While repeatedly emphasizing how honored he was to be working with Ray Charles, Tritt and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member turned in a forceful performance that clearly pleased both Georgia natives. Tritt claimed his ground early by opening with a solo version of the Charles classic, “What’d I Say,” and following it up with his own hit, “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive.”
Still the ultimate hipster at age 71, Charles was onstage for six of the songs performed before an intimate audience at a Nashville soundstage, but he did not sing any of his signature songs or material from his 1962 landmark album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Still, the R&B legend displayed his country roots as soon as he joined Tritt for their first song together — a spirited take on Hank Snow ’s “I’m Movin’ On,” which Charles first recorded in 1959.
Charles was more than willing to assist in singing songs from Tritt’s albums. One of the show’s highlights was their duet on “Between an Old Memory and Me,” from Tritt’s 1994 album, Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof. Following the song, a makeup artist began wiping away the perspiration from Tritt’s forehead. He joked to Charles, “I get excited on songs like that and I sweat like O.J. [Simpson] at a knife show.”
Charles also sang a verse of “Doesn’t Anyone Hurt Anymore,” a song from Tritt’s upcoming album, Strong Enough. In an onstage discussion of how to arrange the song’s bridge, Charles casually told Tritt and the band, “You guys handle that and I’ll help you out as you go.”
The Crossroads taping also gave Tritt an opportunity to display his blues influences on Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone,” which he recorded for his 1992 album, T-R-O-U-B-L-E. It was not that surprising that their voices worked well together, but the interplay between Charles’ keyboard fills and Tritt’s guitar work indicated an even deeper musical chemistry. With Charles pulling grand piano, electric piano and even guitar sounds out of his electronic keyboard, it proves that modern technology isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It must be a daunting task to sing “Georgia on My Mind” while standing 10 feet away from the man who is immediately identified with the song, but Tritt accepted the challenge. Leaving the entire vocal to Tritt, Charles served as a backing musician on a song he has sung more times than he can remember. Tritt’s reading got high marks from the teacher, with Charles noting, “That’s groovy. That’s real nice.”
Charles took a solo vocal turn on “3/4 Time,” one of the many hardcore country songs he has adapted to his R&B style over the years. During a question-and-answer segment, he was asked to name his all-time favorite country song. “That’s impossible,” Charles replied. “I’ve done too many country songs, and I never do something I don’t like.”
After Charles left the stage, Tritt introduced two more songs — “Country Ain’t Country” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’” — from his new album, set for Sept. 24 release. He closed out the night with “T-R-O-U-B-L-E.”
When the show began, Tritt pointed to Charles and said, “This is as good as it gets for me.” It’s doubtful that his opinion changed by the time the last note was played Tuesday night.
The CMT Crossroads episode featuring Tritt and Charles debuts in December.
Here’s the set list from the Travis Tritt’s CMT Crossroads taping with Ray Charles:
“Hit the Road Jack,” band
“What’d I Say,” Tritt
“A Great Day to Be Alive,” Tritt
“I’m Movin’ On,” Tritt and Charles
“Between an Old Memory and Me,” Tritt and Charles
“Leave My Girl Alone,” Tritt and Charles
“Georgia on My Mind,” Tritt
“Doesn’t Anyone Hurt Anymore,” Tritt and Charles
“¾ Time,” Charles
“Country Ain’t Country,” Tritt
“Can’t Tell Me Nothin’,” Tritt