I never actually worked side by side with Mr. Charles but I did happen to work on one of his recordings and that's where this story starts.
Back in my staff engineer days, I recorded and mixed a whole series of Olympia Beer radio and TV commercials for an ad agency based in Washington State.
The first year's batch had won many awards so the same team (including me) was hired to help produce the following year's commercials.
Ray Charles was also contracted to record a 60 and 30-second version of the commercial's jingle. Part of Ray's deal stipulated that he would record, mix and produce both spots without interference from the agency or anybody else. He also had final say on how his two spots would "look and feel" once completed.
(I didn't mean to make a joke there!)
After we finished some 50 different versions of the ads, the agency people came by to play for me, Ray's final mixes--they wanted my opinion. They didn't want the client to hear them as they thought them inferior sounding. Ray's mixes, although nothing technically wrong or out of place, didn't match up (understandably) to the sound I had gotten on the rest. The agency wanted me to remix Ray's two spots to make them conform to the 'signature sound' I achieved on the others.
In situations like this I am a little hesitant to "muck around" with someone else's 'art'--especially when it comes to a living legend like Ray Charles. I was to mix them on my own without any input or criticism from Mr. Charles and the agency assured me that Ray still had final mix approval anyway; so I plowed ahead.
After I finished the mixes the agency, now pleased with what I had done, cautioned that they would still have to get Ray's approval. In those days, my assistant made a 15 i.p.s. copy, spooled it on a seven-inch plastic reel and placed it in a generic, solid white box and called a messenger.
A day later the tape and box came right back to me. Ray had written a rather long note covering the entire front of the white tape box. "Dear Barry, thanks so much...." his nearly incomprehensible scrawl started continuing with a 'tutorial' on all the certain musical elements, production techniques and sound he had realized within 'his' mix.
Trying to figure out if he liked my work at all, it took me five minutes to decipher Ray's tortured-looking script when I finally came to the very end where Ray wrote:
I remember not being particularly crestfallen: I heard it one way and he heard it his way. I wrote a return note (as I remember) thanking him for his comments and that I hoped we could work together some day in person. So the agency had to go with Ray's mixes and they sounded fine on the air.
I have two minor regrets: I wish I'd called to personally thank Mr. Charles and I wish I'd saved that tape and box.