January 14, 2011

Ray Stevens and the Bands...

One of the more zany novelty songs in the career of Ray Stevens arrived 45 years ago in 1966 in the form of "Freddie Feelgood and His Funky Little Five Piece Band". The official spelling is Freddie...although some record label's through the years have spelled it as Freddy. The song makes good use of the scat-singing style of performance which is often under-appreciated and under-rated. Ray doesn't do many performances with scat-singing but there's a few...and this 1966 single happens to be one of them. Ray vocally imitates several instruments in this performance...except for the piano. The drummer in the band, Yum-Yum, is the main highlight as far as the scat-singing goes. In Yum-Yum, Ray goes all out and comes off sounding exactly like any number of classic Jazz artists known for scat-singing and then for the trumpet man, Freddie Feelgood, he reverses the emotion with a low-key vocalization. The members of the band are as follows...

1. Yum-Yum: Drum
2. Tyrone: Trombone
3. Ace: Bass
4. Percy: Piano
5. Freddie: Trumpet

As anyone can see, several of the band member's names rhyme with their instrument. This particular song required the aid of multi-tracking which is something I consider Ray Stevens a legend in. I'm sure multi-tracking/over-dubbing was going on prior to Ray's arrival on the music scene but in my opinion Ray used the technology more than most. Today it's common for songs to be constructed piece by piece...one day a producer will add instrumentation, the next day a performer will add their vocals, the next day the producer may splice in more instruments or subtract instruments and then piece it all together as one recording. Ray was doing this sort of thing years before it become commonplace. Ray also is one of the few that over-dubs his own voice in several harmonies to sing against. He's always had a back-up group of some kind...for many years it's usually been 3 or 4 females...but there were also instances where he'd sing his own back-up harmony on his recordings in addition to what the actual back-up group were contributing.

"Freddie Feelgood" reached the charts in 1966 but just barely. Three years later the song appeared on Ray's Gitarzan album with laughter over-dubbed onto the recording. This audience enhanced version is usually what appears on many of the compilation albums and CD's from the '70s through the '90s. Ray re-recorded the song for a music video adaptation in 2000.

The concept of "Freddie Feelgood" served as inspiration for a couple of other Ray Stevens songs. 1984's "Ned Nostril", while musically based almost entirely on Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", it nonetheless incorporates non-verbal musical accompaniment at various stages in the song. The story of "Ned Nostril" centers around a man who apparently has a big nose but for the purpose of comedy we're to imagine that it's as long as Pinocchio's nose. Ned's band was described as being a group of ragweed sniffers...resulting in allergy-laden, watery eye conditions. Ned made music by humming through his nose while his band sniffed, coughed, and gagged their way to fame. Ray performs the song as Johnny Cash. The full, official title of this 1984 recording is "Ned Nostril and His South Seas Paradise, Puts Your Blues On Ice, Cheap at Twice the Price Band, Ikky-Ikky, Ukky-Ukky".

In 1990 "Freddie Feelgood" received some competition in the form of "Cletus McHicks". "Cletus McHicks and His Band From the Sticks", an up-tempo sing-a-long made up almost entirely of end rhymes, introduced us to a new set of musicians.

1. Flip: Bass
2. Eugene: Drum
3. Mose: Steel Guitar
4. Cletus: Guitar

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