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Thursday, September 12, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ray Charles Lives Up To His Own Legend

Ray Charles with the Ray Charles Orchestra & the Raeletts and comedian Rod Long last night, and at 7:30 and 10 tonight, at Parker's, 17001 Aurora Ave. N. ($27.50; 542-9491).

To show you how much class Ray Charles has, at his show last night at Parker's he didn't go "You got the right one baby, uh-huh" once.

He didn't even make reference, at least at the first show, to the Diet Pepsi jingle that's been saturating the airwaves for years.

Most performers wouldn't miss the chance to bring up something guaranteed to get a rise from the crowd - even something so trivial as a TV commercial - but Charles has always maintained a certain dignity, even when growling down-and-dirty blues.

The former Seattleite, who turns 61 in two weeks, long has been revered in popular music, for virtually inventing soul and spreading it throughout the world. He's one of few performers who really does have a unique style, who makes every song he sings his own.

At a time when most acts are paring down their roadshows, Charles still mounts a big, classy show, complete with 16-piece, white-suited orchestra, conducted by Al Jackson, and five young Raeletts in matching miniskirts. They could hardly all fit on Parker's stage.

At the opening set last night, Charles was animated and playful, singing many of his classic hits with verve and joy, and also doing several impressive new songs from his current album, "Would You Believe?"

In a brown-and-gold lame jacket, wearing his signature wraparound sunglasses and flashing that famous smile, he pounded out the tunes on an electronic keyboard, rocking back and forth on the piano stool, sometimes bringing his right foot up so high it looked like he was going to smash the keys with it, a la Jerry Lee Lewis.

His tight orchestra added kick to songs like "Busted," and the harmonies of the Raeletts were indispensable to "Hit the Road, Jack" and other songs - although none of the new girls had the churchy, gritty sound of legendary such as like Margie Hendrix and Darlene MacRea.

Charles did his bouncy arrangement of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and had fun with "Georgia On My Mind," singing it straight at first, then adding rocking piano, some spoken ad libs and deep-voiced singing.

He and the Raeletts exchanged teasing banter during "Mama Don't Allow No Piano Playing In Here/Don't Set Me Free" and "Guess Who I Saw Today." And Charles rambled on with one of his signature jiving raps (in the old sense) as an introduction to "Hit the Road, Jack."

But the best moments came with the romantic ballads, as Charles' seasoned voiced took on a mature, knowing quality in such songs as "Ellie, My Love," from the new album, and the countryish "I Can't Stop Loving You."

The set ended with Charles' traditional closer, "What'd I Say," which after 30 years is still great fun, especially when the audience sings along.

Charles does two more tonight, at 7:30 and 10. Opening is popular comedian Rod Long.

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-- Beginning Monday, Ray Charles will be seen singing the opening theme song of CBS's "Designing Women." Charles sings "Georgia on My Mind" seated at a baby grand, surrounded by stars Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, Julia Duffy, Jan Hooks and Meshach Taylor. Monday's hour-long season premiere airs at 10 p.m. on KIRO-TV.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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