The road leads back to you

Posted: April 19, 2015 in Miscellaneous, music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I edited a couple of trade magazines in the 1990s. When you edit any kind of specialty magazine, you find that boredom seeps in like water in an old rowboat. There are only so many ways you can present the same subject, to keep it readable, informative, and interesting to read.

It’s a struggle, but you won’t hear any complaints from me. There are enormous rewards that come with the editor’s blue pencil: wealth, celebrity, power, eager-to-please interns, the respect of your fellow editors, the adoration of your writers, and a bitchin’ sound system in your office.

Notice to our readers
There are several errors in our current post. “wealth” should read “health insurance.” “celebrity” probably refers to Run-DMSteve’s appearance on the front page of the Idaho Statesman in 2003. The reference to “power” is puzzling, but it might have something to do with shaking Al Gore’s hand in 1999 without being pummeled by the Secret Service.

In addition, Run-DMSteve has never been granted access to an intern, editors are too busy drinking to speak to each other, writers adore you only when you’re approving their invoices, and Run-DMSteve had to buy the sound system with his own money. We regret these errors.

My first magazine was published by Sierra On-Line, which made computer games. Sierra was chaotic and dangerous, a knife fight without any rules, but I never had trouble making those pages interesting.

My second magazine was published by Visio, which made drawing and diagramming software. The company was well-run but their products put me to sleep. I figured our readers must’ve had the same challenge. This is why I searched for unusual Visioids to profile. For example, there was a gentleman who used Visio to position the cameras for the Oscars broadcast, and a writer who visualized her complicated love life thanks to our software. I hope the latter story gave engineers around the world something different to think about.

Sadly, I never got to run our story about the Midwest cemetery administrator who used Visio software to keep track of his “residents.” That would’ve been my Halloween issue.

Not all who play chess are lost
In September 2002, the editors of Chess Life published an interview with Ray Charles and splashed his photo on the cover. Jackpot! Bingo! Touchdown! This issue must’ve been extremely popular because I can never find one on eBay. Everyone’s hiding their copy in their sock drawer. Here’s the only image I can find.

Ray Charles learned to play chess in 1965 while he was in a hospital kicking his heroin addiction. He basically traded addictions. Unlike most blind players, who play by calling out the moves in chess notation (if you’ve ever played Battleship, you’re halfway to learning chess notation), Charles played by feeling the pieces. I suppose this is similar to how he played the piano. He used a special board with raised dark squares and lowered light squares. The black pieces had sharper edges than the white pieces. Each piece had a peg in the bottom and each square had a hole.

“I’m nowhere near what you call a master. I’m just a person who plays chess,” he said in the story. “I don’t care if I lose. I try not to, but I just love to play.”

Charles was interviewed by Grandmaster Larry Evans, a former U.S. chess champion and a long-time columnist for Chess Life. Naturally, they played a game while they talked. Evans didn’t play full-out (he admitted as much later), which I’ve learned is always a mistake when playing children. They learn more when they play the real you, plus your sub-par moves sometimes return to bite you in the ass. Sure enough, Charles, who was a better player than he let on, came close to a draw.

At one point in the game, Evans warned Charles that if Charles moved a certain piece, Evans would be free to make a devastating counter-move. Charles said, “You’ve got your rights, brother.”

Charles also knew how to cut to the game’s essence. “You don’t just move pieces,” he said. “You have to have a reason. So you say to yourself, if I do this and he does that, then what will I do?” I’ve been trying to teach this simple concept for YEARS! But instead of slowing down and thinking, my chess kids invariably plunge ahead as if they were about to miss the ice cream truck.

Chess and music live on the same street
Ray Charles was not the only musician who loved chess. Here’s a partial list: Sonny Bono, David Bowie, Ludacris, Jay Z, LL Cool J, Kurt Cobain, John and Yoko, Wu-Tang Clan (the entire group), Phish (ditto), and some one-worders: Madonna, Cher, Moby, Nelly, Bono, and Sting. In fact the best thing I’ve ever read about Sting is that he has an estate somewhere with a giant chessboard built into the landscaping.

I haven’t even gotten to all the jazz and classical musicians who play or played chess. But the only country western musician that I know of who qualifies was…Ray Charles (Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, vols. 1-2, 1961).

All of this is the leadup to a sad truth: There’s little to say about Charles’ career in the 1970s, my current topic. I don’t believe he was capable of recording a bad album, but like all gods he was capable of recording unnecessary albums, and the ’70s were a long line of them.

Note: There are many necessary Ray Charles records. Here are just two: Ray Charles At Newport (1958) and The Genius of Ray Charles (1959).

I said when I began this series about black music of the ’70s that everyone on my list owed a debt to James Brown. I’m thinking now that we all owe an even bigger debt to Ray Charles.

“I beat Willie Nelson yesterday,” Charles said in Chess Life. “He tells me that I turned the lights out on him.”

Hit the board, Jack.



  1. michael says:

    Did you know your internet presence lasts forever? Well, at least one year and 17 days (I seem to be a little behind in my emails). Anyway, I second pauline palmer – I loved this, too. Your chess life is a wondrous mystery and I enjoy the glimpses you share. Thank you Ray Charles for your contribution in this matter.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Thank you! And just so you know, I’m still working on that novel. I know you’ve waited like 200 years.

      Chess itself is a wondrous mystery.

  2. pauline palmer says:

    Steve, I loved this. If I hadn’t seen that guy who took on a bunch of players at the same time while he was blindfolded, I’d have a hard time believing Ray Charles could play chess. I’m still processing Madonna and Cher. Cher yes, Madonna in her underwear? Don’t wanna to think about that. Your lead-in was great but you didn’t mention getting to travel to spring training and interview Randy Johnson! Sierra, right? As a fellow editor whose gigs were pretty stolid, I never had anything come anywhere close to that!

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      That was the advantage of working for a game company (me) versus working in academia (you). Of course if Randy Johnson’s career had taken a different course, it would’ve been a whole new ballgame.

      BTW, Randy (I call him Randy) was one of the nicest, most attentive people I ever interviewed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s