When Ray Charles signed his precedent-shattering contract with ABC-Paramount in 1959, he was determined to make good on an early ambition to be the most versatile recording artist the music business had ever known.
Beginning to build a repertoire of songs that you can play comfortably is the first important step in getting started in the Country Blues. But once you've got that repertoire-building process started, it can be enormously helpful to become acquainted with the Blues in a more general, less song-specific way, learning the various stylistic pathways that enable experienced blues players who have never met or played together before to sit down and make music together. When you see that happen, it seems like magic, but it's really just a matter of their knowing and understanding the language of the blues.
Ray Charles' explorations into country music were no mere dalliance. They have their genesis in "I'm Movin' On," the last record he made for Atlantic before moving on to ABC Paramount in 1960. But it was with the enormously successful Modern Sounds in Country & Western series of albums in 1962 (and the career making single "I Can't Stop Lovin' You") that made their mark, crossing over genre boundaries that were unthinkable at the time. An African-American doing hillbilly music was not a first, nor were uptown arrangements of hillbilly songs, but here was the Genius of Soul validating the music of the white working class, plain and simple.
Bear Family, the venerable German label that does reissue boxes of U.S. artists better than any American label – with the possible exception of Mosaic – has taken the cream of Kitty Wells' career and issued one of the most historically important collections in the history of country music. The Queen of Country Music is a four-CD box, with exhaustive biographical and session notes by Charles Wolfe that document, in their entirety, nine years of Ms. Wells career, from its inception through to its turning point and superstardom, the years 1949 to 1958; there are 114 tracks in all.
Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection was a multi-volume set of recordings released by the Smithsonian Institution. Released in 1990, the collection contains 100 tracks deemed to be significantly important to the history of country music.