Friday, July 31, 2009

First gig in Vegas with Ray Charles

Here's a little teaser from the book about the state of the country before Ray Charles was recognized as a musical genius.

Segregation in Vegas

In Vegas, we went to the Flamingo. We were the main feature. On our breaks we were sitting on the apple crates. Billy Eckstein was a big man. He came out and told Ray, who was outside with us and was telling jokes, “You’re the headliner in here. You’re supposed to be in here with the rest of the stars.” So Ray went in and played slot machines. The guys were peeping and saying, he’s playing the slots, in other words, it’s alright for him. Ray was the only one that could stay at the Flamingo. But that first year he stayed there by himself.

The next time the Flamingo invited us up, we couldn’t even live at the hotel. We were living in the black part of town called the Dust Bowl. We were living there in a motel with the kitchen and lunch counter downstairs and we could only get cold sandwiches. Very different.

That time, Ray said, “I’m not coming back unless my band can stay.” They said, “Okay, there’s some cabins in the back.” This was about a year later. There was a big difference. The police gave us a speech. They said, “We’re going to watch you guys. Don’t you be having no drugs.” Duke Ellington had just been through there and they busted about eight guys in Duke’s band. The word was out, so that all the guys that messed around had to keep their noses clean out there. It was January and cold in the desert and we had cabins out behind the club. It was nice, very nice, like a village. We had about two hours between shows. Everyone would go out to their cabins and do whatever they wanted to do.

Every night it was real cold. We’d be bundled up going to our cabins. The police would be watching us. They would watch us like we were criminals. That was because we were black and because we were musicians, both. There were no blacks staying in the hotel; just the employees.

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