July 19, 2014

Ray Stevens: July 2014 Songwriter Session Re-Cap...

Good Saturday afternoon all the fans of Ray Stevens! About half an hour ago I finished listening to the live stream of Ray's interview/performance at the Ford Theater inside the Country Music Hall of Fame. I made mention of this upcoming event in several of my previous blog entries and made mention that it would be streamed on-line for those that couldn't appear in person.

He performed at the venue with a band...usually he chooses to use a click track and have the music piped in as he sings over top of it...but having the band there added a certain something to the performances. Having said that, I don't mind it if he uses a band or not...but there's an aesthetic difference certainly.

The program was a combination interview and performance...I earlier assumed that the interview would largely be about his book but as it turned out the event had limited interview and more music. Also, the program ran longer than advertised. I had expected it to run roughly 40-45 minutes but it ended up running an hour.

Ray performed medley's of several of his signature hits: "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills", "Ahab the Arab", "Gitarzan", "Everything Is Beautiful", and "The Streak".

During an interview segment Ray spoke a lot about the structure of songwriting and explained that, for him, it starts out as a series of thoughts and ideas and later on it becomes transformed into a rhyming series of lyrics after he's already thought of the idea of the song. Ray was asked about inspiration and if he has different approaches to writing a comedy song verses a serious song. He explained that the process remains the same regardless of the song's presentation. Ray also mentioned that public image taught him the reason "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" was a huge hit for Johnny Cash in 1970 in spite of the fact that the same song, as recorded by Ray in 1969, didn't do as great commercially.

Ray's version is still a masterpiece of production skills and a stellar recording regardless of who had the commercial hit.

Ray mentioned that several of his bigger hits were put together in crisis mode...in other words, written to meet some sort of deadline or a last minute scramble at a recording session. He recalled that he played on three recording sessions in the same day and each recording went on to become hits: "Walk on By" by Leroy Van Dyke; "Wooden Heart" by Joe Dowell; and his own recording, "Ahab the Arab".

At several points in the program he mentioned Shelby Singleton (the man Ray credits with bringing him to Nashville from Atlanta, Georgia) and Bill Lowery (the man that helped Ray and several others establish a career in music in the late '50s). Yes, Ray did speak some about his book, Nashville. He's probably signing copies of the book at the Hall of Fame as of this writing.

The songs that Ray performed in their entirety were: "Mr. Businessman", "Be Your Own Best Friend", "Just For the Hell of It", and the closer, "Nashville". The second and third song listed happened to be a surprise. I had never, ever seen him perform those songs on TV or at the 2 concerts I happened to attend...so seeing and hearing him perform those songs was a treat.

As I had hoped, the Hall of Fame special was wonderful to see and I'm glad that it was available for on-line streaming! I have no idea if there will be an archive video of this event posted in the future or not. If it does I'll embed the video in a future blog post.

In the meantime you can purchase Ray's memoir, Nashville, at Amazon. It's in paperback and Kindle format.

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