October 24, 2020

Ray Stevens: New Contract with Curb Records...

Well, hello all of you Ray Stevens fans!! As the title of this blog entry makes mention of Ray Stevens is once again signed with Curb Records. This label goes back into the history of Ray's career to 1990. It was in 1990 when Ray was first signed to Curb Records and this year, 2020, obviously marking 30 years since he first recorded for them, and, it's been the label upon which he's returned multiple times throughout the years. A lot of the return engagements with Curb Records after 1996 were mostly taken up with DVD releases of his animated music videos. He recorded three studio albums for Curb Records, initially, in the years of 1990, 1991, and 1993. When Ray was releasing VHS tapes in the same period of time on his own Clyde Records label through direct marketing the retail in-store distribution was handled by Curb Records. In addition to the studio albums and VHS releases Curb also issued three compilation projects on Ray during the years of 1990, 1991, and 1996. An audio track of his 1993 VHS release was issued on cassette and CD in 1995. An overview of most of his recordings for Curb Records was issued in 1995. I'd written several blog entries in the past, available in the archives, of Ray's years on Curb Records. When he joined the label in 1990 it was in partnership with Capitol Records, too. The first two studio albums from Ray after he joined Curb were officially under the Curb/Capitol label. Ray's early to mid 1990s era was filled with a whole lot of activity...not necessarily with audio recordings, though. In 1991 he opened up a theater in Branson, Missouri and it became one of the biggest hits of the town. He began making music videos and releasing VHS tapes of video content in this time period. You'll see the specific VHS and later, DVD, titles that Ray released through Curb Records. The VHS tapes were distributed by Curb Records following a year and a half direct marketing campaign under Ray's own label. Comedy Video Classics, issued on Clyde Records in 1992, was distributed by Curb Records in 1993, for example. Here's a look at the studio albums, compilation albums, and VHS tapes that Curb Records has issued on Ray Stevens since 1990. I'm not going to include studio albums that Curb later re-issued. He's had a lot of products released through Curb Records! Here we go: 

His All Time Greatest Comic Hits; 1990 (Gold album)

Lend Me Your Ears; 1990

Number One With a Bullet; 1991

Greatest Hits; 1991

Comedy Video Classics; 1993 VHS (Triple-Platinum; retail distribution)

Classic Ray Stevens; 1993 (studio album of new recordings; title refers to the cover art)

Ray Stevens Live!; 1994 VHS (Double-Platinum; retail distribution)

20 Comedy Hits; 1995

Ray Stevens Live!; 1995 (audio track of the 1993 home video)

Great Gospel Songs; 1996

Osama Yo' Mama; 2002

The Complete Comedy Video Collection; 2004 DVD

The New Battle of New Orleans; 2005 (CD single)

Box Set; 2006

Gourmet Restaurant; 2006 DVD

Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens; 2006 DVD

Greatest Hits; 2008

Everything is Beautiful; 2020 (On-line single)

This brings us to the last product on that list...the upcoming 50th anniversary single release of "Everything is Beautiful". The original recording hit in 1970 on Barnaby Records. There will also be a further release featuring a medley of "Everything is Beautiful" and "United We Stand" but I didn't list it because there's not been a time frame issued on it's release date. In an article published by Music Row magazine it suggests that there will be further projects by Ray on Curb Records. This 50th anniversary single is just the first project Curb is releasing. The single will be released on October 30th...next Friday. I'm eagerly anticipating what further projects will be coming down the line from Ray Stevens while on Curb Records. You can click the link and read the Music Row article by clicking HERE

October 21, 2020

Ray Stevens: Hilarious Halloween...

It's something of a tradition to write a Ray Stevens blog entry with a Halloween theme. Ray has recorded a few songs that either tie into Halloween or he's recorded songs whose titles fit the occasion. If we go back to 1964 there's a novelty song on the B-side of "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer" called "Laughing Over My Grave". The single was issued by Mercury Records. The A-side or B-side of this single wasn't part of any Ray Stevens album in the early '60s. The A-side began showing up on compilation albums released by Mercury Records and their subsidiary labels in the late '60s. The B-side was never issued on any future album until a Halloween themed various artists collection came along many decades later. If you search Amazon's digital music department you won't find "Laughing Over My Grave" available as an Mp3 anymore. That Halloween various artists compilation isn't available for purchase anymore. Ray uploaded an audio of the song on YouTube last year. 

In the earlier recordings from Ray Stevens he did what I'd call textbook novelty songs. As time has passed a lot of music historians and listeners, in general, have labeled any song with a comical overtone as 'novelty' but in reality that label applies to certain types of songs. A song based on a current trend or a fad is described as a novelty song because the subject matter is tied to something that's seen as a novelty (something unusual)...it doesn't mean a novelty song is automatically going to be laugh out loud comical. Anyway, "Laughing Over My Grave" would be considered something of a novelty record even though it's not humorous when you listen to it. The laughing that you hear is jarring but it's also comical. 

The 1964 recording was produced by Shelby Singleton as you can see on the image in the video embed. Ray wrote the song and he also wrote the A-side, "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer". At the time of this single's release Ray was signed to Monument Records as a music arranger and session musician while Mercury Records continued to control the release of his audio recordings. In 1965 Ray released two Halloween style novelty records on Mercury Records: "Rockin' Teenage Mummies" and "Mr. Baker the Undertaker".

As you can see this novelty record was produced by Shelby Singleton and Jerry Kennedy. Ray, to date, hasn't uploaded an audio clip of "Mr. Baker the Undertaker" and so I uploaded an audio clip of the song by some other YouTube member. It's audio is top quality as if it's been digitally remastered but I haven't seen any CD or Mp3 of this recording...so I don't know how the audio got cleaned up without much vinyl scratches or hissing detected. In the meantime "The Rockin' Teenage Mummies" was uploaded onto the Ray Stevens YouTube channel last year, too. This particular novelty revisits the Arabic theme and cadence of "Ahab the Arab" but this time around Ray tells us about a rock group, The Mummies, who wear band-aids instead of cloth rags...and one member of the group moans in displeasure when the screaming girls trying to rip the band-aids off. 'Ouch!!!!'. 

Now then...those early/mid '60s Halloween style novelty records were peculiar and off-the-wall. Ray and Buddy Kalb came up with what might be the quintessential Halloween novelty in 1988. If given a fair hearing it could rival "Monster Mash" and "Monster's Holiday". In 1988 Ray recorded "The Booger Man"...within the lyrics of the song Ray name drops a series of famous monsters and ghoulish creatures. By song's end we're informed that a man and a woman are out on a date. They're sitting inside a car...parked in the woods...and the man warns his girlfriend that "The Booger Man" may be out there and so she better slide even closer for protection against the creature. The song, as you'll hear, has a heavy harmonica presence and Ray vocally delivers the song in a bluesy rendition. Watch out...the Booger Man's gonna get'cha! 

October 18, 2020

Ray Stevens: Gene Watson CabaRay Nashville performance...

Hello once again!! After posting my previous blog entry I noticed that I didn't start off that blog with a greeting of any kind. This past week (October 11th) was the 77th birthday of the legendary country music singer, Gene Watson. If you follow Gene's career you'll know that he still records and before the pandemic came along he was still actively touring all over the country. In his career he's had 48 chart hits between the years 1975 and 1997. He had a little bit of difficulty getting his records on the radio for a brief period of time in the mid 1980s but he managed to rack up additional Top-40 country hits throughout the remainder of the '80s...with occasionally some of them reaching the Top-10...but the bulk of his biggest hits were within a 10 year period, 1975-1985. 

He would have one more Top-10 hit after 1985, "Don't Waste It on The Blues", in 1988. That was his 20th and final Top-10 single. He reached number one just once on the U.S. Billboard Country chart with a single titled "Fourteen Carat Mind" in 1981. He had reached number one for the first time on Canada's Country chart in 1977 with "Paper Rosie", a single that hit the Top-5 here in the U.S. 

The hit that's considered his signature song, "Farewell Party", peaked in the Top-5 in 1979. A lot of people mistakenly think it hit number one. Gene guest starred on the Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville television series and performed two songs. In this video clip it contains Ray interviewing Gene and a performance of "Farewell Party". That song's been recorded by a wide variety of entertainers: Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Bush, Waylon Jennings...just to name a few. Gene, if you didn't already know, is a huge fan of the late country music legend, George Jones. One of Ray's background vocalists, Sheri Copeland, shares a past with both George Jones and Gene Watson. In this clip you'll see Sheri and Gene discussing their past and their friendship with George. 

Gene prefers to remain true to the honky-tonk sounds in country music and to remain a traditionalist...some of his solid country recordings in the latter half of the 1980s clashed with the slicker sounds heard on 'New Country' radio stations...which explain why so many of his singles were hitting but yet were peaking in the lower rungs of the chart. If he'd only had airplay support at the time a lot of those singles that peaked outside the Top-10 would've no doubt been strong Top-10 performers and more widely known. The 1990s, however, were a different story for almost everyone in the country music business who had their professional debuts 20 to 30 years earlier. He's become involved with country gospel music in a really big way. He unexpectedly hit number one in the latter half of 2016 with a gospel flavored single from the pen of Larry Gatlin, "Help Me". He hit the top of the Cashbox Christian Country chart. He then issued a CD titled My Gospel Roots in 2017. One of the single releases, "Old Roman Soldier", became another chart topping hit in 2018...reaching number one on the Cashbox Country Christian chart. Cashbox is only available as a digital trade publication. Gene followed that single with another number one hit on Cashbox's Country Christian chart: "Build My Mansion Next Door to Jesus". On receiving the news it's reported that he remarked "I'd never, ever hit number one three times in a row in my entire career!!". Gene became a member of the Grand Ole Opry this year. Now that I've written a lot about Gene Watson...here he is on Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville...