Ray Charles’ struggles with heroin addiction were well documented but the late music legend’s friend and producer Quincy Jones is revealing that the “Hit the Road, Jack” singer introduced him to the drug when he was just 15.
In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter‘s “Awards Chatter” podcast, the 85-year-old producer of such artists as Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin reveals that, thanks to Charles, he became a teenage heroin addict.
A musical prodigy, Jones worked alongside jazz greats while still in his teens, and heroin was a constant part of that world. According to Jones, he first sampled heroin while hanging out with Charles in Seattle back in the 1940s.
“After we finished at the Washington Social Club and a couple of other ones, we’d all go down to Jackson Street to the Elks Club. That’s where all the bebop jam sessions were,” he recalled. “Nobody got paid. We didn’t give a damn. When they finished playing they’d go over in the corner and they had it on their thumb. I just snuck in the line and got me a little hit.”
That first taste, he revealed, quickly led to addiction. Whenever his band performed in New York they would buy heroin from a Harlem drug dealer named Detroit Red, who would later undergo a radical transformation and emerge as “Black Power” leader Malcolm X.
According to Jones, he kicked the habit after an accidental fall down a flight of stairs and doctor-prescribed bed rest led to withdrawal.
“The mistakes are what help you grow and learn,” he added. “[If I hadn’t fallen] I would have been in New York, where I was hanging out with [jazz saxophonist] Charlie Parker. I would have been a junkie forever. Bird was always high. Thank God we did it and got it over with.”