April 24, 2014

Ray Stevens Sings the Patsy Cline classic, "Crazy"...

Debuting on You Tube today is a performance and an interview of Ray Stevens that took place on August 7, 1997. The appearance took place on an episode of Prime Time Country, a program that aired on The Nashville Network during the latter half of the 1990s. The host of the program during pretty much all of it's run was Gary Chapman (the original host was Tom Wopat).

The episode happened to be a tribute to Patsy Cline. It should be noted that this August 7th airing occurred nearly one month to the day on what would have been Patsy Cline's 65th birthday (she was born on September 8, 1932).

Here's Ray Stevens singing "Crazy", a huge hit for Patsy from the pen of Willie Nelson, followed by a great interview segment. Gary refers to Ray as a genius after Ray mentions that the performance he just did of "Crazy" is his own arrangement. It's great to see reference made to one of Ray's most overlooked talents: music arranging.

Stay tuned for Friday's installment of Rayality TV...as soon as I see that it's been uploaded to Ray's You Tube channel I'll make mention of it on this blog (of course!).

April 21, 2014

Ray Stevens sees Elvis in a U.F.O...

A Silver Anniversary approaches the 1989 Ray Stevens album, Beside Myself. This particular album has long been one of my favorites and was something of a departure for Ray during that time period. The album began with five ballads...followed by five comedy songs on Side 2 of the LP and cassette. It represented a departure because the previous five studio albums from Ray all featured comedy songs. He had joined MCA in 1984 as a comedy performer...and from the release of He Thinks He's Ray Stevens later in the year through 1988's I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like Ray filled his studio albums with comedy/novelty songs. All of his previous LP's for MCA (including 2 compilation releases in 1987) entered the Billboard Country Albums chart. Beside Myself also reached the national Country Album chart. Fans were treated to newly recorded ballads from Ray Stevens on a commercial recording for the first time in 6 years. Ray had, at that time, last recorded an LP featuring ballads in 1983 for the Mercury label...an LP titled Me.

By the time Beside Myself had arrived, though, Ray had long since become familiar to a rather large fan base seeing him several times a year on The Nashville Network singing a wide variety of comedy songs and as a frequent guest and co-host of the nationally syndicated series, Hee Haw, singing and displaying his comedic skills in sketches. Also, from 1987 onward, a double LP collection released by MCA titled Get The Best of Ray Stevens, had become something of a mail-order success on TV and in print advertisements.

The song that's become the most popular from the 1989 Beside Myself album is the comical "I Saw Elvis in a U.F.O.". The song is a send-up of tabloid magazines that continually report to have seen Elvis here, there, and everywhere long after his 1977 death. Ray plays several roles in the recording. First up he portrays the anchorman of the evening news, second he portrays the roving reporter on the scene, third he portrays the rural eyewitness stating he and his wife seen the U.F.O. while camping in their Winnebago, and lastly he portrays the singer belting out this zany, otherworldly novelty song.

He performed this song, maybe for the first time on TV, on the 1989 Music City News awards...amusing all in attendance. The song incorporated the use of pink aliens dancing/prancing around and the topper happened to be the giant replica of a flying saucer that came hovering above the stage. The performance was quite a production for a television awards program...ending with a life size puppet of Ray being lifted off stage and up into the flying saucer amidst flashing lights and loud electric guitars and other effects. Later on, after he opened up his Branson, Missouri theatre in 1991 he performed a much more elaborate presentation and it became part of his 1993 home video, Ray Stevens Live!.

That performance, featuring a taped sequence at the start and even more visual effects than on display in the 1989 performance, became a highlight of his Branson show.

You can see a 1992 performance that was placed on the 1993 home video below...

If TNN, Hee Haw, the commercial for the double album, and spotting Elvis in a U.F.O. wasn't enough excitement in 1989, Ray, at the fan-voted Music City News awards in 1989 was named 'Comedian of the Year' for the fourth year in a row. His first win came in the summer of 1986...and after his fourth consecutive win in 1989 he'd pick up this trophy each summer for 5 more consecutive years (through 1994).

In all, Ray placed 8 albums on the charts during his MCA years (1984-1989). A lot of work from a lot of people behind the scenes helped make those years highly successful, too.

Ray co-wrote 9 of the 10 songs found on Beside Myself. That, too, represented something of a departure...you'd have to go back to his 1983 Me album to find a project featuring a heavy amount of songs written/co-written by Ray.

Most of his MCA albums featured at least 2 songs with a Ray Stevens co-writer credit while the rest of the material was written by Buddy Kalb or others that wrote songs for Ray's publishing companies. I only know the names of 2 publishing companies associated with Ray. The reason I know of them is because they appear the most frequently in the song credits: Ahab Music Company and Ray Stevens Music. I think he has other publishing names, too...but those are the ones I am familiar with.

Layng Martine, Jr. used to write for Ray's publishing company. If you look at the single releases by artists on songs that Layng had a hand in writing during much of the '70s you'll see Ahab Music Company as the publisher...later in the decade the publishing fell under the title of Ray Stevens Music. If you purchase LP's from the '70s and see album tracks written by Layng, chances are Ray Stevens' company published the song. In Layng's acceptance speech at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in 2013, he thanked and cited Ray as an important person in his career. Some of Reba McEntire's earliest LP's for Mercury in the late '70s featured songs from Layng Martine...Ray Stevens published them. The biggest, as far as I'm aware of, happened to be Reba's Top-20 hit from early 1981 called "I Don't Think Love Oughta Be That Way".

I've mentioned this before but Ray's publishing company has a connection to Elvis...Layng wrote the song "Way Down". Ray published the song. It became a huge hit in 1977...it's noted as being the song on the charts at the time of Elvis' death. The song, according to on-line sources, had been recorded by Elvis in October of 1976. His label released it June 1977 and originally it peaked in the Top-30 on the Hot 100...but then after Elvis died everything he had recorded in his lifetime, singles and LP's (from the obscure to the well known), racked up huge sales almost instantly.

This song Layng wrote and that Ray published was no exception and it did an about face, according to Elvis historians, and moved back up the Hot 100 to reach a new peak position in the Top-20 in the aftermath of Elvis' death in August 1977. The song became an international #1 hit in the fall of 1977...and it hit #1 on the Country music chart, too. The recording is also famous for J.D. Sumner's incredible bass notes.

This Week in Ray Stevens History: 1965

Hello to all the Ray Stevens fans...in this installment of the blog I'm taking a look at this week in Ray Stevens history...1965...almost 49 years ago to the day. I happened to be doing my usual searching and scouring of the internet for anything about Ray Stevens that I may find interesting to highlight and I came across a brief article detailing April 1965. It was during this week in 1965 that news surfaced of Ray signing a contract with Monument Records...but there's more to the story.

The article points out that the contract was an exclusive record producing contract. His recordings would still be issued on Mercury Records. I assume this special and unusual contract (an artist signed by 2 record labels) lasted perhaps half a year because a commercial single from Ray, on Monument Records, surfaced later on in 1965. That single happened to be "Party People"...from the pen of Joe South. The single was also released overseas in the United Kingdom and Australia and it clearly shows 1965 as the year of release on the 45rpm. Some on-line sources say the single was released in America in November 1965 and overseas in January 1966. The other side of the single is "A-B-C", a sing-a-long penned by Ray Stevens.

If you search You Tube there are several channels that upload obscure and regional pop and R&B songs of the mid and late '60s. Several uploads of songs that Ray either produced, arranged, or wrote for Monument (sometimes he did all three in one single release) have popped up on You Tube over the years. I have shared some of them on this blog. Some may still be available and some may have vanished...that's the nature of video uploading...but I did a check and a couple of them are still on-line. Search You Tube for "Ray Stevens Monument Records" or do a Google Video search using the same key phrase and you'll find whatever is still on-line to see.

Fast forwarding from 1965 to 2014...

I posted a review of the Ray Stevens Nashville book here and then copied/pasted it over on Amazon's product page. I posted it back on April 16th. You can read my review, in case you missed it, HERE. Of course, since you're a fan of Ray Stevens, I assume you'll also decide whether or not you'll purchase the book now or wait until later. It's $13.30 plus shipping and handling. Ray had written and released a song called "Nashville" in 1973...

He made a music video of it some 40 years later, in September 2013. He changed some of the lyrics, which was necessary, because the original lyrics featured some dated references to people/places.

If you're familiar with Ray's Nashville book by now, pay close attention to the skyline behind Ray in the opening seconds of the video...and then look at the cover of Ray's book.