It was 1964. I was a year out of high school and working. My own money to spend. I bought a portable record player, portable in the sense that it had a handle. I wouldn’t have wanted to carry it far. It didn’t have batteries. You had to plug it in. Couldn’t go jogging with it.
One of the first records I bought was Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles. Ray Charles had a successful career going but this album took it to a new level. He took some of the best country and western songs and married them to mainstream arrangements (think Perry Como, think Andy Williams) complete with what can only be called white bread backup singers. The one that comes most readily to mind is You Don’t Know Me. This one is not the exact arrangement I remember from the record. No strings. But you get the idea. Over that he laid his own unique heartfelt vocals. You could feel the the pain, the heartbreak, the joy.
There were other country standards like Your Cheatin’ Heart and I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You and Take These Chains From My Heart. The only thing missing was Ray’s signature song, Georgia on My Mind. A great album. Ground breaking. Genius. It made Ray Charles mainstream, up there with Sinatra and Tony Bennett. It also made country, blues, soul, whatever you wanted to call it, acceptably mainstream. Till then country music was nasal twang and steel guitars. Now it was about the message.
Somewhere in the eighties I found myself substitute teaching a junior high Sunday School class. One Sunday morning I brought a tape player (remember those?) to class and I played the Blue Danube from the album Classics at the Movies. I talked about that one place in the music where there is one, just one, beat with no music. ‘Hey Johann, you missed a beat.’ Who would do that? Why did he do it? I talked about creativity, about how we don’t have to do things the same way they’ve always been done. Today we call it thinking outside the box. It’s okay to skip a beat. It might get somebody’s attention.
Those kids probably thought I was crazy but maybe you can get what I’m saying. Our message is still the same but we don’t need to use the same delivery system we’ve always used. Think of new ways to present our message. Think creatively. Think outside the box. If we do we have a chance, like Ray Charles, to reach a whole new audience.