Forty years after the recording of his hugely influential and career-changing Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music LP in 1962, Ray Charles revisited country music via the popular CMT Crossroads series. The special, taped in Nashville on September 10th, 2002, paired Charles with another Georgia native, soulful country singer Travis Tritt. It’s fitting that Charles would appear on the show during its first season, since his classic album was the first of its kind, showcasing a performer best known for R&B paying tribute to country music. The unexpected but wholly reverent blending of musical genres is what the CMT series was about, after all, giving a pair of acts the opportunity to share the stage and perform each other’s songs.
Early in 2002, Charles and Tritt officially met each other for the first time, hanging out together in a recording studio. This wasn’t the first time they had encountered each other, however. Several years earlier, Tritt was asleep in a hotel room when he heard someone fumbling with the lock, trying to get in.
“I jumped up, half asleep, not dressed, and walked towards the door,” Tritt told CountryWeekly in 2003. “Then I really hear somebody trying hard to get in! I thought somebody was trying to break in, so I yelled, ‘Hey!’ And I hear this voice say, ‘I believe there’s somebody in that room’ – and it was Ray Charles! I recognized his voice right away.” The pair would later joke that had Tritt opened the door to the music legend, it wouldn’t have made any difference that he was standing there not wearing any clothes.
Their Crossroads appearance included Tritt performing such Charles standards as “Hit the Road, Jack,” “What I’d Say,” and “Georgia on My Mind,” with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer joining him for the country classic, “I’m Movin’ On,” (the Hank Snow hit Charles recorded in 1959), Tritt’s single, “Between an Old Memory and Me,” and a scorching version of the Buddy Guy blues number, “Leave My Girl Alone,” with Tritt on electric guitar and Charles at the keyboard. It’s a tune Tritt was already familiar with since he had recorded a decade earlier on his third LP, T-R-O-U-B-L-E.