April 9, 2017

Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville Episode List...

Hello once again! Last night I seen episode 3 of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville which featured Bobby Bare as a guest. He sang "The Streets of Baltimore" and told a couple of stories of Nashville's past. He and Ray spoke of Mel Tillis and "Detroit City". Ray played a clip of Bobby performing the song on an episode of Ray's previous internet-only series, We Ain't Dead Yet. Ray performed a rhythm and blues classic, "Hi-Heel Sneakers", and later on performed "Mississippi Squirrel Revival". Earlier this morning I began thinking about Ray's current television series and it's history. It previously aired on RFD-TV...debuting on November 7, 2015. There happened to be at least 26 episodes (maybe more) that aired on the channel prior to it's RFD exit nearly a year later. It began airing on local PBS stations across the country in January of this year (starting with episode 1 from November 2015).

On Ray's main site there's a section focusing on his television series and it lists the first 12 episodes. You can access that page by clicking HERE. On that page there's a state by state list of PBS affiliates carrying Ray's series. Click on the name of the state to see the PBS affiliate. Given that the series hasn't been available on PBS for too long (since January) the number of markets isn't saturated across the country which obviously explains the reason a lot of states are missing from the line-up. Some states carry the program on more PBS affiliates than others. For example...if you click Oklahoma you'll see that 19 stations carry the program. There are 16 PBS stations in Kentucky that air the program. I can tune into the program via KET2, a sub-channel of WCVN.

A couple days ago the Inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame (class of 2017) were released. Going into the Hall of Fame this year are Alan Jackson, Jerry Reed, and songwriter Don Schlitz. Next week's episode of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville, by pure coincidence, guest stars Don Schlitz. Ray is not a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, by the way, but he's a member of other Halls of Fame and they're just as meaningful...but of course as a fan of his I'd love to see his name become enshrined as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame one day!

A couple months ago a 4 minute publicity video featuring snippets of Ray's television series appeared on YouTube. Some of the episodes spotlighted in this video clip have already aired on PBS and some have yet to air.

April 2, 2017

Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville successfully Recorded...

Hello once more...last week I wrote a post about my lack of experience setting up the DVR recording options and that the episode of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville that I thought would be taped didn't turn out as planned. As I had guessed all I had to do was change it's default setting from "record new episodes" to "record all episodes" and that did the trick. Obviously by having the episode recorded I loved having the opportunity to go back several hours later and watch the episode all over again. In case you missed it the April 1st airing guest starred Larry Gatlin. Ray opened the show singing "Such a Night" and later performed "It's Me Again, Margaret". In case you hadn't seen this episode yet keep your eyes open for Don Cusic. Interestingly Ray didn't do a live vocal impression of the telephone dial during "It's Me Again, Margaret" but instead had his recorded sound effect piped in through the sound system. In a segment referred to as the Video Jukebox Ray presented his music video of "Freddie Feelgood and His Funky Little Five Piece Band".

Larry Gatlin spoke about his career and his brothers, plus he did his impression of Mel Tillis in addition to mentioning Mickey Newbury (a noted songwriter). He sang a couple of lines of a song from the pen of Newbury, "American Trilogy", before launching into "All the Gold in California".  Throughout the episode there happened to be comical inserts of vintage comedy bits featuring Ray as Sickmind Fraud, a parody of Sigmund Freud.

Prior to and after the episode PBS aired commercials for The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the more broader Musicians Hall of Fame. Ray was elected a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980 (the same year he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame!). Also promoted, of course, was Ray's website. In addition to the publicity for the Halls of Fame and Ray's website he appears before and after the episode seated at his piano for exclusive footage introducing/closing the presentation. This footage is exclusive to it's PBS airings given that he asks viewers to stay tuned to their local PBS station. It's a syndicated series...airing on scattered PBS stations across the country and on whatever day and time a station chooses to air it. Those wraparound segments of Ray at his piano reminded me of the PBS airings of classic episodes of Lawrence Welk's program. Former cast members/associates of that series often appeared before and after the episode to talk about the show, etc.

Saturday night (April 1, 2017) happened to be the first time I'd been able to see a complete episode of Ray's television program. Over the years the thing that's been consistent from those that had previously seen the episodes on RFD-TV is their sentiment that "the episodes are too short" or "it needs to be an hour long". After finally being able to see an episode I agree...it did feel as if the half hour flew by...but only time will tell if he expands it to an hour. My overall reaction: it's sort of an informal formality...it's a top flight, formal program lacking the stuffiness or pompousness often associated with formality. That's the best way of describing my feel of the series...and I've had that opinion of the series solely based on the clips I'd seen on his YouTube channel...so to finally see an episode in it's entirety only helps to reinforce my earlier opinion. I can't wait to see the next episode on April 8th!!

Here are a couple of articles about the upcoming CabaRay Nashville venue...set to open at some point later this year. Once it opens, it's already been announced, that future episodes of his television series are going to be taped there.

The first article features comments from Ray's longtime business and songwriting partner, Buddy Kalb, plus comments from Bill Cody (WSM radio personality and the announcer of Ray's television series) and several others. The second article features comments from Ray himself. Each article appeared in the March 31st issue...so they're still "hot off the presses" as the saying goes.

Nashville Ledger Buddy Kalb

Nashville Ledger Ray Stevens

March 25, 2017

Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville and my DVR...

Hello all of the Ray Stevens out there! I've never claimed to be an expert in technology and so tonight I come sharing some embarrassing moments on my part. For months I've been awaiting for the debut of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville on one of the local PBS stations in the area. A couple of weeks ago I set up my DVR to record the program...I woke up Saturday night around 9pm and found out that the episode didn't tape!! March 25th (tonight) is the night it debuted on the local PBS station. Mad, upset, embarrassed...I decided to dive into the specifics/settings of the DVR. 

On the menu I selected recording options. A page opened up and there's an option for recording "new episodes" and one for recording "all episodes". The setting was checked for "new episodes" (it's default setting). Then, in a brain storm, I possibly realized the reason tonight's episode of Ray's television series didn't record. 

In the program description for the show it lists it's original air-date (last year). Remember, in case you all forgot, PBS is re-airing all of the episodes that originally aired on RFD-TV the last couple of seasons. So, given that the program description didn't list it as a "new episode" but instead listed a previously aired date I'm assuming that's the reason the DVR didn't tape the program. So, as an experiment, I selected "all episodes" and hit the save setting button. At the moment the DVR menu has next Saturday's episode scheduled for taping!! I'll give a report next Saturday night (April 1st) and let you all know if the DVR taped the episode or not. I'll be sure to watch the episode, too, as it's airing just in case the DVR doesn't tape it. Oh yes, I learned my lesson...but yet, as I pointed out, I never claimed to be an expert in technology.

March 5, 2017

Ray Stevens sings "Misty"...1976...

Hello to all the fans of Ray Stevens! I'm sure those of you in the Myrtle Beach area attended the Ray Stevens concert at The Alabama Theater last night (Saturday March 4th). Hopefully those that attended will make commentary on social media sites at some point so there can be some documentation about it.

I'm anxiously awaiting the debut of Ray Stevens' CabaRay Nashville on a local PBS affiliate in my area. I've been aware of this upcoming debut for several months. Ray's series once aired on RFD but it moved to scattered PBS affiliates across the country this past January. A lot of stations in the South and Southeastern half of the country, perhaps predictably, immediately added the program to their line-ups but surprisingly, the state I live in, hasn't added it...but a neighboring state whose local PBS station is carried by our cable provider is set to start airing it on March 25th.

A couple of days ago I came across a vintage performance by Ray Stevens from 1976. In the clip he performs "Misty"...and is introduced by Andy Williams. It hasn't been promoted much, if at all, and therefore it's only received less than 30 (!) unique views.

Update: I originally had a video embed posted here from YouTube but it's been removed from their site and the embed no longer worked and so I removed that portion of this blog entry. I'm replacing the video embed with an image of Ray from that performance, though...

It may be one of Ray's last televised performances as a Barnaby Records artist. The performance took place on February 28, 1976. I know that the label released a couple of singles on Ray very early in 1976. One of those, "Young Love", happened to crash into the charts for a couple of weeks in late January. It debuted on the pop chart on Ray's birthday of all days, January 24, but not long after that Barnaby issued "Mockingbird Hill" as the fourth single off of the 1975 Misty album but I don't know off the top of my head if the single happened to be an impact release or just something the label issued to fill out a contractual obligation.

Sometimes an artist, I assume, may have a specific amount of single releases and album releases for whatever label they're recording for but if an artist and label are in their "lame-duck" period, to borrow a political phrase, and are in the process of parting company the label usually will issue one last single release to fill out the quota but not promote it much, if at all, and afterward the label and artist part ways on friendly terms. Sometimes, though, a label may issue an additional single or even an album that isn't part of the contracted total to be released. Some artists shrug it off but some fight against it on the grounds of contract violations...but getting back to the label Ray recorded for...

Barnaby was founded by and owned by Andy Williams; and Ray signed on in 1970. Andy's brother, Don, became Ray's manager (an association that lasted for more than 20 years). Not coincidentally Ray hosted the summer program that aired in Andy's time-slot on NBC in 1970 (Ray had been a recurring music guest on Andy's television series since 1969 and continued in that capacity during the 1970-1971 season). After the release of "Mockingbird Hill", which didn't make the pop or country singles charts, Ray left for Warner Brothers records and a different chapter of his career began.

February 19, 2017

Ray Stevens and Marty Robbins...1977...

Hello once again!! Although Ray Stevens is busy behind the scenes getting things prepared for the next season of his television series there is another vintage appearance I'm about to promote on this fan-created blog. Call it perfect timing due to my habit of celebrating anniversaries involving Ray Stevens...but 40 years ago the one and only Ray Stevens was the featured Spotlight Artist on Marty Robbins obscure syndicated television series, Marty Robbins Spotlight. Late last year an episode spotlighting Chet Atkins appeared on YouTube and as a special guest, yes, it was Ray Stevens. I commented at the time that it would be great if the episode spotlighting Ray would appear on-line and like a wish come true such a thing happened this morning.

The episode is entertaining from start to finish. You don't ordinarily associate Ray with a Marty Robbins, for example, but this is another example of Ray's ability to adapt and interact with anybody. It reminds me of the time that Ray guest starred on an episode of George Jones' television series...there again he's appearing on a program hosted by someone you normally don't picture interacting together and yet the two come off as long-time friends. The same thing is true in the episode of Marty's program. Ray performs an outstanding "Feel the Music" and later, "Honky Tonk Waltz". He and Marty perform several bits together (a song medley, for example, features both of them at the piano) and there's an interview segment. One of the funniest parts of the episode is Ray in a trench coat, speaking in a thick German-American dialect, and performing a leg slapping routine. Throughout the segment featuring Ray and Marty at the piano the camera would frequently focus in on Marty's faux disbelief in hearing how varied Ray's musical styles happened to be...in the medley performance Ray gives his take on "What I'd Say" by Ray Charles and in a surreal moment Ray sings the first verse and chorus of "I Write the Songs", the smash hit recorded by Barry Manilow...why do I call it surreal? It's due to the fact that a couple of years after this episode aired Ray would record a song inspired by the sound and song titles from Barry's string of hits. Here is an example of one of those Marty Robbins comical looks of disbelief...

Marty's television series ran in syndication for a couple of years. I've seen information citing 26 episodes exist and other sources mention 24 episodes. I've even come across on-line sites stating the program has 52 episodes but I'm pretty sure only 24 (or 26) is the actual number. If anybody knows for sure how many actual half hour episodes of Marty Robbins Spotlight there happens to be leave a comment. It's a mystery to me, at least...and speaking of television programs...Ray himself has a television series...

Ray's television series, as a reminder, has jumped from RFD to PBS. It's been airing on scattered PBS stations since January after airing for a year and a half on RFD. The title has also changed from Ray Stevens' Nashville to Ray Stevens' CabaRay Nashville. The plan is to eventually tape episodes of the television series from the CabaRay venue.

Construction on his CabaRay entertainment venue is also well underway. It's still expected to open in the latter half of this year. Ray has periodically posted photo's of the venue's construction. The story of Ray embarking on construction of the venue broke in March of 2016 which is how the general public became aware but the most loyal of fans had been aware of the proposed venue for a couple of months prior. Does anyone not have the New Orleans Moon CD? In case this is all new to you the CD came out in 2007 as a salute to the music/culture of Louisiana a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina. The CD hit in March 2007 as an exclusive offered at Ray's web-store. It became available all over the internet in July of that year. It's been 10 years since it's release (technically a decade next month) but for the rest of this month (February) you can get the CD at a mark down price in celebration of Mardi Gras. I've been having a bit of trouble accessing the Store area of his website. Just in case you have the same trouble I'd suggest calling his office and ordering the CD over the phone. You can find ordering information/phone numbers at his official website by clicking HERE.

February 12, 2017

Ray Stevens: Such a Night at 35...

Earlier today via social media Ray Stevens made mention that on this date in 1980 "Shriner's Convention" debuted on the charts. The story of Coy, Bubba, Charlene, and a Harley motorcycle first graced the grooves of vinyl that year and it became a Top-10 hit. The album, Shriner's Convention, also hit the Top-10 of the Country Albums chart...the festive mood of a fictional Shrine convention described in song by Ray and the humorous happenings taking place at a fictional motel in Hahira, Georgia certainly captured the imagination of plenty of people. The song features a one-sided phone conversation between a couple of Shriner's. The Illustrious Potentate calls up Noble Lumpkin to ask about a series of incidents being reported in, each involving Lumpkin, that are giving the Shriner's a bad reputation. During the first conversation an irritated Potentate drops the formalities and reveals his name as Bubba and reveals Lumpkin's name as Coy. There are three one sided conversations in addition to Ray performing the song's verses and chorus. The song itself is more than 5 minutes in length...the actual length is 5 minutes, 33 seconds. The performance played on radio is an edited copy since the song had to be cut significantly for airplay. It was cut to 4 minutes, 10 seconds and even that length of time is a bit lengthy for a typical country music recording. I've posted vinyl images in the past of the full version and radio edit before.

Ray didn't produce a music video for the song until 15 years later. It debuted on a home video movie starring Ray titled Get Serious! in 1995. The movie became available on DVD for the first time a couple of years ago.

35 years ago Ray Stevens issued one of his greatest albums...an under-rated and under-appreciated project titled Don't Laugh Now. The song's are balanced in that there's a mixture of uptempo sing-a-longs and ballads. The album's opening track, "Such a Night", wasn't released as a commercial single but I'm guessing that it was a favorite of Ray's given his music background and love of classic rhythm and blues. The song even appears on the front of the album in the upper left hand side as if it's one of the songs that'll become a single release at some point; of the three songs highlighted in the upper left hand side of the album cover only one actually ended up being a single...the ballad "Written Down in My Heart".

The album's title is decked out in neon lettering and his performance and arrangement of "Such a Night" fits into that retro, classic rock sound as does another rocker song on here, "Take That Girl Away".

A couple of days ago somebody on YouTube uploaded a couple of vintage performances of Ray Stevens from 1982...and both songs come from Don't Laugh Now. I had seen one of those performances many years ago on The Nashville Network but I had never seen the second performance until a couple of days ago. In both instances the performances come from the long running syndicated series, That Nashville Music (1970-1985), as you'll see once you view the YouTube clips. Up first is his rousing performance of "Such a Night"...have your volume up...

The other performance is one of the single releases from the 1982 album. "Where the Sun Don't Shine" is a sing-a-long, hand clapping performance in the vein of southern gospel music but in reality it's a break-up song as Ray sings about everything he's going to voluntarily give to the ex-lover...and for good measure he tells her where she can put everything he's giving her. It should have been a much bigger hit...it stalled in the lower half of the Country Top 100 (this is back hen the country singles chart had 100 positions just like the Hot 100 pop chart). The upload has several glitches and it abruptly comes to an end...if you're familiar with the audio recording of the song you'll understand what I'm referring to. Nevertheless it's vintage early 1980's Ray Stevens...and I know you're all gonna love it as much as I do...

January 24, 2017

It's a Ray Stevens Birthday...

Hello one and all...today is the birthday of our fearless Entertainer, Ray Stevens. Born in Clarkdale, Georgia as Harold Ragsdale on January 24, 1939 the Georgia-born talent eventually became known all over the world as Ray Stevens. Music, one could say, has long been the life of Ray Stevens, too. His first recordings came along in 1957 on a small label called Prep Records. In my previous blog entry I made mention of the fact that 2017 marks Ray's 60th year in the music business...and he turns 78 today. Yes, if you do the math it's a fascinating tidbit of information. It means that 60 of Ray's 78 years on Earth have been spent in the music industry in some form or another. Given such a youthful start in the industry and being talented as a piano player (among several other instruments) it didn't take long for his presence on recording sessions to become something of a habit. He enrolled in Georgia State with the idea of studying music but during his college years he remained active as a recording artist on a series of record labels (Capitol, NRC, and eventually Mercury). A series of recordings from Ray hit the market...everything from love ballads aimed at teenagers to rhythm and blues...one obscure recording during this period happened to be an off the wall effort called "Cholly Wolly Chang", a blend of Hong Kong culture set to rock music. Ray's early recordings (1957-1960) can be found on CD but you'll have to dedicate yourself to finding the various CD's available that contain those early recordings. There is a CD from just a couple of years ago that includes the obscurities from that period and it's called Ahab, Jeremiah, Sgt. Preston and more...The Early Ray Stevens. The CD hit in 2014 and it's available on AMAZON. The site states that there's only 7 copies left and so if you're a devoted fan of Ray Stevens but haven't heard some his recordings from 1957-1960 then get that CD as soon as possible!!

As mentioned in the previous paragraph Ray recorded for a series of labels under the guidance of Bill Lowery. Prior to Ray's debut on vinyl in 1957 he had become something of a local celebrity thanks in part to radio station WGPC. In his memoir, Ray Stevens' Nashville, he recalls the time that he was promised a slot on the radio station on the condition that he find a female co-host. The radio program was described by Ray as a kind of sock hop and his role was simply to play rock music and rhythm and blues songs currently on jukeboxes nationally and locally. For those curious you can read the memories of the co-host, Mary Dale Vansant, by clicking this LINK. The link takes you to Albany High Times and their page devoted to that sock hop radio program she and Ray hosted. He began recording for the NRC label in the middle part of 1959 following brief stints on Capitol (1958) and Prep (1957). A recording for NRC in 1960 nearly became a national hit...a novelty called "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". The single began appearing on the national radar and had climbed a special chart called Bubbling Under the Hot 100. This chart listed specific single releases that had began to break all over the country but hadn't obtained the sales requirements necessary to move onto the "big chart" as they called it. Ray had to take his recording off the market (well, NRC did) after the copyright holders of the Sgt. Preston character objected to the use of their property in the recording.

Ray's first Hot 100 hit arrived in 1961. For those that don't follow music popularity charts the Hot 100 is the name of the chart that lists the best-selling songs across the country in all formats. Chart methodologies have come and gone since then but in 1961 the chart was still largely being based on sales. The higher the sales the more likely pop music stations would play the song...and the airplay exposure, in theory, would increase sales even more. Ray often recalls that his near-hit with Sgt. Preston inspired him to try novelty songs and see if that would do the trick and get him national attention. Prior to that next release, however, he switched record labels. He departed NRC for the much more commercially successful and mainstream label, Mercury. Still living in Georgia in 1961 his debut for Mercury happened to be a novelty song...with a title that tested the memory of many disk jockeys and listeners and, also, tested their breathing control, too. The song's title?? None other than "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsatured Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills". The song is appropriately abbreviated by many of us fans and we refer to it simply as "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills". The single hit the Hot 100...and climbed into the radio-driven Top-40! It opened the door...but the follow-up, "Scratch My Back", failed to scratch the charts, sad to say. The song is highly entertaining as is it's B-side...his version of "When You Wish Upon a Star". Ray moved to Nashville, Tennessee in January 1962...and he began a lengthy association with Shelby Singleton. Ray eventually became an A and R man for the label. In this role he found songs for artist's to record, assisted in production of the recordings, and as a session musician he played on other artist's records. One of his first sessions at Mercury included his recording of "Ahab the Arab". The song turns 55 this year. On the same day he also played on the recordings of "Wooden Heart", a song recorded by Joe Dowell and the massive Leroy Van Dyke hit, "Walk on By".

"Ahab the Arab" became a million selling Top-5 pop hit and it crossed over to the Rhythm and Blues chart and in the summer of 1962 it made him a star overnight as the saying goes. The song inspired an assortment of properties. His music publishing company had the name Ahab Music Company (BMI) until the mid 1970s when it changed to the more business-sounding Ray Stevens Music (BMI). Ray has several music publishing outlets but the bulk of the songs are published under Ray Stevens Music. The camel in "Ahab the Arab", Clyde, became the name of his personal record label in 1988. In 1991 he opened up a theater in Branson, Missouri. The design was inspired by the desert imagery mentioned in "Ahab the Arab" and throughout the venue one could see imagery that could've come directly out of Arabian Nights or Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Clyde the camel became his logo. Clyde Records gained it's first taste of profit in 1992/1993 during the VHS explosion in Ray's career. After the major record labels refused to finance/promote a home video from Ray titled Comedy Video Classics he took matters into his own hands and released the VHS on his own label, Clyde Records. This home video led to other home video releases...sold directly to customers through television commercials and print advertisements. By the mid 1990s he had sold more than 3,000,000 home videos through direct marketing. Comedy Video Classics, Ray Stevens Live!, and Get Serious! are landmarks in home video marketing. Clyde Records became something of a stand-by for Ray throughout the '90s and 2000s. If he happened to not be signed to a major label but wanted to release new music for the fans he'd simply release the music through mail-order via his fan club and later, after the fan club dissolved, he'd sell his music through his own website.

Some of the career milestones for Ray Stevens include record, single, and home video sales of a combined 20 million. 2 Grammy awards: a 1971 win for "Everything is Beautiful" and a 1976 win for "Misty". 3 Gold Singles: "Gitarzan" (1969), "Everything Is Beautiful" (1970), and "The Streak" (1974). Numerous Gold and Platinum albums and home videos (throughout the '80s and '90s). The fan-voted Music City News Country Awards honored Ray as Comedian of the Year for 9 consecutive years (1986-1994). In 2012 he released a 9-CD box set, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music, a beautiful salute to comedy and novelty songs both past and present. Ray performs his versions of many, many, many novelty songs made popular by other artists plus he offers some of his own recordings, too. He hosted a summer television series for Andy Williams in 1970. In the latter half of 2014 he started hosting Ray Stevens' Nashville on the RFD cable channel. The series ran on RFD for a season and a half. In late 2016 the series became associated with PBS and this month (January 2017) it started popping up on scattered PBS stations across the country. The program's title has changed to Ray Stevens' CabaRay Nashville

In 2009 Ray added another dimension to his career...he began to release music video content on-line...specifically on the video hosting site, YouTube. At first he issued music videos from his past but in late 2009 he released a new recording, "We the People", and it's music video took off in a tremendous way. He became hot on the internet...releasing a string of music video content taking jabs at the Obama Administration and becoming a headliner at several Tea Party and Conservative events. Oh yes...saying that he added political humor to his career in 2010 is a huge understatement...the YouTube music videos he released during that time period, 2010-2013, became viral video sensations. Nearly all of them have obtained more than a million unique views (some topping more than three million!). At some point this year (2017) Ray's entertainment venue, CabaRay, is set to open. It's still under construction on River Road in Nashville. His television program, according to some reports, is eventually going to start taping at that venue and he's moving his offices and recording equipment from his longtime studio in Nashville to the CabaRay venue.

Happy Birthday to the one and only Ray Stevens!! May he forever remain creative, compelling, unpredictable, and entertaining!! Here's also hoping his television series comes to a PBS station in my area! Check your local PBS stations and see if you are receiving the program!

January 1, 2017

Ray Stevens and the New Year: 2017...

Happy New Year to all of you fans of Ray Stevens!! Much like in year's past I usually start off each new year with a blog entry centering around the past, present, and future in the career of Ray Stevens. Of course I don't spend too much on the future due to the fact that you can't predict the future...especially when it concerns the unpredictable Ray Stevens...so, let's take a look at some songs celebrating anniversary milestones...

The milestone that I want to focus on the most in this specific blog entry centers around 2017 marking the 60th anniversary of Ray's debut on records. Oh yes...you read that correctly...2017 marks Ray's Diamond Anniversary in the music business. Admittedly those early recordings (1957-1960) carry a regional/local flavor without the later polished production values that became synonymous with his recordings but everyone has a starting point...but in saying that it doesn't mean that those early recordings are no good or not entertaining...they just happen to be recordings without a whole lot of production put into them.

The recording that's singled out as his first commercial release arrived in 1957 on the Prep label, a subsidiary of Capitol Records. Given my weakness for wordplay Ray's Diamond Anniversary revolves around a song called "Silver Bracelet". The song, penned by Ray, is all about a trinket that high school kids carried around with the name of their boyfriend/girlfriend listed on it. In the recording you'll hear the heavy use of rhythm and blues and backup singers that dominated a lot of Ray's single releases in the late '50s. Although the song is all about a "Silver Bracelet", something positive and uplifting in a young relationship of the time, you can't help but sense that there's a hidden concern of upcoming break-up due to the line "oh, don't ever lose my bracelet...my Silver Bracelet...". A fellow fan of Ray Stevens that I've known of, on-line, for 10 years or longer posted a video montage clip of "Silver Bracelet" on YouTube back in April of 2011. I've been on-line since 2002...back then I happened to be on a Web-TV...I didn't get onto a personal computer until sometime in 2005 or 2006. So it's hard to tell exactly at what point I first interacted, on-line, with this person but it's been nearly 10 years. Here's the video he put together of "Silver Bracelet" in 2011...

The B-side of "Silver Bracelet", for those curious, is a novelty recording. Although not necessarily laugh out loud funny or bizarre it's an offbeat recording...and in those days music critics and radio DJ's collectively referred to those kinds of recordings as being 'novelty' rather than 'serious' or 'thought provoking'. The B-side is "Rang Tang Ding Dong (I'm the Japanese Sandman)". As mentioned Ray's early recordings featured a heavy dose of rhythm and blues, doo-wop, and frenetic arrangements and vocalizations indicative of the era in pop music overall. Ray's early recordings can be found on a CD titled Ahab, Jeremiah, Sgt. Preston and more... The Early Ray Stevens on Jasmine Records. I gave a lot of space to that particular CD during the lead-up to release and on release day back in 2014. You can find that CD at Amazon and other on-line retail outlets.

Having a year marking your Diamond Anniversary as a professional recording artist is amazing enough but 2017 will also mark the re-launch of Ray's television program. Previously airing on RFD-TV as Ray Stevens' Nashville the program is being re-launched on PBS this month as Ray Stevens' CabaRay Nashville. As mentioned in a couple of previous blog entries there's a PBS affiliate in my area that has Ray's television series listed on their site but there's not been any information posted on it's debut date. The publicity for the program states that it's to start airing on PBS, nationally, starting in January 2017. I'm anxiously awaiting for the moment to arrive in which his television program begins to air. He produced more than a season's worth of television programs for RFD-TV. His production cycle happened to be all his own, too. Rather than taping 26 episodes a season and then having those episodes rerun to fill a 52 week calendar year, as is the norm all across commercial television, Ray's series would air first-run episodes for 13 weeks. This would then be followed by 13 weeks of repeats. Then, at week 27 in the television season, when almost all of the television programs would be entering their 26 week long rerun period, Ray would emerge with 13 first-run episodes...and those episodes would then repeat to fill out a 52 week calendar year.

Returning to the past again...2017 marks anniversary number 55 for good ol' "Ahab the Arab"...the 1962 hit from Ray Stevens in which he built a much bigger career. For Ahab not only became a Top-10 pop and Rhythm and Blues hit it would eventually lead to logo's and career trademarks for Ray over the next 5 decades. "Ahab the Arab" is the song that made Ray Stevens 'a star overnight' as the saying goes. Although Ahab wasn't his first comical or first novelty recording it became the song that at long last created national awareness for Ray and sent him to places outside the regional areas of the South (Ray was born in Clarkdale, Georgia as Harold Ragsdale on January 24, 1939). The Ahab recording became a million selling hit and his second Top-40 pop hit for Mercury Records following 1961's "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills".

An album turning 20 this year, Hum It, from 1997 features 9 comical recordings and one seriously infectious homage to the Old South...notable among those recordings happen to be "Too Drunk To Fish", the official music video from 1997 became a hit on YouTube more than 10 years later...November 2009 marks it's YouTube debut; "Virgil and the Moonshot", a send-up of NASA and coinciding with all the hype and celebration surrounding the Apollo-13 movie...the 1997 music video hit YouTube in May 2011; "Mama Sang Bass" is a parody of the Johnny Cash country music classic "Daddy Sang Bass". Ray's recording features J.D. Sumner in the vocal role of Mama. The song is about hormonal imbalances. The non-comical but still upbeat recording found on Hum It is "I'll Be in Atlanta". It paints a picture with words concerning a fictional but modern-day twist on the lives of Rhett, Scarlett, Ashley, Prissy, Melanie, Frank and all the rest as it's as much a salute to the classic film, Gone with the Wind, as is it a salute to the Dixieland music sounds of the South. The music arrangement is definitely Dixieland inspired.

Later this month Ray Stevens reaches 78...on January 24th. As time gets closer to that date I'll be posting a birthday blog entry...and perhaps by then we'll have more detailed information about his re-launched television series and it's PBS airing. As always I'm looking forward to what the new year holds in store in the career of Ray Stevens. Perhaps a much anticipated CD, one that's to feature a specific music genre that he spoke about nearly 5 years ago, is to be forthcoming this year!?! He spoke of a CD in the works a couple of years ago and even issued a music video of one of the songs from this forthcoming CD as a teaser but so far a full-length CD of music hasn't emerged. Is 2017 going to be the year it arrives?? Stay tuned...