Ernie's Story (Part 3 of 5)
After finishing his time at Grambling in 1968, Ernie and his new bride Portia returned to New Orleans. One night when the couple was spending an evening at home, they got a knock on their door from Ernie's friend from the Air Force, saxophonist, John Cloyd Miller. When the Elly's took Mr. Miller out to catch up, Miller told them he had joined Ray Charles' band. As Miller was leaving, Elly jokingly said, "Hey, man, if Ray Charles needs a drummer tell him to call me." Soon after, to Mr. Elly's surprise, he received a call from Mr. Charles' manager, Mr. Joe Adams to meet him at the Sheraton Airport for an audition. For some reason, he forgot and didn't make the initial audition. So, Mr. Adams called Mr. Elly and encouraged him to audition; "[Ray] loved New Orleans musicians."
After a successful audition, Ernie bought every Ray Charles record he could find and familiarized himself more with the music. Before Elly's first tour, he spent two weeks rehearsing with the band. The first time he met Ray, was when the band was rehearsing in the studio. When Ray walked in, Ernie was nervous, but eventually loosened up, "It turned out to be alright". His early education in sight-reading, which he credits to his early music teacher Miss Yvonne Busch, was pivotal to his quick adaptation to the new material. While most if not all the musicians were older and more seasoned, Elly's early music education perpetuated his ability to catch on swiftly.
Spending three seasons with Ray Charles' big swing band, from early 1969 to late 1972, Elly toured all over the world. He performed at iconic venues such as The Fillmore East and The Apollo Theater in New York, The Newport Jazz Festival in Newport Rhode Island, The Royal Festival Hall in London, and many others. His favorite songs to perform with the band were "Hit The Road Jack," "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "What I Say," which Mr. Charles would always close out the set with.
While there was certainly chemistry within the large ensemble, that chemistry didn't come naturally, "I had good shows and I had bad shows. I was a youngster, and he got on my butt from time to time." Ray rarely credited members of the band during shows, but Elly looks fondly upon his experience. "Sometimes he'd say his band was the best band on earth. That made us all feel good." Elly is forever grateful for other musicians in the band taking him under their wing; teaching him Charles' particular big band style, especially the trumpeter Bill King.