When I was a callow youth, I got a job at Atlantic Records (search) — the great rhythm and blues record company — here in New York City.
Don't ask how or why. It was a mystery to me too. Evidently, in the full bloom of the long hair era, Atlantic needed a longhaired kid from L.A. — and that was me.
One of the first things that happened was one of Atlantic's owners — the great producer Jerry Wexler — gave me an amazing tape.
It was the first taping of Ray Charles (search) right after Atlantic signed him in 1955 or '54... early, very early.
In the tape, Charles sounds just like Nat King Cole (search). He sings a song sounding like Cole, and then you hear the voice of Atlantic owner Ahmet Ertegun (search). He's trying to make sure he doesn't insult Ray, but he asks — stammering — "Uh, uh... what we want to hear, Ray, is the real Ray Charles."
By the end of the tape, Charles sounded like the guy we have known so well for the past 50 years. It was an amazing transformation... dropping the thing Charles thought the record execs wanted to hear and bringing out the thing they really did want to hear — the Charles who gave us "Georgia," "Hit the Road, Jack" and so many others.
The moral of the story is simple. Be yourself. When Charles allowed himself to be himself instead of someone else, it was his moment of greatness... a moment that lasted a lifetime.
That's My Word.
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