RAY CHARLES – THE BIRTH OF SOUL
Mike Evans (Omnibus Press, 2005)
This review appeared in Record Collector, October 2005.
Mike Evans was the saxophonist with the 60s band, Liverpool Scene, and I have known him for 40 years. Throughout that time, his hero has been Ray Charles and he has closely followed his career. Now after writing books on the Beatles and Elvis, he has written a biography of Ray Charles.
Ray Charles became blind in his childhood and instead of overcoming that handicap, he gave himself several additional ones as he advanced his career. He was a heroin addict, learning how to inject himself: he had numerous relationships with women and not believing in condoms, he fathered several illegitimate children: he gave several unwise interviews, notably one where he denounced rock’n’roll. It is a very dramatic story and Mike Evans tells it very well.
In 1978 Ray Charles wrote his autobiography, ‘Brother Ray’. It was a lurid book that made very frank reading, but it didn’t present a balanced view of his life and work. We got that in 1999 with ‘Ray Charles – Man And Music’ by Michael Lydon, which Evans admits was ‘meticulously researched’. In other words, what is there left for Evans to do, especially as his own book is shorter? Primary research is minimal – Evans has spoken to only 11 subjects while writing the book – so there are no significant revelations, but he does cover the final years of his life and he writes with insight about Charles’ influence on British R&B:
“The UK music scene in the very early Sixties was rigidly pigeon-holed, with jazz fans split between traditionalists and modernists, blues more likely to be considered as a branch of folk music, and rock’n’roll despised by both camps. The popularity of Ray Charles across the board did much to break down these barriers, and the band that embodied this process more than any other was Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated.”