Interview by Joe Smith
Joe interviewed Ray Charles on June 3, 1987 during the writing of Off the Record–his oral history of rock and roll. Joe interviewed more than 240 music artists and executives from 1986-88.
In 2012, he donated a trove of 238 hours of interviews on cassette tapes to the Library of Congress. Listen to Joe’s full interview catalog.
The Animated Transcript
Joe Smith was a longtime record executive and one-time radio DJ.
This is America. I don’t give a damn what anybody tell you, this is America. And I love it. So if somebody don’t like something that I do, that’s his or her prerogative. Just like it’s mine.
See my mom taught me a lot, man. A lot about minding your own business and leaving other people’s business alone. And let them think what they want. I mean I can’t help what I sound like. What I sound like is what i am. You know? I cannot be anything other that what I am.
I don’t sing “Georgia” like the record. I sing “Georgia” true. I sing “Hit The Road Jack” true. I sing what I sing true. Each night I sing it the way I feel that night.
Ain’t no way in the fuck I can sing “Georgia” the same way I played it on the day. Because I’d have to go and study myself and learn. I mean it really would be a chore. That’s why I can’t lip-sync.
Somebody asked me one time how I feel about being called a genius. Do I feel I have to live up to something? You know it ain’t that kind of ballgame. I feel that whatever people say about me or call me… You know I mean all the little adjectives and different things that people have put on me and things said about… I had nothing to do with that. I never said I was a genius. I never said I was a cornerstone. I’ve never said I’m a legend in my own time. You never heard me say nothing like that. You know, what I got to live up to is being myself. If I do that the rest will take care of itself.
I think that most great artists who are extremely known, as I am, would intimidate a lot of people. I don’t want to do that to people, but I know I do. yes. When I’m having a rehearsal and there are new guys who come in to try out for the job, I always let my conductor rehearse them. Because I don’t want the guy to get bent out of shape, because I walk in. I always stay out of the rehearsal room you know when they first come in. Then once they had chance to play a little bit, then I walk in. Because I’ve seen guys fall apart, man.
I remember the first time I went to Carnegie Hall and normally you would think that you’d be scared stiff. At least that’s what you’re supposed to be according to what everybody… Wherein for me, as opposed to being scared I was so glad… something I always wanted all my …. If i ever got to Carnegie… You ever have something in your mind and you say “oh, lord, this is ultimate of my goal.” I couldn’t wait to get out on stage. So I never was nervous. I was so happy to be able to play Carnegie Hall and be there. I guess I didn’t take time to say: “look fool, you better get nervous about this first.” [laughter]
The public has supported me, man. Do you know that? Even when I was nobody. Even through all the trials and tribulations and suffering and stuff i went through. They still stuck by me. And that’s why I believe in giving the public the best I got every night. I never go out there and half do. I don’t care how big the audience is. If we got 500 or 5,000, I work the sam, because I want those 500 to go back and say: “man, there wasn’t too many of us there, but boy they put on a hell of a show.”
I am still not quite used to it. I’m still sort of at awe when I go places in the world where they speak very little english and yet they know me on sight. They know my music. You know I really marvel at that. I still can’t quite grasp that. But isn’t it wonderful?
Still gives you a kick.
Yes indeed. It still gives me a kick.
“What’d I Say”
“Georgia On My Mind”
“I Believe To My Soul”