November 10, 2008
Comedy Curb...Part Two...
Ray Stevens...to borrow a catch-phrase from one of his songs "he's everywhere! he's everywhere!!". It was certainly true that Ray seemed to be everywhere even though he kept himself planted in Branson, Missouri at his theater during 1991 and into 1992. It was during 1992 that Ray experienced one of the biggest years of his then 35 year career. When he was performing at his theater he often used a big jumbo-tron movie screen to play visuals to the songs he was singing on the stage. The audience started paying attention to the visuals and laughed at the things that they saw as Ray was singing and so he got the idea of making music video's. He could not find a major label to distribute the home video he was planning and so he self-financed and released the revolutionary Comedy Video Classics on his own label, Clyde Records. The home video featured eight music videos. These music video's are all over on-line sites like Google Video, You Tube, and AOL Video. The home video was sold by way of direct mail. This method wasn't anything new...for several years a lot of artists had sold their music on TV and in print-ad's. However, the concept of selling home video's using TV advertisements was new...it makes perfect sense now but at the time it was rarely practiced because the idea didn't seem profitable, I guess?
So, throughout 1992, Ray was all over TV with his 30 second TV commercial advertising Comedy Video Classics and the sales of the home video set records and set in motion a tidal wave of other artists and record labels hoping to cash-in on the success Ray was having. Curb Records was able to distribute the home video to retail stores after the exclusive TV offer ran it's course. The home video had sales two and a half million, which for a home video, is a staggering figure. Ray issued a follow-up home video in 1993, Ray Stevens Live, which was certified Platinum for sales over 100,000 and it, too, was sold over TV. The footage was shot at Ray's theater down in Branson. This home video and it's sequel, More Ray Stevens Live, serve as video documentation of Ray's fun-packed shows at his theater. Ray Stevens Live was not the blockbuster that Comedy Video Classics was but it sold well for a home video. Curb Records also handled the store distribution.
1993 also saw the release of Classic Ray Stevens which returned Ray to audio after his success with video. The album featured all new recordings in spite of it's title. On that year's Music City News awards program Ray debuted the main single from the album "If Ten Percent Is Good Enough For Jesus It Oughta Be Enough For Uncle Sam". The album also featured the quirky "Motel Song" plus "Super Cop" and a semi-serious love ballad, "Meanwhile". The album also contained a song Ray wrote himself, "If You and Yo' Folks Like Me and My Folks". This marked the first time since 1989 that one of Ray's own compositions was featured. Ray then made the announcement that he was selling his theater to concentrate on other things and on top of that he would later leave Curb Records.
In the meantime, Ray started working on a land-mark movie. The movie would incorporate music video's plus spoken dialogue sandwiched in between the music video's. Ray called this a twist on the musical. The results of this shown up in 1995, a home video release entitled Get Serious. The movie ran 110 minutes and Ray starred as himself plus he played numerous characters throughout the movie. His co-star was Connie Freeman in the role of Charlene MacKenzie. The movie's plot dealt with political correctness and the attempts of a new record label wanting to change Ray's public image from comedy to opera. The label executive was a wild impression of Paul Lynde. A lot of Ray's friends in country music made cameo appearances: Johnny Russell, Chet Atkins, and Charlie Chase each had some screen time as did Williams and Ree, Charlie Lamb, James Gregory, and George Lindsay. Jerry Clower had the most on-screen time as his role was portraying Ray's manager. Buddy Kalb and Tim Hubbard portrayed Bubba and Coy from the Shriner's Convention...doubling as Dudley Dorite and his deputy, Coy, throughout the movie in pursuit of fugitive Ray Stevens, who was fleeing not only from the label executive and his group of associates but also from Dudley Dorite, Coy, and nearly the entire town of Hahira, Georgia who were looking for revenge on Ray for mocking their town and it's people in several comedy songs. The main players out for revenge included Dudley Dorite/Bubba, Coy, Harv Newland, Sister Bertha, Clyde, and Ethel. The home video movie did as well as Ray Stevens Live as it, too, appeared in TV commercials. Curb issued a soundtrack album of Ray Stevens Live to retail stores in 1995 plus they mined Ray's classic hits and put together Twenty Comedy Hits which featured mostly contemporary material from his 1990, 1991, and 1993 albums plus some bonafide classics at the start of the collection. Curb then released Great Gospel Songs in 1996 which was partially a re-release of his 1974 gospel album Turn Your Radio On with other gospel-inspirational songs he had recorded added into the mix. The release of Great Gospel Songs was the last project Curb issued on Ray throughout the rest of the decade as Ray signed to MCA late in 1996.