April 16, 2014

Ray Stevens' Nashville...

Good Wednesday morning Ray Stevens fans!! I come this morning with a review of a Ray Stevens book! No, it isn't Let's Get Political from a couple of years ago. This particular review is of a book that could very well be described as a career autobiography. 

I use such a term because there's nothing extremely personal found in the book but it features the basics that are in an autobiography. The name of the book is Ray Stevens' Nashville. The cover has Ray wearing a small cowboy hat, standing in front of the Nashville, TN skyline. He isn't in a denim jacket as he is in the music video of "Nashville", but it's a great image nonetheless. 

The book became available for sale last month!! I became aware of it's existence earlier this month. In one of my recent blog entries I had gotten a reply. The reply made mention of this book...to which I had no idea existed. Once I visited Amazon and some other on-line stores, searched the book areas for Ray Stevens, I come to find out that the book had a release date of March 5, 2014...and so it's been commercially available for more than 1 month. 

Ironically, though, there isn't any acknowledgement of the book at Ray's internet store. There hasn't even been any Facebook posts or Tweets regarding it's existence in the days after March 5th. 

This blog post most may create awareness of it's availability...here's the review...

This is such a fascinating book on many levels. One of the things that I love about it is how easy it is to read. There isn't a lot of confusion or contradictions that I've often seen in a lot of books of this kind. Ray Stevens tells of his experiences in Music City, U.S.A (Nashville, TN) dating back to the early '60s. Not only that, he tells about his entire career from it's earliest stages in the late '50s on through his current music video successes on You Tube. As an easy to read book you can read it out of order...as I did. I looked in the table of contents and deliberately jumped to certain parts of the book first and then read other parts of the book.

I cite pages 196 through 199 due to it containing some of the most candid commentary...you rarely hear these thoughts from 'Ray Stevens' when he's on TV or being interviewed on a talk radio program. Why? Because, I assume, it isn't the proper setting or format. Yet, this book gives him a place to speak a bit more open about his thoughts and attitudes about the music industry, in general (all formats), and he discusses public image and the typecasting that takes place...and freely admits how difficult it must have been to "market Ray Stevens" due to his ever changing musical expressions.

A lot of discussion is made of 'The Powers that Be' in the media, too.

Does the book have anything too controversial? It all depends on a person's idea of controversial. Ray says how he felt seeing "The Streak" sell millions upon millions of singles in 1974, hit #1 pop and go #1 internationally, plus reach the Top-5 on the country charts...but when it came awards time, the song was either completely ignored or passed over as other recordings of lesser success took the trophies.

Some of the highlights of the book, other than reading his experiences in the music business, are his memories of his years in Branson, Missouri and the huge success he had with mail-order VHS tapes. I especially like his choice of expression remembering on the fall of 1993 and the anticipation he felt giving up the daily grind at his theatre. He goes into lots of detail about the early years of the Branson Boom and explains how lucky he was to have had a theatre in operation just as the town was becoming a huge tourist attraction. He discusses his return trips to Branson in 1996, 2005-2006, the 2010 series at The Welk Theater, and the memorial concerts for Andy Williams in 2012.

His love of Nashville is made crystal clear in many places in the book. He considers it his adopted home town given that he's lived in the Nashville area since 1962. Fear not, though! He still loves his birth place and the area he grew up in. He discusses Clarkdale, Albany, and Atlanta, Georgia in the pages numbering 25 to 69.

Ever wondered the inspiration of "Mr. Businessman"? As a long time fan of his I've had a feeling of what the song could be about...in the book Ray describes some of the things happening that led up to his writing the song. It became a Top-30 pop hit in 1968. One of the curiosities is he mentions that Fred Foster never got a chance to produce his sessions...but yet Fred's name, as well as Jim Malloy, appear as co-producers on 2 of Ray's Monument LP's in 1969. "Gitarzan" became a million selling hit in America and a hit internationally in 1969. Ray relates the reluctance on Fred Foster's part to release the single, at first.

Elsewhere in the book, Ray states something that some fans have been curious about for years. First off, he states that the book is just about his career and his experiences in the music business and not a tell-all that includes commentary about his family or anything else personal. That may disappoint some but he does relate something, in print, that should satisfy some of his fans who've long been wondering about a certain aspect of his life.

Pages 227 to 248 are chock full of pictures. Some have become recognizable on the internet but many more are obscure and haven't been shared publicly until this book. There's several family pictures...one picture has Ray and Ralph Emery during a radio program at some point in the '70s.

Some of the people Ray discusses at length or in brief recollections are: Shelby Singleton, Chet Atkins, Bill Lowery, Owen Bradley, Ralph Emery, Jerry Clower, and a host of behind-the-scenes people that have been part of his career for decades. In the latter part of Chapter 24 he discusses his diagnosis of prostate cancer in 1999 and his sudden development of diabetes. He kicks off Chapter 25 discussing his 9-CD project, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. Also, he mentions several projects he hopes to have out at some point in the not too distant future.

Do I have any complaints about the book? No, I don't exactly have any complaints in the traditional sense but I have some minor issues to bring up. There wasn't much discussion about his time with Warner Brothers or RCA as I had hoped. In the book he mentions several recordings he did for Warner Brothers but doesn't mention his biggest single for them, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". He speaks of recording for RCA but mentions only the 1980 Shriner's Convention album he did for them...he recorded a couple more albums for them, one in 1981 and another in 1982...but he omits those LP's, as if they don't exist, and jumps to his 'one album deal' for Mercury in 1983 before signing with MCA in 1984. 

He spends a great length of time discussing his MCA years (1984-1989) and rightfully so...it's the point in his career that he decided to market himself exclusively comedy and his first 5 studio albums for the label feature comedy, comedy, and more comedy and the sales and profits spoke loudly throughout the rest of the decade. In the '90s he became involved in the Branson, Missouri scene and added VHS/mail-order projects to his list of successes.

As I started off saying, this is a fascinating book!! It's Nashville, Tennessee and the music industry as seen through the eyes of Ray Stevens.

You can get your copy of the book HERE.

April 14, 2014

Ray Stevens and the Tax Songs...

I've long since mailed off my tax forms and have gotten my refund but some still wait until this week and leading up until midnight on April 15th to mail their income tax forms. It's like an annual game to some...the fun (?) of waiting until the last minute. It's time to spotlight some tax songs from Ray Stevens...I have also included songs that deal with money/economics, in general, since it all ties in with the Treasury department.

The one that stands out as far as the title goes is this one...

"If Ten Percent is Good Enough for Jesus (It Oughta Be Enough for Uncle Sam)" is a mouthful, yes? The song has had a very interesting life span. Ray recorded it in 1993 and it's on his Curb Records CD that year, Classic Ray Stevens. The recording, as you can tell from the year it was issued, came at a time before the explosions of cable TV news outlets and the internet. CNN was the major player but then by the mid and late '90s cable news exploded in popularity, as did the Internet. Ray performed this song on the 1993 presentation of the Music City News Country Awards in June. As such, that June 1993 performance and a few additional performance later that year, were the only publicity opportunities for the song and it's forthcoming CD. Ray stopped performing the song after several years but re-recorded it more than a decade later. The second go 'round for the song had a much bigger impact compared to the 1993 original.

Ray had commented that practically all songs tend to have their day and that the original recording was ahead of it's time. By the time 2008 came along, Government spending, the budget, and taxes had become such a voter priority (and an emotionally charged national debate) that the re-recording/re-release found a much larger audience. In 2010 Ray did a series of concerts in Branson, Missouri at The Welk Theater. Some of his performances were captured on tape and one of those is "If Ten Percent Is Good Enough For Jesus", the performance you see in the embed above. The video was uploaded on May 1, 2012 and it's been seen by more than 100,000 people so far...115,188 to be specific. My guess is the video's reached more people than the 1993 single was able to.

A couple of years before 1993, Ray recorded the unofficial Income Tax anthem. I call it the Income Tax anthem but, obviously, my calling it that means it's an unofficial title...nevertheless, 1991 is the origin year of "Juanita and the Kids". It's a very funny and dark comical tale of a man that plots to get larger refund checks from the Government. His method at getting these refunds each year is memorable...you'll discover all about Juanita in the video below...

Disclaimer: The recording heard in the video is an exclusive for the video. In the 1991 recording, found on his Curb Records CD, #1 with a Bullet, he doesn't use an exaggerated accent but instead sings the song in his natural voice. The video originated in 1999 and became a You Tube video on May 25, 2011.

Speaking of his 1991 CD, Ray closed the project with the economic ballad "Workin' For the Japanese". This song became a single in the latter part of 1991 and would you believe that it shown all signs of becoming a radio hit when several radio stations grew nervous at a possible boycott by Japanese-friendly advertisers and, in typical knee-jerk reaction, the radio programmers pulled it off their stations. The song then, and now, is totally harmless...but "the truth hurts" as the expression goes...

The 1991 project, released on cassette and CD, and re-released on CD in 2005 and ultimately a digital download (Mp3) became available, too. You can purchase an Mp3 of "Workin' for the Japanese" HERE.

In recent times Ray has performed songs about the nation's economy and Government out of control spending. I have recently posted videos directly involved in those subjects...I have posted "Obama Nation", "Mr. President - Mr. President", and "Obama Budget Plan". One last song I want to spotlight...and though it has nothing to do with income taxes or Government spending...it fits the overall tone of this blog post.

On the 2011 CD, Spirit of '76, Ray included a song called "My Uncle Sam". It's a reflective song about a man's uncle, named Sam, and the issues he's facing and how it appears he's on his last legs and there's no light at the end of the tunnel. The song acts as a comparison to the nation's problems and the easily discouraged feeling that people get as they see a Federal Government become more and more big and powerful. The bigger and powerful the Federal Government gets the less freedom and liberty the citizen's have. If you want to hear this ballad for yourselves, it's part of his Spirit of '76 project. You can either get the CD or the digital Mp3.

The Mp3 is located HERE.

Ray Stevens...Mi Casa Su Casa

Oh yes, the numbers for "God Save Arizona" continue to inch up to a million. If I'm able to help push the video in that direction by discussing it or embedding the video in my blog posts...great!! I always assume that there's somebody out there that may not know that something exists (whether it be a CD or a music video) and so I go ahead and discuss it.

Those numbers for the Arizona video are 999,345!! A couple of days ago it had just entered the 999,000 mark...so there's been an increase of at least 200 unique views since last week. As I touched upon in a recent blog post, the video's been around since the fall of 2010 and if I remember correctly the bulk of it's numbers came during it's first year and a half on-line. It's been steadily gaining numbers since mid 2012 and it's steadily rising to the 1,000,000 mark.

Illegal immigration is at the center of "God Save Arizona" but it also has another subject within it's story.

The opening verse is about the U.S.S. Arizona and it's destruction/sinking during World War Two. The video makes great use of black and white war footage as it shows the Arizona at sea. Later, the song then changes time periods from the 1940s to 2010 as Ray tells of a modern-day social and drug war going on, the profiteering of illegal immigration by American companies, as well as the blind eye of the American Federal Government when it comes to illegal immigration in general. It's a powerful song...one written by Ray and longtime friend, Buddy Kalb.

Right around the time Ray's CD, Spirit of '76, was released in 2011, I mentioned in my review that "God Save Arizona" wasn't the only song on the CD about illegal immigration. Ray and Buddy also supplied a more whimsical sing-a-long called "Mi Casa Su Casa". In that recording Ray's house is literally invaded by illegals and he's on the phone to 9-1-1. It takes the phrase "My house is your house" and applies it to illegal immigration in an effort to spotlight a common belief that many illegal immigrants have as they enter the United States. Once they enter, facts have shown that many of them assume they should have access to our rights, freedoms, and jobs simply due to their being in the United States. Yes, as I discussed a couple of blog posts ago, the illegal immigration issue is a hotly debated topic and highly emotional.

You can purchase the Mp3 of "Mi Casa Su Casa" from Amazon HERE.

The grandfather of illegal immigration songs from Ray Stevens is "Come to the U.S.A". This song and it's video seemingly have a life of their own...it just keeps getting more and more views...it's his biggest You Tube hit to date with more than 7,000,000 unique views!! That song originated on his 2010 CD, We the People.