May 26, 2012

Ray Stevens and the Drunk Preacher...

It's going to be a super hot Memorial Day weekend...already it's 84 outside. The high will be 92. Starting off this latest blog entry with a mini weather report is something I rarely do but it's not uncommon. I came across a video clip of Ray Stevens from a Nashville, TN television station. In the clip Ray speaks a little about the Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music and the narrator of the news piece gives some detail about the 9-CD box set. You can watch the video clip below...

When I was driving home from work this morning I saw a sign in the yard of a church that stated Vacation Bible School and it gave the dates. This immediately had me thinking of the hilarious Ray Stevens song from 1985 titled "Vacation Bible School"...among other things the song is about bible camp. Ray tells the story of a preacher who becomes intoxicated while sermonizing. As a consequence of being drunk, the preacher launches into a one-man comedy show and we're told that he delivered some pretty rough language for the people gathered in the church. In the song the bible school is in Tallapoosa, Georgia.

The song is from his #1 Country album, I Have Returned, which was certified Gold by the RIAA. 

There are many people who discovered Ray through You Tube...embedding his music videos and sharing them on social sites. A lot of people who never heard of Ray before 2009 had obviously no idea of his legend. 2009, for example, was the 40th anniversary of "Gitarzan", a million selling Top-10 pop hit for Ray in 1969. Those who found Ray Stevens through You Tube have hopefully explored his varied catalog of songs. His music dates back to 1957...he's currently in his 55th year as a recording artist.

You can find his music on eBay, Amazon, and at his web-site store. The music he recorded in the late '50s is his most obscure but it can be purchased if you look hard enough.

Ray Stevens recorded a lot of songs during the late '50s that weren't heavily promoted. He recorded for the following labels during the late '50s: Prep, Capitol, and NRC. He was with NRC in 1960, the year he released "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon", a novelty song that gained a lot of attention for the wrong reasons: the owners of the character threatened a lawsuit if the song wasn't pulled off the market! Ray didn't get their permission to use the character in his song.

After NRC, Ray would join the Mercury label in 1961 and it is with this label that Ray Stevens found national fame at last. The taste of national fame started with "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills" which reached the pop Top-40 in 1961. "Ahab the Arab" hit in 1962 and this is the song that made Ray Stevens an 'overnight superstar'. Once this song hit, everyone who listened to Top-40 radio suddenly knew who Ray Stevens was...the song sold more than a million copies and reached the pop Top-5 and the R&B Top-10 in 1962.

Ray had a few more Top-40 pop and R&B hits through 1963 with Mercury Records and couple that charted on the Hot 100 but below the #40 slot. One of the recordings that Ray participated in was "Speedy Gonzales". The hit recording from 1962 was by Pat Boone and Mel Blanc. The cartoon character, Speedy Gonzales, was voiced by Mel Blanc in numerous Warner Brothers cartoons and so he played the character in the song, too. A singer named Tom Walls recorded a version of the song, also in 1962. Instead of Mel Blanc reprising his role as Speedy, we have the one and only Ray Stevens stepping into the Gonzales role.  You can't find the song in it's single's way too hard to find...but you can hear it on You Tube. The recording was made for a company known as HIT Records. I was not familiar with this recording prior to finding it on You Tube at some point last year.

There is a channel on You Tube that specializes in uploading rare/obscure singles from the '60s from smaller record labels. I've embedded video clips from their channel numerous times in the past and have commented on their Ray Stevens-related uploads. Thanks to them I was able to hear songs that Ray Stevens was involved in that I otherwise either would never have known about or would never have heard because of how rare and unavailable those songs happen to be. Ray did numerous sessions in the '60s for a lot of artists...both on small labels and major labels. He arranged and wrote a lot of songs for groups who typically had an R&B flair. Ray either arranged, produced, co-produced, or played on hundreds of recording sessions in the '60s. It was neat to hear a lot of those recordings...and hear that Ray Stevens imprint all over the songs.

Ray joined with Monument Records as a session artist, arranger, producer, and songwriter in 1963...and would release his own recordings for the label in 1966. He used a lot of the sounds in these single-only '60s recordings that he first used on other artists in the early '60s. If you own or have heard any of Ray's singles from that mid '60s period or own his 1968 album, Even Stevens, then you'll instantly know what I mean when I bring up that 'sound' that can be heard on a string of recordings by Ray or associated with Ray.

After Monument, Ray went over to the Barnaby label in 1970. He remained with this label through early 1976. He then signed with Warner Brothers records...a brief 3 year stay (1976-1979)...but such wonderful recordings were made in spite of the short run with the label. This was followed by a 4 year association with RCA (1979-1983). A super brief return to Mercury Records followed (1983-1984) and later in 1984 he joined MCA for a commercially successful 5 year stay (1984-1989) that saw him selling roughly 3,000,000 comedy albums by 1990. Curb Records kicked off the '90s as Ray's next label. Their first project on him, His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits, would become a certified Gold album by the RIAA. He recorded three albums for them while they released 4 compilation projects of his material through 1996. Those compilations were the previously mentioned His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits in 1990, a Greatest Hits release in 1991 that featured a majority of ballads rather than comedy, a CD-only release titled 20 Comedy Hits in 1995, and Great Gospel Songs in 1996.

He was with Curb until early-mid 1996...and then he signed with MCA for a second time and the first project that MCA released on Ray in the late winter of '96 was the retail distribution of his 1995 mail-order home video, Get Serious!. Two albums for the label surfaced in 1997: Hum It and Christmas Through a Different Window. Ray was then on his own label, Clyde, from 1998 through 2001. Curb Records distributed some more releases for Ray in the early 2000's...notably the Osama Yo' Mama single and album in 2001 and 2002 respectively; the 2005 CD single "The New Battle of New Orleans" was released through Curb, and some animated music video DVD's in 2006 were distributed by Curb Records also. Other than those specific releases in the 2000's by Curb Records, Ray's released all of his latter-day music through his own label, Clyde Records.

For those new to the career of Ray Stevens take a look back at his accomplishments and marvel at the varied music styles he incorporated into his career. For those new to his career also take a minute or two to listen to those recordings. There's 55 years worth of music to dive into! For those new to his career familiarize yourself with everything there is to know about him...this blog examines all era's of his career and it's a good place to start. His own web-site offers a lot of music and video products. All of the music videos on You Tube are also featured at his web-site in a section called Ray TV.

Now, for those new to his career...after looking up all the great Ray Stevens music you've missed don't forget to pick up where you left off and champion his contemporary recordings and enjoy those entertaining You Tube music videos.

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