Some of the performers in the lineup for Saturday’s “InspiRaytion: A Tribute to Ray Charles” at Berklee Performance Center reflect on how and when they discovered his music — and why they will never forget it.
RICKY SKAGGS: “I think ‘I Got a Woman’ and ‘What’d I Say’ are the first songs of his I ever heard. Being from a bluegrass background, the songs with a groove drew my ear. Later on, when he did his country record, I just thought, ‘This is looking at country in such a different light than I had ever heard before.’ I still remember the first time I ever met him. When I went to shake his hand, he grabbed my hand and took his other hand and rubbed up and down my arm. That was his way of connecting — to my heart and my spirit, really. He said, ‘I love that bluegrass! And I love Bill Monroe.’ ”
JOHN SCOFIELD: “I was really into Ray as a child without even knowing it. As I got more and more into R&B and jazz as an older kid, he was a big favorite of mine. He’s such an interesting artist because he did soul music better than anybody. His jazz influence continues to interest me to this day. I don’t see him as a jazz artist; I see him as this guy who was so talented that he could play jazz, too. For most of us, jazz is a lifelong study, but Ray wasn’t primarily a jazz musician. But back in the early days, he would play this alto bebop stuff. He also started at a period when the musics weren’t so separated. If you were playing R&B, you were also into jazz.”
TRACY BONHAM: “I don’t remember exactly when I discovered Ray, but I bet it was on ‘Sesame Street.’ I think he sang the ABCs with just a piano, and it was so soulful. Nobody has sung the ABCs like that ever. My husband [Jason Fine, a former editor and writer at Rolling Stone] is such a music fanatic, and he got me deeper into Ray’s work. Right now I’ve been living and breathing Ray, and I’ve been inspired by his phrasing. You don’t notice it at first, but then you think: Whoa. He waits so long to breathe and then sing, but it doesn’t sound awkward. It just flows.”
RAUL MIDÓN: “For me, Ray is somebody I’ve come to appreciate much more recently. I was kind of a Stevie Wonder guy [who was into] the acrobatic singing. My appreciation of Ray came as I got deeper into music and realized the breadth of music he did. He had this emotional way of singing that cut to the chase. I think I responded in a very visceral way to his singing, and I think without knowing it, I responded to the fact that whatever Ray Charles sang became his song. Not a lot of singers can do that.”