Good Wednesday morning Ray Stevens fans!! I come this morning with a review of a Ray Stevens book! No, it isn't Let's Get Political from a couple of years ago. This particular review is of a book that could very well be described as a career autobiography.
I use such a term because there's nothing extremely personal found in the book but it features the basics that are in an autobiography. The name of the book is Ray Stevens' Nashville. The cover has Ray wearing a small cowboy hat, standing in front of the Nashville, TN skyline. He isn't in a denim jacket as he is in the music video of "Nashville", but it's a great image nonetheless.
The book became available for sale last month!! I became aware of it's existence earlier this month. In one of my recent blog entries I had gotten a reply. The reply made mention of this book...to which I had no idea existed. Once I visited Amazon and some other on-line stores, searched the book areas for Ray Stevens, I come to find out that the book had a release date of March 5, 2014...and so it's been commercially available for more than 1 month.
Ironically, though, there isn't any acknowledgement of the book at Ray's internet store. There hasn't even been any Facebook posts or Tweets regarding it's existence in the days after March 5th.
This blog post may create awareness of it's availability...here's the review...
This is such a fascinating book on many levels. One of the things that I love about it is how easy it is to read. There isn't a lot of confusion or contradictions that I've often seen in a lot of books of this kind. Ray Stevens tells of his experiences in Music City, U.S.A (Nashville, TN) dating back to the early '60s. Not only that, he tells about his entire career from it's earliest stages in the late '50s on through his current music video successes on You Tube. As an easy to read book you can read it out of order...as I did. I looked in the table of contents and deliberately jumped to certain parts of the book first and then read other parts of the book.
I cite pages 196 through 199 due to it containing some of the most candid commentary...you rarely hear these thoughts from 'Ray Stevens' when he's on TV or being interviewed on a talk radio program. Why? Because, I assume, it isn't the proper setting or format. Yet, this book gives him a place to speak a bit more open about his thoughts and attitudes about the music industry, in general (all formats), and he discusses public image and the typecasting that takes place...and freely admits how difficult it must have been to "market Ray Stevens" due to his ever changing musical expressions.
A lot of discussion is made of 'The Powers that Be' in the media, too.
Does the book have anything too controversial? It all depends on a person's idea of controversial. Ray says how he felt seeing "The Streak" sell millions upon millions of singles in 1974, hit #1 pop and go #1 internationally, plus reach the Top-5 on the country charts...but when it came awards time, the song was either completely ignored or passed over as other recordings of lesser success took the trophies.
Some of the highlights of the book, other than reading his experiences in the music business, are his memories of his years in Branson, Missouri and the huge success he had with mail-order VHS tapes. I especially like his choice of expression remembering on the fall of 1993 and the anticipation he felt giving up the daily grind at his theatre. He goes into lots of detail about the early years of the Branson Boom and explains how lucky he was to have had a theatre in operation just as the town was becoming a huge tourist attraction. He discusses his return trips to Branson in 1996, 2005-2006, the 2010 series at The Welk Theater, and the memorial concerts for Andy Williams in 2012.
His love of Nashville is made crystal clear in many places in the book. He considers it his adopted home town given that he's lived in the Nashville area since 1962. Fear not, though! He still loves his birth place and the area he grew up in. He discusses Clarkdale, Albany, and Atlanta, Georgia in the pages numbering 25 to 69.
Ever wondered the inspiration of "Mr. Businessman"? As a long time fan of his I've had a feeling of what the song could be about...in the book Ray describes some of the things happening that led up to his writing the song. It became a Top-30 pop hit in 1968. One of the curiosities is he mentions that Fred Foster never got a chance to produce his sessions...but yet Fred's name, as well as Jim Malloy, appear as co-producers on 2 of Ray's Monument LP's in 1969. "Gitarzan" became a million selling hit in America and a hit internationally in 1969. Ray relates the reluctance on Fred Foster's part to release the single, at first.
Elsewhere in the book, Ray states something that some fans have been curious about for years. First off, he states that the book is just about his career and his experiences in the music business and not a tell-all that includes commentary about his family or anything else personal. That may disappoint some but he does relate something, in print, that should satisfy some of his fans who've long been wondering about a certain aspect of his life.
Pages 227 to 248 are chock full of pictures. Some have become recognizable on the internet but many more are obscure and haven't been shared publicly until this book. There's several family pictures...one picture has Ray and Ralph Emery during a radio program at some point in the '70s.
Some of the people Ray discusses at length or in brief recollections are: Shelby Singleton, Chet Atkins, Bill Lowery, Owen Bradley, Ralph Emery, Jerry Clower, and a host of behind-the-scenes people that have been part of his career for decades. In the latter part of Chapter 24 he discusses his diagnosis of prostate cancer in 1999 and his sudden development of diabetes. He kicks off Chapter 25 discussing his 9-CD project, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. Also, he mentions several projects he hopes to have out at some point in the not too distant future.
Do I have any complaints about the book? No, I don't exactly have any complaints in the traditional sense but I have some minor issues to bring up. There wasn't much discussion about his time with Warner Brothers or RCA as I had hoped. In the book he mentions several recordings he did for Warner Brothers but doesn't mention his biggest single for them, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". He speaks of recording for RCA but mentions only the 1980 Shriner's Convention album he did for them...he recorded a couple more albums for them, one in 1981 and another in 1982...but he omits those LP's, as if they don't exist, and jumps to his 'one album deal' for Mercury in 1983 before signing with MCA in 1984.
He spends a great length of time discussing his MCA years (1984-1989) and rightfully so...it's the point in his career that he decided to market himself exclusively comedy and his first 5 studio albums for the label feature comedy, comedy, and more comedy and the sales and profits spoke loudly throughout the rest of the decade. In the '90s he became involved in the Branson, Missouri scene and added VHS/mail-order projects to his list of successes.
As I started off saying, this is a fascinating book!! It's Nashville, Tennessee and the music industry as seen through the eyes of Ray Stevens.
You can get your copy of the book HERE.