I couldn’t believe the moment I got a phone call from Marshall Reznik of the William Morris Agency, telling me that he had just approved me to open for Ray Charles at The Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut. RAY CHARLES? WHAT?
Oakdale Theatre was built on an old alfalfa field back in 1954 by the founder Ben Segal. The original Oakdale was part of the “theater-in-the-round” craze that saw many circular stages open in various parts of the Northeast around that time.
Ben and Beau Segal, father and son, were a delight to work for. The first time we all met, we really hit it off. When they asked me if I needed anything, I said, “I bring my own sandwich.” They laughed and said, “We’re going to get along just fine.”
You see, theater owners have to deal with the needs of Stars all the time, meaning they have to fulfill complex contract riders. I knew they certainly didn’t need the opening act to be high maintenance.
So it was my first time at Wallingford and I was a bit nervous and that was the first thing I told my audience. They were very supportive. We had a great time together, and it turned to pure fun after that. 1,700 people had a party for 25 minutes… make that 1,701.
Being close up to people like Ray Charles is a wonderfully, humbling, ego shattering experience. When he started to sing, I was struck with how little I knew about my art.
That’s an amazing position for a musician like me to be in; a place where I get run over by the SOUL of a true artist.
This is when I really began to learn not to perform, but to be as close as I can to living the words that I sing. That was Ray’s definition of “Soul.” He told me, “If the audience believes that you lived the words… then that’s what it is.”
At one point in Ray’s show, he took the time to introduce a love song that we weren’t very familiar with, but he declared it was very special to him, and it was also a new song for him to perform.
He mesmerized us with his introduction and hardly anyone in the theater was breathing. There was absolute silence and Yes, you really could hear a pin drop.
Just before Ray’s hands were about to gently place themselves on the keyboard that he couldn’t see, some fool in the audience yelled at the top of his lungs, “WE LOVE YOU RAY.”
Ray didn’t miss a beat. He leaned forward to the microphone, and in a very stern voice said, “THEN LISTEN.”
That was a great moment. What a humble way to handle that situation.
After the show, Ray was gracious enough to take pictures with me. He also took the time to meet my Mom and Dad. What a special night.
As we were all leaving the dressing room, I heard him as he turned to his manager and say, “Paul introduced me to his folks. I like that!”
Everything Ray ever touched turned to SOUL. I know that for certain because a little bit of him rubbed off on me.
Thank you Ray!