The release of Genius Loves Company
would've been a big deal no matter what. Any new release from Ray Charles--the Genius not only of Soul, but also jazz, rock, country and western, gospel and probably a few other genres that I can't think of right now, a man who touched virtually every style of American music and left his own mark on it--would be noteworthy. That Ray's guests include such music royalty as B.B. King & Sir Elton John, rising stars Norah Jones & Diana Krall and fellow graybeards Willie Nelson & Van Morrison and many others makes the disc that much more appealing. But with the passing of Mr. Charles last June while the album was in the final stages of production making it his final statement, it seems even more of an event; the celebration of a remarkable career, of a well-loved musical icon. Fittingly, Concord Records hosted a reception marking the event at Ray's longtime studio in Mid-City Los Angeles, opening the facility up to the public for the first time.
Ray Charles' studio is located in between a mixed commercial and working-class residential neighborhood at 2107 West Washington Blvd; the corner where it stands is now known as Ray Charles Square, per an order signed by the Mayor in April. Ray opened the studio in 1961 and recorded there for the next forty-three years. The building looks pretty modest from the outside--only the R.P.M. logo posted by Charles in the front gives any clue as to what went on inside.
The most exciting thing about the building was naturally the studio itself. The room was a de facto museum of recording and musical technology, featuring several of the keyboards, microphones and other equipment used by the performer over the years; seeing the variety of different organs, electric pianos and synthesizers side by side was particularly fascinating. Also on display were an impressive array of the awards Charles has won over the years, including the sash from his Kennedy center awards. Almost as impressive was Charles' wardrobe featuring his colorful stage clothes--I was quite envious of the man's jackets.
The opening of the historic landmark drew a enthusiastic crowd of onlookers eager to see the place where Mr. Charles made his music and to pay in a way their final respects to the recently passed legend. Also on hand were a few of the artists involved Genius Loves Company
such as Billy Preston, Gladys Knight and producer and Concord president John Burk. The event was quiet, but happy; a good way to celebrate the release of the CD and the memory of Ray Charles.