The Sir Charles Blues Lab

Highlight Reel

Sponsor of the 10th annual LA Music Awards

Non profit organization

LOS ANGELES, CA — On March 21, 2002, fifteen talented kids from Watts, Compton and South Central Los Angeles had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to record the blues with the legendary Ray Charles at his professional studio, RPM International. The youths are members of Dane Gillibrand’s Sir Charles Blues Lab, a non-profit organization with Blues mentors working in more than a dozen inner city schools, community centers, juvenile probation facilities, and orphanages, from Compton to Woodland Hills. On just about every day of the week, in multiple locations across Los Angeles, kids can convene for free after-school jam sessions with expert instructors. Students have even had the opportunity to perform alongside the likes of Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Blues Traveler, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray and Quincy Jones. Nick Spitzer from American Routes covered the event for Nightline, to be aired in late Spring 2002.

Ray Charles was first charmed by the talents of these kids at his 70th birthday party when he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. The kids performed at the party. Ray donated 50 free tickets to see him perform at the Hollywood Bowl, and decided to invite the kids to record a song at his studio to get a taste of a real recording studio environment. Upon hearing about the project from Ray, West L.A. Music immediately became involved, securing a $2000 Yamaha drum set for the kids, along with $800 dollars’ worth of Sabian cymbals. West L.A. Music also donated 40 pairs of drum sticks.

When the kids appeared at Ray Charles studio, they were immediately in awe. Opened in 1960 after Ray was signed to ABC Records, RPM International was the first world-class studio to be owned by a private artist, and it was the site where Ray recorded almost all of his Grammy-winning hits. Ray’s commitment to the kids was to act as a professional producer, treat them as professionals, and to provide them a professional recording environment. Needless to say, the parents had to wait outside!

The kids played the classic blues tune “Busted” by Harlan Howard, first recorded in 1954. Harlan Howard wrote the Patsy Cline classic “I Fall to Pieces,” and coined the motto of the Blues Lab: “three chords and the truth!” Instruments included guitar, keyboard, horns, drums, and two vocalists. Ray imposed very high standards on the kids, despite their tender ages ranging from 9 to 14. He had them play as a band, and record their parts until they were flawless–just like they would be required to do for a record label. “If you let ’em slide now, they’ll slide forever,” Ray said.

Ray personally showed the kids how to play the keyboards, and a surprise appearance by Slash (guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, Rolling Stones, and Queen) thrilled the young guitarists. Slash is a firm believer in the program: “It’s really important that younger cats learn to appreciate the foundation of where modern music comes from. That’s why the Blues Lab, providing free instruments and after school jam sessions for these kids, is so great — I wish I had been brought into a circle like this when I was younger.” Ray agrees: “A program like this is so important for kids to keep them off the streets and get them interested in music. Music is the universal language that everyone understands.”

West L.A. Music is proud to be a part of this event and to have Ray Charles as a long-time customer and friend. Be on the lookout for Ray’s upcoming CD of all new material to be released by Crossover Records in April 2002. He’ll also release a DVD of live concert footage taped at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1997. His touring season resumes in May. For details, see For more information and volunteer opportunities regarding the Sir Charles Blues Lab, see or contact them at 323-512-2977. West L.A. Music presents many exciting events, concerts and clinics throughout the year.

About West L.A. Music

For over 30 years, West L.A. Music has supplied music, audio and recording equipment to top artists around the world. The first music retailer to implement a “beat any deal” policy, industry insiders count on West L.A. Music’s personalized knowledgeable service and comprehensive selection of professional products from leading manufacturers.

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For more information, call West L.A. Music at 310-477-1945