You Don’t Know Me – Ray Charles Jr. (book review)

You Don’t Know Me – Reflections of My Father, Ray CharlesRay Charles Robinson, Jr. (Harmony Books) – book review

The movie “Ray” (2004) told the world the story of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.  But, as with most film biographies, “Ray” glossed over a lot of Ray Charles’ life; he was a notorious womanizer and, through part of his life, a drug addict.  These transgressions had a profound effect on his family, not covered in the movie. That’s where “You Don’t Know Me” comes in.

Ray Charles Jr. give a firsthand account of what is was like growing up as the son of the famous performer, going deeper than any movie could.  Some of the details are touching, as in the time, one Christmas, when the sightless Charles attempted to assemble a bicycle for the younger Ray, succeeding in everything but the slightly crooked seat.  But, oftentimes, the tales are not so flattering, as in the multiple times other women would contact Charles for child support, or in a pivotal moment in the book, where the young Ray Jr. finds his dad overdosing on drugs and bleeding profusely in his home office.  There are times when the book is frustrating; Charles was simply not around through Ray Jr.’s early life, so much of the reflections early on are secondhand.  The author does delve deeper into the past of his father than the movie did, offering some glimpse of where he came from, through conversations with relatives, most notably Ray Jr.’s mother.

Despite seeing the evils of drugs in his very own family, Ray Jr. inexplicably followed in his dad’s footsteps toward addiction.  Even though the main focus of the book is Ray Charles, You Don’t Know Me is as much about Charles’ family, and how success and the perils that comes with it, affected each member.  It is also a tale of personal tragedy and redemption, as the younger Charles attempts to free himself from chemical dependency.

Those looking for an introduction to the life of Ray Charles should certainly start with the excellent “Ray” movie for a more concise picture of the musical legend.  But, after watching that, “You Don’t Know Me” is an excellent path for those seeking more of the story