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Ray Charles
Ray Charles
June 13, 1980
11” x 17” (27.94cm x 43.18cm)

Ray Charles is a colossus of 20th Century American music. His music spans pretty much the entire spectrum of this country's popular music forms. It was therefore a unique challenge to visually depict him and at the same time try to give shape to that music. Reverence was the approach that I wanted to pursue. In this pen-and-ink rendering I chose an extreme close up of his very famous profile; this created an immediate intimacy with his visage, while remaining true to that approach. I felt that this treatment turned out so well that five years later I would do the same to John Lee Hooker. In front of him a handful of lights are suspended with him against the massive black background -- they are both the accurate depiction of stage lights and at the same time stand symbolically for individual music notes and at the same time, the different genres of music that he mastered. The two graphics which bookend him stand for the two environments within which he lived and performed as well as the delineation of those genres. The cool blue graphic to his left represents both the rural roots from which he sprang, as well as the music which emanated from that environment -- primal blues, regional standards and a black interpretation of white country and western music. The warmer graphic to the right symbolizes the urban realm and its musical forms - jazz, rock and roll, American popular standards, and big band orchestration.


Departing from its initial blues purity, Antone's expanded the musical horizon vastly within the walls of its second home. Besides the first class country and western musical artists that Clifford showcased there were also mainstream musical titans such as Ray Charles. It was with great pleasure that I accepted the assignment to promote this performance, and with greater anticipation that I awaited the show. Ray had been my very first musical performance by a major artist; that had been 22 years before at the Houston Coliseum, when he dominated the AM airways with such early classics as Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia On My Mind, I Got a Woman, and the relentlessly driving What'd I Say. Five years later he would do the first volume of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, a crossover musical effort of paradigm proportions that to this day casts a long shadow over every other musician's attempt to do the same. This massively successful album and its volume 2 follow-up of the same name as well as the popular rock and roll classics that preceded them placed him at the very pinnacle of American music, where he was to stay for the rest of his life.

The June 13 performance, which occurred just a month before the club's fifth anniversary, placed "Austin's Home of the Blues" alongside the Armadillo World Headquarters, at this time halfway through its last year as Austin's premiere music showcases -- the only two private venues in town that were capable of booking and staging a show of this caliber; bringing the hall a general international renown it had already enjoyed for years among blues fans and musicians. Only the big public arenas such as the Coliseum, Palmer Auditorium and the brand new Erwin Special Events Center on the UT campus were comparable in a town overflowing with musical stages. The show followed the classic R and B performance format -- the full Ray Charles Band opening up with powerful instrumentals, followed by The Raylettes joining their harmonies for a couple of tunes more, before the man himself was escorted to his piano before a thoroughly primed audience giving a standing ovation. The performance that he gave for the next two and a half hours was just as stunning as the Houston show I had seen in my thirteenth year, only richer by virtue of all the music he had created in the interim. It was among the dozen or so most memorable shows that I have seen among the hundreds and hundreds of musical performances over more than three decades in the Texas capitol.

The new venue in north Austin had been a furniture showroom before the club's installation there, and the large flat surfaces of the space played havoc with the sound. However, when sold out, the sea of soft humanity enabled a quantum increase in quality and on this night with capacity attendance, it was golden and dulcet. At the end of the show and four encores, Clifford Antone was called onstage by Ray to be honored and recognized for his dedication to the blues and his venue's contribution to its elevation across the American cultural landscape. Though only one of many such accolades afforded him over the years by many musicians and blues devotees, the recognition that Clifford received on this night from this man, I think, moved him the most. It was one of the sweetest nights this great blues club has ever seen. It was pure joy for me, and I must have anticipated that feeling on some level, for I see it incarnated in this poster.

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