The first Ray song I heard was "What's I Say?": I was about 12 years old, and I was floored. Oh, I suppose I had heard "Hit the Road, Jack" earlier, but this was this was the moment I opened my ears. Music doesn't come much funkier than that. "Come Back Baby (Let's Talk it Over)" was another one that killed me, along with "Here We Go Again," a song that only one other man could have nailed as well as Ray -- George Jones. I always preferred Ray's voice alone; the backing vocals on much of MSiC&W are way, way too much -- songs like "I Can't Stop Loving You" suffered for the heavy arrangements.
Nevertheless, his sound is indelible. Once you've listened to Ray, you hear him everywhere. To take a couple of obvious examples, listen to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" -- it's a northeastern "Georgia on My Mind." Listen to the organ groove and Stevie Winwood's vocal work on Spencer Davis's "Gimme Some Lovin'" -- it's the spitting image of the Ray Charles sound. Joe Cocker's covers of McCartney's "She Came in through the Bathroom Window" and the Box Tops' "The Letter" from the Mad Dogs and Englishmen show are clear nods to Ray, as was the very structure of that show at the Fillmore East, a big-band rock and roll revue.
So my hat's off to Ray today, knowing that he was stepping on stage to lead the band in musical Valhalla before his last breath had even fluttered to the sky.