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In late 1949 we made the decision to introduce readers to an otherwise obscure musician named Ray Charles on a song that was only tangentially related to rock.

The reason why his introduction at that particular time didn’t make for the easiest of fits is because as most people would come to know in due time Ray always was a prickly sort when it came to defining who or what he was.

He would claim in time that he was never a rock ‘n’ roll artist at all, making his inclusion here spurious in the mind of the man himself, were he still around to protest. But then again he wasn’t exactly a willing to be counted as a member of any specific musical genre over the years. He would cut jazz albums but never claim he was a jazzman either. He rose to fame by, in his words, “mixing blues with spirituals” but he assiduously avoided any association with gutbucket blues and never ventured into pure gospel for that matter either. His most famous album was Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music and yet he never would be called a country act.

So what the hell was he?

Well, the answer is simple: He was a restlessly eclectic American musician of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, which is another way of saying he was all of those things and none of those things at the same time.

Yet over the years in spite of his protestations he invariably became tangled up hip-deep in rock whether he liked it or not and here we see how that was probably inevitable in the long run.


Didn’t Do The Things I Should
It’ll be quite awhile longer before ANY of the entries under the name Ray Charles on these pages could be called nothing but rock, so it needs to be constantly reiterated that he was one of many artists at this time who were more than capable of playing it when called to, yet not convinced that it was how they wanted to define themselves.

Even when Ray did give in to the commercial realities down the road he did so in a way that was still fairly unique for the times, forcing rock to expand to include his brand of the music rather than conforming to fit the already established image others had set forth.

But here on I’ve Had My Fun Ray is more or less being asked to conform to someone else’s vision by recording a venerable blues song rather than something that fit into his own budding persona. Even so he more than manages to bend it to his own will by utterly subverting the entire concept of the song which ironically takes it well away from the blues context it was born in and places it more comfortably in the rock setting he was by no means looking to join full time.

As always with Ray Charles Robinson, the more you expect one thing the more likely he is to give you something else entirely.

So for those looking at the title and claiming ignorance as to how a song they might not recognize could possibly be a “venerable blues song” let’s start off by saying this wasn’t the original title… nor was it a title that was used by most of the other approximately 148 blues artists who tackled this over the years.

The actual title was Going Down Slow, written and recorded by St. Louis Jimmy Oden in 1942 and over the years has been done by a wide range of blues icons from Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland to Otis Spann, Jimmy Witherspoon, Junior Parker, Memphis Slim, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

It didn’t remain exclusively in that field however, as blues rockers such as The Animals, Canned Heat and Eric Clapton cut versions of it as did pure rock artists like Billy Wright, Aretha Franklin and Huey Lewis & The News. In other words, the song has gotten around over time.

Ray Charles was one of the first however to do so and in the process he managed to shake it up by upending the mood from despondent to somewhat sanguine which is how it manages to sneak in rock’s back door.

Goin’ Down Slow
A few important things to consider as we get down to brass tacks here, the first being that Swingtime Records may have scored a big hit with the light cocktail blues offering by Ray’s Maxin Trio last winter, Confession Blues, but their most consistent success to date had come with Lowell Fulson, a more traditional blues act. Thus it’s only natural that the company would want to reinforce that image people were getting of the label and push their other artists in that direction.

Also keep in mind that while Ray had no desire to be a bluesman in the traditional sense, he fully grasped the idiom and appreciated the music for what it was. In fact one of his primary objections to the blues as a pursuit was the image of the blind blues guitarist on the corner begging for nickels, something he as a blind man was determined to avoid any association with in the public’s mind.

So when Swingtime had him cut a number of pure blues tunes – two by Leroy Carr, Blues Before Sunrise and How Long Blues (a country blues tune which Ray managed to transplant into a wistful urban dream setting), The Mississippi Sheiks classic Sittin’ On Top Of The World (later made famous by Howlin’ Wolf) and Ma Rainey’s See See Rider, it wasn’t hard to understand their motives, nor was it difficult to understand why Ray himself would want to approach those in rather unconventional ways so that he could retain his own artistic individuality.

That explains not just why the title to Going Down Slow was changed to I’ve Had My Fun, using the words from the first stanza to justify it, but also why rather than dwell on the doom and gloom of the lyrics involving someone facing death, Ray seemed to be looking back more fondly at the wild days that led up to that and celebrating them instead of lamenting their passing.

In some ways this attitude adjustment doesn’t quite work, certainly not if you take the lyrics as a creed set-in-stone wherein he’s telling us his health is failing and how with death likely imminent he wants you to write his mother and have her pray for him and forgive him for his sins. But the fact is he’s not apologizing for those sins at all, he’s taking full responsibility for them and doesn’t seem to regret his actions, no matter how bad they may have been.

You’ll note that he hasn’t changed the words at all, just their meaning and in the English language that is perfectly acceptable. After all, you can say something as innocuous as “That’s good” and have it mean precisely what it states, or by altering the inflection of your voice you can make it sarcastic which infers that what you’re saying is the exact opposite of what those words traditionally mean.

Ray doesn’t go quite so far as that here, but you get the idea listening to him that he fully understands the suffering at the end of life is brief and unavoidable and so it’s far better that the actual life that preceded those final moments were pleasurable. In fact you can almost picture him with a faint smile on his lips as he leaves this world.

Don’t Send No Doctor
Had they been given more time to work something out to mirror these changes better you may have seen an even more radical shift in the arrangement and vocal delivery than is shown here. But given the rather compressed time frame most recording sessions were then what they do here is admirable even if it’s not quite all it could be.

Since the basic structure remains the same the key to the changes in how they’re executed. Both renditions feature a spry piano as the lead instrument, Roosevelt Sykes handling it on St. Louis Jimmy’s original, as Sykes is letting his fingers show their health and vitality, something which is off-set entirely by Odom’s voice which sounds as if he’s already got one foot in the grave.

But on I’ve Had My Fun the mood is transformed, as Ray uses slightly heavier piano riffs – some of his best playing to date actually – which gives it more punch, almost suggesting he might rise from his sick bed at any moment for another night on the town. The other factor comes via his lighter airier vocals which is a long way from the stark declarations of St. Louis Jimmy. He’s not quite happy about meeting his fate by any means but he’s taking it in stride, casting away the pallor that Odom relied so heavily on.

Here’s where we’re obligated to once again remind people the entire point of the blues – it was music used to deal with the burdens of an oppressively racist society where there was little about everyday life for those singing and listening to it that would qualify as enjoyable. As a result the singers reflected this outlook via weary voices that may not have been the same voice they’d have used to sing something like gospel which had a euphoric outlook for receiving an eternal reward after a life of suffering.

But much of post-war music, rock in particular – not that Ray was consciously taking this in that direction specifically – had an optimistic outlook and voices were the primary means for conveying that more positive mindset. Though the song was constrained in that regard by its topic to a large degree, Charles injects it with as much of a buoyant feeling as he thought it could stand and the result is the record no longer fits comfortably in the blues bag the company had probably intended it to.

Now does that mean it’s an easy fit in the rock world either? No, but when it comes to Ray Charles, especially early on, sometimes you need to accept the compromises to be able to better explain his ultimate journey.


Please Don’t Worry
When looking back at ALL of the songs Ray Charles cut to this point in his career, including those which were pure cocktail blues, this certainly wasn’t anything distinctive enough to have you think he had an unlimited future, but it manages to stand out from the rest thanks largely to his creative re-imagining of its possibilities.

I’ve Had My Fun probably doesn’t rate high in any rock enthusiast’s evaluations of his career work, and certainly most hardcore blues purists would blanch at how he seems to undermine St. Louis Jimmy’s more dour intent, but in the long and sometimes arduous process of finding one’s own voice you need to try and – and ultimately reject – the voices of others.

If nothing else this shows Ray Charles was never going to be content to follow someone else’s lead and that mindset alone is one of rock’s enduring hallmarks.


(Visit the Artist page of Ray Charles for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)