October 24, 2009

Ray Stevens: For the New Fans

I couldn't think of a title for this blog entry. I call it "For the New Fans" even though this blog as a whole is mostly for those who are curious about Ray or discovered him on You Tube or wherever and want to know more about him from a fan's perspective. In my previous blog entry I did a Q&A session and listed several questions and answered them. I'll be including more of those Q&A's in this installment as well. For the new fans, the picture of Ray was taken in the late 1980's at some point. The picture surfaced on this collection of material and soon became an unofficial publicity picture. If you go to the Ray Stevens Backstage feature on his web-site, $4.97 per month, you'll see the full view of that picture...the tie is much longer than it appears here. I've liked the picture ever since I first saw it. There is a CD called The Legendary Ray Stevens featuring a picture taken from this same session.

Q: Has Ray recorded many drinking songs?

A: Surprisingly, Ray hasn't really tackled drinking songs or songs that are about alcohol. There are a few I can think of off the top of my head that he's recorded: "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", "One Mint Julep", "Happy Hour Is the Saddest Time of the Day", "Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again", "Too Drunk To Fish", and "Cooter Brown". I can't think of any others.

Q: How long has Ray been a recording artist?

A: Ray began recording in 1957 on the Prep label, a subsidiary of Capitol Records.

Q: Was there any fallout from The Shriner's Convention?

A: This refers to Ray's 1980 hit song about a hotel where a group of Shriners were spending some time. The song focuses on two Shriners and we hear a one-sided conversation between the Illustrious Potentate and Noble Lumpkin. The true names of the two men are revealed as Bubba and Coy. I did some research and found that some people who didn't get the humor of the song took offense to it. The song helped connect Ray with the charity organizations affiliated with the Shriners and since 1980 catch-phrases from that song have become part of the fan's vocabulary ever since. So, yes, there was minor grumbling and fussing about the song in 1980 but nothing loud and obnoxious...until a decade and a half later. This is when the song was discovered by an entirely new audience who shrugged off the point of the song and made it out to be a slam against Shriners, Masons, and others. The humorless in our society don't laugh at the silliness of a Shriner revving up a motorcycle engine in the wee hours of the morning or wonder how the motorcycle got up on the diving board. The humorless don't understand why Coy behaves the way he does and they back up their position by saying "no Shriner acts like that!!". Well, of course, that's the whole point of the song. It's not meant to be a look at a real Shriner convention. The humorless have no reason to even give their opinion of a comedy song since they have no sense of humor.

Q: How many labels has Ray recorded for?

A: A lot of people who aren't really into music don't pay much attention to record labels or anything like that. A lot of record companies and subsidiaries down through the years have made a lot of money off of Ray's recordings. There once was a time when the subsidiaries of Mercury Records would issue a Ray Stevens compilation album every few years...featuring the same material...over and over. Barnaby Records was treated much the same way. The hit recordings for that label have appeared on labels ranging from RCA to Curb to Varese Sarabande and all points in between. As far as official record labels and not just those who've issued his material, well, here's the rundown...I'm not 100% accurate on some of the years...

Prep: 1957
Capitol: 1958
NRC: 1959-1961
Mercury: 1961-1963
Monument Records: 1966-1970
Barnaby Records: 1970-1975
Warner Brothers: 1976-1979
RCA: 1980-1982
Mercury: 1983
MCA: 1984-1989
Curb: 1990-1994
Clyde Records: 1994-1996
MCA: 1997-1998
Clyde: 1999-2002
Curb*: 2002-
Clyde*: 2004-

Ray's material, starting in 2002, is often distributed by Curb Records even though the material is originally released through his own label, Clyde. Ray had returned to Curb Records in 2002 and since then they've distributed nearly everything Ray has issued whether it's CD's or DVD's. Curb, I assume, picks and chooses what they want to distribute to shopping stores.

Q: Why did Ray begin making music videos?

A: As far as I know Ray used to have videos run on a big screen at his Branson, Missouri theater and according to Ray the audiences were laughing even louder while the video clips were being shown above the stage. Ray then decided to put together a music video collection and sell it exclusively at his theater. This led to a full-blown nationwide collection, Comedy Video Classics, in 1992. After it's success throughout the summer, fall, and winter via television advertising it moved into shopping stores and sold well over half a million which was unheard of for a home video release. This led Ray to do more and more with home video and later, DVD. His output was at it's peak in the mid 1990's, though, but every so often something different from Ray on DVD will become available.

Q: How many TV appearance has Ray made?

A: A rough estimate would be hundreds. Remember, Ray was once marketed as a pop artist and because of this he appeared on quite a number of teen-idol programs both locally and nationally during the 1960's and into the early 1970's. Although Ray is not among the ones cited as being a teen-idol he definitely had a teenage following, particularly in the late '60s and early '70s. He then became more and more popular with the adult audience that listened to pop music and more of his low charting pop songs were reaching the Top-40 on the Adult-Contemporary format and he began appearing on shows with a slightly older audience. As Ray approached 40 he was considered a country artist and this is why in the mid to late '70s he was featured on just about every country music television show on the air. He had appeared on country music programs before but the late '70s was the big push turning Ray into a mainstream country artist. After 1980 Ray's main exposure came from Hee-Haw and in 1983 when The Nashville Network debuted he began making several appearances annually on the various programs on that network. Ray also appeared on a week's worth of episodes on the soap opera, Texas, the game show Hollywood Squares during the John Davidson era, in addition to an episode of The Fall Guy.

Ray Stevens and Clyde

Nearly 20 years ago I had read somewhere that when Ray was a kid he had one of those plastic kick balls and on the surface of the toy was an illustration of a camel. It's generally stated that the camel on that kick ball was like "an omen" given how popular the camel would become in Ray's career years later. What we do know is that the camel has long since become one of Ray's logos and it's name, Clyde, harkens back to Ray's 1962 hit, "Ahab the Arab". Clyde the Camel was one of the 'stars' in that 1962 hit...a popular figure made popular via Ray's camel impressions. I've never actually heard a camel make noises...I don't think they roar or growl...but ever since I discovered the songs of Ray Stevens and heard "Ahab the Arab" I always think of Ray's camel noise whenever I see a camel on television, on a cigarette pack, or in a cartoon. In the Joe Camel craze quite a few years ago the only thing I could think of was Clyde the Camel. Clyde, for those unaware, carried Ahab throughout the Arabian desert in his quest to rescue Fatima from the Sultan's harem. The name of 'Clyde' was lifted from Clyde McPhatter, one of the various R&B singers whom Ray was influenced by.

As far as the song goes it's a clever and silly song wrapped into one. Some argue that it's a novelty song but I say it's a comedy song. What's the difference one may be asking? Well, the difference is a novelty song captures a trend or a fad that's taking place and uses humor, whether it's sophisticated or low-brow. A novelty song is also a generic phrase applied to something "unusual or off-beat" but if you break it down and examine the differences you'll more than likely realize that a comedy song and a novelty song are two different things. A comedy song is a song that's comical without any connection to a trend or a fad. "Ahab the Arab" is a comedy song whereas "The Streak" is a novelty song.

Throughout Ahab, Ray does a trio of voices. Ray voices Ahab, Clyde, and Fatima. The song plays out like a comical version of Sheik of Araby. In the 1995 music video of the song there's pieces of the video shot in black and white, which in my mind, make it perfectly clear that the Sheik of Araby was an inspiration for the song back in 1962.

The Clyde name was later used for an independent record label...and then he became a mascot for Ray's movie studio where he makes his music videos. Clyde Records and Clyde Pictures respectively. Ahab wasn't given the shaft, though. Ray eventually named his music publishing company after him...for quite a few years Ray's songs were published under the 'Ahab Music Company' name. Ray, of course, owned the publishing company. In the mid 1970's the company's name was changed to the more serious-sounding 'Ray Stevens Music'. After Clyde's introduction in 1962 he was a big enough star that Ray incorporated the camel into a holiday recording, "Santa Claus Is Watching You". In the original recording of that song Rudolph becomes unavailable and can't make the flight and so Clyde takes his place to lead the pack of reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Bruce, and Marvin. In the completely re-written song in 1985 Clyde doesn't figure in the action but is among the several pulling the sleigh: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Bruce, Marvin, Leon, Cledus, George, Slick, Dooright, Clyde, Ace, Blackie, Queenie, Prince, Spot, and Rover. I know I'm probably missing a few!

Ray currently records for his own label, Clyde Records. The material is available on-line...mostly at Ray's web-site or at Amazon. Sometimes Curb Records will distribute material to wider outlets as was the case with the Box Set collection several years ago and Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What???. The latter CD I hadn't seen it in shopping stores in spite of it showing Curb Records as it's current distributor. Clyde Records is the label that's written on the copy I have but Amazon lists Curb as the label. So, going by that, Curb Records continues to help Ray get his music to the masses as the saying goes. In case anyone has any questions I'll try and come up with possible questions and I'll supply the answers.

Q: How many times has Ray recorded "Ahab the Arab"?

A: There have been just three versions of the song recorded through the years. The first version arrived in 1962. Interestingly, the recording was longer than Mercury Records was hoping for and they informed Ray that they were going to edit the final verse and make it more radio-friendly. Nowadays this is referred to as a "radio edit" where a song is edited several seconds or several minutes...usually instrumental solos. According to Ray he at first balked and felt his song would be ruined if they removed any part of it. Mercury went ahead and released the edited version and it became a hit. There are some compilation projects that feature the full-length version of the song which included the Sultan returning to the tent and finding Ahab and Fatima together. And so 1962 marked the first recording of the song. He re-recorded it in 1969...and I'll go on to say that the 1969 re-recording is much more widely known than the 1962 original. The 1969 version originally appeared on the Gitarzan album that Ray recorded for Monument Records. The third version came along in 1995. Ray re-recorded the song when he made the official music video, which originally appeared on his Get Serious movie that year. The movie was direct-to-home video and not shown in theatres.

Q: What does Ahab say when he's quietly strolling through the sands atop Clyde the Camel in the 1969 version?

A: It's mostly gibberish and doesn't sound as authentic as the 1962 version attempted to sound. In the 1969 version Ray has fun with the so-called Arabic language Ahab is belting out. It uses a once-popular phrase, "Sold American", which was heard a lot on Lucky Strike commercials with the auctioneers talking a mile a minute. I often feel that is who Ray is spoofing in the 1969 version or else he wouldn't end Ahab's shouting with that phrase.


At that web-site you'll be able to see various Lucky Strike TV commercials. I don't smoke but I've known of the cigarette brand as a major sponsor for Jack Benny. The company sponsored Jack's radio and TV programs in the 1940's and 1950's. "The Lucky Strike Program starring Jack Benny" was it's official title. When I heard one of the Lucky Strike commercials on the radio show and heard the auctioneer end with "sold American" I thought of the 1969 version of Ahab the Arab. Once you're at that web-site click on the video "Be Happy Go Lucky Strike Today". It's a 43 second commercial and it opens up the auctioneer's voice.

Q: Is Ahab the Arab politically correct?

A: This will depend on each individual person. Whether it is or isn't it should be left up to an individual listener to make the decision. Having said that I also feel that whatever conclusion a listener comes to then that's their own decision and it shouldn't be considered the opinion of everyone. As is the case with a vast majority of people who cry political incorrectness they want to push their views and their perspectives onto everyone. I don't see this song as politically incorrect but yet those who find the song offensive I bet will say I'm a racist or say I'm a bigot or say I have no feelings for Arabs since I happen to find the song comical and silly. The politically correct advocates are extremists, pretty much, who want to push their agenda onto others.

Q: How does Ray have a Multi-Platinum single, Everything Is Beautiful, but yet it's only referred to as a Gold record?

A: For years the music industry never certified albums or singles. Once the RIAA began to recognize singles that sold a million copies it became even more competitive. A Gold record was the phrase that was given to every single that sold a million copies or more. There was no such thing as a Platinum record. Along the way someone had the idea to create the Platinum award for sales of two million copies or more. Then the sales requirements were lowered in the 1980's, I think, and Gold meant half a million in sales and Platinum meant a million in sales. Double, Triple, Quadruple Platinum would then be awarded for everything 2 million and higher in sales. So, when historians and Ray himself refer to "Everything Is Beautiful", a single that sold over 3 million copies, as a Gold record, they're using the 1970 sales standards and perhaps Ray has never applied for a triple-platinum certification and so it's technically still considered a Gold record.

Q: Why is there often a polarizing effect when it comes to comedy songs?

A: The simple answer to that is everyone's sense of humor is different. As I touched upon with the politically correct commentary, each individual has their own sense of humor. Along with this they also have their opinions of what should be spoofed and what shouldn't. When you get into the nuts and bolts of why comedy songs often have a polarizing effect it's simply because what's funny to one group of people may not be funny to another group and you have a divided reaction. Also, there are some people who absolutely have no sense of humor. I feel that some, in the politically correct crowd especially, are over analytical. They analyze things to a fault. They dissect words and interpret them completely different from what the writer/author intended...and given that the politically correct crowd are offended they want to see some changes. They don't care about the majority of people who aren't offended...all the politically correct crowd care about is that they were offended. I should refer to that crowd as the special interest crowd...but it isn't as alliterative and prone to tongue twisting as "the politically correct crowd" phrase is.

Q: When did Ray change the name of his publishing company from Ahab Music to Ray Stevens Music?

A: By process of elimination I looked on the back of his 1976 album, Just For the Record, and seen that the songs were all published by Ahab Music. I then looked on the back of his 1977 album, Feel the Music, and seen that those songs were published by Ray Stevens Music. So, 1977 was the year of the name change.

Q: What is R.O.C. Coca-Cola?

A: In the 1962 original recording Ray was using a delivery heavily inspired by Brother Dave Gardner and during the narrative Ray mentions that Fatima was sipping an R.O.C. Coca-Cola when Ahab encountered her in the tent. This was a reference to the cultures of the south where the whites drank Coca-Cola and the blacks were only allowed RC Cola but a lot of them pronounced it "R.O.C Cola". In the song Ray combines both beverages as "R.O.C Coca-Cola". Younger people who hear the original today perhaps won't know what Ray's referring to and probably think it's just a goofy made-up beverage without realizing the cross-culture reference.


October 23, 2009

Ray Stevens: Backstage Subscription, Part Two

Hello Ray Stevens fans from all over...this is a follow-up blog about the latest addition at Ray's web-site, the backstage feature. I signed up for it yesterday and I found out that when you sign up for a subscription you'll need to have a PayPal account. I never had one...but I decided to get one simply because there was no other way, as far as I knew, to become a monthly subscriber. Anyway, I started a PayPal account of which I probably will only use for this monthly subscription. After becoming a member I was able to view some pictures of Ray but more than that I was able to catch the pilot episode of We Ain't Dead Yet. For those who follow this Ray Stevens blog and his own web-site you'll know that Ray's taped several episodes of a TV show that he hopes to sell to some cable outlet. The pilot episode was amusing, cute, and entertaining and it set up the run of the potential series. It takes place inside a retirement home and it has a Hee-Haw feel to it on purpose. I am not sure if each month people will see a different episode or if the pilot episode was just a special for the month of October.

Anyway...once you subscribe...the monthly payment of $4.97 will be deducted from your checking account each month unless you cancel your subscription. There is a 3 month option, though, for $14.97. I'm not sure if it's 97 cents but I know it's $14.00 and some change. Looking back I should have chose that option but I didn't. I opted for a monthly subscription instead.

With it getting close to November and the holiday season don't forget that Ray has a Christmas CD out of all-serious recordings simply called Ray Stevens Christmas. You can purchase it at Amazon via the link at his web-site. On the left side of the page you'll see various sections and in the "Buy" section a drop down menu opens when you click "Buy". There's a link to "Official Store", "Itunes", and "Amazon". It isn't available at his official web-site store but it's available at Amazon. I did a run-down/review of the CD several weeks ago. There are 10 songs on it...9 of them are holiday standards and one of them is an original song, "Deck The Halls With Teardrops". It's tough to tell if the CD will be promoted much because of it's serious overtone...most people expect comical recordings from Ray. The expectation of comical recordings causes most people to not know how to take what we call "serious Ray".

As previously discussed, the photo of Ray originates from the mid 1990's when his comical Christmas CD was released. The 1997 comical CD was re-released on the same day as the non-comical CD. The comical CD is titled Christmas Through a Different Window. Unfortunately neither FM or AM radio stations like to play the novelty or the bizarre Christmas songs anymore. So-called studies done by radio people seem to suggest that comical songs are annoying rather than entertaining. Naturally the idea of a 'novelty song' is to be amusing and often topical and funny...but to a specific audience. Brow beaters tend to be easily annoyed by such "tomfoolery" and for the last decade or so oldies-style FM and AM radio stations have stayed away from the silly and goofy Christmas songs that once had equal sir-time among the traditional, serious Christmas recordings. Today the various oldies and pop-standards radio stations play legitimate holiday songs...not a comical vignette to be heard. Perhaps I'm listening at the wrong time? I'm not awake at 3:30 in the morning to know what's played but I do know that in the last decade it seems as if radio has pushed off the Christmas comedy songs that were once commonplace on the radio each season. Ray's non-comical Christmas CD, though, features several jazzy/up-beat arrangements so it isn't a slow ballad-heavy project.

Photobucket Speaking of non-comical...this is the 8-track version of Don't Laugh Now. For those who may think to themselves "geeze...how many times is he going to talk about that album???" let me say that I happen to not only love the album but I love the picture, too! Those familiar with my commentary about this album may remember that I once posted the back of the album...showing a very much happy, smiling picture of Ray. A drastic change from the gloomy expression on Ray's face that we all see on the front of the album.

Photobucket When you click the above image you'll see a much bigger picture of the back of the I Have Returned album from 1985. I took the picture with my digital camera and edited some of the excess imagery. Those who only have the cassette version didn't have the pleasure of seeing the picture on the back of the album as you see here. On the front side of the album Ray, as General MacArthur, is wading in the water in a mock-up of MacArthur's famous pose where he said "I have returned". Meanwhile, on the back of that album, Ray had actually waded upon a public beach and he's asking directions from people. The funny pictures on the back of the albums for whatever reason weren't replicated on the inside fold-out cover of cassettes and only the buyers of the albums were treated to those pictures. Of course, a lot of albums have the same picture on the front and back but sometimes they don't.


October 17, 2009

Ray Stevens: Gitarzan Is 40

Turning 40 this year is the jungle sensation, Gitarzan. The lord of the jungle who fancies himself as a rock star made his mark in 1969. Gitarzan, along with Jane and a monkey make up this jungle answer to 1969 Top-40 music. The song, according to quotes from Ray himself, was written with the aid of a rhyming dictionary. The title of the song came from Bill Justis. When you hear the song you can tell that this "rhyming dictionary" came in handy because every line, well, almost every line, contains an end rhyme and along the way internal rhyming is at play. Some jokingly refer to it as primitive rap music because the song was out decades before that style became widely known. Looking at the promo picture on the single you can see that the art department, or the designers, didn't have enough room for Ray's last name. The "s" is written underneath the "n". This is just one of the promo pictures. There is an EP that was issued overseas that features a strange looking cover design. It's yellow and it features Ray's head attached to an illustrated body.

I don't know any Spanish or Mexican languages but looking closely at the words on this EP I will guess and say the other songs included are "Face the Music", "Sir Thanks a Lot", and "Bagpipes, That's My Bag". For those who know how to read that language you'll be able to tell what songs are on it. As far as "Gitarzan" is concerned it opens up with Ray's mimicry of jungle birds before the music rushes in quick and loud. Ray, in a laid back vocal delivery, then goes into the rhyming and tells us all about the jungle sensation. Strangely enough Jane's meddling father isn't part of the tale. Jane steals the show with her outrageous attempts at singing...and she turns out to be some sort of primitive prima dona chastising Gitarzan for not keeping quiet while she's trying to sing. After we hear Jane belt out her song about 'Baby' we then hear some more descriptive rhyming lyrics and then the monkey gets into the act. All three harmonize in the finale.

This single hit the pop Top-10 in 1969 and was certified Gold the same year. At this point in time a Gold single was for sales of 1,000,000 or more copies. Singles greatly out-sold albums and the public were buying this single like it was going out of style. Of course, this was the song that branded Ray as a comedy singer once again after having enjoyed a streak of serious songs in 1968. Ray issued a Gitarzan album in 1969 that featured a number of comedy songs including a re-recording of "Ahab the Arab". The album was issued on CD in the late 1990's and it went out of print in no time at all. A digital download version is available, though, at Amazon. In addition to the title track, Ray issued his version of "Along Came Jones" as a follow-up. This recording reached the pop Top-30 and afterward he set aside comedy recordings pretty much for the next four years with the lone exception being 1970's "Bridget The Midget", a pop Top-50 hit here in America and a Top-5 hit in the United Kingdom. During 1969-1973 Ray continued to perform his comical songs in concert but he was recording non-comedy songs for commercial release. After 1970's "Bridget the Midget" the next comedy song Ray issued was "The Streak" in 1974. Search my blog entries off on the right side of this page to see my writings about "The Streak".

Ray Stevens: Backstage Subscription

The most recent happenings in the world of Ray Stevens is this "Ray Stevens Backstage" offer. If you visit his web-page and wait a few seconds a video will pop up on the top left side of the screen and Ray will explain the offer. It's an "insider" kind of offer where you can see backstage video of Ray or hear sound bytes from Ray that the public at large won't have access to. It's a premium, though, and it costs a little under $5.00 a month which works out to $60.00 a year. From what I understand after you join this group you'll receive a monthly e-mail subscription renewal letter. As of now I have no idea if you can pay a larger amount for a lengthy subscription or if they're going to just have people go month by month. I'd prefer paying for half a year just to avoid having to pay something monthly.

Photobucket This is a single of Ray's from 1986. The song is "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?" and it was written by C.W. "Buddy" Kalb. The song didn't enter the country charts but it's a song that is in his concerts and a song that has become popular enough among his fans that it's just as memorable as the hit songs.


Ray made a music video of the song in 1995 and it's on the home video/DVD Get Serious. The song is an off-beat love ballad. It isn't exactly a comedy song but it isn't a full-fledged love ballad, neither. It's about a man asking a former lover of his if the new man in her life is adequate. Ray wonders if this new man can make the woman happy, make her laugh and giggle...but then he also wonders if the man can whistle Dixie while eating crackers or make music with his armpits. So, there's some humor in the song but Ray's vocal delivery is as serious as can be. It can be found on the 1986 album, Surely You Joust. If you look at my Tower o' Stevens, that particular album in cassette form is the 16th cassette from the bottom. To make it easier the color of the paper on the side of the cassette is brown...I don't think it's 100% brown. There seems to be a red tint as well...perhaps it's the funky color of burnt sienna? Whatever color it truly is, you'll be able to spot it with those color descriptions.