Ray Charles represents soul music’s very beginnings to such a degree,I really have yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t associate him with that word. Probably why he’s referred to as the Genius Of Soul. The man’s 12 original Atlantic Records album from 1957 through 1961 still remain testaments to the genre as it was developing itself. He even helped create the framework for funk along with James Brown on his Wurlitzer electric piano solo on the song “What’d I Say”. While his ABC label albums were often ballad heavy country/western oriented concept albums,Brother Ray always burned brightly when the tempo went up.
In 1977,Ray Charles decided to sign back with the Atlantic label. Times had changed since he’d left them 16 years earlier. The funk was in full throttle,and disco was coming in fast. Now when I first discovered these albums from Ray’s second Atlantic tenure even existed, there didn’t seem to be much said about them. But a few years ago,they started showing up more often at flea markets and used record stores in my area of Maine. So decided to pick a few of them up. That includes the first of them in 1977’s True To Life. It’s a great album,but the one song on it that really caught my attention was “Game Number Nine”.
A thick polyphonic synthesizer opens the song playing a straight up 12 bar blues breakdown. Then the slow crawling drum kicks in with the simmering,complexly noted Moog bass bubbling underneath-itself accompanied a higher pitched synth tone. This represents the main body of the groove itself. On the choral breakdowns, Ray sings call and response to bleeping space funk synths and his own groove Wurlitzer soloing. By the time the song is nearing it’s end,Ray is accompanying that electric piano soloing with some very nasal blues synth accents as the song fades out.
Billy Preston had been a member of Ray Charles’ band in 1967. The one thing I find most interesting about “Game Number Nine” is how close it was with Preston’s then current approach to funk. The song brims with Ray’s own personality-from his electric piano style and sly,girl chasing lyrics. Him bringing in that chunky rhythm and blues approach into the heavy funk groove did remind me of Preston’s approach. Especially the way Ray also used synths to play the guitar and bass parts. It’s a great and unsung example of Ray Charles not only giving up the funk,but keeping current with the progress of the genre.