It was a quiet moment in a recording studio between two old friends — the genius of soul and the king of blues.
Ray Charles and B.B. King were readying to record a bluesy number that married one’s piano playing with the other’s guitar picking when they took a few minutes to catch up.
“He seemed to be reminiscing a bit. I remember he said ‘If we had known we were going to live this long, we would have taken better care of ourselves,”’ King told The Associated Press during a recent interview. “I told him ‘You bet.”’
It was the last time they would talk — or perform — together. Charles died a short time later of acute liver disease.
Their song, “Sinner’s Prayer,” a plea to God to forgive their trespasses, captures what neither could have known.
It’s one of 12 star-studded pairings on “Genius Loves Company,” Charles’ final album being released posthumously Tuesday by Concord Records and Hear Music.
“We wanted to make a record that would bring him back into the spotlight,” said producer John Burk, who worked with Charles on the duets album. “The fact that it’s his last record is a very sad thing for the music world.”
A mix of genresMuch like Charles’ career, “Genius Loves Company” spans soul, rock ’n’ roll, R&B, country, jazz and blues — and includes such guest stars as Norah Jones, Diana Krall and Johnny Mathis as well as King.
“Some of the songs I have been playing for years. Some were all-time favorites of mine that I’d never recorded. Others were songs by artists that I really liked,” Charles said before his death.
He chose the artists he worked with based on either previous pairings, such as King, and those whose work he enjoyed but had never met, Burk said.
For example, Charles was “so turned on” to the idea of recording with Bonnie Raitt, Burk said he was sure the two must have known each other.
But Raitt, who says her own music was influenced by the way Charles blended blues and country, met Charles for the first time in the studio the day they recorded “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” a bittersweet love song that Charles first recorded in the 1980s.
“Rockets went off,” she told the AP. “I could have sung ‘Row, row, row your boat’ with him and been thrilled.”
Old friendsFor other artists, it was the chance to work with an old friend.
Willie Nelson and Charles recorded Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year.” Gladys Knight and Charles, who recorded together several times, sang “Heaven Help Us All.”
The only non-studio production on the album is Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” When Charles flew to New York to celebrate Morrison’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the two performed the song live.
Burk said the most emotional moment came between Charles and Elton John as the two recorded John’s “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” It was the last song recorded for the album and the last one Charles ever sang, Burk said.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the recording booth,” Burk said. “It’s a very sad song, and there was just this emotion in the air.”
No complaints about failing healthDuring the recording of the album, Charles’ health was deteriorating rapidly after undergoing hip surgery and being diagnosed with a failing liver.
“He didn’t really say anything to anybody about it. He didn’t complain,” Burk said. “It never really became an obstacle.”
In fact, during the recording sessions, Charles maintained his legendary focus. Known for demanding excellence, he held to that standard during the making of “Genius Loves Company.”
“His professionalism and his attention and focus were amazing,” Raitt said. “I just think he was on it. That’s what musicians call it, being on it.”
King, who broke down while singing at Charles funeral, said he hopes the album will cross generations and genres.
“You know, he’s one of a kind, doing what he did and how he did it,” he said. “Ray started before some of these kids were born. I hope they will take the memory of a great guy that has done so much great work.”