One of the great songs in Rock'n'Roll history, and the birth of Soul Music:
Live in Sao Paulo, 1963.
Originally recorded in 1959, though it all started in 1958:
According to Charles' autobiography, "What'd I Say" was accidental when he improvised it to fill time at the end of a concert in December 1958. He asserts that he never tested songs on audiences before recording them, but "What'd I Say" is an exception. Charles himself does not recall where the concert took place, but Mike Evans in Ray Charles: The Birth of Soul places the show in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Shows were played at "meal dances" which typically ran four hours with a half hour break, and would end around 1 or 2 in the morning. Charles and his orchestra had exhausted their set list after midnight, but had 12 minutes left to fill. He told the Raelettes, "Listen, I'm going to fool around and y'all just follow me".
Starting on the electric piano, Charles played what felt right: a series of riffs, switching then to a regular piano for four choruses backed up by a unique Latin conga tumbao rhythm on drums. The song changed when Charles began singing simple, improvised unconnected verses ("Hey Mama don't you treat me wrong / Come and love your daddy all night long / All right now / Hey hey / All right"). Charles used gospel elements in a twelve-bar blues structure. Some of the first lines ("See the gal with the red dress on / She can do the Birdland all night long") are influenced by a boogie-woogie style that Ahmet Ertegun attributes to Clarence "Pinetop" Smith who used to call out to dancers on the dance floor instructing what to do through his lyrics. In the middle of the song, however, Charles indicated that the Raelettes should repeat what he was doing, and the song transformed into a call and response between Charles, the Raelettes, and the horn section in the orchestra as they called out to each other in ecstatic shouts and moans and blasts from the horns.
The audience reacted immediately; Charles could feel the room shaking and bouncing as the crowd was dancing. Many audience members approached Charles at the end of the show to ask where they could purchase the record. Charles and the orchestra performed it again several nights in a row with the same reaction at each show. He called Jerry Wexler to say he had something new to record, later writing, "I don't believe in giving myself advance notices, but I figured this song merited it"