Whether or not soul music and rhythm-and- blues (R&B) are the same thing is open to debate. Some music fans use them interchangeably, while others swear there are clear distinctions between the two. Regardless, two of the greatest soul/R&B singers of all-time released critically-acclaimed albums that consisted of songs from a genre that will never be confused with soul or R&B: Country-Western.
It would be difficult to find an artist who had a bigger impact in music than the late Ray Charles. Born with sight but fully blind by age seven, Ray Charles Robinson (he would eventually drop his last name to avoid being confused with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson), covered the gamut of music genres – during his long career he released gospel, jazz, rock and pop-influenced albums. Charles’ first foray into country-western was in 1959, when he covered Hank Snow’s song, “I’m Movin’ On.” Charles’ version would reach #40 on the pop chart and #11 on the R&B chart.
In 1962 “Modern Sounds in Country And Western Music” was released
Charles’ desire to break down barriers-racially and musically- resulted in the 1962 release of “Modern Sounds in Country And Western Music.” The album consisted of twelve tracks written by some of Nashville’s most acclaimed songwriters, including Don Gibson, Eddy Arnold, Cindy Walker, Floyd Tillman and Hank Williams. Charles released the album over the objections of executives at ABC – they feared he would lose his traditional fan base – but these concerns proved to be unfounded. The album was an immediate hit – it was the number one album on Billboard’s album chart for 14 weeks, and Charles’ renditions of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and “You Don’t Know Me” were in the top five on both the pop chart and the R&B chart. To capitalize on the success of the album, Charles released “Modern Sounds in Country And Western Music Volume 2” in October, 1962. The single, “You Are My Sunshine,” reached the top-spot on the R&B chart and fifth on the pop chart. Charles’ version of Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” made it into the top 30 on both charts.
Years later, Charles released a duet album with country legends
Charles’ third country album, “Friendship,” was released in 1982, and included duets with Willie Nelson, George Jones, Hank Williams, Jr., Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash. The album topped the country album chart for 70 weeks. The duet with Nelson, “Seven Spanish Angels,” reached number one on the country singles chart in 1982, while “We Didn’t See a Thing,” Charles’ collaboration with George Jones reached number six on the same chart in 1984.
Charles helped diversify and increase country music’s fan base
Charles’ impact on country music was best summed up by Willie Nelson, during an interview with Ed Bradley on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.” Discussing “Modern Sounds in Country And Western Music,” Nelson said: “He did more for country music than other living human being,” then Nelson added, “Here’s Ray Charles doing country songs, introducing those songs to millions and millions of people, who, otherwise, would have never had a chance to hear them.”
Charles died on June 10, 2004 of acute liver disease.
Although Solomon Burke never enjoyed the commercial success or crossover appeal as his fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ray Charles, “The King of Rock and Soul,” did carve out a long, illustrious career, and was a mainstay on the R&B charts for many years.
First single to chart was a cover of a Patsy Cline song
Burke released the country-western influenced “Just out of Reach (of My Two Open Arms)” in 1961, three years after country legend Patsy Cline recorded her version of the song. While Cline’s didn’t chart, Burke’s rendition reached number 24 on the pop chart and number seven on the R&B chart. Burke’s presence on the R&B chart was enduring; from 1961-1978, 24 of his songs appeared on the R&B top 40 charts, including eight in the top ten. Success on the pop charts, however, was more elusive; only five of Burke’s releases made the pop’s top 40, none higher than twenty-two. Burke also cracked the R&B top 20 with his cover of the country crooner’s Jim Reeves classic, “He’ll Have to Go,” in 1964. His version made it to number 51 on the pop chart.
Burke wins 2002 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album
Burke’s comeback began in 2002, when he won a Grammy for the blues album “Don’t Give Up on Me,” four years later, he released the groundbreaking album “Nashville.” On “Nashville”, Burke recorded duets of country songs with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Patty Loveless and Patty Griffin. But it was his version of the Tom T. Hall classic “That’s How I Got to Memphis” that was the highlight of the album. According to Thom Jurek’s review at www.allmusic.com, Burke, accompanied only by the acoustic-guitar playing of Buddy Miller, makes the song succeed with his “big, crackling, throaty baritone.”
Burke records album “Nothing’s Impossible” in 2010
Following the success of “Nashville,” Burke teamed with Al Green’s legendary producer Willie Mitchell on the album “Nothing’s Impossible.” Primarily comprised of blues and soul cuts, Burke also did a soulful rendition of Anne Murray’s 1978 country hit, “You Needed Me.” Burke died in October 2010; he was seventy-years old.
Pareles, T. & Weinraub, B. (2004, January 11). Ray Charles, Bluesy Essence of Soul, is Dead at 73. The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com
Sisario,B. (2010, October 11). Solomon Burke, Influential Soul Singer Dies at 70. The New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com
Perry, A. (2010, September 29). Solomon Burke: ‘I’ll Sing as Long as I Have Breath.’ The Telegraph. Retrieved March 13, 2013 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk