October 23, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 29...

An upload I came across on You Tube this morning is this...a song called "Baby The Magic is Gone" by a group known as The Velvets featuring Virgil Johnson. Research shows that the group used the lead singer's name to eliminate confusion with another group known as the Velvets.

The recording, according to the upload information, comes from 1965. Some internet sites say it was recorded in 1966. As you can see from the video it's a Monument recording and it was produced by Ray Stevens. From time to time I embed You Tube videos by artists or groups that feature production work from Ray Stevens. I also like to embed videos of songs that were written by Ray Stevens but recorded by other artists (specifically the recordings made in the '60s). Given that the embed is small...I downsized the original embed because it was too big for the page...but given the size of the embedded video you may or may not be able to see Ray's name on the right side of the screen under the producer credits.

A second recording by the group, whose lead singer was a man named Virgil Johnson, was actually uploaded back in January 2010 but because the uploader didn't use Ray's name as a tag I had no idea of it's existence until this morning. This recording, "Let the Fool Kiss You, But Don't let the Kiss Fool You", is the B-side of "Baby The Magic Is Gone".

Wasn't the production of those songs wonderful? The singing was good, too. While listening to the songs you can't help but imagine Ray singing them. Since he used this certain kind of sound for a lot of his own recordings during the mid and late '60s it's easy to imagine Ray singing these songs, too.

Ray recorded for Monument Records between the years of 1966 and 1969. Monument released their last commercial single on Ray early in 1970. Anyone care to guess what single it was? It was his version of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight". The b-side is "The Fool on the Hill". The single number is Monument-1187. Each song comes from his final studio album for Monument titled Have a Little Talk With Myself. I've got that album...on the back it shows Ray playing piano and in another picture laughing along side the album's co-producer, Jim Malloy. The previous Ray Stevens album from 1969, Gitarzan, featured a three person production team: Ray, Jim Malloy, and Fred Foster. Ray's first studio album for Monument, Even Stevens, hit in 1968. It featured Ray and Fred Foster as the producers. Here's a bit of amusing irony: Jim Malloy's son, David, became a highly successful record producer and was involved in a songwriting partnership trio. Eddie Rabbitt was one of those songwriters and the other was a writer named Even Stevens! I always found it sort of amusing that one of David Malloy's songwriting partners had the same name of an album Ray Stevens recorded during a point in time when David's father, Jim, was associated with Ray.

This year in Ray Stevens history looks at 1994...this was the year that Ray won his 9th and final Comedian of the Year trophy from the fan-voted Music City News awards. Ray had been selected as the top comedian in country music by Music City News readers for the previous 8 consecutive years starting in 1986. In 1994 he won for the 9th consecutive year. Music City News continued to hand out awards through 1999. The winners of the comedian category during the awards final years (1995-1999) were Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Gary Chapman. Foxworthy, if I'm not mistaken, won in 1995, 1996, and 1997 while Engvall won in 1998 and Chapman won in 1999(?) but don't quote me on any of that information. After Ray didn't win in 1995 or 1996 I lost interest in the awards and so I didn't pay much attention to who won or lost. Ray had won it so many times it was almost expected that he'd always win it but as history shows that wasn't the case. I don't believe Ray was nominated during 1998 or 1999!? I could be wrong about that. All I know is there was all of a sudden a rush of country comics, all built around the Jeff Foxworthy 'redneck' routine, that had emerged in the mid '90s and it was simply impossible for a more traditional country comedian to dethrone that style of humor once it took off across the country. It reached a peak when the Blue Collar comedy tours started happening during much of the following decade (2000-2009).

In the meantime, during the Music City News final years, rival magazine Country Weekly had started a fan-voted awards program called the Country Pick Award. Ray won in the Best Comedian category in 1995...but lost out to other country comedians in the years that followed.

Meanwhile, after the demise of Music City News in 1999, the awards became affiliated briefly with Country Weekly, and then CMT took over and since 2002 the telecasts have largely been built around music productions and the award categories honor music videos now instead of audio recordings. This, of course, means that the nominees would be only the videos that CMT airs...leaving out a lot of videos by other artists that don't make the CMT playlist.

The CMT awards telecasts, if played back to back with a Music City News awards telecast, would be like night and day as far as similarities. Classic episodes of the Music City News awards are available on DVD. Commercials for the DVD often appear on the RFD-TV network.

Elsewhere in 1994...Ray Stevens received a publishers award for "I Can't Reach Her Anymore", a huge hit single for Sammy Kershaw. 1994 is also the year that Ray Stevens Live!, a home video release from 1993, became available for purchase in retail stores following the year long mail-order exclusive. After it hit retail stores it was eligible to appear on the weekly Billboard charts and it eventually reached the top...competing against his previous home video from 1992, Comedy Video Classics.

Lastly, in 1994, Ray began working on what would become the movie, Get Serious!. The movie, for the longest time, didn't have an official title. I have fan club newsletters from late 1994 and early 1995 where it's referred to as something like LFSDCVM. I don't have the newsletters in front of me at the moment to supply the actual acronym but it basically stood for Long-Form Story-Driven Comedy Video Movie or it could've been Long-Form Story-Driven Comedy Music Video. Whichever the case it wasn't referred to as Get Serious! until some point in 1995 prior to it's late summer/early fall release. The movie, 110 minutes in length, stars Ray and a host of other performers. Sandwiched between the spoken dialogue are 10 music videos. Several of Ray's music friends made cameo appearances: Chet Atkins, Johnny Russell, Charlie Chase, George Lindsay, and James Gregory. Jerry Clower appeared several times throughout the movie playing the role of Ray's manager. Connie Freeman and Michael Airington co-starred as Charlene MacKenzie and Damien Darth. Ray's songwriting partner, Buddy Kalb, appeared as Bubba/Dudley Dorite while Tim Hubbard appeared as Deputy Coy. In the "Shriner's Convention" music video, lifted from this movie, Ray plays both Bubba and Coy. A few days ago Ray made the announcement on Facebook that they're thinking about releasing the Get Serious! movie onto DVD for the first time. The movie had previously only been available on home video so it's long overdue at getting a DVD release.

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