February 9, 2015

Ray Stevens: A Shriner's Convention celebration...

Good early morning to all the Ray Stevens fans! It's just by coincidental luck that I happened to be talking about Ray's RCA recordings with another fan of Ray's on Facebook and I looked up the single release information on "Shriner's Convention". The single made it's debut on the Country music singles chart on February 9, 1980...35 years ago to the day. I decided to do an update image of the cassette copy from my collection. I've posted previous pictures of the cassette before but this one is the most recent and purposely I'm in a Hawaiian "flowerty" shirt as I feel it adds to the atmosphere of the song that this blog entry happens to be about. I only have one studio album from Ray's RCA era in cassette form and this one happens to be it. I have this on vinyl and I also have his studio albums for RCA from 1981 and 1982 on vinyl but, as mentioned, this is the only studio album of his from RCA that I also happen to have on cassette. If you're a fan of Ray's then you should be aware of this particular song...it should be as familiar to you as the beard on his face. Nevertheless, some late comers to the Ray Stevens experience may not be as familiar with his classics and that's one of the reasons I like to bring back a lot of things he did in his past and introduce the music to whatever newcomers there might be.

I don't know how many people still have cassette tape as part of their music collection but I still have the ones I purchased and I still have the ones handed down to me from my grandparent's. They're in a cassette tower/case that sits on my nightstand. I rarely, if ever, play the tapes because the music has long been converted to CD and Mp3 but I'll keep the cassettes in my possession forever. In the above picture I posted a front view of the cassette. In the picture off to the right there's a side view of how it appears in my cassette tower. This is also the way it looked in the cassette rack of your favorite retail stores in 1980. The thick printing of the RCA logo, beneath that the catalog number, and then the artist's name and title of the project. I used to love to go to the local store, often a K-Mart, and go back to the music area and glance at the rows and rows of cassette tapes. I'd look in the "S" section for "Stevens" and salivate over the cassette tapes on display that I couldn't purchase due to the realities of being a child and obviously not having a job.

In those days the cassette tapes were on display behind locked glass and you had to track don a worker that had the key. The worker would actually ask you if you've selected the tape(s) you were going to purchase. If you said "yes" they'd open the glass case and stand there as you got the items you wanted. You couldn't stand there and continue to look them over after the glass doors had been opened or the worker often got impatient!

Shortly afterward, probably because of complaints about the locked display case method of housing cassette tapes, the cassette manufacturers began shipping cassettes with hard plastic carrier cases (for security purposes) and this made the locked display case obsolete due to the cassettes being locked in the plastic carrier case. I haven't been able to find any images of those glass display bins but believe me, they existed. The locks that appeared on those display bins are similar to vending machine locks...circular in appearance.

As you can see, I've posted the cassette copy of Shriner's Convention as it appears from the front, side, and now the back. As I touched upon in a blog entry in 2010, during the 30th anniversary of the song, this cassette copy that I've got features the song "Coin Machine" as track 2 and "The Last Laugh" as track 9. On the vinyl copy, the songs are reversed. "Coin Machine" is track 9 and "The Last Laugh" is track 2. This album represented the first comedy project from Ray Stevens in 6 years. Prior to this 1980 album you had to go back to a 1974 studio album called Boogity-Boogity on Barnaby Records to find his previous comedy project. This isn't to say he didn't release any comedy/novelty recordings during the interim because he actually did. He released a novelty single late in 1976, "In the Mood", under the pseudonym The Henhouse Five Plus Too, and in 1979 he released the satiric "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Ray introduced "Shriner's Convention" to the country late in 1979 during an appearance on Pop! Goes the Country. The comedy song eventually made it's way onto vinyl at some point in January 1980 and it ultimately made it's debut on the Country music chart on February 9, 1980. The song is about a fictional shrine convention in Hahira, Georgia but the idea of the song is based on a true event: Ray had been staying in a hotel while a shrine convention happened to be taking place that very weekend.

In interviews Ray often recalls of having a sleepless night as the conventioneers were having their fun and it struck him that it might be a good idea for a comedy song. From there he created the idea of having the convention take place in Hahira, Georgia and for comical purposes exaggerate the amount of fun and frolic that took place. He created the characters of Coy and Bubba and throughout the recording, in between Ray's singing, Bubba has a one-sided phone conversation with the rebellious shriner, Coy, about the latter's activities at the convention and how Coy's become an embarrassment to all the other Shriners. The single reached the Top-10 of the country chart as did the album.

A motorcycle with the name, "Coy", written on it had been a prop in Ray Stevens' stage shows for decades. It makes an appearance on the cover of his 1993 home video, Ray Stevens Live!, and as you can see it makes an illustrated appearance on the Shriner's Convention album cover. I believe the motorcycle made it's on-camera debut during a 1980 Music City News telecast. Ray happened to be one of the co-hosts and during his performance of "Shriner's Convention" the Coy motorcycle revved it's way onto the stage from behind a paper banner. I hadn't seen the clip in awhile, since it's no longer on YouTube, so I can't recall the person riding the motorcycle. Ray was dressed in a white suit, similar to his appearance on the 1978 Be Your Own Best Friend album.

Ray made a music video of the song in 1995 as part of his direct-to-video movie, Get Serious!. It's a whimsical music video, filled with plenty of sight gags, and the kinds of visuals you'd probably expect in a music video about the "Shriner's Convention" if you're as familiar with song as much as I am. The one thing that annoys me, though, is the outrageous accusations that some have made about this harmless, comical recording. If you're interested there's a webpage out there on the internet about "Shriner's Convention". The official YouTube upload of the music video, by the way, is released under the name raystevensmusic, all in lower case and without any separation. If you read the webpage I referred to you're going to see some far out commentary from those that are either on something or read far much into the song as originally intended. Some people's commentary about the song come across a bit disturbing, in my opinion. I've read more than one comment make the claim that the song promotes sadism (!) and conspiracy theorists charge that the song belittles the Shriner mission. There are those that have dedicated themselves, apparently, at using the commentary area of Ray's music video to presenting the history of Masons and Shriners...each commentary seemingly criticizing and or praising the history or vision of various groups...commentary that's actually much more suited to some sort of separate web site or blog site rather than in a comment area for a comical music video. Fortunately the official music video upload on YouTube doesn't contain the same sort of vitriolic commentary found on the webpage I referenced and in the comment sections of unofficial uploads of Ray's music video found across the internet on several video hosting sites.

Here's the official music video, from 1995...

At the moment the music video's gotten 898,127 unique views. The 1995 music video debuted on YouTube on July 23, 2009. As you can see, the music video's a little less than 2,000 shy from breaking into the 900,000 plateau. The actual total needed is 1,873.

Keep in mind that in addition to the 1995 re-recording there are 2 separate recordings of "Shriner's Convention" that appeared on vinyl in 1980. One recording has a more slower pace to the vocal delivery and another recording has a much more festive, party-like atmosphere and Ray's vocalization is much more peppy in that one, too. There's also an edit. In the original, slower paced recording Ray makes mention of The Knights of Columbus as being the organization that sent the redhead party crasher that Coy took a liking to but in all future performances he omits this section of the song. To make matters confusing for some there is the unedited original recording that mentions the Knights of Columbus and then there's the edited version that omits that line from the original recording...and then there's the peppy re-recording from 1980...and then a second re-recording from 1995, performed as a ballad once more but doesn't include the edited reference.

The slower pace version, both the edited and unedited copies, can be found on several compilation CD's: 1983's Greatest Hits on RCA, 1987's Greatest Hits on MCA and 1990's His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits on Curb Records. Each of those have a 1979 copyright. The peppy recording can be found on 1985's Collector's Series and it's 1987 re-issue, both issued by RCA. The 1995 re-recording can be found on the home video Get Serious!, it's also available on the audio soundtrack, and it can be found on later compilation CD's issued on Ray's Clyde Records label.

That concludes my Shriner's Convention celebration...a look into one of Ray's signature comedy classics which made it's debut on the country music chart on this date, 35 years ago, in 1980. Happy Anniversary to Coy, Charlene, the nameless mistress, and Bubba. Here's hoping Bubba finally discovers how Coy managed to get that motorcycle up on the high dive.

As all of us fans anxiously await the upcoming release of Ray's comedy CD, Here We Go Again, there's a little matter of keeping his current projects at the forefront, too. One of those projects is his successful memoir, Ray Stevens' Nashville. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry Ray is to be in Georgia this coming weekend for a series of book signing. He'll appear at 2 book stores on February 14th and he'll appear at a third book store on February 15th. If you need to find out more information you can click this LINK and it'll take you to the Events section of Ray's official website. Once there you'll be able to see each of the upcoming book signing appearances. You can purchase your copy of the book at his store which is also located at his official website. His site sells the hardcover edition and Amazon offers the Kindle e-book. Amazon used to have the softcover edition of the book for sale but it went out of stock several months after the book became available. If you purchase through Ray's store you have the option of having the book autographed. During the checkout process click on the appropriate selection to indicate you want an autographed copy of the book. Once you click the Events link to see information about his book signings all you'll have to do is click the Store tab up on the top right of the page and then open the Miscellaneous area. It's an easy site to navigate. Another project that should also be a part of any Ray Stevens collection is the CD titled Gospel Collection, Volume One. The gospel CD hit in the latter half of 2014 and it received a lot of publicity in the gospel music media and he made a couple of high profile appearances on gospel-flavored programming.

Apparently the CD, nor any song from it, was submitted for any of the gospel or inspirational categories at the Grammy awards as none of the songs or the CD itself received any nominations. I had hoped the song "If Jesus is a Stranger" would've been submitted as a nominee. The eligibility for the 2015 ceremony included music released from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014. Ray's gospel CD debuted in mid August of 2014...a month before the eligibility cut-off period for the 2015 awards.

The same omitted outcome held true at the Dove awards as none of the songs from the CD received a nomination but he attended the event as pictures of him at the gala surfaced on the internet. In one picture he's standing along side Pat Boone and gospel personality, Jason Crabb, backstage at the Dove awards. There were certainly more celebratory moments surrounding the CD, though, in spite of the shut-out at the awards ceremonies. Although the project, to date, hasn't been nominated for any award he did make an appearance on the Praise the Lord series, in an interview segment conducted by Jason Crabb. Topping that, Ray co-hosted the Inspirational Country Music Awards in October of 2014 and you can search the internet for pictures of Ray taken during the program and several before and after pictures, too.

The appearances no doubt created awareness for the CD amongst the public and at one point the CD ranked among the Top-50 on Amazon's sales lists for gospel music.

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