January 28, 2012

Ray Stevens and the Silver Bracelet...

The one and only Ray Stevens made his way into a recording studio 55 years ago...at the age of 18...to record a series of songs. One of those songs, "Silver Bracelet", was released as a single on the Prep label, a subsidiary of Capitol Records. The year was 1957! Ray recorded for Prep in 1957, Capitol in 1958, and from 1959 through 1961 he was with the NRC label. He released quite a few teen pop ballads and uptempo rocker songs during the late '50s and he performed on quite a few sessions along the way. His session work greatly expanded in the '60s as he moved onto Mercury Records and then Monument Records. The time period being 1961 through early 1970. The session work continued in the '70s but not as consistently as it had been primarily because from 1969 onward Ray became a superstar with music that hit with all music brands: pop, country, adult-contemporary, gospel, plus he was testing the waters with an international market during this same time period. His singles were popping up in Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia...with several singles making the Top-20 and Top-10 on foreign music charts. The extra time for session work predictably had vanished as Ray's fame grew and he became more and more in-demand for concerts and TV appearances.

However, no matter how big Ray Stevens eventually became once he joined Mercury Records in 1961, there's still the musician/producer/arranger/writer side of him that nobody should ever forget....for he still produces, arranges, and plays piano and, or, keyboards and synthesizers on his CD's to this very day. Ray Stevens is a true Renaissance Man whose career extends well beyond the handful of novelty songs that a general public is most familiar with.

These series of anniversary blogs that I've been writing since the first of January are leading up to the much anticipated release of Ray's 9-CD Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. The release, originally set for January 2012, will now be released in February. I'm really excited to hear Ray's take on a lot of the novelty songs by other artists through the years...and I'm also excited to get the book that'll spotlight all the songs and feature history and other information. According to a radio interview in 2011 the songs will go in alphabetical order starting with songs that begin with the letter "A" and not stop until the end of the alphabet. It's going to be a fascinating collection!

It's Saturday morning...well...Saturday afternoon. As I've discussed elsewhere, white promo singles used to be commonplace amongst radio stations. As the decades went by the singles found their way into the public domain. As you can see on the label, the actual song was produced by Shelby Singleton with orchestra conduction by Jerry Kennedy. The Merry Melody Singers are given credit on the single as well. Several blogs ago I saluted the single turning 50 this year...a Golden Anniversary...and I also praised the song's importance in Ray's career. There have been several versions of the song issued through the years...which is highly understandable considering that record labels own the recordings that artists make and if a label doesn't keep a recording in print then the artist has no choice put to re-record the song(s) in an effort to keep the song(s) in print and available. 1962 was the original year for "Ahab the Arab" while a couple of years later an impromptu version performed on a program hosted by Ralph Emery made an appearance on an obscure vinyl album released by Mercury Records. Ralph is heard at the beginning and the end of the song. In between you have the song itself with some alternate lyrics heard only in that performance. I don't know if this performance is an audio cut from one of Ralph's mid '60s television programs or if it's taken from any number of package shows that used to be commonplace in country music during the '50s through the early '70s where a lot of country artists would travel together, along with an emcee (typically a radio or TV personality) and they'd perform shows. George Strait in more modern times did something like that with his Festival concerts in the late '90s. Anyway...this version with Ralph Emery's announcing can be found on The Best of Ray Stevens. In 1969 the more familiar recording of "Ahab the Arab" was included on the Gitarzan album. I say more familiar because it's that recording which appears on countless compilation albums and it's been the recording that was kept in print the longest during the '70s, '80s, and '90s. A fourth recording arrived in 1995 when the music video came along for his Get Serious! movie. In my Ahab tribute blog I covered a lot of this same information but I thought to bring it back again considering it was several blogs ago.

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