February 19, 2017

Ray Stevens and Marty Robbins...1977...

Hello once again!! Although Ray Stevens is busy behind the scenes getting things prepared for the next season of his television series there is another vintage appearance I'm about to promote on this fan-created blog. Call it perfect timing due to my habit of celebrating anniversaries involving Ray Stevens...but 40 years ago the one and only Ray Stevens was the featured Spotlight Artist on Marty Robbins obscure syndicated television series, Marty Robbins Spotlight. Late last year an episode spotlighting Chet Atkins appeared on YouTube and as a special guest, yes, it was Ray Stevens. I commented at the time that it would be great if the episode spotlighting Ray would appear on-line and like a wish come true such a thing happened this morning.

The episode is entertaining from start to finish. You don't ordinarily associate Ray with a Marty Robbins, for example, but this is another example of Ray's ability to adapt and interact with anybody. It reminds me of the time that Ray guest starred on an episode of George Jones' television series...there again he's appearing on a program hosted by someone you normally don't picture interacting together and yet the two come off as long-time friends. The same thing is true in the episode of Marty's program. Ray performs an outstanding "Feel the Music" and later, "Honky Tonk Waltz". He and Marty perform several bits together (a song medley, for example, features both of them at the piano) and there's an interview segment. One of the funniest parts of the episode is Ray in a trench coat, speaking in a thick German-American dialect, and performing a leg slapping routine. Throughout the segment featuring Ray and Marty at the piano the camera would frequently focus in on Marty's faux disbelief in hearing how varied Ray's musical styles happened to be...in the medley performance Ray gives his take on "What I'd Say" by Ray Charles and in a surreal moment Ray sings the first verse and chorus of "I Write the Songs", the smash hit recorded by Barry Manilow...why do I call it surreal? It's due to the fact that a couple of years after this episode aired Ray would record a song inspired by the sound and song titles from Barry's string of hits. Here is an example of one of those Marty Robbins comical looks of disbelief...

Marty's television series ran in syndication for a couple of years. I've seen information citing 26 episodes exist and other sources mention 24 episodes. I've even come across on-line sites stating the program has 52 episodes but I'm pretty sure only 24 (or 26) is the actual number. If anybody knows for sure how many actual half hour episodes of Marty Robbins Spotlight there happens to be leave a comment. It's a mystery to me, at least...and speaking of television programs...Ray himself has a television series...

Ray's television series, as a reminder, has jumped from RFD to PBS. It's been airing on scattered PBS stations since January after airing for a year and a half on RFD. The title has also changed from Ray Stevens' Nashville to Ray Stevens' CabaRay Nashville. The plan is to eventually tape episodes of the television series from the CabaRay venue.

Construction on his CabaRay entertainment venue is also well underway. It's still expected to open in the latter half of this year. Ray has periodically posted photo's of the venue's construction. The story of Ray embarking on construction of the venue broke in March of 2016 which is how the general public became aware but the most loyal of fans had been aware of the proposed venue for a couple of months prior. Does anyone not have the New Orleans Moon CD? In case this is all new to you the CD came out in 2007 as a salute to the music/culture of Louisiana a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina. The CD hit in March 2007 as an exclusive offered at Ray's web-store. It became available all over the internet in July of that year. It's been 10 years since it's release (technically a decade next month) but for the rest of this month (February) you can get the CD at a mark down price in celebration of Mardi Gras. I've been having a bit of trouble accessing the Store area of his website. Just in case you have the same trouble I'd suggest calling his office and ordering the CD over the phone. You can find ordering information/phone numbers at his official website by clicking HERE.

February 12, 2017

Ray Stevens: Such a Night at 35...

Earlier today via social media Ray Stevens made mention that on this date in 1980 "Shriner's Convention" debuted on the charts. The story of Coy, Bubba, Charlene, and a Harley motorcycle first graced the grooves of vinyl that year and it became a Top-10 hit. The album, Shriner's Convention, also hit the Top-10 of the Country Albums chart...the festive mood of a fictional Shrine convention described in song by Ray and the humorous happenings taking place at a fictional motel in Hahira, Georgia certainly captured the imagination of plenty of people. The song features a one-sided phone conversation between a couple of Shriner's. The Illustrious Potentate calls up Noble Lumpkin to ask about a series of incidents being reported in, each involving Lumpkin, that are giving the Shriner's a bad reputation. During the first conversation an irritated Potentate drops the formalities and reveals his name as Bubba and reveals Lumpkin's name as Coy. There are three one sided conversations in addition to Ray performing the song's verses and chorus. The song itself is more than 5 minutes in length...the actual length is 5 minutes, 33 seconds. The performance played on radio is an edited copy since the song had to be cut significantly for airplay. It was cut to 4 minutes, 10 seconds and even that length of time is a bit lengthy for a typical country music recording. I've posted vinyl images in the past of the full version and radio edit before.

Ray didn't produce a music video for the song until 15 years later. It debuted on a home video movie starring Ray titled Get Serious! in 1995. The movie became available on DVD for the first time a couple of years ago.

35 years ago Ray Stevens issued one of his greatest albums...an under-rated and under-appreciated project titled Don't Laugh Now. The song's are balanced in that there's a mixture of uptempo sing-a-longs and ballads. The album's opening track, "Such a Night", wasn't released as a commercial single but I'm guessing that it was a favorite of Ray's given his music background and love of classic rhythm and blues. The song even appears on the front of the album in the upper left hand side as if it's one of the songs that'll become a single release at some point; of the three songs highlighted in the upper left hand side of the album cover only one actually ended up being a single...the ballad "Written Down in My Heart".

The album's title is decked out in neon lettering and his performance and arrangement of "Such a Night" fits into that retro, classic rock sound as does another rocker song on here, "Take That Girl Away".

A couple of days ago somebody on YouTube uploaded a couple of vintage performances of Ray Stevens from 1982...and both songs come from Don't Laugh Now. I had seen one of those performances many years ago on The Nashville Network but I had never seen the second performance until a couple of days ago. In both instances the performances come from the long running syndicated series, That Nashville Music (1970-1985), as you'll see once you view the YouTube clips. Up first is his rousing performance of "Such a Night"...have your volume up...

The other performance is one of the single releases from the 1982 album. "Where the Sun Don't Shine" is a sing-a-long, hand clapping performance in the vein of southern gospel music but in reality it's a break-up song as Ray sings about everything he's going to voluntarily give to the ex-lover...and for good measure he tells her where she can put everything he's giving her. It should have been a much bigger hit...it stalled in the lower half of the Country Top 100 (this is back hen the country singles chart had 100 positions just like the Hot 100 pop chart). The upload has several glitches and it abruptly comes to an end...if you're familiar with the audio recording of the song you'll understand what I'm referring to. Nevertheless it's vintage early 1980's Ray Stevens...and I know you're all gonna love it as much as I do...

January 24, 2017

It's a Ray Stevens Birthday...

Hello one and all...today is the birthday of our fearless Entertainer, Ray Stevens. Born in Clarkdale, Georgia as Harold Ragsdale on January 24, 1939 the Georgia-born talent eventually became known all over the world as Ray Stevens. Music, one could say, has long been the life of Ray Stevens, too. His first recordings came along in 1957 on a small label called Prep Records. In my previous blog entry I made mention of the fact that 2017 marks Ray's 60th year in the music business...and he turns 78 today. Yes, if you do the math it's a fascinating tidbit of information. It means that 60 of Ray's 78 years on Earth have been spent in the music industry in some form or another. Given such a youthful start in the industry and being talented as a piano player (among several other instruments) it didn't take long for his presence on recording sessions to become something of a habit. He enrolled in Georgia State with the idea of studying music but during his college years he remained active as a recording artist on a series of record labels (Capitol, NRC, and eventually Mercury). A series of recordings from Ray hit the market...everything from love ballads aimed at teenagers to rhythm and blues...one obscure recording during this period happened to be an off the wall effort called "Cholly Wolly Chang", a blend of Hong Kong culture set to rock music. Ray's early recordings (1957-1960) can be found on CD but you'll have to dedicate yourself to finding the various CD's available that contain those early recordings. There is a CD from just a couple of years ago that includes the obscurities from that period and it's called Ahab, Jeremiah, Sgt. Preston and more...The Early Ray Stevens. The CD hit in 2014 and it's available on AMAZON. The site states that there's only 7 copies left and so if you're a devoted fan of Ray Stevens but haven't heard some his recordings from 1957-1960 then get that CD as soon as possible!!

As mentioned in the previous paragraph Ray recorded for a series of labels under the guidance of Bill Lowery. Prior to Ray's debut on vinyl in 1957 he had become something of a local celebrity thanks in part to radio station WGPC. In his memoir, Ray Stevens' Nashville, he recalls the time that he was promised a slot on the radio station on the condition that he find a female co-host. The radio program was described by Ray as a kind of sock hop and his role was simply to play rock music and rhythm and blues songs currently on jukeboxes nationally and locally. For those curious you can read the memories of the co-host, Mary Dale Vansant, by clicking this LINK. The link takes you to Albany High Times and their page devoted to that sock hop radio program she and Ray hosted. He began recording for the NRC label in the middle part of 1959 following brief stints on Capitol (1958) and Prep (1957). A recording for NRC in 1960 nearly became a national hit...a novelty called "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". The single began appearing on the national radar and had climbed a special chart called Bubbling Under the Hot 100. This chart listed specific single releases that had began to break all over the country but hadn't obtained the sales requirements necessary to move onto the "big chart" as they called it. Ray had to take his recording off the market (well, NRC did) after the copyright holders of the Sgt. Preston character objected to the use of their property in the recording.

Ray's first Hot 100 hit arrived in 1961. For those that don't follow music popularity charts the Hot 100 is the name of the chart that lists the best-selling songs across the country in all formats. Chart methodologies have come and gone since then but in 1961 the chart was still largely being based on sales. The higher the sales the more likely pop music stations would play the song...and the airplay exposure, in theory, would increase sales even more. Ray often recalls that his near-hit with Sgt. Preston inspired him to try novelty songs and see if that would do the trick and get him national attention. Prior to that next release, however, he switched record labels. He departed NRC for the much more commercially successful and mainstream label, Mercury. Still living in Georgia in 1961 his debut for Mercury happened to be a novelty song...with a title that tested the memory of many disk jockeys and listeners and, also, tested their breathing control, too. The song's title?? None other than "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsatured Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills". The song is appropriately abbreviated by many of us fans and we refer to it simply as "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills". The single hit the Hot 100...and climbed into the radio-driven Top-40! It opened the door...but the follow-up, "Scratch My Back", failed to scratch the charts, sad to say. The song is highly entertaining as is it's B-side...his version of "When You Wish Upon a Star". Ray moved to Nashville, Tennessee in January 1962...and he began a lengthy association with Shelby Singleton. Ray eventually became an A and R man for the label. In this role he found songs for artist's to record, assisted in production of the recordings, and as a session musician he played on other artist's records. One of his first sessions at Mercury included his recording of "Ahab the Arab". The song turns 55 this year. On the same day he also played on the recordings of "Wooden Heart", a song recorded by Joe Dowell and the massive Leroy Van Dyke hit, "Walk on By".

"Ahab the Arab" became a million selling Top-5 pop hit and it crossed over to the Rhythm and Blues chart and in the summer of 1962 it made him a star overnight as the saying goes. The song inspired an assortment of properties. His music publishing company had the name Ahab Music Company (BMI) until the mid 1970s when it changed to the more business-sounding Ray Stevens Music (BMI). Ray has several music publishing outlets but the bulk of the songs are published under Ray Stevens Music. The camel in "Ahab the Arab", Clyde, became the name of his personal record label in 1988. In 1991 he opened up a theater in Branson, Missouri. The design was inspired by the desert imagery mentioned in "Ahab the Arab" and throughout the venue one could see imagery that could've come directly out of Arabian Nights or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Clyde the camel became his logo. Clyde Records gained it's first taste of profit in 1992/1993 during the VHS explosion in Ray's career. After the major record labels refused to finance/promote a home video from Ray titled Comedy Video Classics he took matters into his own hands and released the VHS on his own label, Clyde Records. This home video led to other home video releases...sold directly to customers through television commercials and print advertisements. By the mid 1990s he had sold more than 3,000,000 home videos through direct marketing. Comedy Video Classics, Ray Stevens Live!, and Get Serious! are landmarks in home video marketing. Clyde Records became something of a stand-by for Ray throughout the '90s and 2000s. If he happened to not be signed to a major label but wanted to release new music for the fans he'd simply release the music through mail-order via his fan club and later, after the fan club dissolved, he'd sell his music through his own website.

Some of the career milestones for Ray Stevens include record, single, and home video sales of a combined 20 million. 2 Grammy awards: a 1971 win for "Everything is Beautiful" and a 1976 win for "Misty". 3 Gold Singles: "Gitarzan" (1969), "Everything Is Beautiful" (1970), and "The Streak" (1974). Numerous Gold and Platinum albums and home videos (throughout the '80s and '90s). The fan-voted Music City News Country Awards honored Ray as Comedian of the Year for 9 consecutive years (1986-1994). In 2012 he released a 9-CD box set, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music, a beautiful salute to comedy and novelty songs both past and present. Ray performs his versions of many, many, many novelty songs made popular by other artists plus he offers some of his own recordings, too. He hosted a summer television series for Andy Williams in 1970. In the latter half of 2014 he started hosting Ray Stevens' Nashville on the RFD cable channel. The series ran on RFD for a season and a half. In late 2016 the series became associated with PBS and this month (January 2017) it started popping up on scattered PBS stations across the country. The program's title has changed to Ray Stevens' CabaRay Nashville

In 2009 Ray added another dimension to his career...he began to release music video content on-line...specifically on the video hosting site, YouTube. At first he issued music videos from his past but in late 2009 he released a new recording, "We the People", and it's music video took off in a tremendous way. He became hot on the internet...releasing a string of music video content taking jabs at the Obama Administration and becoming a headliner at several Tea Party and Conservative events. Oh yes...saying that he added political humor to his career in 2010 is a huge understatement...the YouTube music videos he released during that time period, 2010-2013, became viral video sensations. Nearly all of them have obtained more than a million unique views (some topping more than three million!). At some point this year (2017) Ray's entertainment venue, CabaRay, is set to open. It's still under construction on River Road in Nashville. His television program, according to some reports, is eventually going to start taping at that venue and he's moving his offices and recording equipment from his longtime studio in Nashville to the CabaRay venue.

Happy Birthday to the one and only Ray Stevens!! May he forever remain creative, compelling, unpredictable, and entertaining!! Here's also hoping his television series comes to a PBS station in my area! Check your local PBS stations and see if you are receiving the program!