Hello once more...last night Ray Stevens happened to be in Renfro Valley, Kentucky performing at the venue in Mount Vernon. I wasn't able to attend this time around but I've attended several of his previous concerts in Renfro Valley. I was, of course, seated in front of my television at 8pm last night catching the latest episode of Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville. This particular episode carried a gospel theme and it guest starred a Contemporary Christian icon, Michael W. Smith.
Ray opened the show singing "Dry Bones". Now, this is a song that I first heard Ray perform at a telethon hosted by Gary Chapman several years ago. I did some research and it was actually 6 years ago (2011) on a telethon called Somebody Cares for the Southeast. Ray eventually recorded the song and it appears on 2012's The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music and the Gospel Collection CD from 2014. It appeared on the Encyclopedia project because of it's lighthearted and whimsical overtone...and how some consider it a gospel novelty song. Ray also performed "This Old House", a legendary hit by Rosemary Clooney and other recording artists but she had the biggest hit (featuring bass vocals from Thurl Ravenscroft) and then there's the recording by the song's writer, Stuart Hamblen, which wasn't a hit but it's a recording I also love to hear. It's been recorded by numerous artists and other performer's have had hits with the song but I singled out those 2 recordings from Rosemary Clooney and Stuart Hamblen because those are the recordings I was more familiar with...that is until Ray recorded his version of the song! Ray's version appears on Just a Closer Walk with Thee/Gospel Favorites, a CD from the summer of last year.
Michael W. Smith is brought out after Ray makes mention of Smith's legendary career in gospel music. He cited that Michael had won a lot of Dove Awards (the leading awards organization in gospel music...winning 45 as of 2015) and he also made mention that Michael has racked up 31 number one hits in his career and sold millions of albums (14 gold and 5 platinum albums). They spoke about a couple of CD's...Hymns and Hymns II-Shine On Us. Michael made mention of the exclusive sale of the CD's through the Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants. Ray mentioned that his latest gospel recordings had originally been meant as a double CD of 24 songs but at the last minute they decided to break them up into 2 separate volumes: Gospel Collection (2014) and Just a Closer Walk with Thee/Gospel Favorites (2016).
Ray speaks about his first gospel album in 1972, Turn Your Radio On, after Albert Brumley is brought up in a conversation. He tells Michael that the record company (Barnaby) didn't want him to issue a gospel song or an entire gospel album "because you're not a gospel singer, etc." and at the time they didn't feel a gospel recording would go over well with a pop music audience. Ray mentioned that he recorded "I'll Fly Away" for that record, too. They both perform "I'll Fly Away" (Ray sang background vocals and played piano as Michael sang) and this was followed by a solo performance from Michael seated at Ray's piano performing "Shine On Us".
After the stirring performance of "Shine On Us" it was time for some lighthearted fun with a presentation of the animated music video of "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?". This was followed by the Professor Cusic segment. He gave some background on one of the writers of "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?", Margaret Archer, and he delivered one of the funniest exit lines by asking if anyone's ever heard of Ray's television show. Some of his commentary went something like this: "Did you know that one of the writers of Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?, Margaret Archer, is a part of the staff of Ray's CabaRay Nashville television show. Have you seen it?". The poker face he gives the camera is priceless. Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer are the writers of the song, by the way.
Upon that introduction Ray performs "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" standing up. I say that because he's usually seated at the piano when he performs the song. There happened to be just a slight re-arrangement (to my ears) but the overall execution of the song remained the same as Ray's original recording from 1987 during the various televangelist scandals.
Next week's episode is going to guest star B.J. Thomas. Those of you who are long time fans of Ray should know the unique connection between Ray and B.J. but if you don't I'll briefly inform you that it has to do with "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" (a song from the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie) but B.J. had also recorded one of Ray's songs, too, before that. Stay tuned!