Written by
Bob Stumpel

December 6

Ray Charles In A Foul Mood In Positano (1996)

'96 TV Positano NMConcert 1996 Positano TV NM

On 7 July 1996 both Corriere della Sera and La Stampa had big stories on a concert given the night before by Ray Charles and Renzo Arbore (also see this article), at Castelvetrano in Positano. My Italian is sketchy, but this is my reconstruction (to the Italian readers of this blog: please correct me if I got things wrong!).

The night of July 5 another concert organized by the same impresario, at the archaeological site of Selinunte in Sicily, had been canceled at the last moment by local authorities, who were afraid that the mass crowd would cause damage to the historic location.
For the concert in Positano, the impresario offered Ray – who was staying at a hotel in Naples – to pick him up by helicopter. The “king of soul” refused, preferring to bridge the distance by car – which turned out to be a hellish trip on the Amalfi Coast drive.
Ray arrived much too late, and in a foul mood, at the concert location. He put up a fuss, refusing a special performance – that was to be televised – of O Sole Mio together with Renzo Arbore, although that was part of the contract, which had a clause whereby up to 24 hours before a concert he could have decided not to perform, “without penalty, with the court of Los Angeles jurisdiction in the event of litigation.”  During the discussion his mood didn’t improve, “even though he had received $70,000 in advance for the two concerts”.
Arbore’s assessment of the situation was negative, “I do not think its possible,” he stated. “We have not rehearsed. What can we do? […] We have to take these U.S. superstars as they are. Moreover, before an artist like Charles one must always bow.”
Ray started his usual concert routine at the beautiful Positano beach (half a meter from the sea, with the chairs on the sand), without disclosing his final decision on the duet with Arbore. The setlist went from Georgia On My Mind to Angelina, showing that he was still able “to penetrate the feelings of the audience”. Arbore and the tv crew were still in stress when he came at the end of the set list, and left the stage. “Thus, the thriller lasted until late at night: soul and mandolin, yes or no?” But then, finally, Ray and Arbore came back on stage to do O Sole Mio, accompanied by two guitars and three mandolins from Arbore’s orchestra. 

(Also cf. this).

Who knows more about the destiny of the TV recording?


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