Written by
Bob Stumpel

November 11

God Bless America Again (With Billy Preston, Slash A.O. aka The American Rebels)

Album 2002 AmericaWith Billy PrestonWith SlashWith The American Rebels

Compilation album: Ray Charles Sings for AmericaRhino/WEA, 3 September 2002.
[After the album release, the song was remixed for radio DJs; see below].

The weeks after the 9/11 attack the American airwaves were filled with patriotic songs. Ray’s America The Beautiful was probably the song that was most frequently played.
A year later Rhino/WEA released a compiler, Ray Charles Sings for America, spanning the Ray Charles Songbook from 1960 to 1997. All the songs’ lyrics were especially meaningful in the context of the commemoration.
The 20th track, God Bless America Again, was newly produced for this album.
Producer Terry Howard revealed how the song came about at the occasion of Ray’s and his endorsement of Sonar 2.0 studio equipment (source here):

“We were all really affected by the tragic events of September 11th. Everyone involved with this project wanted to do something to help out but we were not sure what. The seed for the idea started when I saw Congress get together to sing God Bless America to rally our nation. This was the group that separated church and state in the first place, and they chose to sing this song rather than the National Anthem. I was really moved. I thought that maybe it might be a song that we could do to raise some money to help the victims.

I did some research on the internet and found that just about everyone had recorded God Bless America already, over 1000 people in fact. While I was looking, I found a single instance of God Bless America Again that was recorded by Loretta Lynne and Conway Twitty in the 1960s. It took a while, but I tracked down the song (none of the Country stations in the LA area had a copy to play). When I heard the track I knew there was something very special about it, and when I played it for Ray he said “We’ve got to do that song”.

I started making some calls and just about everyone I contacted said they wanted to get involved. The opportunity to work with Ray is usually enough to get someone involved in a project, and the fact that this was for a good cause made it even better.”

Terry Howard
The crew contributing to the track posed as “Ray Charles and the American Rebels” for the photo above. From left to right: Ray Charles, Rosemary Butler, Billy Preston, Slash, Magic Kramer, Craig Eastman, Jimmy Powers, and Scott Lombardi.

In another interview initiated by Sonar (source here), Howard  outlined the technical details of their recording process:

“After we had most of the backing tracks recorded, but before Ray cut his vocal, he decided that the drums needed a different arrangement. We used Sonar’s Remove Silence feature to slice the drums into individual hits. Ray and I then rearranged the drums until they had it the way he was looking for. I then had Scott Lombardi, the drummer on the track, learn and recut the parts. We also used Sonar to slide the bass line to lock up with the new drum tracks in a few places. […]

We always back up our tapes. At one point during the process I was backing up a number of tracks from one tape to another and we had an equipment malfunction that resulted in 4 seconds of original tracks that had not been backed up being damaged beyond repair. Luckily I already had 80 percent of the song within Sonar, and I found sections of audio that matched the lost perfomances, then blend them into the gap caused by the damaged tape. […]

After finally hearing the single played over the radio I’ve decided on a few tweaks I’d like to make to the mix. I’m in the process of remixing the track now. When I’m finished I’ll export a hi-res MP3 of the new mix that we can service to program directors across the country.”

Who knows more about that remix?


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