January 25, 2015

Ray Stevens...Since it's your Birthday...

Birthday greetings go out to the one and only Ray Stevens!! Here in the eastern time zone it's a little after 11pm and so there's another hour left to this day. In the central time zone you've got 2 more hours of celebration, Ray!

In my previous blog entry, the first for 2015, I mentioned an upcoming book signing that's to take place in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Ray is to sign copies of his memoir, Ray Stevens' Nashville. I also mentioned information about an upcoming comedy CD...titled Here We Go Again. Several hours after I posted my previous blog entry on Thursday news surfaced that Ray had signed a contract with a booking agency...a company called Kinkead Entertainment Agency.

The article can be found HERE.

The date of the article is January 21st but I didn't come across it until yesterday. This, of course, is great news for fans of Ray...he's going to go out on tour again. It's still too early in the year to know if he's going to put on a full tour and be out on the road for days or weeks at a time or if it'll be a series of concerts spread out over the course of the summer months.

Earlier in the day an article appeared in southern gospel music circles that featured information about Ray's recording of a song called "The Baptism of Stumpy Brown", from the pen of Buddy Kalb and Allison Speer. The article stated that it's from his upcoming comedy CD, Here We Go Again. The article further goes on to provide the label and distribution information and longtime fans will perhaps be interested in discovering that the CD isn't going to, well, if you want to get more detailed information, click HERE.

Okay, with all that information, we at least know the titles of 2 songs that'll be on the upcoming CD. "The Baptism of Stumpy Brown" and "Pickin' on the Chicken" (see previous blog entry about that song).

Hitting 20 this year is the 3-volume set of Ray Stevens projects released on Warner Brothers in 1995. I've got these on CD copy, too. The tapes feature recordings that Ray did in the mid to late 1970s during his brief stay on the label (1976-1979). As I've mentioned in other blog entries through the years, this 3-cassette/3-CD collection, continues to remain vital for any fan of Ray Stevens that doesn't have any vinyl in their collection. For you see, none of Ray's studio albums for the label have ever been re-released onto CD or Mp3. Cassette copies are scarce and long out of print. You may, once in a great while, see a cassette copy of one of his studio albums for Warner Brothers become available on eBay (for outrageous asking prices). Due to the lack of his Warner Brothers studio albums in CD/Mp3 format, these 3 projects from 1995 are the only thing commercially available that document a good dose of his material at the label. Two of these projects are available in Mp3 format at Amazon (The Serious Side of Ray Stevens and Do You Wanna Dance?). The third release in the series, Cornball, didn't get an Mp3 release, strangely enough.

1988's I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like. I have it on vinyl but I could never get a satisfactory image of it. The image of the vinyl copy is located below. This studio album is available in Mp3. It also seen an early 1990s release on CD format. Sellers on eBay often have CD copies of Ray's studio albums from the mid-late 1980s on sale for more than $50.00 a piece, usually!! This is more than likely due to the limited availability those studio albums seen in CD form the first time around. The vinyl and cassette copies are more reasonably priced and became the most commercially available the longest. This is also the comedy album that introduced the fans to "Surfin' U.S.S.R.", "The Booger Man", and "The Day I Tried to Teach Charlene MacKenzie How to Drive". I have never seen Ray perform "Surfin' U.S.S.R." on any television appearance...it's production may not lend itself to a televised performance...but the song became his second ever music video and I'm sure he's performed it at least once on a television appearance of the time period but to date I've not seen it. He performed "The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How to Drive" on the 20th Anniversary Hee Haw television special and I finally seen the performance on YouTube. He performed "The Booger Man" during a guest appearance at The Grand Ole Opry in the late 2000s during an October appearance.

The vinyl copy of Ray's 1988 studio album. Usually the backs of his albums feature exclusive images rarely, if ever seen, unless you happen to have a copy of the album. This time around, though, the back of the LP simply features a list of the songs and the album credits (unlike his first 3 studio albums for MCA). The backs of the 1987, 1988, and 1989 studio albums contain no additional photography...just a list of songs and credits. One of the songs on the 1988 album, "Mama's in the Sky with Elvis", actually made it's debut a year earlier on Greatest Hits, Volume Two. I'm surprised the song didn't became more widely known beyond his fan base considering that it's about Elvis. One of the main reasons I began this fan created blog is to create awareness for Ray's music...all of it...from all points in time. If you've never heard of that song until reading this then I've done my job. The Mp3 copy of the studio album can be purchased HERE. Based on the popularity graphics at Amazon I'm surprised not enough people have bought his version of Michael Jackson's "Bad" to register a popularity ranking. It's track 5 on the album. The site likes to highlight which individual song have gotten the most purchases from a digital release.

"Is Losin' Streak on CD or Mp3??". The answer to that question requires a simple reply: "No!!". It's a shame, a travesty, borderline tragic that this 1973 studio album has never seen the light of day in modern technology. Once upon a time it had availability in vinyl, 8-track, and cassette. Of those formats the cassette has long since been the most scarce and the 8-track is probably of interest to those that may have an 8-track player that's still functional. As you can see in the collage, I've got the vinyl copy. I found an image of the cassette copy and hastily saved it for posterity. Perhaps if you come across a junked 1973 Thunderbird and look under one of the seats left you may find a well-worn cassette or 8-track copy of Losin' Streak or if you remove the large, fuzzy dice from the sponge exposed backseat you might see a vinyl single of "Losin' Streak" slightly used but still in good audio form from years of neglect. The studio album has had decades of neglect and one day I hope some distribution company out there remasters this album and puts it out in CD or Mp3 format. Fans of Ray Stevens, a good majority of them, have been on an extended losing streak as it pertains to this elusive gem. There's never been a CD or Mp3 version made available of this 1973 studio album. So, for the time being, if you come across a vinyl copy...get it! Turntables are still being manufactured so it's not such a far fetched notion to actively pursue/purchase vinyl LP's.

The 1973 album featured no chart hits. Recording released as commercial singles included "Losin' Streak" and "Inside". The project is one of his most unique and the choice of songs are interesting, too. The cassette off to the left highlights four of the songs. I can tell you that in the decades since this album became available only "Bye Bye Love" has seen the most widespread inclusion on compilation albums through the years. Your guess is as good as mine but I happen to think that the familiarity of the song, a huge hit for The Everly Brothers, is the main reason it had gotten much more attention from those that put together all of those compilation albums on Ray through the decades. I'd even go further and say that a lot of the people in charge of compiling those various projects on Ray, at first, assumed his recording of "Bye Bye Love" would be a bouncy sing-a-long in the tradition of The Everly Brothers. The compilers must have been taken by total surprise when they heard Ray's dramatically different arrangement and vocal performance. This album also contains his version of "Easy Loving". The recording by Freddie Hart became a huge hit...recorded as a ballad...but Ray changed it's tempo and arrangement for his version. This and "Bye Bye Love" are the only songs from this studio album to get some attention on later compilation projects. Again, I happen to think the reason for "Easy Loving" becoming available on later compilations is because it has to do with the familiarity of the song's title. The album also contains "Idaho Wine", "Being Friends", and "Things Work Out". Overall the album has an intimate, easy-listening feel. The title track features a hefty dose of electric guitar and an urgent delivery and "This is Your Life" is amazing. He may be performing that song for the album's photo shoot...it forever remains a mystery as to the reason behind the usage of that particular image for an album that is mostly understated and soft.

Yes, you're right...that's Johnny Cash on the cover of this particular magazine. I purchased this on eBay more than 5 years ago because I wanted the article about Ray Stevens. During that point in time I had gotten onto a zealous quest to find any magazine I could find that featured stories/interviews concerning Ray Stevens. I did this because I found it interesting to read thoughts and commentary from authors and from Ray taken at various moments in time. I also wanted to get some sort of grasp on how his career had been represented through the media and the kinds of articles that had been written about him in the years before I became aware of his music. I became aware of his music in the latter half of the 1980s. But, anyway, this magazine offers a story authored by John Pugh. The cover refers to the article as "Ray Stevens: The Mad Genius of Music Row". The now out of print publication, published monthly, has a cover date of April 1979. The interviews for this publication often took place weeks or months before the magazine became available to it's subscribers and so, keeping that in mind, there's no mention of his current single at the time, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow", but I'm sure the interview/article was included in that specific issue as a promo for Ray's music, in general, to coincide with the release of the single nevertheless. The single debuted on the charts in late March of 1979. A further magazine, People of all things, mentioned the single in an article from May 28th of that year. I don't have that issue in my collection but you can read the article on-line if you do a search for Ray Stevens + People magazine.

As it passes midnight in the central time zone, it's Sunday. I'm sure Ray Stevens celebrated his birthday and had some sort of a party. Usually there's pictures that surface in the hours or days after his birthday that shows him eating cake or laughing it up with any friends/guests. One birthday, recently, had Ray on video blowing out candles on the cake that somebody on his office staff had either made or bought. To clarify, Ray Stevens was born on January 24th in 1939. For whatever reason there are several biographies that list his year of birth as being 1941.  I've come across several radio station press releases citing 1941, too, during their 'Celebrity Birthday' area on their sites. Although anybody would love to have their birth year pushed to a later date in time and there's long been the practice of celebrities putting out false information regarding their year of birth but Ray's birth year is 1939, not 1941. Yes, in hindsight, it's a minor quibble, but I like to provide accuracy here because the internet is often filled up with a lot of misinformation.

Once again...Happy Birthday to Ray Stevens!! Here's to an action packed 2015!!

January 22, 2015

Ray Stevens to release brand new novelty song CD...

Has it really been a couple of weeks since I last posted here? My previous blog entry about Ray Stevens happened to be on December 31, 2014...but since there hadn't been any major announcements released in the interim I didn't compose any blog entries but that's all changed...

Ray made an appearance on Bill Cody's morning radio program in Nashville a couple of days ago (January 21st). I found out about the appearance by hearing a commercial for Tuesday morning's program that aired on Eddie Stubbs show. I was on my way to work Monday night and so hearing that commercial made the night go fast. The interview hasn't been archived and so it's one of those kinds of appearances that you either had to be aware of by viewing Bill Cody's page prior to January 21st or luck out and be listening to the station, as I happened to be, and hear a commercial promoting the appearance. The appearance on Bill's radio program served a couple of purposes, actually. 

First of all, Ray appeared at a book signing later that day. He's on an unofficial book tour...by unofficial I mean he doesn't have an itinerary of book signings lined up. Every so often they'll make an announcement of an upcoming book store appearance and he'll sign copies of the book. Ray's memoir, titled Ray Stevens' Nashville, has long since sold out in paperback form. The January 21st book signing took place at a store called Parnassus Books. 

If you missed the Parnassus book signing, don't fret, because there's another book signing that was announced yesterday. The upcoming book signing is to take place in Chattanooga, Tennessee at a shopping mall called Hamilton Place. The actual signing is at the Barnes and Noble book store located at the shopping mall. The date and time for the Ray Stevens book signing is February 7th at 1pm.   

You can read about the February 7th book signing HERE.

Secondly, in addition to promoting the book signing on January 21st, the Bill Cody interview also promoted the book, obviously! 

Lastly, near the end of the interview segment, Ray made the announcement of an upcoming novelty CD to be released this coming March!!! He gave the title as Here We Go Again and he even described the CD's album cover. Bill played a song that's to be on the CD...a song called "Pickin' on the Chicken" (from the pen of Ray's longtime friend/collaborator, Buddy Kalb). It's a song about a chicken...it has lyrics...so it's not a return to an all chicken-clucking performance like "In the Mood", for example. You'll hear cackling and clucking of chickens in the background, every so often, adding to the chicken's personal fowl mood.

Once it gets closer to March there should be more announcements made about it's release date. Bill mentioned March 12th as the release date but I could've misheard it...so be on the lookout for any statements from Ray surrounding this upcoming CD. My guess is the CD is going to be available at his on-line store, first, and then it'll be released all over the internet at a later date. 

I can't wait to add it to my collection!!

Ray Stevens has a birthday coming up on January 24th...this coming Saturday.

December 31, 2014

Ray Stevens: What's Planned for 2015??

An early New Year's Eve hello to all the fans of Ray Stevens!! As has become the tradition each year I speculate and opine on things to come in the new year as far as the career of Ray Stevens is concerned. Here's hoping that 2015 is the year a couple of much-anticipated projects see the light of day: a Bluegrass CD, a novelty song CD, and Volume Two of the Gospel Collection. If the follow-up to the gospel CD is to be in the near future I assume it'll arrive around Easter but that's just my guess because for all we know Ray could issue Volume Two this coming January...but that doesn't seem likely. Ray has also, at various times throughout 2014, mentioned that he's also working on a CD of non-political comedy songs.  

A lot of us Ray Stevens fans have been aware of a future Bluegrass project from Ray...he's made mention of the project several times over the years (!) and as mentioned in the above greeting here's hoping the project gets a release in 2015. I believe it was early 2013 or it may have been in late 2013 when Ray appeared as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry and made mention of an upcoming Bluegrass project and performed "Pretty Woman" in a Bluegrass arrangement. His music video of "Unchained Melody", in Bluegrass-style, is also a song that's to be on this anticipated release. In early interviews he stated that the CD's title is Melancholy Fescue...but it's hard to tell if that's going to remain the official title or if it's just the working title.

Checking the anniversary calendar for 2015 there's several big projects that reach a milestone this coming year.

First and most importantly is Ray Stevens reaching 76 next month on January 24th.

Starting things off...reaching 45 in 2015 is Ray's monster hit from 1970, "Everything is Beautiful". The single re-defined 'Ray Stevens' in the eyes of the buying public. Even though Ray had long displayed his serious side on many albums and single releases since the late '50s, "Everything is Beautiful" cemented his image as a pop vocalist and pretty much all of Ray's single releases during the 1970s were non-comical (exceptions included a novelty single late in 1970, a comedy LP in 1974, and a couple of out of the blue novelty releases later on that decade). Also, Ray had a major boost in his career thanks to consistent exposure on television. He'd become one of the recurring guests on Andy Williams' television program in 1969...Ray was named the host of Andy's summer program in 1970...and Ray remained a frequent guest on Andy's program through 1971. "Everything is Beautiful" became the summer television program's theme song/music. In America the single had hit #1 for 2 weeks on the pop chart and #1 for 3 weeks on the Adult-Contemporary chart (spanning the months of late May through late June 1970). The single entered the Hot 100 in April 1970 and by it's 9th week it took control of the #1 spot. It vanished from the pop chart after it's 15th chart week but it continued to appear on several international charts. Ironically, the single had it's biggest impact just prior to Ray taking over Andy's television program in late June. The single had already left the Top-10 portion of the pop chart by the time the first episode of Ray's summer program aired. Nevertheless, the exposure of the song each week (theme music) helped sales of the album, Everything is Beautiful, and the single continued to register sales even after the song became a recurrent. The 1970 album hit the Top-40 half of the Billboard 200 in July...the title track and "A Brighter Day" are the only self-written songs on the album. The rest of the recordings are Ray's versions of contemporary pop songs of the era. The summer television program ran from June 20 to August 8.

Other single/album releases from 1970 that are turning 45 in 2015 are: "America, Communicate with Me" and "Sunset Strip", both from Ray's album, Unreal!!!. Each single reached the Top-10 on the Adult-Contemporary chart...but their impact on pop music listeners/consumers didn't duplicate the smashing success of "Everything is Beautiful" (pop music consumers then, much like today, are traditionally the under-40 audience...the advertiser targeted 18-34 age group). 

Oh, before I forget...Andy owned the Barnaby Records label that Ray recorded for during the first half of the 1970s (1970-1975) and Andy's brother, Don, was Ray's manager for many, many years.

Here's a performance of "Everything is Beautiful" from that very summer television program in 1970 as hosted by Ray Stevens...

In December 1970 "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues" hit the music scene. Oh yes, amidst the angst, protest, and unrest of 1970 Ray Stevens hadn't lost his funny bone and this funny bit of comical mayhem emerged as a single. It had it's biggest impact in the early half of 1971...nevertheless, the novelty single entered the charts in late December 1970 so it, too, reaches 45 in 2015.

Reaching 40 in 2015 is Misty. Released in 1975, the Misty album featured Ray's versions of several pop standards delivered in various original arrangements. The album, of course, is named for one of his single releases that year, "Misty". The single's arrangement (most notably piano, fiddle, and iconic steel guitar) earned Ray his second Grammy. Previously, "Misty" had been made popular by Johnny Mathis. His recording featured a much more slower vocal and even slower music. Prior to that, one of the song's composers, Erroll Garner, had an instrumental recording on the market. Johnny Burke wrote lyrics to Erroll's music. Ray turned the song around and gave it an up-tempo, Bluegrass-flavored presentation. This jolt in music arrangement for a song popularly known as a slow ballad sums up the Misty album. The songs that Ray covers are arranged in the opposite of what's popularly familiar. "Misty" became a Top-5 country music hit, a Top-20 pop hit, and a Top-10 hit internationally (music surveys published in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Austria ranked the song in their Top-10). In addition to "Misty", other single releases from the album include: "Indian Love Call" and "Young Love". Ray included 2 original songs on the album, among the cover songs: The self-written "Sunshine" is a toe-tapping sing-a-long and then there's the romantic "Take Care of Business". It's been said in several publications that the song's writer, Layng Martine, Jr., sought inspiration for it's title by the popular hook line in Ray's 1968 hit "Mr. Businessman". Aside from those similarities there's nothing else in common between the songs. Ray's versions of "Lady of Spain", "Deep Purple", and "Cow-Cow Boogie" are great, too!

Stand back or else risk getting run over by Coy...oh yes, 2015 will mark the 35th anniversary of "The Shriner's Convention", commercially released in early 1980.

One of Ray's Gold albums, I Have Returned, turns 30 in 2015. The album hit the market in the latter half of 1985 and ultimately climbed to #1 in early 1986 on the Billboard Country Album chart. Single releases from that project included: "The Haircut Song", "The Blue Cyclone", and the seasonal "Santa Claus is Watching You". The re-recording of "Santa Claus is Watching You" became Ray's first music video (for more information on that song see my 2014 Christmas day blog post in the archives).

A couple of other recordings from that 1985 album have become popular amongst fans of Ray Stevens and have since been immortalized in music video form: "Hugo the Human Cannonball" and "The Pirate Song". Strangely enough "Kiss a Pig" nor "Punk Country Love" have entered music video territory...but the two songs are hysterical in their own kind of way.

Turning 20 in 2015 is Ray's 1995 direct-to-home video movie, Get Serious!!. This home video movie became the third best selling video project for Ray Stevens during the 1990s (following 1992's Comedy Video Classics and 1993's Ray Stevens Live!). Since the home videos were sold through direct marketing during their initial availability the titles weren't eligible to enter the Billboard sales charts (no retail availability). The 1992 home video entered the Billboard video chart in May of 1992, several months after it's explosive run on television. Get Serious!! seen a retail release in late 1996 (almost a full year after it's direct marketing campaign began) and it entered the Billboard video chart in January 1997 and it remained among the top selling home videos through the fall of 1997.

And so, here's to an upcoming new year...and here's hoping that it'll be filled with a lot of Ray Stevens music!!