|Ex-Guns members and Ray Charles jam with high school band
Three of the former members of Guns n' Roses -- Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum -- visited Ray Charles' studio in South Central Los Angeles yesterday. Charles was scheduled to record with the Washington Preparatory School Jazz Band from Inglewood, California and called in Slash, who played on Charles' 2001 remake of "God Bless America."
"Ray's just a legend," said Slash. Slash played guitar on the Louis Jordan classic, "Let the Good Times Roll," which was sung by fifteen-year-old Tyra Dennis, who made an immediate fan out of Sorum. "She's awesome! Maybe she should be our singer," joked Sorum, referring to the Guns vets' search to replace Axl Rose.
The recording session with Charles was first prize in the first annual Blues Off battle of the bands, sponsored by Blues Lab, a Hollywood-based charity that delivers donated equipment and instruction to schools, orphanages and juvenile probation facilities in underprivileged communities.
"I think there's less opportunity today," said Charles, 72. "I came up with good musicians, and they would have jam sessions. And if you were good, they'd let you sit in. They had places where musicians could just go and just play music. I don't see that today. Matter of fact, I don't think I would have made it if I came up today."
The eleven-member Washington Preparatory School Jazz Band beat out eleven others in the contest, held last November at Hollywood's Musician's Institute. "They sound very, very good," Charles said. "I mean, they're kids. You don't expect them to sound professional. But they sound good for what they're trying to do."
Only five of the kids ever heard of Guns n' Roses, and none recognized any members or knew their hit songs. Yet all were agog to be accompanying Charles, who scat-spoke musical directions such as "more dee-dee-ba, dee-da-ba" before lurching into his trademark piano bounce.
"Ray Charles is, like, my second inspiration," said Jeremy Jeffers, a sixteen-year-old piano player who, like Charles, was born legally blind. Jeffers' first inspiration? Stevie Wonder, of course.
(February 6, 2003)