October 14, 2010

Examining Ray Stevens on Monument, Part 1...

One of the more challenging things is getting a lot of detail about the Monument Records era of Ray Stevens. I know about the albums and the singles that he issued for the label but there was a period of two and a half to three years at Monument where Ray never released any material and was instead utilized as a session artist and music arranger. A lot of the artists that worked with Ray during the mid '60s are a who's who...some acts never broke out nationally while some later went on to achieve stardom. I guess the artist most associated with Ray during this time period is Dolly Parton as he was a singer/songwriter, musician, music arranger, and jack-of-all-trades in the recording studio and still is. Ray joined Monument Records according to most reports I've researched in 1963 upon departing Mercury Records...and it was on Monument where the behind-the-scenes aspect of Ray's career began to really take shape. By behind-the-scenes I mean the work that goes into making a recording that the general public typically doesn't think about: like the production, the arranging, the musicianship, etc etc.

Aside from working with the likes of Dolly Parton, Ray also worked with Brenda Lee, Brook Benton, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Dove. Some of the artists recorded songs that Ray either wrote or co-wrote. I wrote a blog several months ago when Ray appeared on a program entitled Nashville Cats which examined his behind-the-scenes studio work and so I'm not going to go over a lot of what I already covered in that blog.

Ray's former label, Mercury, continued to release singles on Ray during 1964 and 1965 and in 1966 the first-ever single on Ray from Monument Records hit the market. The single was "A-B-C" backed with "Party People". The b-side would eventually get re-issued on CD when Varese Sarabande re-issued Ray's 1968 Monument LP onto CD format. A succession of singles followed throughout 1966 and into 1967...one single in particular, "Freddie Feelgood", would become a cult-hit and over the course of time become synonymous with Ray's career. It wouldn't be until the release of "Unwind" in 1968, the fifth single issued on Ray from Monument, that Ray's commercial fortunes began to show signs of success. That single would reach the mid-way point of the Hot 100 and then the follow-up, "Mr. Businessman", would reach the Top-30 portion of the Hot 100 pop chart. This is the single that reinvented Ray's image in the minds of a lot of record buyers at the time...a much more serious Ray Stevens would become the norm throughout much of the last two years of the decade.

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