I always felt like I had inside information on Ray Charles from the stories that childhood friend John Bryant told. Ray was a true American success story. Where else could a blind boy from rural poverty rise to a multi-millionaire musical force by combining great talent with hard work?
The plane was about 30,000 feet in the air when John Bryant leaned up in his seat and peered in the cockpit. And there sat his pilot — Ray Charles.
It sounds like the punchline to a tasteless joke, but this was no joke to Bryant. Back in 1975, it was just another concert date to the then-23-year-old drummer and the blind pianist.
“Ray was always good with machines,” Bryant said nearly 30 years later, from his music studio in Dallas, Texas. Bryant recalled how Charles often would direct his private jet in the air while licensed pilots would direct the musician.
Bryant, a Martinsville native, still chuckles at the memory, one of hundreds he has of his former boss who died Thursday at the age of 73.
Charles, the raspy-voiced soul icon behind such staples as “Hit the Road, Jack,” “Georgia on my Mind,” and “What’d I Say,” died of complications from liver disease.