Willie Nelson once played chess with Ray Charles in the dark
By Joe Blevins
Aug 24, 2016 2:15 PM
R&B legend Ray Charles was no mere dilettante in the world of country. After the success of 1962’s groundbreaking, genre-bending Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, he continued exploring the genre for years afterward, culminating with 1984’s “Seven Spanish Angels,” a duet with Willie Nelson that topped the C&W charts.
Their collaboration, however successful, did lead to some odd and even surreal moments along the way, including some scenes worthy of an abstract art film. Nelson recounts just such an incident in a new animated video from Great Big Story. It seems that, one day about 30 years ago, Charles and Nelson were playing a show in Austin when the latter visited the former at his hotel room. Nelson found that Charles, not surprisingly for a blind man, kept the place’s living room unlit. But Nelson just sort of rolled with that, easygoing guy that he is. That’s when Charles brought out a chess board and challenged Nelson to a game. Fair enough, but these were not ordinary chess pieces, as Nelson explains:
His chess pieces were all the same color. They were all unpainted wood, you know. But he could feel of ’em and tell what they were. So, needless to say, he kicked my ass about three games in a row. I said, “Thank you, Ray. Let’s go sing.” But I did tell him that the next time we played, I wanted to do it with the lights on.
Great Big Story presents this as a lesson in humility, and Nelson admits, “I probably have as big an ego as anybody.” Whether that well-lit rematch ever occurred is unknown, but there is extant footage of Nelson and Charles performing live together in concert, including clips in which Charles wears the same plaid sport coat he’s seen wearing in this video. Maybe this performance was filmed not long after one of those chess games.
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