Remembering Ray

It was reading Kevin’s post here at Wizbang that I learned Ray Charles had passed. As Kevin noted in the comments, Ray Charles sang the best version of ‘America the Beautiful’ ever recorded. I’ve been a fan since birth.

Living in New Orleans, you get to cross paths with many famous people. Being a photographer, I often get unusual access to them.

There was a time I driving my car thru the city when my cell phone rang. I don’t remember the year but it was back when my cell phone came with its own suitcase. On the other end was a photo editor I worked with fairly often. He opened the conversation by apologizing for calling my cell phone. Back when air time was 2 bucks a minute, people did that kind of thing.

Then he asked me if I wanted to shoot Ray Charles in concert.

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I told him he could call my cell any day with an offer like that. He gave me the details and I flew across town. Luckily, I had my camera in the car and a healthy supply of film.

It was a magical night. Ray had the joint rocking. Ray Charles and New Orleans music fans are a good fit. Half the songs people would sing along, half they would just sway back and forth to quietly. I was able to get within feet of Ray. His lighting team did a great job and I fired frame after frame of what promised to be stunning photographs.

Back then when you shot a concert, you could do it with a camera in one hand and a beer in the other. I did. I had to keep reminding myself that if I was dancing when I fired the frame it would be blurry. I soon developed a routine… Dance to the spot where you set up the frame and pause just briefly enough to squeeze off a frame then keep on dancing. As I said, it was a magical night.

I walked floated into a local photo lab about three feet on the ground the next morning. I was sure I had the best pictures of Ray Charles ever taken. It was about two hours later that the lab called my cell. When I recognized the girl’s voice on the other end, I was sure she was calling to ask how I got such incredible images. I was waiting for the accolades when she said it… “I think there was some kind of problem.”

It was my own fault. I broke a cardinal rule in a situation like this. I gave the lab every roll of film I had. I knew better. As a photographer you learn early in life that sometimes labs screw up and ruin film. On a job like this you drop half the rolls and keep half in your pocket just in case. I was so anxious I dropped them all. Ruined. Every last freaking frame. Ruined.

I don’t remember the next few hours too well. Our memories protect us from things like this and mine surely must be. When I look back on it now, I remember that magical night and not the horrible morning after.

I had a chance a few years later… I had press credentials for Ray Charles at Jazz Fest. I could hardly sleep the night before. I knew I would it would be another magical event and I’d finally get that picture on the wall I wanted. Unfortunately his security cleared all the press people out for some reason minutes before the concert. I never did learn why- I guess it does not matter.

So when I read that Ray Charles had passed, after the initial wave of shock and sadness for the man and his music, I was soon thinking how I’d never have another chance to get “my” picture.

I felt horrible for being such a jerk that I looked at his death as a lost opportunity for me. Then I realized that is the nature of death. Sure, we are sad for the guy who passed but we don’t cry for them, we cry for our loss. We cry because we lose something that cannot be replaced.

And clearly, Ray Charles can never be replaced.

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One Response

  1. David Scott Anderson June 11, 2004