January 4, 2010

Ray Stevens: For the Love of Music...

It's always been a fact that Ray Stevens is motivated by the music. He's first and foremost a musician and songwriter and this area of expertise is split off into several other avenues. He's a music arranger...plus he's a music producer...knowing the inner workings of a recording studio inside out. His skill at multi-tracking is another under-looked talent of his...but being a producer of his own recordings and given how multi-tracking is considered the norm today not much attention is made to it. It was in the 1960's and early 1970's that Ray was among the few to use such techniques. Some artists then and now prefer to have everyone in the studio at the same time during a recording while other artists who have a producer's ear would rather piece a song together electronically. Why? A lot of it has to do with creative control. One of the main reasons that Ray built his own recording studio back in the 1970's and preferred to use his own musicians on the recordings is because, I feel, it enabled him to be free from record label interferences that usually come into play and he wanted to work with people that he felt were talented. Sometimes a label will shackle an artist with studio musicians who may not have mutual interest or respect for one another and I imagine it makes for tense recording sessions. Ray could probably mimic the sounds of all the instruments if he wanted to...and a small peak of this is found on a single from 1966...

Forty four years ago back in 1966 Ray Stevens had out a novelty song called "Freddie Feelgood and His Funky Little Five Piece Band". It's b-side is a song called "There's One In Every Crowd". As most long-time fans know, Freddie leads a five piece combo. He plays trumpet and the rest of the band play the following: Tyrone plays the trombone, Ace plays the bass, Yum Yum plays the drums, and Percy plays the piano. The piano, obviously, is the only instrument not vocally mimicked. In the role of Yum Yum, Ray gets to strut his stuff doing a very funny scat-singing tirade. Yum Yum is the stand-out vocalization in addition to the breeziness of Freddie. The song reached the lower part of the pop charts...becoming his first chart hit in three years. Ray made a music video of the song in 1999 that's very clever and imaginative. It uses camera tricks which of course plays a large part in Ray's brand of live-action music videos. In a few scenes in the music video Ray appears in front of all five members of the band...which are all played by Ray...I don't know if he used the aid of what's called the blue screen or not. It was like Ray and his video producers shot various scenes and pasted the separate images together and then super-imposed an animated background onto the final recording. See the 1999 music video for yourself on You Tube. It was uploaded by another Ray Stevens fan and it's gotten over 10,000 plays.

Twenty-three years ago Ray Stevens issued this novelty song as a single. "Three Legged Man" is one of the more nuttier novelty songs associated with Ray and it showcases several funny vocalizations. Ray tells a story about a man who meets a woman who turns out to be married...and the woman's husband has a peg leg. Ray plays the part of the other man in the woman's life and we're given one hilarious recollection of how he became a "Three Legged Man". It happened during the night that he visited his lover in an attempt to steal her away from her husband. Believe it or not, music buyers who stumble across the album that features this song object to the adult themes and lump it in with dirty comedy. I've come across several reviews of Crackin' Up, the 1987 album that features this single, and some have made it quite clear that they look at Ray Stevens as a 'family entertainer' and in their narrow view songs like "Three Legged Man", "Sex Symbols", and "The Day That Clancy Drowned" clearly demonstrate an adult theme. Even worse, or even more hilarious, is these critics actually reprimanded Ray as if he's a child. Some people out there go a bit too far. In Ray's defense, though, there's nothing dirty or raunchy in any of the comedy songs that some people say are 'adult-themed'.

It's funny to think that people scolded Ray for being 'adult-themed' with some of the comedy songs on his 1987 album. What's even more funny is where were these watch-dogs in 1986 when he issued the Surely You Joust album? "The People's Court" clearly describes such adult themed subject matter as a helpless woman fighting to get her leotards off. Oooh, shocking stuff on a Ray Stevens song isn't it? Bad, bad Ray...you need your hand slapped for this one. "The People's Court" is a very funny parody of the TV show of the same name. It's a catchy song and it helps if you're familiar with the long-running 1980's version of the show...but even if you're not familiar with Judge Wapner, the plaintiff and defendant are so hilarious that one doesn't even need to be familiar with what's being spoofed. Ray portrays the parts of the plaintiff, defendant, court reporter, and the judge in addition to singing the chorus breaks. The song always reminds me of a sketch you'd probably find on Hee-Haw and the character names on this song are intentionally rural: Arlo and Myrna-Louise. In addition to this song, a few other comical recordings stray into adult-hood from the 1986 album. There's "Makin' the Best of a Bad Situation" which includes a verse about a woman who spends too much time with the milkman. I'm stunned by such awful vulgarities as that. Wow...that takes the cake right there! Could anyone be anymore adult-themed than that? How about the subject of negligence in "Camp Werethahekahwee" or the all out fisticuffs that abound in the climax of "Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat".

Seriously, though, I'm teasing those who either take the subject matter of songs or take issue with lyrics, to the extreme. There are people out there who want to confine artist's to being only what they, the fans, want to see. It becomes almost like a prison or almost suffocating, I imagine, if a singer doesn't have the musical freedom to make the kinds of music he or she wants. It's often a case of a fan base who wants supreme control over a singer's looks, choice of song material, or personal views. Usually if a singer demonstrates behavior that's opposite of what a fan expects or demands then chances are the 'fan' won't be a fan for much longer. Once a fan senses that they're losing control of a singer then that fan more than likely moves and eventually begins to live vicariously through another singer's life. I'm in the minority, probably, in that I don't live vicariously through others. I'm with a singer through the good or bad, up or down times. If I like a singer then typically I'm a fan for life. There's a few instances where I've been a casual fan of artists whom I've since drifted from. The bottom line to all of this is Ray's a grown man...and he shouldn't have been subjected to such silly criticisms. Of course it never affected him, though. I recall reading an article from 1988 on-line which contained a segment in a newspaper complaining about a song on Ray's album at the time. The song was about a couple of hippies and some readers objected to the treatment of animals being depicted in the song. I think the article went on to say that they contacted Ray for his comment and reportedly Ray said: "they can't be serious?" and he laughed it off. So, even then, Ray knew how silly some people could get over the content in his songs.

A 45 that turns 30 this year is "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me" with is actually the b-side of "Shriner's Convention" which I spotlighted in a previous blog. The 1980 recording can be found on a couple of RCA collections, notably the Collector's Series which had a 1985 release and a 1987 re-release. The song is found on both releases. It's a clever song if you pay attention to the lyrics. It also, of course, pays homage to various cities in Florida. I like the song's arrangement...it fits the song like a glove. I couldn't imagine hearing the lyrics with any other musical presentation.


  1. Hi AC,
    This was very nicely written and discriptive, and I enjoyed reading this while having my morning coffee. Thanks!

  2. I'm glad you liked the blog entry. In some of my Ray Stevens fan blogs I often "get serious" and talk about my annoyances with music critics and music snobs. A lot of the harsh criticism thrown Ray's way that I've come across is written by those who are ignorant to Ray's career and can only name one or two songs of his.

    This fan blog I hope expands people's intelligence and knowledge as it's meant for all Ray fans and those curious about his career.


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