Born in 1930, Ray Charles is considered by many to be the father of rhythm and blues. Categorizing Charles can be difficult since he has great crossover appeal. He was influenced by the music of Charles Brown and Nat “King” Cole and by the pulsating boogie-woogie trio of Meade “Lux” Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson. Midway through his career, Charles's material also began to emulate white country artists, culminating in the album
Charles was a consummate performer who experimented with musical styles. However, he was criticized for his forays into pop music and especially for endorsing Pepsi-Cola in TV advertisements. Charles never played “rock” per se, but his status as a pop icon places him in this chapter as well as in Chapter 11.
Ray Charles has had an enormous impact on rock and pop musicians, many of whom are legends in their own right. Singers such as Steve Winwood, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, and the Rolling Stones have all cited Charles as an important influence.
Without a doubt, Charles's piano playing helped to define R&B as we know it. His early recordings often used horn riffs and funky grooves to complement his percussive chordal work. Examples of this include “What I'd Say, Parts I and II,” “Sticks and Stones,” “One Mint Julep,” and others. During this era, a lick that Charles loved to play was a repetitive right-hand pattern similar to the one indicated in FIGURE 13-1.
This lick can be used between any minor third interval such as E and G, D and F, A and C, and so forth. Be careful of the fast-moving grace notes. Don't let them interrupt the flow of the rhythm in the main notes.
FIGURE 13-1: Ray Charles Riff
Charles was a master blues player too, and his ability to capture the spirit of the blues in his pop and country repertoire was a special talent that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. The twelve-bar blues in FIGURE 13-2 mimics Brother Ray's approach to the blues. This is a slow blues, which can also be sped up and played using “straight eighths” if you prefer.
The musical examples in this chapter only approximate the playing styles of each artist. The goal with this chapter is to simply expose you to some legendary pianists and to give you a taste of each pianist's approach to music. You should further examine each of these five pianists through active listening and through other published resources (see Appendix B).
Since Hoagie Carmichael's “Georgia on My Mind” is so ingrained in the Ray Charles style, a spinoff has also been provided for your perusal. The harmonies in FIGURE 13-3 are rather jazzy. You will see harmonic extensions, a suspension, and chord inversions. Some attempt has been made to simplify this musical example, but it's important to note that Charles was also fluent in jazz, so some fancy chords have been used here. Don't worry if you don't understand the nuts and bolts of the theory behind this chord progression. Just try playing this exercise, take note of the voicings, and see where your ear takes you when attempting to create similar passages.
FIGURE 13-2: Ray Charles-Style Blues
FIGURE 13-3: "Georgia on My Mind" Spinoff