June 30, 2009

Ray Stevens: One For the Road, Part Two

Photobucket As those who are familiar with my Ray Stevens blog entries will know, I've been awaiting the Ray Stevens truck driver CD, One For the Road, for awhile. I felt as if I would have to wait until after Labor Day before I could purchase it...but then several days ago the CD came up for sale on Ray's web-site store. A lot of Ray's contemporary projects, which include both CD and DVD, can be purchased at his on-line store.

Anyway, I went ahead and put in an order for my copy and as I mentioned in a previous blog. The CD arrived on Monday June 29th. It contains 15 songs as I mentioned in a previous blog. In the picture above that's me showing off the inside fold-out cover where the song titles are listed and the writer and publisher credits are shown. There are several songs on here published by ASCAP, which is unusual in a lot of Ray's recordings because his songs typically are affiliated with BMI. There are also quite a few "newcomers" as far as songwriting input is concerned.

The CD opens up with "Concrete Sailor", which up to this point had only been available as an MP3 at Ray's web-site store and a free download at that! Shame on those who never took advantage of the offer...as of this writing you can still receive a free MP3 download of the song if you sign up for his newsletter but with the full CD now available I'd opt for purchasing One For the Road instead. In the second picture, that's me making faces again...since Ray made a face in the picture that appears on the back of the CD, I felt like making faces was a logical way to go.

"Convoy", a song published by SESAC, was a huge hit for C.W. McCall in the mid 1970's during the CB craze. Ray doesn't use a CB effect like McCall did when talking back and fourth, making it sound like it was recorded using an actual CB...instead, we hear a vocal effect that you'd hear on a dispatcher's microphone. It's a worthy cover version, though...and Ray offers some dirty laughs at various spots throughout the recording. For those unaware, "Convoy" is a tale about two truckers: one named Pig Pen and the other named Rubber Duck.

Photobucket The third song mixes trucker lingo, CB's, and religion all into one performance. ASCAP is listed as a publisher of "The Right Reverend Road Hog McGraw". The songwriting credits go to Brent Baxter, Matt Cline, and Anthony Orio. It's quite a song that tells the story of a trucking preacher who rolls across the nation spreading salvation. The writers sample lyrics from an earlier Ray Stevens song, "The Dooright Family", and insert a familiar phrase at various times in the song.

Now, track number four will blow you away...it's an up-tempo bluesy number called "Cooter Brown". It features a prominent piano in the background...well...the usual arrangement for what some call classic R&B. It's all about an alcoholic trucker whose proud of his tattoo that states "please don't let me drive". Vic Waters is listed as the songwriter and Ray's publishing company is listed as a co-publisher. Vic is one of the new names to me among the songwriters who are typically associated with Ray in addition to the writer's of "Right Reverend Road Hog McGraw" and another song found on here, track number 10, "Never Too Late". This song is inspirational in a kind of way...the melody/arrangement makes me think of a sing-a-long 1930's pop ballad. The song is about how it's never too late to live your life the way you want. The song is another ASCAP publishing performance...and the writers are Janice Carnes, Rick Carnes, and John Barranco.

Backing up to track number six we have "Hanging Around" which is a chilling song about two women and a man. One woman's name is Sadie while another woman simply is referred to as Lady and the man involved is Tony. The sheriff's name is Grady. The song deals with murderous goings-on in a small south Georgia town. The song carries that 'deep, dark secret' vibe throughout the performance. Ray and Buddy Kalb wrote the song. Track number eleven, "Retired", may be familiar already to some. Ray originally did this song as a duet with Brent Burns. The song was written by Brent and another writer, Bill Whyte. In this performance, Ray tackles the song solo. It's a song about being retired and all of the quirks, aches, ailments, and some satisfaction being a senior citizen. The song ties in with a TV comedy Ray is shopping around called We Ain't Dead Yet. He often appears on talk-shows wearing a hat promoting the un-sold show.

"Hang Up and Drive" and "Bon Temps Roulette" are recordings from 2000 that were added to the CD due to their connection to the travel/trucker theme of the project.

Photobucket "Oh Lonesome Me" is an update...he originally recorded his version of the song back in 1975 on his Misty album. The song retains it's arrangement...sang as a slow ballad with up-tempo passages sprinkled in throughout. It's a worthy update...a song added to the CD because often times truck driver's get lonely.

"Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again" is an up-date, too...he originally tackled this song with a boogie-woogie flavor in 1990 but here he changes tempo and adds in a few words here and there that are missing in the original. An updated "Mary Lou Nights", a song he wrote that originally appeared on his under-rated and out of print Me album from 1983 closes out the official CD as track number 12. There are three bonus tracks...his 1992 re-recordings of: "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", "It's Me Again, Margaret", and "The Streak".

All in all it's a great trucker CD that seamlessly goes from one song to the next. As Ray often mentioned, not every song on here is a trucker song...but by and large traveling and being away from home and lonely runs rampant through a lot of the songs. There are at least two songs Ray recorded in his past that would have been great additions to this project: 1973's "Love Me Longer" about a man on the road who cheats on his wife with a married woman. 1977's "Road Widow" is about a musician on the road and because his presence at home is dead, he refers to his wife as a road widow in the song. However, those two songs were not re-recorded for this collection.

One For The Road is one for your collection.

June 25, 2009

Ray Stevens: You gotta feel the music...

One of the several under-rated albums in the career of Ray Stevens is this one from 1977. Feel The Music was unique as you can see...Ray's picture didn't appear on the front of the album. Instead, Ray's picture appeared on the back...a publicity picture of sorts. The album consisted of 10 love ballads and a couple of inspirational songs, which the title track, "Feel the Music", falls under. It was released on the Warner Brothers label and it featured two chart singles. "Get Crazy With Me" and "Dixie Hummingbird" were released as singles from this album...although neither of the songs reached Top-40 status, "Dixie Hummingbird" came the closest...peaking in the Top-45. The song carried a bluesy feel and it featured several places in the song where Ray hums along to the rhythm while a saxophone is heard as the lead accompaniment. It's a sexy song, actually, if you pay attention to the lyrics and I imagine that underlying element is what caused it to connect with some country music buyers in 1977. Given that Ray has an expressive voice you can tell he's got a grin on his face while singing various parts of the song. The title track, "Feel the Music", starts out with just a piano and Ray asking if anyone out there's ever felt as if they don't belong and if they're living for themselves or living to please someone else. If so, that's when you gotta feel the music...and not waste time trying to be what others wish you to be.

The thing about Ray is that chart positions and critical acclaim didn't seem to be as important to him as the song itself. As I've mentioned in several other blog entries, Ray wanted the songs he recorded to sound great, whether they were commercial or not. In some circles, commercialism isn't looked at too highly by the pop music purists who feel an artist should write or perform songs based on their personal feelings, not based on the "current sound" or what might get radio airplay. Again, much like the argument over what's considered off-limits for comedy, commercialism vs. non-commercialism is an argument that's debatable with no end in sight.

Photobucket This is an image of the actual Feel The Music album. The picture at the start of the blog is a copy of the publicity poster that Warner Brothers issued along with the vinyl album. "Get Crazy With Me" featured a rather alternative arrangement...something you'd not expect to hear on a Ray Stevens song. I can't really describe the arrangement...it has a lot of new-age instrumentation...if that's the correct phrase to describe it. The synthesizer and other instruments are heard throughout this particular recording. As a commercial single it peaked in the Top-80 on the country music chart...which meant that it didn't really have much radio airplay, if any at all, but because it was a single on a major record label and Ray having an established career and audience, it shown some signs of sales and it sort of charted on the strength of early sales reports and maverick airplay.

In addition to "Feel The Music" being inspirational, we have the gospel feel of "Save Me From Myself" which incorporates a lot of over-dubbing on the part of Ray. He performed all the voices in this song, from tenors to bass, spliced them all together and created the gospel choir effect. The song is about two people separating...and the man asking for help because he can't see any point in anything anymore. "Set The Children Free" is in the inspirational vein as well. This song is about adults setting the children inside ourselves free...it's basically a song that says that it's okay for adults to have fun and act like kids every now and then. Some people feel that once you reach adult-hood you have to be serious, strict, and mature all the time.

Photobucket But let's not think that Feel The Music is nothing but inspirational songs. It has it's share of love ballads, too. "Daydream Romance" is one of the more romantic songs...not exactly as in your face as "Dixie Hummingbird" is. "Daydream Romance" tells the story of an entertainer out on the road who has to leave his wife but he finds himself having daydreams about her. It's a straight-ahead pop love ballad. Meanwhile, "Road Widow" tackles a similar theme but in this song instead of Ray having daydream's about his wife it's about a couple who are constantly split-up because of the man's job as a singer but they don't let it create turmoil because they stay in touch with phone calls. The wife is called a road widow because she's lost her husband to the road. In the song it's explained that the wife knew the man was an entertainer who traveled the country but she chose him to be her husband in spite of it.

Photobucket There's one song on here that isn't country or pop...while "Dixie Hummingbird" carried a sort of bluesy/dixieland feel, "Junkie for You" carries an R&B feel. It's half-narrative and half-singing...we hear Ray comparing his lover to a drug and because of this he's become a junkie for her even though the habit's become more expensive day after day. "Alone With You" has a mis-leading title. The song isn't about all of the fun a guy can have with a woman once he gets her alone...instead, the song is about a couple who have grown apart mentally and even though they're physically still a couple, their relationship is empty. This causes Ray to state that he feels all alone with the woman because the love has died.

"Blues Love Affair" carries a bluesy-country arrangement as you would expect given it's song title. In this song Ray sings about relationships in general and wonders why opposites attract and why finding the right person isn't easy. The resulting effect of never finding the right person leads one down the road of one-night stands and sordid affairs, or a "Blues Love Affair" in this case.

Feel The Music was Ray's second album release for Warner Brothers. It was a follow-up to 1976's Just For The Record. This 1977 album is a direct opposite from the 1976 collection of songs and that's as it should be. Several of the songs from this 1977 album were issued on CD in 1995 as part of Warner Brothers various compilation projects: Do You Wanna Dance, The Serious Side of Ray Stevens, and Cornball. Those 1995 releases have been re-released as MP3 digital albums for anyone wanting to hear Ray's recordings for Warner Brothers since the material is out of print in CD format. Beware, though...there are several Warner Brothers recordings that were not issued on CD in 1995 and those recordings still have yet to be re-issued. "Junkie For You" and "Get Crazy With Me" from this 1977 album were not among the songs that were re-issued on CD in 1995. So, the only way to hear those particular songs is to have the vinyl album of Feel The Music, which I do. You can find it for sale at on-line auction sites.

Track List:
1. Feel The Music
2. Daydream Romance
3. Blues Love Affair
4. Alone With You
5. Junkie For You
6. Get Crazy With Me
7. Save Me From Myself
8. Road Widow
9. Set The Children Free
10. Dixie Hummingbird

June 24, 2009

Ray Stevens: The Incredible World

It's me again, Ray fans...in this particular blog entry I'm spotlighting two CD collections with the same name but different songs. The Incredible World of Ray Stevens is the name of two 3-CD collections that were released in the mid 1990's. All over the internet you'll more than likely find this collection for sale but what most do not know is, depending on the cover picture of Ray, the song titles will be different. I came across one on-line store who shall go nameless offer this title for sale...in big headlines in the seller's own words: "Ray Stevens...34 Hits all together" but the CD they were offering is the one that featured 30 songs.

This is what the 30 song 3-CD collection looks like...


Even though some places show this CD they list the 34 songs that appear on the other same titled collection...which I have in my collection...click the image for a bigger look...


In the 30 song collection we have the following songs. CD #2 is Ray's 1984 album, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens; CD #3 is Ray's 1987 album, Crackin' Up; and CD #1 is a compilation album simply called Everything Is Beautiful which contains songs picked at random:

CD #1
1. Vacation Bible School; 1985
2. Kiss a Pig; 1985
3. Everything Is Beautiful; 1970
4. Santa Claus Is Watching You; 1985
5. Smoky Mountain, Rattlesnake Retreat; 1986
6. People's Court; 1986
7. Surfin' USSR; 1988
8. The Streak; 1974
9. Fat; 1986
10. Armchair Quarterback; 1985

CD #2
1. I'm Kissin' You Goodbye
2. It's Me Again, Margaret
3. The Mississippi Squirrel Revival
4. Ned Nostril
5. Fred
6. Erik the Awful
7. The Monkees
8. Joggin'
9. Happy Hour
10. Furthermore

CD #3
1. Would Jesus Wear a Rolex
2. Three Legged Man
3. Cool Down, Willard
4. I'm My Own Grandpaw
5. The Ballad of Cactus Pete and Lefty
6. Sex Symbols
7. Gourmet Restaurant
8. The Flies of Texas
9. Doctor, Doctor Have Mercy On Me
10. The Day That Clancy Drowned

In the 34 song collection that you see me holding in the above picture, Crackin' Up is CD #3 and so I won't be writing the song-titles again; but for CD #1 and CD #2 we have 12 songs each, giving us 24 total...plus the 10 on the third CD brings us to 34 altogether. The songs on CD #1 and CD #2 are as follows:

CD #1
1. Yakety Yak; 1969
2. The Streak; 1974
3. Alley Oop; 1969
4. Games People Play; 1969
5. Bagpipes, That's My Bag; 1966
6. Mary, My Secretary; 1967**
7. Misty; 1975
8. Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills; 1961
9. Harry the Hairy Ape; 1969
10. Everything Is Beautiful; 1970
11. Freddy Feelgood; 1969
12. Hair; 1969

CD #2
1. Ahab the Arab; 1969
2. Mr. Custer; 1969
3. Bridget the Midget; 1970
4. Easy Lovin'; 1973
5. She Came In Through the Bathroom Window; 1970
6. Indian Love Call; 1975
7. Gitarzan; 1969
8. Turn Your Radio On; 1971
9. Little Egypt; 1969
10. Along Came Jones; 1969
11. Mr. Businessman; 1968
12. Walk a Mile In My Shoes; 1970

The record label mis-spelled "Gitarzan" on the CD. They wrote it like you'd spell guitar plus "zan" and so on the CD it appears "Guitarzan". The u in guitar is intentionally left-off in the official spelling of the song because it gives it a comical appearance. Some places still spell it "Guitarzan" but this would be incorrect. The actual spelling is "Gitarzan".

**- I believe this marks the first time "Mary, My Secretary" has appeared on any CD compilation. I don't even think it's appeared in any vinyl compilations. The song was released as a b-side of a single-only project and so my guess is, this CD collection marks it's debut on a CD.

And so, there you have it. The two 3-CD collections with the same title but different track list and different picture of Ray on the cover.

June 19, 2009

Ray Stevens: Crackin' Up

1987 was the year that Ray Stevens released this comedy album. As anyone can tell, the title of the album, CRACKIN' UP, is played out on the album's cover picture with Ray dressed up in Humpty Dumpty attire. The nursery rhyme goes that the character sat on a wall and then had a great fall...resulting in his body breaking into many pieces. The album's picture doesn't quite get that graphic, thankfully, but the phrase "cracking up" has long been associated with people who start laughing, usually at something funny, or often times the phrase is used to describe someone who's slowly going insane. Either usage is perfect for a comedy album.

The album consisted of 10 comedy songs...it's success was centered around the lead-off song, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". The album itself became a solid Top-30 hit on the album chart...most of it's publicity centering around "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?".

In fact, when the album was issued, it clearly publicized the single on the picture sleeve in red letters underneath Humpty's wall: Includes the Hit Single "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". On the vinyl album version, a red sticker appeared on the top right hand side promoting the single's inclusion on the album seen below...


There were a few cassette copies of this album that had different lettering designs. For starters, the cassette copy I have shows the name of the album in deep purple letters that you can hardly see and the title letters are written in a "cracked" style to go along with the album title. Also, on my cassette copy the promotion of the lead-off single is written in red letters...Then there was a version issued later with white lettering...and the single promo was written in black letters along the bottom of the wall instead of in red letters...here it is...

Photobucket Ray is credited as a co-writer on several of the songs on this album. This is an album that is purposely nutty...the sort of novelty songs that once were a tradition on the Grand Ole Opry in the 1940's and 1950's. In fact, Ray covers a classic novelty song on this album...and given how much better recording technology was in 1987 compared to the 1940's, Ray was able to modernize the sound of a particular novelty song classic I'll write about further in this blog entry.

Photobucket I am none too sure when this cassette version was issued...it's a thumbnail as is the above picture so click them for a bigger look. I don't know if this was the original cassette design with that large black space underneath, which doesn't match the album's color and it doesn't promote "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" as the other cassette does...so, anyway, this album had a series of design changes through the years. It was issued on CD for the first time in the early 1990's. It was featured as one of the CD's in the 3-CD collection, THE INCREDIBLE WORLD OF RAY STEVENS.

For those unaware...the single, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?", is about the televangelists of America who preached sermon's on television, mostly on Sunday mornings. The irony of these televangelists were their income...quite a few of them were living the life of your typical Hollywood celebrity with lavish homes and millions of dollars in their bank accounts. The jewelery that often dangled from the men and women on religious programs was often compared to what one would see at any Paris fashion show or Hollywood glamor photo session.

So, the question was asked in song: Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on his television show? Just by coincidence, a televangelist scandal had broke into the national news and this song was already on the charts...the scandal helped the single become a more widely known hit. According to one of the song's co-writers, Chet Atkins, he remarked that the idea of the song came from common sense observations of televangelist's lifestyles in general and before he knew it, televangelists were under fire almost simultaneously as the single was rising on the charts.

I've talked about "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" so much you all must be wondering what else is on the album!?!

After the lead-off song we have "Three Legged Man", a nutty tale about a man who's in love with a woman but her husband naturally objects. The husband has a peg-leg and so Ray has the idea to steal the man's wife one morning while it's still dark outside and just for good measure he decides to steal the man's peg-leg. Ray and the woman go on the run in the country with the husband in hot pursuit...hopping and flopping on one leg.

The third song is a satirical look at Willard Scott, the now-former weatherman on the TODAY SHOW who had this large fan base comprised mostly of middle-aged to older women. The song examines Willard's sex appeal and his charm and Ray plays the part of a frustrated farmer who's wife, grandmother, and aunt all sit around chit-chatting about and watching Willard...Ray vocally impersonates his sex-hungry grandmother who wants to travel the world with Willard while she wears exotic clothing bought at Frederick's of Hollywood. It's mentioned that Willard mentioned the grandmother's birthday, further endearing the weatherman to the grandmother.

The fourth song is Ray's version of a classic novelty song called "I'm My Own Grandpaw". The grandpa in the song's title is deliberately mis-spelled to make the song-title look funnier. The original recording, the one most historians cite, is Lonzo and Oscar's 1947 recording. Their recording of the song is considered the definitive version but I feel that Ray added more to the song. I feel that he gave the song a more livelier arrangement that was lacking in the original. The 1947 version is sung pretty much straight through...with almost no pausing between verses or much music accompanying the duo. Ray's cover version features a better arrangement and much more added musical accompaniment...and Ray brings life to the lyrics instead of singing them without much of a pause. Once you hear the 1947 recording and Ray's 1987 recording, musically speaking, Ray's cover far out-shines the Lonzo and Oscar recording in my opinion.

The fifth song is "The Ballad of Cactus Pete and Lefty", a song Ray co-wrote with C.W. Kalb, Jr. who goes by the nick-name of Buddy a lot of the time. The song is a spoof of the old west...a story about a miner and his pet sidewinder snake named Lefty. The two live in a miner's shack and are consistently on the hunt for whatever strikes their fancy. Lefty, it explains, has dental problems...as well as being the recipient of having a long neck...and he's always eager for food...whenever Cactus Pete mentions anything edible, we hear Lefty get excited. Of course, in order for listeners to hear Lefty's excitement we hear a sound effect of a rattle. Sidewinder rattlesnakes are known for their appetite and this is spoofed in this song as Lefty is always hungry and will eat just about anything: lizzards, Gila monsters, eagles, toads, frogs, etc etc.

The sixth song, "Sex Symbols", is actually a spoof of sorts. A few years earlier Willie Nelson and Latin singer Julio Iglesias teamed to form an unlikely but ultimately popular duo team with their biggest duet being "To All the Girls I've Loved Before". Well, on the sixth song on this album from Ray we hear him singing a "duet" with a man named Julio. It's Ray, of course, playing the part of Julio. The two sing about various sex symbols...with Ray not quite picking out sex appeal material with his choices of Grandpa Jones, Jerry Clower, or George Lindsey. That's why the song is so funny...Julio continues to scold Ray for mis-pronouncing his name. Ray pronounces Julio's name with a J instead of an H. Ray also states that he's got loads of sex appeal but Julio objects to Ray's self-assured statements. Whenever Ray performed the song in concert or on TV he'd have a dummy of Julio sitting on his lap, playing the part of half-singer/half-ventriloquist.

The seventh song is another co-write for Ray. "Gourmet Restaurant" tells the story of a man who walks into a restaurant unaware that it's a foreign establishment and he proceeds to order all sorts of food that to him appears raw and disgusting. When he's brought out a plate of Cherries Jubilee he dumps a bowl of cold soup on it because the dish was "on fire" he says. He creates quite a scene that by song's end they throw him out and tell him never to come back.

The eighth song is a comical love song...the song's title, "The Flies of Texas Are Upon You" is a parody of an earlier song called "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You" but that's where the similarities end. In Ray's song we hear the story about a man who meets a woman who he thinks is the daughter of a millionaire given how she explained that her father "cleaned up" out in Texas. Well, when the guy arrives in Houston he finds that the woman's father isn't a millionaire but rather the owner of a garbage truck service...with flies and trash everywhere.

The ninth song takes a stab at the medical profession. "Doctor, Doctor Have Mercy On Me" is a satire on the AMA, the American Medical Association...well, doctors in general. In it, Ray describes all of the flaws and inconveniences of going to the hospital or seeing the doctor for anything. The song makes a comment on the salary of many doctor's and the fraternity atmosphere that often is on display in many hospitals and how a hospital is to a doctor what a country club is to a golfer: a place to hang out and socialize.

In the final song, "The Day That Clancy Drowned", we hear about a man who worked at the Milwaukee Brewery for decades but then one fateful day the worker was making his rounds when he fell into a 60,000 gallon vat of beer and drowned. Contrary to what one might think upon hearing, the song is a perfect way to close out an album of nutty comedy songs. The reverent funeral music that opens up the song makes it more funny...and the recollections of former workers talking about how Clancy wouldn't die quietly...no, Clancy had to swim and splash around and have a jolly good time as he was drowning. In spite of fellow co-workers trying to rescue Clancy, he fought their attempts. The lesson of the song is simply put: lots of men love their beer!!

June 11, 2009

Ray Stevens: One For the Road

Photobucket I don't have this particular CD yet. I had planned on purchasing it at Pilot, a trucker's chain of gas stations, but the Pilot travel centers in my area do not carry the CD. It'll become available to the public-at-large in September once the exclusive rights with Pilot are over with. I did manage to get a hold of the song list for the CD...someone fortunate enough to have the CD let us less fortunate know what the CD contains:

1. Concrete Sailor
2. Convoy
3. Right Reverend Roadhog McGraw
4. Cooter Brown
5. Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again
6. Hangin' Around
7. Hang Up And Drive
8. Bon Temps Roulette
9. Oh Lonesome Me
10. Never Too Late
11. Retired
12. Mary Lou Nights

Bonus Tracks
13. Mississippi Squirrel Revival
14. It's Me Again Margaret
15. The Streak

I'm patiently awaiting the arrival of the CD at Ray Stevens' web-site store. I believe that with the Pilot Travel centers having exclusive access to the music it creates a situation where Ray himself isn't even allowed to sell it on his own web-site until after Labor Day...the deal with Pilot is Memorial Day through Labor Day, which means all summer long a lot of us will have to wait for it to become available everywhere else. Until then, a lot of you Ray fans out there can wonder what the songs will be like with titles such as "Hangin' Around", "Never Too Late", and my personal favorite songtitle: "Right Reverend Road-Hog McGraw". If ever there was a good-time/good-ole-boy name for a song, that's it. There are several re-recordings on this CD. Longtime Ray fans will spot this right away. I can't wait to hear his version of "Convoy".

Update 6-17-09: The CD is now available for order at Ray's on-line web-store. Simply visit his web-page and click on "buy" and then click "official store" and then click "new products". He has the MP3 single, "Concrete Sailor" for sale featuring the same picture for ONE FOR THE ROAD...at the moment, ONE FOR THE ROAD is the first item on display in the "new products" page. .