Behind the song: “I Got a Woman”, Ray Charles
Legend has it that famous artist Billy Joel once said Ray Charles was more important than Elvis. Namely, Frank Sinatra called Charles at one point the “one true genius” of show business. With a firm but fragile almost wooden voice, fingers that could seemingly boogie-woogie all night long, and a vision of songwriting (albeit literally blind) that has stretched for decades, and continues on. to do so today, Charles is an American treasure.
One of the artist’s most famous hit songs was the salacious “I Got a Woman”, which he released as a single in 1954 (with the B-side being his heartbreaking track, “Come Back Baby”). And both songs appeared on his self-titled 1957 record, which was later renamed, Hallelujah i love her so much. But Charles said Pop Chronicles before he died he played “I Got a Woman” for about a year before recording it.
Charles recorded the track on November 18, 1954 at the Atlanta studios of Georgia Tech radio station WGST. The song became his first hit, reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts in January 1955. Rooted in gospel sounds, the song is steeped in what Charles was listening to at the time while on the road during the summer. Hot from 1954. Charles wrote the piece with his conductor Renald Richard.
It was the combination of church sounds and secular lyrics that made the songwriter famous. It was his soul music, and some say the very first soul music. “I Got a Woman” was built on the track “It Must Be Jesus” by the band Southern Tones, as well as a bridge inspired by the song “Living on Easy Street” by Big Bill Broonzy.
For Charles, who was born in 1930 in Georgia and died in 2004 in California, the songs stirred the crowd but did not make them feel guilty like they would in church. Fire and brimstone have been replaced by flirtation and bourbon. It was catchy music with real stories. Concrete example: Charles sings the words of one of his friends:
Well I have a wife / All over town / It’s good for me oh, yeah / She’s there to love me day and night / Never growl or fuss, always treat me right / Never run in the streets’ me alone / She knows a woman’s place is here now in her house / Well I have a wife / All over town / It’s good for me oh, yeah / Say I got a wife / All over town / It’s good for me oh, yeah
The way Charles even starts the song sounds tacky, like he’s leaning over one of his friends and talking to him about this great setup, this sex on the outside. Of course, the meaning of the lyrics likely points to Charles’s (or narrator’s) relationship with a white woman, which of course in the 1950s was taboo when the other partner was black.
Charles has a friend across town (maybe at easy side of town) is good for him. She treats him well, offers him a bed, food, comfort. A respite from a world of late nights and show biz junkies. She gives him money when he needs it. “Yeah, she’s kind of a friend indeed!” She keeps her love for him early in the morning, when he’s finished with the late-night binge drinking demanded of an artist. Oh yes!
Those of us who listened to pop music in the early 2000s are used to hearing this song sampled by hip hop producer and rapper Kanye West for his song “Gold Digger,” which features the song. actor, musician and impersonator of Ray Charles (and Oscar Laureate for his role as Charles in the film, Ray), Jamie Foxx.
But the song takes a turn for the curious afterwards. Not only does Charles want this woman to be there for him in the early morning for a tender affection, but he wants her himself. She must not leave her house (without him). Maybe it’s just the situation she wants, or maybe it’s what she’s willing to endure (for at least a little while) to get the attention of the great Ray Charles. While we can’t judge this now, we may love the song for its storytelling, candor, and hip-shaking energy.
Many others along the way also felt the same. “I Got a Woman” has been covered by almost everyone from the Beatles to Elvis to Bryan Adams, Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, Michael Bolton, Stevie Wonder and even Johnny Cash and June Carter.
Check out two of these versions below.