Ray Charles’ unique vision blended the best of jazz and R&B, gospel and soul, country and pop into distinctive music that forever changed the American soundscape. This two hour American Routes special includes our exclusive interviews with Ray and those closest to him, tracing the radiant arc of his life and music. Voices include: Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler; saxophonist and bandleader, David “Fathead” Newman; singer and Raelette Mable John; Ray’s chauffeur and assistant of more than forty years Vernon Troupe; his ex-wife and confidante Della Bea Robinson; and producer-engineer Terry Howard. Hear Ray’s classics and the stories behind them, as well as his songs by Elvis, Percy Mayfield, Willie Nelson and others.
The dead of winter has us planning ahead for Valentine’s Day and life itself with songs of love—lost and found. Whether it’s from swooning crooners or heartbroken honky-tonkers, love has wedged itself prominently in the American songbook. We talk to two songwriters who specialize in matters of the heart: ’60s folk chanteuse Judy Collins and Americana songmaker Jim Lauderdale, a.k.a. “The King of Broken Hearts.” Plus we hear soulful sweet songs from the Pointer Sisters and the Four Tops, ballads of love on the rocks from George Jones and Tracy Chapman, and love confessions for “My Girl, Josephine” by Fats Domino and “Ophelia” by The Band. Join us for songs of love sad and happy, sexy and silly, careless and calculated on American Routes.
For the Martin Luther King holiday we honor his spirit and struggle with African American spirituals, protest anthems, freedom jazz and soul power. New Orleans musician and activist Cyril Neville tells of growing up with Mardi Gras Indian rituals and street music and the importance of both to Black community life in the city. From our archives, the late jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard talks free form music and freedom of expression. Plus, Bob Dylan gives voice to the social unrest of the Sixties. Cellist and singer Leyla McCalla, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, reprises “The Capitalist Blues” for a new generation. And Big Mama Thornton brings a musical storm tide with her defiantly upbeat take on “Wade in the Water.” Be in that number with American Routes for MLK Day weekend!
Traveling at the speed of 45 RPM, we sink into the record grooves of some of our favorite songs and talk to the studio wizards who produced them. First stop is Nashville, home to Music Row as well as Easy Eye Sound, the recording studio of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. We talk with Auerbach about his journey in music, from hearing vinyl on his parents’ turntable in Akron, Ohio, to cutting records with some of Nashville’s legendary session players. Then we head to French Louisiana to chat with Cajun music maven Joel Savoy of Valcour Records about documenting and expanding the region’s traditional sounds. Heading east to the Fertile Crescent of American music and our hometown, we remember New Orleans’ Harold Battiste, who started All For One Records—the first African American owned label in the South—and arranged hits for Sam Cooke, Dr. John and Sonny & Cher, among others. Plus, more jukebox gold from Little Anthony & the Imperials, June Carter and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
We remember Elvis Presley on what would have been the week of his 84th birthday. Exclusive interviews with bandmates DJ Fontana, Scotty Moore, producer Sam Phillips, and biographer Peter Guralnick focus on the social and cultural interactions unique to Memphis and the Deep South that sparked Elvis’ musical explosiveness. The songwriting team of Leiber & Stoller talk about working with Elvis on their compositions “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock,” and guitarist James Burton describes the Vegas years. Memphis R&B great Rufus Thomas describes the complex relationship many black musicians had to Elvis, and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson says the king of rock ‘n’ roll was a perfect gentleman on their dates.