Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 246
Sat. Nov 2, 2013

“Georgia on my Mind”
The Band featuring Richard Manuel


“♫ I
said just
a sweet
old song/
on my
Richard in the spotlight
So tell me how an Ontario, Canadian born singer/songwriter can evocatively capture the soulful elegance of “Georgia on my Mind” by reclaiming the glory and in the same breath honoring the greatness that is Ray Charles? Richard Manuel’s cover remains one of his greatest shining moments on wax, absorbing the spotlight from his other famous Band mates Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm. The legacy of the late great Manuel lives on with this incredible cover of “Georgia on my Mind” proving that Richard was the spiritual voice of The Band.
Richard Muanuel of The Band In Woodstock
The Band’s unsung hero, Richard Manuel is the man whose 1976 cover of the classic that Charles made famous also sparked interest and support from a certain former Governor of Georgia. While he was running for President in 1976, Jimmy Carter became an instant fan of Manuel’s amazing Charles rendition, as Greil Marcus noted when he wrote in his book Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010, “[The Band] sang their recent single, “Georgia on My Mind,” recorded as their contribution to Jimmy Carter (he was sent the master and liked it—”
Georgia on my Mind
Manuel’s mate from The Band, drummer Levon Helm continued by recounting the amazing true story to The Independent in 1984 when he explained, “Jimmy Carter had been kind enough to receive us in the Georgia governor’s mansion when we passed through Atlanta back on the 1974 Dylan tour, and now he was running for president against Gerald Ford. We’d been getting calls asking us to help, so we released a single of ‘Georgia on My Mind’ in Mr. Carter’s honor. Richard (Manuel) sang it with the soul factor turned pretty high. On 30 October, 1976, we played ‘Georgia’ on Saturday Night Live, and a few days later Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States.”
Richard had been singing Ray’s song, for over fifteen years; way before the five piece became The Band as Barney Hoskyns wrote in his book, Across the Great Divide: The Band and America, “Playing on a bill with the Hawks at the Stratford Coliseum in the early summer of 1961, the Revols torn the house down when 17-year old Richard Manuel opened their set with ‘Georgia on My Mind’, the song which had given Ray Charles a #1 hit the previous September. “We were very nervous,’ recalls Revols guitarist Garth Picot, ‘but later we learned that they were a little nervous because of Richard’. It was hard to believe you were listening to a white kid when Manuel launched into the Hoagy Carmichael classic, so spine-tinglingly did he simulate every last pang of brother Ray’s performance.”
Richard becomes one with the microphone
When Richard was asked by Ruth Albert Spencer from The Woodstock Times in 1985, if he had every studied singing, Manuel replied, “No, I learned from Ray Charles and Bobby Bland and…Ricky Nelson probably influenced me too. Let’s see… Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed. Nearly all the singing influence is black. People think that I sound just like Ray Charles. And I don’t sound like Ray Charles. I imply, I make the same implications, I infer the same kind of things. You know what I mean? Lyrically, but I don’t sound like Ray Charles. Undoubtedly, he’s been my biggest influence.”
Richard is about to sing b and w
Manuel may have been inspired by Charles, be he was one of the most influential members of The Band. Eric Clapton famously said, “I was madly in love with Richard… At the time, [1975] we had the same troubles. I felt insecure and he was clearly insecure, and yet he was so incredibly gifted….For me he [Richard] was the true light of the Band. The other guys were fantastic talents, of course, but there was something of the holy madman about Richard. He was raw. When he sang in that high falsetto the hair on my neck would stand on end. Not many people can do that.”
Richard Smiles
Did I mention that celebrated Rock & Roll promoter Bill Graham became an instant fan of Manuel and the band after one spin of his wax vinyl as he explained in his book with Robert Greenfield, Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out, “He played me some tracks off Music from Big Pink and I was just blown away. As a band, on a good night, they were the tightest. Richard Manuel and Levon and Rick Danko […] three great voices and then the high notes which only Manuel could hit. Like Ray Charles.” That’s high praise from Graham because Bill was known to be tight lipped and rarely expressed his emotions to anyone outside of his inner circle. That’s how much Richard and The Band impressed Bill, after one listen Graham went to Woodstock, New York to convince The Band to come play out west in his home base of San Francisco.
Manuel didn’t just have famous fans, his mates in The Band were also admirers of Richard’s soulful voice as Rick Danko once said, “He brought a lot of powers and strengths to the group. He brought in gospel music from his church upbringing. Plus, he loved to play and just come up with new things. It was like having a force of nature in the band.” I believe drummer Levon Helm said it best, when he wrote, in his book, The Wheels on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band with Stephen Davis, “Richard Manuel was a whole show unto himself. He was hot. He was about the best singer I’d ever heard; most people said he reminded them of Ray Charles. He’d so those ballads, and the ladies would soon. To me that became the highlight of our show.”
Richard with the Band b and w
I’d like to believe if Ray, himself, had seen and experienced Richard Manuel sing “Georgia on My Mind,” Charles would appreciate the soulful incantations of The Band’s vocalist who lived up to his own standards of soul singing as he once told Life Magazine in 1966, “Soul is when you take a song, and make it part of you – a part that’s so true, so real, that people think it must have happened to you. I’m not satisfied unless I can make them feel what I feel.”
All you need to do is put on Richard Manuel’s emotional rendition of the song that Ray Charles made famous, “Georgia on my Mind” and you will feel soulfully uplifted by this singer from The Band. The way that he inhabits this Hoagy Carmichael classic cements the legacy of the late great Manuel, who will forever live on inside this incredibly glorious cover of “Georgia on my Mind,” that single-handedly proves that Richard Manuel was the true spiritual voice of The Band.