February 18, 2018

Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville Overview

Hello once more! I was going over some social media sites a couple of minutes ago and while doing so I came across a photo posted on a social media site by a fan club of The Monkees. The photo promoted the appearance of Mickey Dolenz on an upcoming episode of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville. The description stated that the episode is scheduled to air in April. This is one of the episodes making up the next season of Ray's locally syndicated PBS series. These episodes will also mark the transition from recording the episodes at the Ray Stevens Studio to the recently opened CabaRay (which you see in the background of the photo). Back on February 7th I posted a blog entry about the upcoming Sixth Season of the show and mentioned some of the guests: Moe Bandy, Linda Davis, Ronnie McDowell, and now we can add Mickey Dolenz to that list. Anyway in that earlier blog entry I mentioned that post-production could take anywhere from half a year to a year and these Sixth Season episodes would likely make it to the airwaves later this year or even in 2019. I said that because in the past a lot of taping sessions of the series took place quite a few months in advance of their airing...and so, after reading the social media message from the Monkees fan club, it dawned on me that the Sixth Season is going to air immediately following the current Fifth Season.

The current season has 14 episodes and half of those have aired. The episode airing this weekend on some of the local PBS stations (episode 7) features Sam Moore as a guest. I will see this episode next weekend on Ray's video site. Anyway...I counted up 14 air dates on the calendar...and the current season of Ray's show will conclude the weekend of April 13th. The following weekend (April 20th) the Sixth Season is to get underway and those episodes will originate from the CabaRay Showroom. Given the social media message I came across earlier this morning from a Monkees fan club it looks as if the Mickey Dolenz episode will either be the first episode of Season Six or the second episode of Season Six due to the fact that the final two episodes of Season Five are to air on the weekends of April 6th and April 13th. The upcoming Sixth Season should conclude the weekend of July 6th. We're getting ahead of ourselves, obviously, because the current season is just midway through. If you've been a long time follower or visitor of this blog then you should know that Ray considers a season to consist of 13 episodes as do a lot of niche programmed cable, satellite, and on-line channels.

I hadn't provided an episode list in awhile but in case you hadn't seen any episodes of this series or you're wondering who's all been on the show, so far, then take a look.

The show began airing in November of 2015 on RFD-TV under the title Ray Stevens Nashville. It moved to local syndication on PBS beginning in January 2016 as Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville. Excluding the Christmas episode all of the RFD episodes ran on PBS during the first half of 2017 and were advertised as Season One and Season Two. Those episodes (26 in total) were released on two separate 13-episode DVDs. The first all new episode of the series didn't arrive until mid summer 2017...billed as the series Third Season. The guests on that episode were Harold Bradley and Mandy Barnett. The Third and Fourth seasons consist of 13 episodes each and they aired throughout the remainder of 2017. In the Fourth Season the RFD Christmas episode guest starring Suzy Bogguss finally aired on PBS as did a Halloween episode guest starring Janie Fricke plus a second Christmas episode, first run on PBS, guest starring Deborah Allen also aired. The Fifth Season got underway in January of this year and the 7th episode of the season is airing on local PBS stations this weekend.

Here is the episode list based on it's official PBS run. I realize not every local PBS station has aired episodes of the series in chronological order and I realize that not every PBS station is airing the current season but this is the official episode list. The first two seasons are available on DVD and those 26 episodes first aired on RFD in the latter half of 2015 and throughout most of 2016: 

Season One: (January - March 2017)
1. Steve Wariner
2. Larry Gatlin
3. Bobby Bare
4. Don Schlitz
5. Charlie McCoy
6. Bobby Braddock
7. Jimmy Fortune
8. Aaron Tippin
9. John Conlee and Jeff Bates
10. Tanya Tucker and T.G. Sheppard
11. Gene Watson
12. James Gregory
13. Billy Dean

Season Two: (April - June 2017)
1. Bobby Goldsboro
2. T. Graham Brown and Suzi Ragsdale
3. Williams and Ree
4. Leroy Van Dyke
5. Bellamy Brothers
6. The Gatlin Brothers
7. Collin Raye
8. Darryl Worley and Lee Greenwood
9. Bill Anderson
10. Sylvia
11. Con Hunley
12. Jimmy Wayne
13. Reed Robertson

Season Three: (July - September 2017)
1. Harold Bradley and Mandy Barnett
2. Shenandoah
3. Michael W. Smith
4. B.J. Thomas
5. Rhonda Vincent
6. Restless Heart
7. John Michael Montgomery
8. Baillie and the Boys
9. Tommy Roe
10. Mark Wills
11. Duane Eddy
12. Angaleena Presley
13. Riders in the Sky

Season Four: (October - December 2017)
1. Rex Allen, Jr.
2. Lari White
3. Charley Pride
4. Janie Fricke (originally aired on RFD)
5. Gary Mule Deer
6. Gary Morris
7. John Berry
8. Jeannie Seely
9. Don McClean
10. Felix Cavaliere
11. Suzy Bogguss (originally aired on RFD)
12. Deborah Allen
13. New Year's Eve Cast Show

Season Five: (January - April 2018)
1. Ray Hildebrand
2. Steve Wariner (edited airing of the series debut episode)
3. Paul Overstreet
4. Daily and Vincent
5. Jenny Gill
6. Tracy Lawrence
7. Sam Moore (current episode as of this writing; airing on local PBS stations)
8. Wilson Fairchild
9. Deana Carter
10. Gary Puckett
11. John Rich
12. Tony Orlando
13. Mark Chesnutt
14. Jamie O'Neal

The 14th episode should air the weekend of April 13th and the following weekend Season Six should get underway. Once again I'll write more about the next season once it officially gets underway.

February 17, 2018

Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville: Tracy Lawrence...

Hello all...it's a snowy Saturday late afternoon here as I type this fan created blog entry. I'm giving a re-cap of the February 11, 2018 episode of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville. It was uploaded onto Ray's video website, raystevens.tv, not too long ago and I just finished watching the episode.

Ray opens the show performing "Gitarzan". The episode was recorded during mid-year 2017 but it aired for the first time this year. I looked up the song's more technical information and found out it was released as a single in January of 1969...so last month marked it's 49th anniversary. I typically do not keep the month of release for a single or an album in my memory and so, yes, I looked up the single's release month because I already knew it's release year was 1969. But isn't it mind boggling...it's been part of Ray's concerts for many years...and he still performs it with incredible energy and gusto.

The special guest on this particular episode happens to be Tracy Lawrence. If you're familiar with country music from the last 20 some years then you should be very familiar with him. He was one of the superstars of country music during the 1990s commercial and radio programmed renaissance of the genre. During that decade more radio stations had switched to the country music format and most of the singers of country were selling half a million or more copies with each album release...quite a few were routinely selling Double (two million) and Triple Platinum (three million) each release.

Ray introduces Tracy Lawrence and says that he had asked Tracy to be a guest on the show during a recent appearance at the Opry. Just for fun I Googled their names and the Opry and in the search results I found out that the last time the two were scheduled performers at the Opry was back in May of 2017 which is right around the time the current season of Ray's television series was taped.

Tracy says that the two of them share a common connection with Atlanta...well, kind of. The video above doesn't contain this exchange but Tracy's giving a big hearty laugh after Ray asked just where Atlanta, Texas happened to be and wondered if it was in Oklahoma. Tracy confirms that Atlanta, Texas exists and it's more close to the Arkansas and Louisiana borderline's than Oklahoma. He speaks of his first taste of success stemming from radio appearances on local Opry-style radio programs in 1990 and how he compared it to the Louisiana Hayride days in country music's history. Ray mentions that two instrumental figures in his early career, Shelby Singleton and Jerry Kennedy, were from Shreveport, Louisiana.

Tracy performs "Texas Tornado", which hit number one in 1995. Ray brings up Tracy's charity called Mission: Possible. Tracy talks of it's origin and how it provides Thanksgiving dinner to various people during the week of Thanksgiving each year. He said that the most recent fund raiser brought in over $140,000. Due to it being a Christian charity it receives no funds or grants or anything from any Government organization. Tracy performs "Find Out Who Your Friends Are" which hit number one in 2007 and featured guest vocals from Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. This performance was followed by "Time Marches On" which Tracy remarked was his biggest hit so far (it spent three weeks at number one in 1996).

Ray closes the show telling the audience about being involved in the soundtrack of the 1981 Burt Reynolds movie, Cannonball Run. Ray mentions singing the movie's theme song and how he was inspired to write the movie's main love song, "Just for the Hell of It". He performs the love song and it gave me chills...it's almost identical to the 1981 recording...music, vocalization, phrasing. He had re-recorded the song recently for a CD called Bozo's Back Again but this marks the first time I'd ever seen Ray perform the song on television.

The episode of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville airing this weekend on some of the local PBS stations across the country feature Sam Moore as a special guest. This episode will be uploaded onto Ray's video site next weekend sometime. Once I'm able to view it I'll provide my re-cap/review.

February 12, 2018

Ray Stevens Best Friend turns 40...

It's early Monday morning and I find myself putting together a 40th anniversary spotlight on a Ray Stevens album from 1978 titled Be Your Own Best Friend. This is one of Ray's finest albums and it includes quite a lot of love ballads...more than, I'd say, any Ray Stevens album up to that point in time. Unusual for an album it features nine recordings...rather than the standard ten or eleven. It is one of Ray's under-rated albums in a career that has seen a lot of them due to the common practice of focusing on single releases at the expense of the LP (long-play album).

If you do not own this vinyl album then I suggest searching for it on-line and purchasing it. It's, as I said, one of his finest albums. One of the things that grabbed my attention regarding this album is the visuals. This is an image of the album with it's shrink wrap not removed and so if you click the image you'll see the annoying glimpses of shiny distractions but if you don't want to see that then just look at the image as it appears off to the left. As you can see the album's visuals feature a striking all-white background with a tanned Ray Stevens decked out in a white suit and black dress shirt seated at a table or he may be seated at the side of a piano. I never came across any information in my years as a Ray Stevens fan explicitly stating if he's seated at a table or piano. Anyway...once I got a copy of this album the thing that leapt to mind was it's visuals and then I listened to the album. I was familiar with several of the songs already because Warner Brothers had issued a 3 volume set of material Ray had recorded for them in the mid to late '70s. Those releases arrived in 1995. I didn't get my copy of the vinyl Be Your Own Best Friend until several years after that. As a fan of Ray Stevens I had joined his fan club in 1995...with some money I had gotten during my high school graduation party. One of the first things I received was a list of his albums. I was excited to see this because I didn't realize, at the time, he had released so many albums. It also made me curious as to what songs made up those albums because throughout my childhood I was only familiar with the songs on the several cassette tapes owned by my grandfather but I wanted to know more and more about Ray and so I started my quest to find out everything and anything about Ray Stevens...but that's a story for another day...getting back to this 1978 album...

Ray recorded it during his years at Warner Brothers. Even though the material he recorded for the label has more or less been kept out of print you can find his studio albums on-line if you search auction sites...specifically eBay. Given his reputation for recording comedy/novelty songs it's no surprise that the few selections from his Warner Brothers years that have managed to remain in print on various greatest hits/best of collections are comical in nature. One of those being 1979's "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" and the other being his chicken-clucking version of "In the Mood" from late 1976.

The album kicks off with a sensational recording called "L'amour". This song has a very interesting origin in that it originated overseas and had been a major hit for it's writer, Gilbert Becaud. If you search for that artist and the song's name you're likely to come across video footage from overseas of him performing the song in his native language. I've watched his performance several times and even though I don't understand a word of it (he's singing in French) the melody is the same and I'm hearing Ray's English language lyrics in my head. In the early '90s Ray was a guest on Ralph Emery's early morning radio series, Take Five for Country Music. Ray remarked that while on tour in Europe in the mid '70s he had heard a song he didn't understand but he loved the melody so much he decided to write English lyrics to it. Years later I hear "L'amour" for the first time and see it's credited to both Ray and a writer named Gilbert Becaud. Eventually I discover that Gilbert was a leading pop singer of his day and putting two and two together I realized "L'amour" must be the song Ray had heard during a European tour and just had to adapt it for English language listeners. I don't care what your political or social leanings are if you do not find yourself smiling from ear to ear and eventually singing along as you listen to the song then consider yourself human personification of a stagnant pond...or at the very least a sourpuss.

After the rousing opening of "L'amour" you'll be treated to a couple of back to back love ballads well over four minutes in length. The bouncy "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right" clocks in at four minutes and twenty one seconds. In it Ray takes the familiar proverb to examine the stubborn nature often on display between couples, in general, and that if true love exists between a couple then the idea of revenge or getting even shouldn't enter the equation. Ray approaches the song from the point of view of the man learning his girlfriend or wife, it's not specified, has cheated on him and at first he wants to get even but self-control kicks in and he realizes that cheating on her just because she cheated on him solves nothing. This is followed by a re-recording of "You've Got the Music Inside", a song he had previously recorded on his 1973 album, Nashville. The 1978 recording has a much more polished, pop heavy arrangement and Ray has a much more softer vocal delivery...the 1973 recording features much more uncontrollable vocals and even some gravelly, throaty vocalization here and there. I love each recording equally. If you've had the opportunity to see a performance of Ray on Pop! Goes the Country in 1979 (hosted by Tom T. Hall) you were treated to a performance of "You've Got the Music Inside" with a much different arrangement...and to date a performance with this arrangement has never been recorded by Ray. "Hidin' Place" closes Side One of the vinyl album.

Side Two kicks off with the album's title track, "Be Your Own Best Friend". This ballad is self explanatory given it's title. It's a song about having confidence and self-worth no matter if there are people out in the world that may give you headache, grief, or animosity. An interesting tidbit I learned just today concerning the single release of this recording is that there's an edited copy and a full length copy. The A-side of the single, which you can see off to the right, clocks in at two minutes and fifty-two seconds...certainly not a very lengthy recording requiring any sort of edit but the B-side features an edited copy of the song which clocks in at two minutes and twenty seconds. I do not own this promotional copy of the single and so I have never heard the edit but being familiar with the song I'm curious as to what was edited out...thirty two seconds is a lot of time when we're talking about an audio recording. I wonder if bits and pieces of the instrumentation was edited out for a collective thirty two seconds of edits or if an entire section of the song was edited out. I'll post the B-side of the single in the next paragraph or two. Anyway...the title track was the only recording issued as a single. It hit the Top-40 of the country charts and the Top-20 on Canada's country chart.

If you're as much of a fan of Ray Stevens as I am then the next song on the album, it's title specifically, should be familiar to you. "The Feeling's Not Right Again" is a song Ray wrote with a writer named Chuck Martin. You can find Chuck on Facebook. The song is great...a devastating love ballad centering around a man that's forever coming close to finding satisfaction in a relationship but each time things just don't work out. The song's title should be familiar because it became the title of Ray's next album release...a 1979 compilation album built around the single "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The song that Ray and Chuck wrote led to the creation of an album cover spoofing Barry's 1975 album...his album was titled Trying to Get The Feeling. "The Feeling's Not Right Again" lent itself perfectly as the title of Ray's 1979 album. One of the few, if only, times that a compilation album was named for a non-hit album track.

This is the B-side of "Be Your Own Best Friend" showing the edited copy clocking in at two minutes, twenty seconds. Now, moving on to the song that followed "The Feeling's Not Right Again" on the 1978 album, we come to "Comeback". This is one of the legitimate uptempo songs on the entire album. There are a couple of mid-tempo ballads and of course the sing-a-long feel of the opening performance of "L'amour" but "Comeback" features a very lively vocalization from Ray and an urgent arrangement...it could have very easily been highlighted as a single release but it never happened. I say that because it has all the ingredients of a hit song...a lot of hooks, a catchy melody/arrangement, and the repetitious nature of the song's title heard in such a way could have proved irresistible for some. If you're familiar with the song then you know what I'm referring to when I describe the repetitious nature. A piece of it goes like "all you gotta do to make a comeback is just come, come, come, COME BACK!". It's one of those clever word play songs in that the spacing of the song's title transforms it's meaning within the context of the recording. This uptempo performance is followed by the mid-tempo "You're Magic". The shortest song on the entire album at two minutes and twenty one seconds but yet, for me, it's the most catchy. Ray sings this song in a very exaggerated soft spoken style...not necessarily Bill Anderson whispering but it's performed with a hushed overtone. You'd have to hear it for yourselves to understand my baffling description. The song comes from the pen of Layng Martine, Jr. and it's the only song on the album not written or co-written by Ray. The album's closing song is the very slow ballad, "With a Smile". It conveys a kind of motivational message much like the title track conveys so it shouldn't come as no surprise that it's the B-side of the commercial single release of "Be Your Own Best Friend". The promotional copy featured "Be Your Own Best Friend" on the A and B side...with the B side's recording edited as I mentioned at the start of this section.

If you figuratively devour Ray's albums as I do then you should also be familiar, to some degree, with the personnel credited on his albums. The musicians and harmony singers credited on this album have been with Ray for many decades. Chet Atkins, believe it or not, is credited as the electric guitar player on this album along with Steve Gibson. Acoustic guitar is credited to Mark Casstevens. The drummer is Jerry Kroon. The bass player is Jack Williams. Horns are credited to both Ray Stevens and Denis Solee. I'd say that Denis handled the lion's share of the horn section (saxophone) while Ray added trumpet contribution. Ray is also credited as the percussionist as well as his familiar role of playing the piano/keyboard/synthesizer. Ray also produced and arranged the album. The harmony singers credited are Lisa Silver, Sheri Kramer, and Diane Tidwell. The engineer is Stuart Keathley who would later double as the bass player on many of Ray's albums until his sudden death in the mid 1990s.

Now, that was only a partial list of credits found on the back of the Be Your Own Best Friend album. There's credit given to the photographer, designer, the string arrangement, etc. I singled out some of the musicians because they've been a part of Ray's albums for decades. If you watch any episode of his television show you'll see Denis Solee, for example, as the saxophone player and the guitarist on the show's been a fixture on Ray's albums for many years, Jerry Kimbrough.

Do yourself a favor and if you don't have this album in your collection seek it out on eBay and add it to your collection. Ray recorded a whole lot of interesting songs in his career and the material he recorded during his brief stay at Warner Brothers is among the most eclectic.