlantic Records releases "Heartbreaker" and "Feeling Sad" on #1008. In late October Charles heads back to New Orleans for two weeks of appearances in that city. "Heartbreaker" is a good seller in Louisiana and Memphis. In January of 1954 Ray Charles newest record for Atlantic hits music outlets. The songs "It Should Have Been Me" and "Sinner's Prayer" are released on #1021. By March "It Should Have Been Me" is the first record by Charles to break out nationally, and he continues to get positive notices throughout the industry. The record hits the national R & B top ten best seller's list in April. In May Charles plays a week at Pep's in Philadelphia. In June Charles announces he will form his own small band to back up his vocals on record and at personal appearances. In August Ruth Brown joins Ray for a string of appearances in the Midwest. In July "Losing Hand" and "Don't You Know" are released on Atlantic #1037. In November Charles is joined by former band mate Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker for a great blues lineup to play a number of dates in the Southwest.

In January of 1955 Charles gets a good number of spins of his newest release "Come Back" which was recorded in Atlanta, by that city's top R & B deejay "Jockey Jack" on WERD. This results in a fast take off for the new tune. "Come Back" is on Atlantic #1050. But it is the flip side that would soon make musical history. It is a song called "I've Got A Woman". In early February Charles headlines a show with the Five Keys at Cleveland's Circle Theater. In April Ray and Faye Adams play the Palm in Miami and draw ten thousand people to the show. "I've Got A Woman" is selling among White buyers in the R & B field. This is an unprecedented draw for such a gospel tinged artist and performance. Charles is suddenly among the top attractions throughout the country. Singer Geneva Valliere records an answer record with "You Said You Had A Woman" for the Cash label in Los Angeles. Through the spring "Woman" becomes the biggest seller of Ray Charles career and gives the Atlantic label further prestige as a top R & B independent. In June Atlantic readies the follow up sides which are recorded in Miami, Florida. The songs are "A Fool For You" and "This Little Girl Of Mine" on #1063. By July both sides are on the national R & B charts in the top fifteen. "Fool" is a slow brooding intense tune while "Little Girl" is a joyous testament to love. Charles is now starting to get criticism from some gospel music performers for secularizing gospel music and presenting it in usual R & B venues. Most adamant in her misgivings is Clara Ward who complains about "This Little Girl Of Mine" being a reworking of "This Little Light Of Mine" (which it is), as a slap against the gospel field.

In early August Charles appears at Chicago's Crown Propeller for a week. In September Atlantic releases "Blackjack" and "Greenbacks" on #1076. The humorous tune "Greenbacks" is an immediate winner. The part talking, part singing song tells of a most talented and imaginative woman whose claim to fame is her knack of relieving her men acquaintances of their money. Ray closes out the year with signing a new long term contract with Atlantic Records. Opening the year 1956, Ray Charles sets off on a series of one nighters on the West Coast beginning with a two night stand at the 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles. After that tour he will do a one week stay at Kansas City's Orchid Room. In February an interesting bill hits the Carolinas and Virginia for three weeks. The show features Ray Charles & his band and The Cadillacs. In february Atlantic releases Charles newest on #1085 - "Drown In My Own Tears" and "Mary Ann". Once again coupling two sensational songs seems like a winning strategy. "Tears" is a moving gospel derived song given a truly soulful vocal by Ray. The flip is an interesting Latin flavored tune that sometimes changes into a straight mid tempo R & B tune. The instrumental intro and close are a musical gem that would some years later be recorded as an all instrumental tune led by King Curtis and called "Chilli". "Drown In My Own Tears" is the big selling side, making it into the top five on the national R & B lists. By now it seems that Charles can do no wrong on record. He has become one of the top R & B personalities and his personal appearances are instant sellouts. In April Ray and his band appear at a "Jam With Sam" show in Chicago with d.j. Sam Evans. Ray returns to the palms in Hallandale Florida, and Atlantic readies the newest Charles release - "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and "What Would I Do Without You" on #1096. "Hallelujah" is another joyous gospel derived tune that celebrates love that seems to work so well.

In June of 1956 Ray Charles and Muddy Waters share the stage at Chicago's Trianon Ballroom. This amazing bill of the two giants of music sets all kinds of attendance records and is a show to remember. In September Charles is back in Chicago on stage with Chuck Willis, The Flamingos, and J.B. Lenoir. That month Atlantic releases another interesting pairing of tunes by Ray - "Lonely Avenue" and "Leave My Woman Alone" on #1108. "Avenue" is another soulful blues ballad (many call it a Black version of "Heartbreak Hotel") sung in front of a gospel chorus. The flip is a stomping call and response tune, again with a strong gospel feel. In December Charles and his band appear at WDIA's annual Goodwill Revue benefit show in Memphis. B.B. King, The Moonglows, Magnificents, and many others also are on the bill. Closing out the year Charles headlines a big concert show in Newark, New Jersey, with Atlanta d.j. Zenas "Daddy" Sears.

In January of 1957 Charles headlines at the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago again, this time with Mickey & Sylvia, and King Kolax. Atlantic #1124 features Ray Charles recordings of "Ain't That Love" and "I Want To Know". "Love" features more of a pop music feel that Charles has exhibited so far, and Atlantic is waiting to see if it will open a new field for the label's top hit maker. Atlantic issues an LP album called "Rock And Roll Forever" featuring a number of the label's biggest hits. It soon plans a sequel and also a Ray Charles LP of all new material. In April Charles headlines a show at the Mosque Theater in Pittsburgh for d.j. Barry Kaye. Along with Ray were Ruth Brown, The Moonglows, Clovers, G-Clefs, Bo Diddley, and Johnny & Joe. In May "Get On The Right Track Baby" and "It's All Right" is released on Atlantic #1143. "Track" is the 'A' side, a bouncy rock number. In August the ray Charles band is enlarged to become a concert and dance orchestra and the unit is a featured part of the "Fantabulous Rock & Roll Show of 1957" that tours the South and Southeast for six weeks of one nighters. In September "Swanee River Rock" and "I Want A Little Girl" are released on #1154. In October it is reported by Atlantic that a tune from the LP album "The Great Ray Charles" is getting great airplay and so the label will release a single version of the song. The tune is "Sweet Sixteen Bars", an instrumental version of Ray's great song "A Fool For You". The flip side of the single will be the jazz piece "Doodlin" also from the LP. In November Charles plays the Apollo Theater in New York. At that time he had the top selling single, EP 45, and LP album for Atlantic. "Swanee River Rock" continues to surprise as a top seller and Plas Johnson records a cover version for Capitol. Ray sits in on a Joe Turner session for Atlantic and is on the version of "Wee Baby Blues".

In early 1958 "Swanee River Rock" is still a good seller across the country. Ray also decides to settle in on a new home in California. In February Charles does a tour with The Cookies and Gene Allison, and the next month "I Had A Dream" and "Yes Indeed" are released on Atlantic #1180. In April Ray and his band do a series of one nighters throughout the Midwest ending up at the Pershing Ballroom in Chicago. Ray Charles and his band sign on to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival in early July. Other R & B stars at the festival are Big Maybelle, Chuck Berry, and Joe Turner. In June "Yes Indeed" is a good seller in the South and helps give Atlantic the second biggest month in its history. Late in the month Charles does a two week appearance at Detroit's Flame Show Bar. Reaction to the Charles appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival was mixed at best. He began by playing three jazz numbers and then went into his selection of well known R & B tunes, and some in the crowd seemed disinterested in his performance. Speaking of his jazz work, Ray Charles has one of the top selling LP albums in "Soul Brothers" with Milt Jackson of the Modern Jazz Quartet for Atlantic. In July Charles stars at the Cavalcade of Jazz in Los Angeles. In August Ray again records an old tune in his style with "My Bonnie" on #1196. The flip side is "You Be My Baby". Some of the jazz critics may not have liked it, but Ray Charles performance at Newport recorded live and issued on LP by Atlantic in November is an immediate sensation. Live renditions of "I've Got A Woman", "A Fool For You", "The Right Time" and others, have record buyers ecstatic. That same month Atlantic issues a two part instrumental stomper called "Rockhouse" on #2006. In December "The Right Time" and "Tell All The World About You", two songs from the live at Newport album are released on #2010.

Going into 1959 "The Right Time" is selling big throughout the South, and "Rockhouse" is still a favorite in certain parts of the country. In March "That's Enough" and "Tell Me How You Feel" are issued on Atlantic #2022. This is the first time in a great while that a Ray Charles single does not sell, but in June a change is felt as Ray records the two part "What'd I Say" on #2031. The frantic gospel styled song (especially the call and response second part) explodes as a huge seller across the country in both the R & B and pop charts. The two parter helps Atlantic Records set all time records for sales during the month of July. In August Charles plays the Music Barn in Lenox, Massachusettes. In October Atlantic releases an LP of recent R & B tunes by Ray called "What'd I Say". One month later another LP is released by Atlantic called "The Genius of Ray Charles". Atlantic also issues a new single with the songs "I Believe To My Soul" and "I'm Movin' On" on #2043. Within a month "I'm Movin' On" makes it in the pop music top forty charts. Soon after, Ray Charles leaves Atlantic Records after seven very successful years and signs with ABC Paramount. The signing for a large amount is said to be the coming industry practice because of the finances that are often tied up in promoting a newly developed artist. At year's end Atlantic releases "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" and "Let The Good Times Roll" on #2047.

Despite the loss of Ray Charles to ABC Paramount, Atlantic released more of his music. On #2055 "Just For A Thrill" and "Heartbreaker" were the songs, while #2068 coupled two previously released tunes - "Sweet Sixteen Bars" and "Tell The Truth". The standard tune "Come Rain Or Come Shine" was paired with "Tell Me You'll Wait For Me" on #2084, and "Early In The Morning" and "A Little Bit Of Soul" appeared on Atlantic #2094. Another standard "Am I Blue?" is released along with a second pressing of "It Should Have Been Me" on #2106, while on #2118 "Hard Times" and "I Wonder Who" are issued. None of these later Atlantic sides did much on the sales and airplay fields as Ray's major push was expanding his style into new areas of American music with his new label. One last Atlantic single was released in late 1962 - "Carrying That Load" and "Feeling Sad" on #2174, and that was Ray's swan song for the label where he had been the major figure in American music that combined gospel and blues to form the Black experience in this art form. It would be identified as "Soul music" from then on. Of all the names and descriptions given to Ray Charles over the years, the one that stays and is totally fitting is simply "genius".

Four LP albums for Atlantic were best sellers - "The Genius of Ray Charles" (#1312), "Ray Charles in Person" (#8039 - live in Atlanta for WAOK radio in 1959), the opportunistically named "Do The Twist" (#8054), and "What'd I Say" (#802). He had thirty three singles that made the national pop charts, but only three for Atlantic - "Swanee River Rock" (#1154), "What'd I Say" (#2031) and "I'm Movin' On" (#2043). The years at Atlantic define the development of the musical direction of the country during the nineteen fifties, and after his move to ABC Paramount, he became a true American icon. Ray Charles music is indeed, a genius at work.

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