Yesterday I was going through some old boxes and I found a diary I kept from my days touring with Ray Charles. It covers August to September 1988, when I was 19 years old, and a few months into the gig.

Mixed in with angst-y stuff about girlfriends and petty squabbles are gems like “Jimmy Smith opened up for us and was swinging!” As I read it for the first time in years, I alternately smiled and cringed.

The entry below is from the time we played the Jerry Lewis Telethon – the annual, day-long live broadcast to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“Jeff” is Jeff Ballard, the drummer. “Kenny” or “K.C.” is Kenny Carr, the guitar player. I played bass. The band I mention is the telethon house band, which backed up the guest artists. Ray was weary of house band rhythm sections, so he brought us along, and we just used their horn section. There’s a few moments during the live broadcast when they would cut away from the main stage, and that’s when they had the rehearsals I mention. Also, each song in Ray’s book had its own number, which is how we referred to them – that’s where "449" comes from.

9/5/1988

Early morning plane flight w/Kenny & Jeff to Las Vegas, NV to do the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Driven to telethon in special car (Ray gets limo) + get lost in sea of confusion. There are people in our dressing room, no one knows when our rehearsal is, Jeff goes to commissary to eat, I follow. Later, the band, which has been playing for 21 hrs, takes a break when we are supposed to rehearse w/Ray. Ray gets furious. 15 minutes before we go on, we climb on the stand and rehearse 449, “Some Enchanted Evening” w/the house band, and then Ray plays a tune I have never heard and expects me to follow when I can barely hear a note he’s playing. I get upset, because I’m going to have to do this on TV, but just before we go on, Ray takes me + K.C. in to his dressing room and gives us the changes.

Me – “How are we gonna end it?”
R.C. – “Just follow me. We’ll put a turnaround on the end. You DO know what a turnaround is, don’t you?”
Me – “Yes.”

We wait in our dressing room (which we shared w/Charo) until someone tells us to hurry, we’re late. We rush to the stage, climb up to the stand while the cameras are rolling (very disorganized) and play. I’m nervous, but I do OK. On the second tune, me + Kenny fuck up the ending big time because we can’t hear Ray + he takes it out in the middle of the form. Ray calls me in after the show – “I thought you said you knew what a turnaround was!”. He was pissed.

Flirt w/cute girls, meet Spuds Mackenzie. Go to hotel (comp rooms!). Beautiful single room w/huge bed, mirror on ceiling, octagonal large bath in room. I get miserable. I hate Las Vegas.

The combination of late-80’s cultural iconography (Spuds Mackenzie!), getting chewed out by Ray, and the lonely, post-gig comedown feeling neatly sum up my memories of those days.

Although more video from the tour seems to show up daily, I couldn’t find this performance online. If you’d like to hear what Ray sounded like back then, here’s a couple videos from the two years I was in the band-