The Stage Discipline Of Ray Charles
I recently posted a review of a book which mentioned Leonard Cohen’s contention that his bass player was “intent on sabotaging my efforts.” That called to mind a 1983 episode in which Ray Charles had to deal with a rowdy band member (as far as I know, Leonard didn’t emulate his musical hero’s personnel management style). Notably, Charles never loses his composure, even when his four hundred pound, knife-carrying guitarist is hurling invectives at him onstage.
Bob Stumpel at the outstanding Ray Charles Video Museum discusses this episode at Ray Charles Has Eugene ‘Big Bubba’ Ross Removed From Stage (1983) and offers this excerpt from Michael Lydon’s biography, Ray Charles: Man And Music (1990):
The tour wore hardest on guitarist Eugene Ross, nicknamed ‘Big Bubba’, a four-hundred-pound Texas bluesman who drank, carried a knife, and had a wooden leg. Big Bubba was always hungry; the tour never stopped long enough for what Bubba called a real meal. His wooden leg gave him trouble sitting cramped on the bus; it also meant he had a hard time attracting women. As the tour ground on, Bubba got more and more discontented. Night after night Ray yelled that his guitar was too loud, and the nagging made him angry. […]
Back from the second European trip, the gang played a gig in Omaha the night before Thanksgiving. Ray flew to Los Angeles on the holiday, leaving the fellows in a dumpy hotel in Omaha’s deserted downtown. The company did buy them dinner, but when Bubba looked down at his plate at a skimpy portion of canned turkey, he dropped his knife. ‘Ray’s got $ 40 million,’ he announced, ‘and he doesn’t have the decency to give us a real turkey dinner.’ At the next stop, the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Bubba came into the band room the first night and slapped his guitar case on a shelf where James Polk had stashed a couple of drinks, knocking them over. ‘What’s wrong with you, man?’ asked Polk. ‘I’ve been pissed off all day at fucking Ray Charles,’ said Bubba. ‘If he says one thing to me tonight, I’m gonna tell him to kiss my ass.’
As the show began, bassist Roger Heyns, as he often did, turned on a cassette recorder to tape the show. The band was blurring through Busted […], when Bubba’s guitar started to come through too loud. Ray turned to him and said, ‘Cut it out.’ That was the last straw.
The resulting – ah, let’s go with salty dialogue can be heard in a YouTube video that can be viewed here.
Afterwards, “[Ray] laughed it off, even said he’d pay Bubba’s salary for the rest of the week and buy his ticket home to Texas. ‘You guys shoulda chipped in and bought Bubba some pussy,’ Ray told his band leader. ‘The man’s crazy, but he sure could play.'”
Originally posted July 11, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com