January 24, 2010

The Birthday of Ray Stevens

The day is here!! January 24th...a day in 1939 that saw the birth of Ray Stevens. At the time he was known as Harold Ray Ragsdale. A lot of the background information that I may slip in here and there on my various blog entries are things that I picked up and remembered throughout my long tenure as a Ray Stevens fan. The fandom that exists for Ray Stevens is one that I think is unique. A lot of the fans could be people who remember when Ray burst onto the pop music scene in the '60s. Some of his fans may have discovered him in the late '60s thanks to numerous exposure on Andy Williams' television program. A lot of people got a large dose of Ray Stevens in the summer of 1970 when he hosted a once a week program during the summer months...filling in for Andy Williams. There are also the fans who discovered Ray through his movement into country music almost full-time in the late '70s. By the early '80s Ray was continuing to produce serious material...a string of albums with wonderful love ballads and other mood music had really been a focal point of a lot of his albums...the comedy songs, though, are what stood out and endured. By the mid '80s Ray began a highly successful move into the area of country comedy. Some critics, of course, would say that Ray had always been a country comic masquerading as a pop and country singer.

You visitors/readers can do the math for yourselves. Born on January 24, 1939 Ray hits the seven one mark today...in other words, 71. Ray hardly comes across as a 71 year old...if you see him in performance today all the energy, enthusiasm, and exuberance is still there. The only difference is he's gotten older...but he hasn't shown hardly any signs of slowing down. He's got quite a list of concert dates scheduled for this year...including a month long stay at The Welk Theatre in Branson, Missouri later this year.

How do you celebrate a birthday on-line? I did so last January on this blog when he hit 70...but things have changed just a tad bit from that point in time. 2009 started off fine...but the last month of the year was absolutely crazy, in a good way...with all the attention and hype of "We The People". To date, the music video has gotten 2,440,674 plays on You Tube. I think the video can hit the three million mark by the middle of this year...but play may slow down should Ray issue a follow-up. I can't imagine that the follow-up would be able to out-do "We The People" as far as viral music videos are concerned but should the follow-up be along the same lines of the ObamaCare song it probably could.

One of the things that most newcomers often ask is if Ray is in the country music Hall of Fame. The answer is no...for the moment. I keep hoping the voters will elect Ray because the Hall already has several artists primarily known for humor as members: Whitey Ford, Little Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl, Grandpa Jones, Rod Brasfield...so I'm hoping one day Ray Stevens and two other comics, the late Jerry Clower and the late Archie Campbell, get their recognition for their impact with country humor. Although Ray isn't a member of the country music Hall of Fame he is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

In some of my other blog entries I've listed Ray's awards and shown the albums and the singles that he's released. One of the over-looked things are his awards. Ray is one of the most awarded, if not the most awarded, country comedy acts of all-time. He sets himself apart from other country comedians due to his heavy emphasis on the music and the production of a song and the album. Some country comics don't put as much detail into their recordings.

The good times for Ray continued throughout the '80s and into the mid '90s thanks in large part to the wildly popular channel, The Nashville Network. Hand in hand with this were the myriad number of country music programs that aired on the weekends, usually, in syndication: Pop! Goes the Country, That Nashville Music, Nashville On the Road, Hee-Haw, The Porter Wagoner Show, and several other programs that had shorter life-spans but were rooted in country music and usually followed the same pattern all helped at some point or another expose Ray's material nationally whenever radio seemed to show little interest. Sad times occurred a decade ago...it was during this time that The Nashville Network left the airwaves. It had been on the air for 17 years, 1983-2000. In many ways that network was the last refuge available for a lot of artists deemed "too country" for country radio and it was also a place for a lot of non-mainstream country artists to get some national exposure...by-passing country radio in the process. I will admit that since that time, Ray's exposure pales by comparison. The Nashville Network's biggest competitor, CMT, had become the #1 country music channel for this over-rated 18-35 age group during the last half of the '90s and since 2000, CMT and later, GAC, have catered to each successive 18-35 audience...giving limited or no exposure to Ray Stevens or other artists of his generation.

What do you suspect Ray Stevens will be doing on his 71st birthday? We're all anticipating his upcoming album...as of now I have no idea if he'll be releasing it on his own label or if Curb Records will distribute it. Usually what happens is Curb will handle distribution of an album or a DVD a year after it's been released on his own label, Clyde Records. What with "We The People" being so topical I think Curb, if they were to release the album, would issue it next month. February is the month his album is to be released...but it was never revealed if it would be an exclusive on-line release on his own label or if we'd see it in stores.

Whatever the case, I can't wait for the album's release and I hope you all wish Ray a happy birthday on his web-site, RayStevens.com, or Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and or My Space...whichever social network of your choice.

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