January 29, 2011

Ray Stevens...Critical Reaction, Part 3...

I came across a comment from a web-page today suggesting that Ray Stevens only recorded 3 albums of non-comedy material. The person making the comment wasn't specific by remarking that he's aware of only 3 non-comedy albums or if he really believes that's all he's recorded. As the many fans of Ray Stevens are aware he recorded non-comical songs pretty much during his entire early career up until the mid 1980's. This point in time represents the turning point in his career where he decided to have comedy as the main focal point of his recording career. Some think Ray has always had comedy as the focal point of his career but those who think this have a lot of learn when it comes to Ray Stevens. In some of my earlier blogs in 2008 and early 2009 I put his non-comedy albums and songs front and center and in this blog entry I'll be doing the same thing just to reiterate that Ray had a long career releasing non-comical recordings prior to the mid 1980's and he definitely had more than just 3 albums worth of non-comical songs.

The following is a list of studio albums recorded by Ray between 1968 and 1983 which consisted of nothing but non-comical, serious recordings. Given that it's a list of studio albums I'm not going to reference compilation albums during those same years on this list:

1. Even Stevens; 1968 Monument
2. Have a Little Talk With Myself; 1969 Monument
3. Everything Is Beautiful; 1970 Barnaby
4. Unreal; 1970 Barnaby
5. Turn Your Radio On; 1972 Barnaby
6. Nashville; 1973 Barnaby
7. Losin' Streak; 1973 Barnaby
8. Misty; 1975 Barnaby
9. Just For the Record; 1976 Warner Brothers
10. Feel the Music; 1977 Warner Brothers
11. There Is Something On Your Mind; 1978 Warner Brothers
12. Be Your Own Best Friend; 1978 Warner Brothers
13. One More Last Chance; 1981 RCA
14. Don't Laugh Now; 1982 RCA
15. Me; 1983 Mercury

On the other side of the coin between those same years of 1968-1983, Ray issued the following comedy albums:

1. Gitarzan; 1969 Monument
2. Boogity-Boogity; 1974 Barnaby
3. Shriner's Convention; 1980 RCA

That's it! Between 1968 and 1983 Ray issued a grand total of 3 comedy albums. There were numerous compilation/greatest hits releases out during those same years emphasizing a lot of his comical recordings from the early and late '60s but as far as studio albums go he only recorded 3 comedy albums during that entire 15 year span.

Ray's first album is a Mercury release in 1962, 1837 Seconds of Humor. This LP, as well as a 1963 follow-up, This Is Ray Stevens, featured a lot of comical and non-comical recordings...they weren't exclusively all-comedy or all-serious. However, much of the comical recordings from those two albums, coupled with 1969's "Gitarzan" and a 1970 single, "Bridget the Midget", enabled Ray's image to become identified as comical...in spite of the serious recordings he was actually having hits with.

A lot of the comical songs that appear on a wide variety of compilation albums issued on Ray weren't necessarily hit songs in the conventional sense of the definition. More often those comical songs were lifted from studio albums and spotlighted on compilation LP's simply because Ray's biggest commercial impact came with the comical recordings...and for commercial potential it makes more sense to load a compilation project with what sells the strongest.

Music consumers tend to appreciate Ray's comical songs more and more and as a result it's those comical recordings which have the most commercial impact but yet critics tend to believe his non-comical recordings truly show off his talents. I feel both his comical and non-comical recordings equally show off his artistic talents.

A 1979 LP, The Feeling's Not Right Again, was issued by Warner Brothers. I didn't include it in either list because it's a compilation album featuring material Ray recorded during 1976 through 1978...with just one new recording, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The Manilow parody became a surprise mainstream hit and apparently the label wanted an entire LP issued to promote the song...instead of it being available as a single-only...and so a compilation LP was issued with obvious emphasis on the new recording. I wrote a few blogs about this album and the song...one blog entry I wrote called The Parody of Barry springs to mind. You can find it in my archives off to the right.

Since 1984 Ray's marketed himself as a comedian as many of you know...and he's had a lot of success and impact since then with his recordings and lately, music videos, but let's never forget the non-comical recordings and that middle period of his career.

Gee, I remember starting this blog entry commenting on something I seen at a web-page suggesting Ray only recorded 3 non-comical albums...and here we are paragraphs later...it's a clear illustration of the impact Ray has had on our lives where we can talk and talk and talk...and talk...about Ray's career and music.

January 28, 2011

Ray Stevens and the TSA...

Hello all the Ray Stevens fans!! This is hot off the presses...well, 5 hours ago...but it's still very recent. It's an interview that Ray gave earlier today on KMOX radio in St. Louis promoting his latest song. I found out about it through Twitter and then I Googled "KMOX + Ray Stevens" and among the results was a link to a radio interview held today with Charlie Brennan.

I happened to enjoy the interview...Ray talked about some of his past recordings and his stay in Branson, Missouri. Political correctness was brought up which often becomes a topic of conversation in Ray's interviews given how some out there want to label some of his songs as being "politically incorrect" when there's no malice or vicious intentions behind any of his song's origins. The fact that "Ahab the Arab" is comical and an Arab is the focal point enrages some people. Also, the pronunciation of Arab as "ay-rab" instead of "air-ub" also enrages some people out there. Let's get real, though...Ahab and "ay-rab" rhyme...Ahab doesn't rhyme with "air-ub"...case closed, end of controversy.

Meanwhile, back to the interview...at the 4 minute 19 second mark, Ray and the host begin to talk about "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", the brand new Ray Stevens song about airport security and the TSA. The audio may stop, since it did for me, and if that happens you'll of course have to replay it and fast-forward to the point where it stopped so pay attention to the time clock in the lower right side of the clip. The interview includes phone calls to Ray and all of it is sandwiched between roughly 18-19 minutes.

The host, Charlie Brennan, plays the song during the interview. At the time of this writing the single hasn't been made available for purchase yet...but Ray mentioned that it'll become available on his web-site and other places on-line in the near future. My guess is it'll become available next week but that's just my guess. A lot of us were hoping that Ray would have a musical response to the TSA and the invasive security practices that are going on in the airports nationwide and in this song he delivers a home-spun tale of a couple who experience hands-on airport security. The link indicates that this song is on his latest collection, We The People, but it isn't part of that particular collection. Nonetheless for those who don't have the We The People CD you should get it because it's chock full of political and patriotic material including his latest string of music video hits: "We The People", "Caribou Barbie", "Throw the Bums Out!", "Come to the USA", "The Global Warming Song", and an earlier song, the patriotic "Thank You". In addition to those songs there's "The Fallen Ones", "Fly Over Country", "We Are the Government", "The Solar Powered Song", and "Dear Andy Griffith" among many more.

As I mentioned, there's not been a release date set for "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore".

The song is so new that I don't have any information on who wrote it and if it'll be on any future collection of songs. Once again, the brand new Ray Stevens song is called "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore". The Ray Stevens interview will be the third audio clip in the following link.

FYI: Ray skewered political correctness in his direct-to-video movie, Get Serious, in 1995. It often comes up for sale on eBay. It's hilarious! For those who've never seen the movie it's 110 minutes...1 hour, 50 minutes...and it's an actual movie but there's music videos inserted throughout as the story moves along. In the link I provided there's a close-up of his video, the front and back cover, and on the back there's screen-caps on a role of film. We see Ray in character as Gitarzan chatting with Jerry Clower; Ray dressed as Ahab the Arab; Ray as psychiatrist Sickmind Fraud decked out in Napoleon attire; Ray as a Calcutta rug salesman; and Ray as a Woogie Indian (a fictional tribe, of course!). I'm sure that eBay link will expire at some point once the item is either bought or the seller takes it off the market and if that happens you can always Google the video or look it up on eBay by other seller's. Ironically there's not a DVD version...so for now the only way to see the movie is on VHS.

January 27, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 19...

By the looks of it a great time was had by all who attended the private birthday party for Ray Stevens this past Monday January 24, 2011. There have only been three pictures made available of the party which took place inside his office in Nashville. A link to the pictures is located here. In those three pictures we see the cake and we see Ray reading birthday cards and a close-up of Ray looking at the cake.

Hurricane is a CD that Ray released in 2008 and for whatever reason there was no publicity, promotion, or much support given to it. The title track borrows a lot of inspiration from "The Streak" with a CNN-style on location reporter detailing the events of a hurricane. The somewhat silliness of giving hurricane's a name is poked fun at in the recording. A Jamaican reporter is also on hand as is a witness, curiously sounding like the same unfortunate soul who warned Ethel not to look when the streaker ran by. It's perhaps no coincidence that the image of Ray on the CD comes from "The Streak" music video...an image also used on the cover of Ray's 1992's million selling home video, Comedy Video Classics. The catchphrase in the song, which flies across the CD cover, deals with the absurdity of pigs literally flying all over the place...apparently making extensive use of the expression "when pigs fly!". There are 15 songs on the CD...some are brand new and some are re-recordings. Tracks 1 through 6 and track 11 are original recordings brand new to Ray's catalog of songs while tracks 5 through 10 and track 12 were re-recordings, mostly of material from the mid '80s. "Hurricane" dabbled in spoofing cable news reporters but another song from this CD, "Sucking Sound", is a direct parody of Ross Perot on Larry King's program. The song depicts the viewpoints Perot held during the 1992 Presidential race and compares Perot's predictions about the U.S. economy back then to the current state of the economy and the workforce. The result? Perot's predictions were pretty much on target. Throughout the song Ray does impressions of Perot talking to Larry King.

There's a distinct rural/backwoods theme that runs through the CD...which is something that had been missing on a lot of previous comedy CD's from Ray during this time period. In a lot of the songs on Hurricane the focal point is the rural culture and the independent lifestyle they enjoy with the protagonists in each song being good ol' boy characters.

Track List:

1. Hurricane
2. Sucking Sound
3. The Cure
4. Bubba the Wine Connoisseur
5. Hey Bubba, Watch This!
6. Rub It In
7. Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat
8. The Camping Trip
9. Makin' The Best of a Bad Situation
10. Stuck On You
11. Down Home Beach
12. Hugo the Human Cannonball

In the above track list I use the bold lettering to indicate the brand new songs so that readers can have a quick reference. The CD is also available as an Mp3 and the great thing about that is a consumer can purchase individual songs...which is what I did. I bought the 7 new songs since I already have the originals of the 5 re-recordings on this collection.

One day, just for completest purposes, I'll purchase the physical copy of the CD.

Unlike Hurricane, I happen to own the LP, cassette, and CD versions of Crackin' Up. I don't necessarily own what I call an individual CD version of Crackin' Up...instead I have a copy of it on CD form that was part of a collection called The Incredible World of Ray Stevens. It's a 3-CD collection...with the third CD being 1987's Crackin' Up. I came across a write-up of this particular comedy album back in 1987 when it was brand new...and the critic complained that the humor on the CD was, and I'm paraphrasing: "too R-rated" and "mired in adult themes and not family friendly". As laughable as those criticisms are the reviewer came across very serious. I've listened to this album for years and know the songs inside and out...there's absolutely nothing "adult oriented" or "r-rated" about the collection. The thing that the critic must have taken objection to is how marital strife and romance was spoofed in several of the songs. "Three Legged Man", for instance, is a story about a man who falls for a married woman (nothing new for country songs) and the hilarious chase that ensues when the man and woman go running through the wilderness with the angry husband hot on their trail.

"Cool Down Willard" is a story about how a man's wife and grandmother have flipped for weatherman, Willard Scott. Ray does his popular grandmother vocal impression in this recording. "I'm My Own Grandpaw" dates back to the 1940's if I'm not mistaken...originally a hit for Lonzo and Oscar. I bet the song that really set that particular critic off on a sour note is the song-title, "Sex Symbols"...apparently the word, sex, is something that in his opinion shouldn't grace a Ray Stevens album? Whatever the case, "Sex Symbols" is a very funny song inspired by the unlikely duet pairing of Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias. Ray doesn't do an impression of Willie but he does do an impression of Julio. In concert Ray often performed the song playing the part of a ventriloquist...with dummy Julio sitting on his lap. Julio hasn't appeared much lately...he made a cameo appearance in "The Blue Cyclone" music video in 2000...since then I hadn't seen him show up in anything else.

There were two separate releases of The Incredible World of Ray Stevens. One collection features Crackin' Up as the third CD which is what I own. Another release with the same title shows a different picture of Ray and it contains both his 1987 and 1984 MCA comedy albums and a third CD is a compilation which features a good number of songs from his 1985 and 1986 MCA comedy albums, a couple of songs from the '70s, plus 1988's "Surfin' U.S.S.R". The collection that I own contains 34 songs while the other collection with the same title features 30 songs...10 per CD. The collection I own covers a lot of his '60s and '70s material on the first two CD's with the third one being 1987's Crackin' Up. The collection that I don't own looks like this...

Meanwhile...a few days ago I remarked that Ray's music video, "We The People", was nearing 4.1 million hits on You Tube. It surpassed the 4.1 million mark a couple of days after that particular blog entry. The video has since increased 10,000 additional hits and is sitting at 4,110,304. The other million hitter, "Come to the USA", continues to gain huge numbers each and every day. It's now sitting at 4,781,631 hits! Although the You Tube hit counts will always rise and never remain the same the Top-10 music video uploads from Ray Stevens, as of January 27, 2011, are as follows. The current hit totals are shown in parentheses.

#10: "Everything Is Beautiful" (212,178)
#9: "Thank You" (330,469)
#8: "Caribou Barbie" (352,387)
#7: "God Save Arizona" (619,151)
#6: "Throw the Bums Out!" (655,385)
#5: "The Streak" (660,520)
#4: "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" (800,789)
#3: "Osama Yo' Mama" (854,679)
#2: "We The People" (4,110,304)
#1: "Come to the USA" (4,781,631)

January 24, 2011

A Ray Stevens Birthday!!

January 24th on this particular blog is a very important date in history. This is the day that Ray Stevens was born in Clarkdale, Georgia in 1939. So Happy Birthday Ray Stevens!!

Ray's birth-name is Harold Ray Ragsdale and he adopted the name 'Ray Stevens' later on in life when it was suggested to him that he use a stage name. Several stories have been told as to why there was a stage name needed...on a 5 minute radio series in 1991, hosted by Ralph Emery, Ray remarked that the last name, Ragsdale, often reminded him of what you might call a puppy, "Rags", for example. The name, Ray Stevens, came from using his middle name and the maiden name of his mother. Harold Ray Ragsdale became professionally known as Ray Stevens at some point in 1957. A time-line runs along the right side of this blog page depicting the various stage's of Ray's career from his professional debut on Prep Records in 1957 through his most recent release in 2010. The time-line's purpose is to simply showcase the various LP covers, singles, or any magazine he's graced the cover of. It's a chronological time-line but I purposely pin-pointed a lot of the more obscure recordings in addition to the widely known recordings.

Pin-pointing the obscure recordings of Ray Stevens is one of the key ingredients in why I started this fan-created blog page in late 2008. There wasn't any blogs that I felt really delved into the career of Ray Stevens...and I thought it was high time an under-rated talent with enormous talent got the full-scale treatment that I felt was lacking while surfing the internet. On this Ray Stevens birthday let's journey back and forth between classic and contemporary...

From 1968 is "The Great Escape", a very catchy song about the trials and tribulations of the everyday grind. In the song, which has stinging horn punctuations, Ray sings about how much of a bad day's he's been having and how he longs for the great escape to his home life and away from the job and constant chaos. In a lot of ways it carries a similar message that "Unwind" carries...and "Unwind" eventually reached the middle of the Hot 100 in 1968. Each of those songs comes from Even Stevens, the first long-playing album released on Ray by Monument Records. As you can see in the image display, the album is featured in the promo with the name of the single listed directly below. The period of 1968-1975, in the minds of pop music historians/critics, is the era in which they say that Ray Stevens was at his commercial peak. If you're judging this "commercial peak" in terms of pop radio and Top-40 airplay then they'd be correct...from 1976 onward he became more and more affiliated with country music.

As a result, a lot of people who listened to pop radio and followed pop music happenings and watched pop/rock oriented TV programs, well, Ray Stevens to those people had slipped under the radar and they ultimately stopped paying attention to his career. The effects of this kind of thing shown up in 2009 when people, who had apparently lost interest in Ray in the late '70s after he'd "gone country", all of the sudden they re-discovered Ray Stevens decades later via his You Tube music videos. A lot of those people had no inkling of anything Ray had done since the days of "The Streak" in 1974...that's how out of the loop they were in 2009 when his "We The People" music video became an internet smash hit. Fortunately though a lot of those who re-discovered Ray in 2009 went back and discovered a lot of the comical recordings they'd missed during that 35 year(!!) lapse in time.

An issue of TV Guide from 1970 contains a write-up on Ray Stevens as at the time he was the host of the summer show for Andy Williams. Ray and his cast taped a total of 8 programs that aired on NBC-TV spread out over a couple of months. The name of the TV show, by the way, was titled Andy Williams Presents...Ray Stevens???. The purpose of the question marks is explained within the article and it also goes into detail at how low-key and relatively unknown Ray happened to be in spite of having sold several millions of comedy singles and racking up several major hits throughout much of the '60s...with 1962's "Ahab the Arab" and 1969's "Gitarzan" achieving million seller status. The article implies that for the general public the last they heard of Ray was when "Ahab the Arab" was a single. This was obviously at a time when there was a major distinction between a radio star and a TV star...those who listened to radio a lot were no doubt aware of Ray Stevens; but, for those watching TV and only having radio on in the background, and for those who rarely paid much attention to music at all, more than likely had no idea who Ray Stevens was...but yet all of the sudden he was the star of a variety show on TV. The show ran from June 20 through August 8, 1970. It ran an hour and featured Ray performing songs and participating in comedy sketches plus it featured a regular cast of singers and comedians. The show has never been re-aired since it's final August 8th airing. It's anyone's guess if the episodes still exist or if they've been erased or "lost". In this day and age of DVD it's mind-boggling why Ray's 1970 summer show has never been released.

There's nothing mind-boggling about this 1997 CD, though. This particular collection of comedy songs features 10 tracks...a couple of the songs were made into music videos and have become part of his long list of comedy music videos. Ray's connection to music videos began in 1992 and for much of the 1990's his career had shifted from audio to video as sales of his music video releases had reached such enormous heights that it was only logical to emphasize music video releases first and foremost and place the recording career secondary. Ray, during the early '90s, was also a big star in Branson, Missouri headlining his own music theater. He did this for three consecutive seasons: 1991, 1992, and 1993. In 1997, after a 4 year absence of anything new in audio form, Ray returned with Hum It. This CD was issued by MCA and it depicts Ray as Whistler's Mother on the cover. Ray had been on the Curb Records label since 1990...issuing his home videos on his own label, Clyde Records, but in 1996 he joined up with MCA once again. MCA is the label he recorded for in the mid to late '80s when he became marketed exclusively as a country comedy act. Several of the albums he recorded for MCA and a couple of the compilation albums they released on him in the 1980's went on to become Gold and Platinum successes.

Late in 2001 and going strongly into mid 2002 Ray was enjoying the highly successful single and album, Osama Yo' Mama. Ray was back with Curb Records once more after a short-lived stint with MCA, 1996-1998. The single would achieve Gold status and remain on the Country Single Sales chart for nearly half a year. It would become the 5th most popular country single of the year in terms of sales in 2002. The album would reach the Top-30 on the Country Album chart and he appeared on a couple of high-profile programs on the Fox News Channel in 2002 as a result of "Osama Yo' Mama". The song was made into a music video in 2002...which eventually was uploaded by Ray onto You Tube in 2009. The song's sequel, "Hello Mama", was also made into a music video but was released as a single-only and as a consequence was not available on the Osama Yo' Mama CD.

To conclude this Ray Stevens Birthday blog I'll end with a small sampling of the awards that he's won and gotten through the years...

1. Gold Single: "Ahab the Arab"; 1962
2. Gold Single: "Gitarzan"; 1969
3. Gold Single: "Everything Is Beautiful"; 1970
4. Grammy- "Everything Is Beautiful"; 1971
5. Gold Single: "The Streak"; 1974
6. Grammy- "Misty"; 1976
7. Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame: 1980 Induction
8. Georgia Music Hall of Fame: 1980 Induction
9. Platinum Album: He Thinks He's Ray Stevens; 1984
10. Gold Album: I Have Returned; 1985
11. Platinum Album: Greatest Hits; 1987
12. Gold Album: Greatest Hits, Volume Two; 1987
13. Gold Album: His All-Time Greatest Comic
; 1990
14. Multi-Platinum Home Video: Comedy Video Classics; 1992
15. Multi-Platinum Home Video: Ray Stevens Live!; 1993
16. Multi-Platinum Home Video: Get Serious!; 1995
17. Gold Single: "Osama Yo' Mama"; 2002
18. Christian Music Hall of Fame: 2009 Induction

In the fan-voted Music City News Awards Ray was named Comedian of the Year for nine consecutive years: 1986 through 1994. The readers of Country Weekly named Ray their Favorite Comedian in 1995 during their Golden Pick awards gala.

As far as intellectual property is concerned Ray's publishing company, Ray Stevens Music, not only publishes the bulk of his own material but he's also the publisher of material that his writers have written for other artists. Ray's company is affiliated with BMI and throughout much of the '70s, '80s, and '90s he received quite a few BMI publisher certificates. In 1992 and 1994 his publishing company reaped the rewards of two Sammy Kershaw hits, "Cadillac Style" and "I Can't Reach Her Anymore". In 1977 he was the publisher of "Way Down", one of Elvis Presley's last hit singles during his lifetime.

A lot of the songs written by Layng Martine, Jr. were published by Ray as Layng was a writer for Ray for a period of years in the early to mid '70s.

Between 2003 and 2008 Ray continued to perform, record, and release music video collections. A return to his theater in Branson, Missouri in 2004 picked up where he had left off in 1993. Ray shut down his theater for good and it was bought by the RFD-TV network. After a few more CD releases in 2008 and 2009, including his first and only non-comical Christmas CD, Ray began to play around with the video hosting site, You Tube. At first Ray uploaded a lot of the music videos that he had put together in the 1990's and the early 2000's but then he began to use the site as a place to upload new music in video form for an entire world wide web to see. "We The People" came along in late November 2009 as an Mp3 single...several days later it was made into a music video and was posted on You Tube in early December. The song, skewering ObamaCare, became an internet sensation and obtained over a million plays on You Tube within a matter of weeks. Since then Ray's become quite popular amongst the You Tube audience with a string of topical/politically-themed music video releases that have all achieved massive numbers. There's only been a few of the video uploads that have not obtained more than 100,000 hits and those are "The Global Warming Song" with 84,879 hits and the seasonal "Nightmare Before Christmas" with 90,213 hits.

And with that this concludes the Ray Stevens Birthday blog! Given how much You Tube and music videos have become so synonymous with Ray in recent years let's enjoy what else Ray has in store for all the fans in 2011 by way of You Tube and by way of CD and DVD!!

January 21, 2011

We're With You, Ray Stevens!

A non-comical recording from Ray Stevens dated 1974 is "You've Got the Music Inside". This is the B-side of "The Streak" but "You've Got the Music Inside" is taken from his 1973 Nashville album. The B-side is not your typical love song...in this song Ray uses the word 'music' as a romantic metaphor when attempting to convey a message to a woman that it isn't right to feel uptight and keep things bottled up about a past relationship when she should be concentrating on the new relationship ahead. Part of the song's chorus suggests that the woman should let go of all of her hang-up's and start all over. This love ballad is well over 4 minutes in length. 4 minutes, 44 seconds to be exact. It's a slow tempo ballad...there's no mid-tempo fast paced rhythm to it except toward the end of the song when the music picks up and Ray gets into the spirit of the situation and vocally lets loose. Ray would later re-record this song in 1978 and place it on his Be Your Own Best Friend album. The 1978 re-recording is not as slow paced as the 1973 recording but the 1978 re-recording features an updated musical arrangement with a deliberate smooth-sounding Adult-Contemporary feel and it retains the slow tempo feel...but it's mid-tempo compared to the 1973 original. Ironically, though, Ray would perform this song on a 1981 episode of Pop! Goes the Country and sing it as an up-tempo party song throughout much of the performance...slowing things down at certain parts of the song...but the party atmosphere remained dominant in that particular television performance. This particular episode was taped after Tom T. Hall took over hosting duties from Ralph Emery and it can be found on DVD at the Classic Country DVD link. It's on the Pop! Goes the Country, Volume 17 edition. Ray and Tom, by the way, sing a duet toward the end of the show...their take on "It's Hard To Be Humble".

"The Streak", the A-side of "You've Got the Music Inside", cemented Ray's reputation as a comical singer...some had always viewed Ray as a comical artist, first and foremost, even before this song was released...but, this particular single forever shaped that belief in the minds of music buyers and radio DJ's. In spite of issuing an abundance of non-comical songs during the latter half of 1974 through 1979 it was the comical recordings that had popped up infrequently during that same time period that became more widely known. Wonderful non-comical songs such as his versions of "Indian Love Call", "Mockingbird Hill", and "You Are So Beautiful" in addition to original material like "Honky Tonk Waltz", "Dixie Hummingbird", "Feel the Music", and "Be Your Own Best Friend" were all greeted with lukewarm reception by DJ's and as a consequence the material wasn't widely played on the radio and as a consequence the lack of widespread airplay didn't enable the music to find a potentially appreciative audience...and without an audience to buy the music it causes an artist to look commercially unpopular. What I just described explains perfectly why airplay and sales pretty much back then went hand in hand...you couldn't have one without the other. Today, though, Ray uses TV advertising, TV appearances, and more frequently, the video hosting web-site, You Tube, to promote his music...and speaking of modern-day Ray Stevens...

Ray Stevens will appear at the CPAC gathering on February 10, 2011. He is scheduled to be a performer...I'm sure he'll speak during his spot on the show but because he's not considered one of the speakers at the event his name doesn't appear among the guests listed on the CPAC web-page. Instead, you'll need to click this link. It's an Adobe Reader/PDF file and once it opens it lists an event by event breakdown of what all will take place. For those who may have trouble opening up that link, Ray's confirmed to appear during the Presidential Banquet portion of CPAC held in the Marriott Ballroom beginning at 7:30pm February 10th. Ray mentioned this upcoming appearance via Twitter, the social network site. The CPAC gathering will be in Washington, D.C. and this marks another occasion where Ray lends his talents to a political event. On April 15, 2010 Ray appeared at a Freedom Works event billed as a Tea Party Tax Day Rally. Ray appeared at other Tea Party events throughout 2010, both on a large and small scale...including an event in Branson, Missouri on the same day that his concert series at The Welk Theater was coming to a close. Ray's most recent You Tube upload is the seasonal "Nightmare Before Christmas" but his most recent political/topical music video was the August 4, 2010 release of "God Save Arizona". This particular music video has gotten 614,245 hits as of 1/21/2011.

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 23...

A few more days still remain before we turn our attentions to January 24, 2011. This is the date that Ray Stevens celebrates a birthday. I purposely hadn't written much about it because I want to save most of my enthusiasm for the birthday blog I'll be writing. I'll more than likely do one of those career time-line's again...but I hadn't decided if I want to focus on awards or focus on something else altogether. I often don't single out his awards because there's only a few that I know of...ones that have become public knowledge through the years. I don't, unfortunately, know how many certificates he's gotten from music publishing companies through the years for the songs he's published. Publisher awards generally aren't given a lot of media attention but I'd like to know how many he's gotten...just out of curiosity. I'd also like to know if he's ever gotten any radio station awards or certificates...or any certificates from any of the weekly music charts that were in publication. Although these kinds of awards are perhaps only interesting to die-hard fans I nonetheless wish I knew the extent of Ray's awards, honors, and industry-related certificates. I know of quite a few of his awards...but I'm sure there's plenty more I'm unaware of.


Here's a CD that I wrote about in 2009...it's the Ray Stevens trucker CD, One For the Road. The availability of the CD, at first, was exclusive to Pilot truck stops across most of the country. The CD didn't get widespread distribution until the fall of 2009...officially going on sale after Labor Day 2009. The trucker CD should have been publicized more than it was but a little ol' song late in 2009 got in the way. I'm speaking of "We The People"...the music video that hit You Tube early in December of 2009 and it's been consistently popular ever since. How popular? As of this writing the video's nearing 4.1 million hits...actual view count is 4,094,337 and climbing! Since the release of that music video late in 2009 Ray's been releasing topical and politically-themed material ever since...with another music video, "Come to the USA", having amassed 4,755,314 hits. Several other topical music videos released by Ray throughout 2010 obtained hundreds of thousands of hits...a couple obtaining more than half a million each.

One For the Road is one of those projects which features brand new recordings along side previously released material. There are 15 songs on the CD...7 of which were brand new to his career...while the other 8 run the gamut from re-recorded material to previously released material. I darkened the names of the 7 new songs for quick reference.

1. Concrete Sailor
2. Convoy
3. Right Reverend Road Hog 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
13. Mississippi Squirrel Revival
14. It's Me Again, Margaret
15. The Streak

The final three tracks come from the recordings made in 1992 for the Comedy Video Classics project. "Convoy", track 2, is not necessarily a new song...but it's the first time it's been covered by Ray. The original version by C.W. McCall still gets played every so often on the scores of classic country music radio stations...the bulk of which are hitting the satellite and internet markets. Ray's version of the song keeps basically the same arrangement as McCall's but it doesn't feature the audio effect of Ray sounding as if he's talking on a CB. "Concrete Sailor" is absolutely wonderful...the loneliness can be heard throughout the song.

January 18, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 18...

Ray Stevens, along with Jimmy Dean and Kathie Baillie were co-hosts of the Music City News Songwriter Awards 20 years ago in 1991, an experimental program that sought to spotlight and award the songwriting side of Nashville. 1991 was the debut year for this program and as you can see from the cover of Music City News, Ray was one of the co-hosts. This secondary program never obtained the same level of popularity that the artist awards from Music City News readers had gotten mainly because songwriters, usually, aren't in the spotlight. Unless a singer happens to be a songwiter, too, most songwriters aren't well-known outside of the songwriting community. There are a few exceptions, though, when a songwriter becomes prolific and is responsible for a large list of recordings by numerous recording artists. This sort of songwriter becomes just as popular as a singer...but 90% of the time songwriters don't obtain that kind of widespread acclaim.

The Music City News Songwriter Awards can be described as an updated version of an earlier program, The Music City News Top Hits of the Year, which often aired early in a calendar year. In that program, which had aired annually since 1981, the top country music hits of the previous year were performed on-stage and the songwriters were given publicity, too. For example...a 1982 telecast would celebrate hit songs from 1981.

I have a DVD of the 1983 edition of the Top Hits of the Year, actually it's a Best-of compilation from that 1983 special. All of the songs nominated and honored were hits in 1982. Ray Stevens was the co-host...along side Tammy Wynette. In the DVD release, which is cut down considerably from it's original running time, Ray and Tammy are shown introducing guests and bantering back and fourth which is customary on many programs. The two open up the DVD performing "We Got the Music In Music City" while later in the DVD we get to see Ray perform "Country Boy, Country Club Girl" which was a song featured on his 1982 album on RCA, Don't Laugh Now.

Here's a little bit of trivia concerning the 1983 awards program: The day the show was taped happened to be January 24, 1983...on Ray's birthday!

By the way...speaking of 1991 it was during the Gulf War that Ray's song, "Ahab the Arab", was routinely proclaimed politically incorrect by those who advocate political correctness. The highly entertaining song had it's share of critics prior to 1991 and those criticisms were few and far between. The criticisms tended to be about potential stereotypes of Arabs by modern-day listeners of the song. So, it's safe to assume there were politically correct hacks floating around in the '70's and '80s. By and large from 1991 onward the liberal-progressive movement took a firm grip in the so-called mainstream media and the progressive activists branded the song 'politically incorrect'. Very few media outlets from 1991 onward have had any positive references toward the song. If the song gets mentioned in modern-times it's almost always referred to as being politically incorrect or "harshly offensive". Political correctness is nothing more than language-based McCarthyism where liberal-progressives recklessly proclaim anything they take offense to as being politically incorrect. Once they smugly proclaim something to be politically incorrect in some way or another then the demagoguery begins.

In current interviews Ray Stevens takes up for "Ahab the Arab" and goes to great length explaining his inspiration for the song. Demagogues who hear his explanations have no use for the truth and therefore they continue to brand the song politically incorrect in spite of testimony from the song's writer. These politically correct hacks don't care what people or organizations say in their own defense...instead, the hacks want to dictate and control what others do and say no matter what. That's the bottom line. Political correctness has nothing to do with being inoffensive or being nice and kind to each other...it's all about controlling how a person communicates. The hacks want to control how people think toward certain organizations, singers, entertainers, books, TV shows, etc. etc. The literary field is littered with books that have been put on a so-called banned list because politically correct hacks object to their content. The same holds true for cartoons made largely before the mid 1980's.

There's also a double-standard at play, too. While the politically correct hacks are largely liberal-progressives who want to control how people communicate and dictate what entertainment we should enjoy...they get fighting mad whenever there's potential threats from Congress of non-funding of NPR (National Public Radio), PBS, or other left-leaning public funded organizations. These same people who demand that we adopt political correctness in our daily lives and accept their mandates on how to treat other people turn right around and get angry, insulting, and hostile if something they enjoy [like NPR; Unions] is threatened in some way. The hypocrisy is enormous.

Meanwhile, it was fun finding a VHS tape in my private collection and coming across an episode of The George Jones Show with Ray Stevens as a guest. I knew I had taped the show but among my VHS tapes it had gotten misplaced and for the first time in several years I watched the episode. The episode originally aired on TNN back in 1998 and I watched the episode multiple times throughout 1998 and beyond but when I purchased a DVD player and started watching DVD's with much more frequency I put away the VHS tapes into storage containers where they've remained since.

On the episode Ray sings his latest, "Too Drunk To Fish". The song was originally found on his 1997 CD, Hum It. The episode also features Ray and the other guests, Alison Moorer and T. Graham Brown, sitting in a living room set discussing with George the music industry and their careers. George plays a small clip of Ray singing "Ahab the Arab" from the mid '60s. Ray performs part of "Everything Is Beautiful" during the living room segment and moments later he and George perform "She Thinks I Still Care" as a duet blending the pop-version Ray recalled singing in an unreleased recording while George performs it the way he's known for.

January 16, 2011

Ray Stevens sings Great Gospel Songs...

One of the compilations that Curb Records issued was this 1996 gospel collection titled Great Gospel Songs. This is a 13 song collection which can be described as a re-issue of his 1972 LP, Turn Your Radio On, with a couple of additional tracks thrown in. Although the collection contains material recorded between 1969 and 1972 the liner notes by a man named Don Ovens doesn't elaborate much on the material in this collection...although he does offer commentary about "Everything Is Beautiful" and mentions which song on the collection is his favorite. The liner notes consist mostly of biographical data one can find almost anywhere but then there's a few passages that contain commentary about Ray's experiences touring radio stations in the mid and late '50s while under the guidance of Bill Lowery. Such information like that has never appeared in any write-up of Ray Stevens that I've seen...and I've seen A LOT of them through the years. The writer of the liner notes is stingy with the number of hit songs and albums that Ray's enjoyed over the years. He's had more hit singles and more hit albums than the writer alludes to. This compilation is notable for including the unedited version of "All My Trials"...most compilations feature the shortened radio edit which clocks in at just under 3 minutes. The full length version, clocking in at 4 minutes, 33 seconds is the one included here.

1. I'll Fly Away; 1972

2. Love Lifted Me; 1972 {Top-5 Bangkok}

3. Have a Little Talk With Myself; 1969 {Country chart hit}

4. Turn Your Radio On; 1972 {Top-20 Country; Top-10 Canada; Top-30 U.K.; Top-30 AC}

5. Will There Be Any Stars; 1972

6. Why Don't You Lead Me To That Rock; 1972

7. Glory Special; 1972

8. A Brighter Day; 1970

9. Let Our Love Be a Light Unto the People; 1972

10. A Mama and a Papa; 1971 {Top-5 AC}

11. All My Trials; 1971 {Top-5 AC}

12. Yes, Jesus Loves Me; 1972

13. Everything Is Beautiful; 1970 {#1 pop; #1-AC; Top-10 U.K.; Top-40 Country}

January 14, 2011

Ray Stevens and the Bands...

One of the more zany novelty songs in the career of Ray Stevens arrived 45 years ago in 1966 in the form of "Freddie Feelgood and His Funky Little Five Piece Band". The official spelling is Freddie...although some record label's through the years have spelled it as Freddy. The song makes good use of the scat-singing style of performance which is often under-appreciated and under-rated. Ray doesn't do many performances with scat-singing but there's a few...and this 1966 single happens to be one of them. Ray vocally imitates several instruments in this performance...except for the piano. The drummer in the band, Yum-Yum, is the main highlight as far as the scat-singing goes. In Yum-Yum, Ray goes all out and comes off sounding exactly like any number of classic Jazz artists known for scat-singing and then for the trumpet man, Freddie Feelgood, he reverses the emotion with a low-key vocalization. The members of the band are as follows...

1. Yum-Yum: Drum
2. Tyrone: Trombone
3. Ace: Bass
4. Percy: Piano
5. Freddie: Trumpet

As anyone can see, several of the band member's names rhyme with their instrument. This particular song required the aid of multi-tracking which is something I consider Ray Stevens a legend in. I'm sure multi-tracking/over-dubbing was going on prior to Ray's arrival on the music scene but in my opinion Ray used the technology more than most. Today it's common for songs to be constructed piece by piece...one day a producer will add instrumentation, the next day a performer will add their vocals, the next day the producer may splice in more instruments or subtract instruments and then piece it all together as one recording. Ray was doing this sort of thing years before it become commonplace. Ray also is one of the few that over-dubs his own voice in several harmonies to sing against. He's always had a back-up group of some kind...for many years it's usually been 3 or 4 females...but there were also instances where he'd sing his own back-up harmony on his recordings in addition to what the actual back-up group were contributing.

"Freddie Feelgood" reached the charts in 1966 but just barely. Three years later the song appeared on Ray's Gitarzan album with laughter over-dubbed onto the recording. This audience enhanced version is usually what appears on many of the compilation albums and CD's from the '70s through the '90s. Ray re-recorded the song for a music video adaptation in 2000.

The concept of "Freddie Feelgood" served as inspiration for a couple of other Ray Stevens songs. 1984's "Ned Nostril", while musically based almost entirely on Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", it nonetheless incorporates non-verbal musical accompaniment at various stages in the song. The story of "Ned Nostril" centers around a man who apparently has a big nose but for the purpose of comedy we're to imagine that it's as long as Pinocchio's nose. Ned's band was described as being a group of ragweed sniffers...resulting in allergy-laden, watery eye conditions. Ned made music by humming through his nose while his band sniffed, coughed, and gagged their way to fame. Ray performs the song as Johnny Cash. The full, official title of this 1984 recording is "Ned Nostril and His South Seas Paradise, Puts Your Blues On Ice, Cheap at Twice the Price Band, Ikky-Ikky, Ukky-Ukky".

In 1990 "Freddie Feelgood" received some competition in the form of "Cletus McHicks". "Cletus McHicks and His Band From the Sticks", an up-tempo sing-a-long made up almost entirely of end rhymes, introduced us to a new set of musicians.

1. Flip: Bass
2. Eugene: Drum
3. Mose: Steel Guitar
4. Cletus: Guitar

January 13, 2011

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 22...

Although we're a few months shy, 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of I Have Returned reaching the #1 spot on the country album chart. The comedy album from Ray Stevens was released late fall 1985 and it started a slow climb to #1. One of the key factors in Ray's longevity is the way he can prolong just about any song, album, or home video/DVD and get all that he can from each project. This album, released in 1985, reached the country album chart in October of 1985...and it didn't reach it's peak until March 1986. See, I wasn't exaggerating when I said that it was a slow climb to #1...a 5 month climb specifically. This is not usual for most albums, of course. Typically an album debuts in or around it's peak position...most albums by country artists today routinely debut in the Top-10. A lot of singers have albums that debut at #1 as well...it's highly unusual for a CD to debut on the album chart and then reach it's peak 5 months later. Prolonged publicity and prolonged attention spans just aren't commonplace in today's music scene...unless you're Ray Stevens and therefore have the talent and ability to prolong your music for months at a time...racking up considerable longevity in the process.

Turning 25 this year is his 1986 comedy album, Surely You Joust. The name of the album, of course, is a pun on the phrase "surely you jest". The Knight in Shining Armor is a reference to King Arthur. Ray had been appearing in costume as historical figures on his first two comedy albums on MCA: 1984's He Thinks He's Ray Stevens has Ray in costume as Napoleon while 1985's I Have Returned, shown above, shows Ray in costume as General MacArthur...and this time around we have Ray in costume as King Arthur. Ray's Clyde the Camel logo is prominently on display. On this particular album there were a few urbane comedy recordings, if that's the proper word? There were still large aspects of country comedy and the rural life on this album...particularly in the album's first two tracks: "Southern Air" and "The People's Court".

Incidentally, "Southern Air" is a trio recording. It features Ray along with Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl. "The People's Court" features a rural couple who decide they've had enough of one another and it's time to go on TV and tell the world all the problems they have with each other. Ray uses his famed grandmother vocal impression for the wife, Myrna Louise. As Arlow, the husband, Ray speaks in a thicker rural accent. The picture on the left is the seldom seen flip-side image of Ray's 1986 album. A few of Ray's albums would feature different poses on the flip-side taken during the same photo session. This, of course, caused the flip-side of his album covers to be as highly entertaining and eye-catching as the front sides were. "Makin' the Best of a Bad Situation" and "Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat" conveyed a southern feeling as well.

Hi-tech gadgetry and computers were the main focus on "Bionie and the Robotics", an incredible recording where Ray sings most of the song as if he were a robot. "Fat" is a song about a man who feels as if he's so overweight to the point where he can hardly fit in his car among other things. It's a very funny recording and a slice of social commentary in that it pokes fun at the health-conscious. A performance of Ray singing this song when it was brand new, in 1986, can be found on You Tube. The 1986 album also features "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?" and it's also available on You Tube from the same 1986 TV appearance. Unfortunately the interview segment from the TV show isn't uploaded...I had asked the uploader if he had the interview segment, too, but I never got a reply. This album closes with "Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol", a song detailing Ray being pulled over for speeding and the eventual nightmare that ensues when he learns that characters he's sang about in previous recordings actually exist and are mad at him. Dudley Dorite turns out to be Bubba, a character from "Shriner's Convention"...Dorite's deputy is Coy, also from that same song. It goes on and on from there. The track list...

1. Southern Air- w/Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl
2. The People's Court
3. Bionie and the Robotics
4. Makin' the Best of a Bad Situation
5. Fat
6. Can He Love You Half as Much as I?
7. Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat
8. The Camping Trip
9. Camp Werthahekahwee
10. Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol

Moving on...

I have no idea who Al Campbell is but this description accompanies the #1 With a Bullet CD on a variety of on-line music stores...

quote: "#1 with a Bullet collects ten tracks recorded during Ray Stevens' tenure with Curb Records in the late '80s and early '90s, including the original versions of "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens," "Working for the Japanese," and "Power Tools." This collection is a good bargain for the budget-conscious, but does not feature any of his classic novelty tunes from the '60s and '70s. ~ Al Campbell."

It's an embarrassing description, if you happen to be dedicated/loyal fans of Ray Stevens, because of the way the CD is being erroneously detailed. The writer of the description apparently thinks that #1 With a Bullet is a compilation CD due to his remark that the CD "collects 10 tracks recorded during Ray Stevens' tenure with Curb Records in the late '80s and early '90s". Ray was still on MCA in the late '80s. He didn't join Curb until early 1990. The closing remark is also an example of how the descriptive language from the writer implies that he thought this CD was a compilation when he states that it doesn't contain any of Ray's classic novelty songs from the '60s and '70s.

The fact of the matter is #1 With a Bullet wasn't a compilation CD. It's considered a studio CD. The difference between a compilation and studio CD is that a compilation features previously recorded material from the past while a studio CD features newly recorded songs. The title of the CD clearly must have confused Campbell but then if he had did just a little bit of research on the CD he wouldn't have written a description that lacks accuracy. This description, as I mentioned, accompanies this CD on most on-line music stores...leaving some to think that the material on the CD was previously released at some point. This studio CD, released in 1991, turns 20 this year...something I remarked on in a previous blog.

Later this year will mark the 15th anniversary of Get Serious becoming available in retail stores. The actual month, 15 years ago in 1996, was December. Get Serious had been available exclusively through direct-mail as well as Ray Stevens' fan club during late summer 1995 through late summer 1996. The home video had sold more than 200,000 copies, qualifying it for Double-Platinum certification, prior to it's retail distribution during the 1996 Christmas season. The home video movie would eventually become a multi-week chart hit on Billboard's weekly video chart...spending nearly 30 weeks as one of the best-selling home videos in the country. This is the same chart where Ray spent months at #1 with Comedy Video Classics in 1993 and into 1994 as well as Ray Stevens Live! throughout 1994. Get Serious made it's chart debut late January 1997 and would remain consistently ranked among the top-sellers in home video through July 1997. Due to the passage of time and the fact that this home video movie has long been unavailable it's caused a lot of people to have no idea that it exists. The home video movie was advertised on TV in 1995...though mostly confined to The Nashville Network...but it also shown up on other television channels as well. It didn't receive the massive advertising that Comedy Video Classics and Ray Stevens Live! had received but Get Serious did get it's fair share of publicity at the time of it's release. I'd say the home video stopped being manufactured by MCA at some point in 1998 and since that time it's become obscure.

Here's another review I've written of the movie and it contains spoilers. Spoilers, for those unaware, is review jargon indicating that within the review there will be commentary that may reveal climatic moments and so for those who don't want to know a lot about the film before they see it for themselves they may hold off on reading a review that contains spoilers...so, here's the Get Serious review complete with several spoilers...

The plot of the movie was built around political correctness but it also spoofed the music industry as well...at a time when consolidation in the music industry was becoming far too frequent. In Ray's movie he records for Integrity Records but it's soon bought by a Japanese conglomerate named SoSumi Records. A scene in the movie shows construction workers literally chain-sawing the Integrity Records sign from the front lawn and replacing it with the glossy looking SoSumi Records, complete with Japanese music playing in the background. The new label is pronounced "So Sue Me".

The Paul Lynde-sounding Damien Darth, the record executive, wants to make too many unnecessary changes...the big change is trying to make Ray Stevens "get serious" and stop all the comedy songs and video making. Ray, at first thinking it's a joke, is soon horrified that the executive is serious with the suggestions. Ray refuses...which causes friction between him and the executive. In revenge the record executive and his underlings hatch a plot to ruin Ray's career by hiring fake protesters to accuse Ray of being politically incorrect. They figure with an artist as clean-cut as Ray Stevens the only way they can harm him is accuse him of being politically incorrect.

During the rehearsal of the "Ahab the Arab" music video the actress playing Fatima complains about supposedly sexist lyrics. The actress, of course, was hired by the record executive to protest the song. Moments later, the actress is seen talking to TV reporters outside the studio and fueling the fire about political incorrectness in Ray's songs.

The plot thickens as a group of people, rounded up by Dudley Dorite and therefore have no connection to the record executive, decide to band together and protest Ray's comedy as being insensitive...this group of people happen to have the same names of characters that have appeared in various Ray Stevens songs: Harv Newland, Sister Bertha, Clyde, etc etc. and their main complaint is character defamation.

Longtime fans of Ray will no doubt realize that his 1986 recording, "Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol", plays a big part in this movie's sub-plot. In fact, Dudley Dorite is one of the main characters in the movie. Dudley's played by Ray's frequent songwriting partner, Buddy Kalb.

Mid-way through the movie Ray is reunited with a former lover, Charlene MacKenzie. Eventually Ray is arrested, taken to court, and later put inside a dungeon...literally. He encounters a family who've been chained up in the dungeon for decades.

Later, Charlene breaks Ray out of jail and the two of them embark on a long journey evading Dudley Dorite and his group in addition to the record executive and his group. By movie's end the record executive has become more and more sinister...to the point of madness. I believe this is a spoof on how controlling record executives and those in the music industry generally are when it comes to the roster of artists on the various record labels. Damien Darth becomes so obsessed with controlling Ray's music direction AND life by this point. The irrational, corrupt psychiatrist Sickmind Fraud enters the action around this time, too. Obviously a play on the name, Sigmund Freud.

Sickmind apparently spends most of his day riding a toy horse and making passes at his nurse...which is what we see him do in his first scene. Ray portrays Sickmind...with a heavy Americanized German dialect. Also, Sickmind is dressed as Napoleon...and now you all understand why Ray's dressed the way he is on the home video's cover. Sickmind later sings "I Used To Be Crazy"...one of the last music videos in the movie. The song originated in 1989 on Ray's excellent Beside Myself album and in that recording Ray sings the song in his own voice...but in this 1995 re-recording he sings it in character as Sickmind Fraud.

In addition to the conventional movie there are 10 all-new music videos interwoven throughout:

1. Gitarzan
2. The Woogie Boogie
3. Shriner's Convention
4. Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol
5. We Don't Take Nuthin' Off Nobody**
6. The Dooright Family
7. Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens*
8. Can He Love You Half as Much as I?
9. I Used To Be Crazy
10. Ahab the Arab

(*)- "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" was one of the new recordings did exclusively for the movie. It's performed as a duet with his co-star, Connie Freeman, the actress playing the part of Charlene MacKenzie. The two of them are hiding in a chicken coop, dressed in chicken costumes, and upon discovery by Deputy Coy they try to escape but not before they perform that song-and-dance number.

(**)- "We Don't Take Nuthin' Off Nobody" is a partially performed recording/music video. The full-length recording of the song is available on the Get Serious soundtrack. Ray sings the song in character as Luther, the head of the family that's been chained up in a dungeon for decades because they refused to pay an inexpensive bill. Luther has a thick southern accent in addition to long hair and a long beard.

The movie, being a comedy, ends on a happy note with Ray being cleared of all charges and all accusations with the record executive being put in his place. The movie features cameo appearances by a string of performers associated with country comedy and country music in general: Charlie Chase, Chet Atkins, Johnny Russell, George Lindsey, Williams & Ree, and James Gregory. Jerry Clower is a supporting player...his appearances are sprinkled throughout the movie. An actor named Tim Hubbard portrays the easily confused Deputy Coy. Ray's brother, John Ragsdale, plays the role of Clyde and can also be seen as an Indian in the "Woogie Boogie" video as well as playing a member of The Sultan's army. Buddy Kalb plays the part of Dudley Dorite/Bubba as well as a Woogie Indian and The Sultan. Michael Airington portrays the power hungry, obsessive record executive Damien Darth. Ray not only plays himself but he also portrays an Indian, a Calcutta rug salesman, a Judge, Luther, Gitarzan, Coy and Bubba in the "Shriner's Convention" music video, Daddy Dooright, Sickmind Fraud, and of course, "Ahab the Arab".

Get Serious can often be found on eBay...so for those fans of Ray Stevens who want the only movie he's ever made I encourage you to seek out the movie. It's highly entertaining and satiric in places. If you pay close attention in the opening scenes where Ray's inside the offices of the record company you'll no doubt notice all those Gold and Platinum albums and singles on the wall awarded to Ray Stevens through the years. They're all legitimate. In one scene you can clearly see the Platinum certification plaque for his 1987 MCA album, Greatest Hits. There's also a plaque displaying several Gold singles side by side indicating the various millions of copies a single had sold. Back then, Gold certification was 1,000,000 copies and higher...there wasn't any certification for music that sold half a million as there is today. It wasn't until 1976 that the Platinum certification was introduced for sales of 1,000,000 and higher. Gold certification then became indicative of 500,000 {half a million} in sales.

January 9, 2011

Ray Stevens...Critical Reaction, Part 2...

Yikes! Have we got a lot to talk about...

I guess I shouldn't be surprised...actually, I'm not surprised. It's rather annoying but predictable to see people on the far-left of the political spectrum turn the shootings that happened in Arizona on Saturday into a political event. I'm not singling out the liberal blogs on purpose...the reason why I'm singling out the "far-left" is basically because the far-left blogs that are notorious for spreading animosity toward conservatives, the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and other symbols of the Republican party are the very same blogs that I saw this morning politicizing the Arizona shootings with their reckless rhetoric.

I do blog searches to see what's being said about Ray Stevens...it's something that's become a habit ever since I got a computer. This morning when I checked the latest blogs I saw several recent additions politicizing the Arizona shootings and injecting Ray Stevens' "God Save Arizona" music video as some sort of tool that provoked the anger and violence that took place yesterday. As outrageous as that belief is it's something that's spread around very seriously among liberal blog sites in their quest to demonize and politically destroy their opponents. The murders, chaos, and tragedy that took place should be a non-political issue and all people should condone that kind of behavior.

It's irresponsible to blame the media, celebrities, and political ideology on the actions of unbalanced people. People can disagree about everything and have heated debates about any number of issues...and that should continue to happen. The crazy, unbalanced people in society, however, take things a step too far. It isn't the fault of any media policy, celebrity opinions, political party, or rhetoric that's to blame when things go too far. The only people to blame are the culprits and those who had a hand in carrying out the shootings. Having said that I do feel that there are some organizations out there deliberately spinning this into a political story and attaching the actions of a lone killer to a series of unrelated political viewpoints. How liberal bloggers can go from point A to point B and connect unrelated issues will always remain a mystery...but so far that seems to be their plan.

As irresistible as it may be for liberal blog sites out there to quickly blame Fox News, Republicans, the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and even Ray Stevens(!) for what happened in Arizona the fact of the matter is you don't have to tone down your rhetoric and you don't have to change the way you deliver your thoughts based upon how unbalanced people will take your words. The notion that people should now "tone down their rhetoric" because it can be taken out of context is nothing more than a form of political correctness. Sane, rational people of all political beliefs can disagree strongly with one another without taking it a step further and using violence...that's what separates the sane from the insane...the balanced from the unbalanced.

I do happen to feel that there are a lot of unbalanced people who frequent chat-rooms and social media outlets and spew all kinds of incoherent hatred about whatever...so yes, when the rantings go beyond simple disagreements and become incoherent rantings, rage, a barrage of non-stop name calling, and in effect become personal that's when I feel things go too far. Proof can be seen in the comments section of any number of the political music videos that Ray Stevens has uploaded onto You Tube. The comments range from praise and enthusiasm, to disagreement, to all-out rage and anger directed at Ray and other people that have shared their comments. The strange thing is, those who disagree with Ray's political views just can't leave it at that...they feel they need to get in a personal jab at Ray, too. I sometimes leave commentary praising his videos and his music but most of the time the incoherent commentators and those who oppose his videos take over the conversation.

An Arizona sheriff in a press conference on Saturday whipped up a lot of conversation and controversy with his rantings about vitriol, hatred, bigotry, rhetoric, and "free speech" by indicating that the very idea that people disagree on political and social issues, use engaging rhetoric in their speech, and have heated debates about those issues is why this killer decided to act on his impulses. It was a totally unprofessional response and unnecessary. Instead of looking for a scape-goat and inserting blame on media outlets, heated political campaigns, and rhetoric on talk shows the Arizona sheriff should have put the blame entirely on the person who committed the crime. Media outlets, political campaigns, and rhetoric in general don't cause the millions of other Americans to murder and terrorize so why would an Arizona sheriff put the blame on those entities for the acts of this killer?

I've also encountered commentary from a wide variety of on-line sites talking down about thought-provoking music. The latest recordings from Ray Stevens would be part of that thought-provoking style. Those offended by thought-provoking songs, I can only assume, must be thoughtless people.

In the meantime the "God Save Arizona" music video from Ray Stevens, released last year, has for now become a talking-point for liberals in their political quests. The video has gotten half a million You Tube hits...and the point of the song was to cast blame on the Federal Government for their position on illegal immigration in Arizona. Isn't it interesting now, in the aftermath of the Arizona shootings, that several of the liberal blog sites want to take a song clearly about the Federal Government's stance on illegal immigration and twist it into being a song inciting the murder and violence that took place on Saturday.

As I remarked earlier...responsible, sane people can argue and disagree without it turning violent. Rational people will put the blame entirely on the killer and whoever helped him and not put the blame on the media, a political ideology, or a celebrity.

Here's the innocent video, uploaded on August 4, 2010, that some of the liberal blogs are currently vilifying...

January 6, 2011

Ray Stevens: 45's at 35...

Yeah, I've written about this period in Ray Stevens' career quite a few times over the years but given that 2011 marks the 35th anniversary of several recordings, in addition to a switch in record labels, and a personal anniversary for myself I felt like highlighting 1976 once more.

The year marked the beginning of his association with Warner Brothers records. An association which lasted through 1979. A lot of us fans of Ray Stevens often wonder if Ray was 'happy' while at Warner Brothers or wonder if he and the label had strained relations given the lack of publicity his albums and singles were getting, or not getting, compared to his 5 year run at Barnaby Records to start off the decade. This isn't to say that Ray wasn't successful during his Warner Brothers stay...he had a lot of success with his publishing company during this era and he did enjoy several hit songs sprinkled throughout that 3 year period, 1976-1979.

Just for the Record, the name of Ray's debut album on Warner Brothers in 1976, features two hit singles: "You Are So Beautiful" and "Honky Tonk Waltz". As a visual I decided to use a picture of myself with my new record player. I got this for Christmas last month. It's called a 5-in-1 Entertainment Center...it contains a turntable, radio, cassette player, CD player, and an Mp3 option. This is the third turntable that I have. I have the very first one I bought about 7 years ago...that one came from a newspaper advertisement. I didn't think they manufactured record players anymore and so when I saw the ad I called their number and did some other research to make sure the company was for real. The second record player I own is something I bought at a local shopping store about 3 years ago. It has a cassette player function that I've never tried. I already have a radio with a cassette player tape deck. This latest one I'll more than likely try the other functions just to see the results...but mainly it's for my vinyl albums and singles.

Back to Ray Stevens and 1976...the kick off single for the year was his take on "You Are So Beautiful". This rendition is along the same lines as his take on "Misty" a year earlier in 1975. In "You Are So Beautiful" we hear the banjo, fiddle, and steel guitar among other instruments and the delivery is much more up-tempo...way more up-tempo...than the ballad rendering of Joe Cocker. Ray's up-beat version of the song would become a Top-20 country hit...a definite success to kick off relations under a different record label. Warner Brothers promoted Ray as a country artist...a lot of the TV programs he appeared on from that point onward were country music oriented and much of his albums/singles were moved from the pop section to the country section inside record stores. In spite of the country music publicity the rest of Ray's material on Warner Brothers was still the easy-listening/pop music, with the-sometimes country flavor, that had been featured on nearly all of his 1970's albums for Barnaby Records.

Nevertheless, his debut for Warner Brothers by comparison to the rest of his output for the label in 1977-1979, was much more aligned with country music appeal. His follow-up to "You Are So Beautiful" was the ballad "Honky Tonk Waltz"...a ballad that is mid-tempo and combines two distinctly different styles into one performance: honky-tonk music and a waltz...and the performance became a Top-30 country hit in 1976. The theme of Just For the Record appeared to be music...for several of the song titles on his 1976 album had to do with music in some form or another. As you can see, the singles that were released from this album closed out each side of the record. Tracks #5 and #10.

1. Cornball
2. Gimme A Smile
3. Once In A While
4. One And Only You
5. You Are So Beautiful
6. Can't Stop Dancin'
7. OM
8. One Man Band
9. Country Licks
10. Honky Tonk Waltz

All of these songs, with the exception of "OM" and "Gimme a Smile" were re-released in 1995 as part of Warner Brothers 3-CD/cassette collection of the music he recorded for the label. The re-issued songs were part of the following collections: Cornball, The Serious Side of Ray Stevens, and Do You Wanna Dance?. Those 1995 collections were released with little fanfare and went out of print rather quickly. I believe you can still purchase those collections as Mp3's at Amazon but it's been awhile since I've checked Ray's Mp3 section.

Ray closed out 1976 with the release of "In the Mood", a recording released under the name of the Henhouse Five Plus Too. The recording, a novelty without question, features Ray chicken clucking Glen Miller's instrumental. This single was backed with "Classical Cluck" and the chart debut came in January of 1977...but it had been released late in 1976. The single reached the Top-40 of the country, pop, and UK music charts in early 1977...it's one of the two recordings that have come to define his stay at Warner Brothers, the other being his unexpected 1979 novelty hit "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Those two recordings are the ones that have appeared on the many compilation albums that surfaced in the 1980's and early 1990's and as a result those two songs have gotten the most exposure...they've gotten so much exposure that most people who've bought Ray Stevens collections through the years probably think Ray only had two hit songs while with Warner Brothers simply because his other recordings for the label have never appeared on any best-of or Greatest Hits release....until 1995 came along and the 3-CD/cassette project, that I mentioned earlier, was issued.

At the start of this blog entry I mentioned 1976 also marks a personal anniversary. Well, more like a birth year...I was born in December of 1976...so at the end of this year I'll reach the 35 mark.

January 1, 2011

Ray Stevens and 2011: The brand New Year...

Howdy and welcome to 2011!! A brand new year is under-way...as I begin this blog it's 5:07am January 1, 2011. Since I write a lot on the computer I generally don't run into the problem of putting the wrong year on papers I sign...sometimes out of habit I might...but I rarely hand-write at all anymore unless it's writing out a check to some bill collector, signing my name on a bank slip, or it's my signature on a sales receipt upon using my debit/credit card. Other than that I rarely use pens or pencils anymore. We're five hours into 2011 and I missed the New Year's Eve ball-drop in Times Square. I couldn't keep my eyes open last night from being awake since December 30th...I found that I had so much to do on December 31st that when I got home from work that morning I stayed up all day and into the evening...finally getting so tired that I decided to go to sleep around 8:30pm. I woke up around 3:40am this morning. I watched a clip of the Times Square ball-drop on You Tube but it's not the same as seeing it live. The bottom line is a night-owl such as myself has the oddest of hours!! As this is the first day of 2011 I've decided to highlight some releases that celebrate rounded anniversaries this year...

The first celebration represents a Golden Anniversary. It was 50 years ago, 1961, when Ray Stevens debuted with "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills". The song's title is much longer, as many Ray fans are well aware, and if you click the picture you'll be able to see a bigger image. The single became the very first for Ray to enter the radio-hit portion of the Hot 100, the often mentioned Top-40. Someone once upon a time came up with the concept of focusing exclusively on the first 40 slots of Billboard's Hot 100 music chart...putting heavy emphasis on singles that ranked at #40 and higher. In theory these would be the singles that were the most commercially popular...not to say the bottom 60 singles weren't popular...but ever since emphasis was placed on what's been referred to as the Top-40, through the course of time, media attention/publicity rarely greets the music that doesn't obtain Top-40 status. In more recent times publicity is almost non-existent unless a single reaches the Top-20 or higher...but back in 1961 chart methods and compiling wasn't as complicated/complex/intricate as it is now...even though, in 1961, it was probably considered just as complicated then but in hindsight it's much more complex now. The official time of the year that this single reaches Golden Anniversary status is August 2011. The single hit the Hot 100 in August of 1961 and remained on the charts for a little over a month. It's a novelty single and it initially paved the way for much bigger hit singles to come. Ray, by the way, had been a recording artist since 1957 but it wasn't until this 1961 single that he finally reached the national music charts for the first time.

Decades later, in 2007, he made a limited-animation music video of the song which was issued as part of the Gourmet Restaurant animation music video DVD. This 2007 music video can be seen on You Tube by clicking this link. It was uploaded onto You Tube by Ray's people (raystevensmusic) in 2009 and so far it's gotten 162,505 hits with hardly no publicity whatsoever. The original 2007 DVD which contains this music video has long been out of print. Currently, aside from You Tube, it's available on the Cartoon Carnival, Volume Two DVD which Ray issued as a 2-volume collection of all of his limited animation music videos that had been produced through 2009. The Cartoon Carnival collections, 10 videos on each, are great for those who may just be discovering the limited animation videos that Ray released in the middle of last decade.

40 years ago Ray was on a gospel streak...the streak began in the summer of 1971 with the release of the inspirational "A Mama and a Papa". This single charted on the Hot 100 but it did exceptionally well on the Easy-Listening format, better known today as Adult-Contemporary. The single reached the Top-5 on the Easy-Listening chart during the summer of 1971. It's b-side was the much more alluring and traditional pop song, "Melt", which gives new meaning to the phrase "sensual ballad". Unfortunately this song was never promoted and it continues to remain an obscure B-side. "A Mama and a Papa", in the meantime, was followed by his version of "All My Trials" in the fall. There are two 'versions' of this song that were available in 1971. There is the longer version and then there's the radio edit which cuts out a lot of what I call the enchanting music section. Those familiar with the longer version will notice the radio edit right away as it cuts to the end of the song rather abruptly whereas in the longer version there's that lengthy instrumental prior to it's ending. Those who want to hear the longer version it's available on a Curb Records collection from 1996 titled Great Gospel Songs. "All My Trials" is presented in all it's 4 minute, 33 second glory. The single version, by comparison, clocks in at just under 3 minutes: 2 minutes, 58 seconds. In this particular recording Ray is noted to have over-dubbed his own voice in different harmonies more than 20 times. There was a publicity ad at the time that promoted the over-dub process by stating something along the lines of: "Ray Stevens believes in his new single so strongly he performed it 26 times!!". I have that ad on my computer somewhere...it's among my Ray Stevens items.

"All My Trials" was just as big on the Easy-Listening chart as "A Mama and a Papa" was. "All My Trials" peaked in the Easy-Listening Top-10. The single's b-side was his 1969 single, "Have a Little Talk With Myself". Ray closed out 1971 with the release of "Turn Your Radio On", which reached the Easy-Listening charts in November of 1971 and the other format charts in December. This became the more widely known single as it served as the title track of an upcoming album. "Turn Your Radio On" would reach the Easy-Listening Top-30 but by early 1972 it would reach the Country Top-20. It's Top-20 performance on the country charts is basically why it's the most widely-known of all the gospel songs he's recorded. It's also the song that appears on a lot of the compilation albums, too, whereas his two Top-10 Easy-Listening gospel hits seldom got much publicity, if any, since their 1971 debut. The b-side of late 1971's "Turn Your Radio On" is his 1970 war-themed ballad, "Loving You On Paper".

30 years ago Ray was low-key by comparison to previous years...there wasn't too many releases from Ray Stevens in 1981. Privately he was going through personal issues that I've written about in other blog entries. He issued the One More Last Chance album in 1981 but it's biggest single was "Night Games", a Top-20 country hit for Ray late in 1980. When that 1980 single was released in September I don't believe Ray, nor RCA, were planning it to be the lead-off single for an upcoming album. If that were the case you'd think the single would've been issued later in 1980, like say November or December, or early in 1981. Anyhow, quite a few months passed before a new single was issued...and this was in the form of the title track, "One More Last Chance", in early February of 1981. The title track's lead instrument is the electric guitar but there's a fabulous steel guitar solo at various moments throughout the song. In country music the fad/trend was the Urban Cowboy movement...and that trend was adopted for Ray's clothing which is on display on this album's picture sleeve. As you can see, Ray is seated in a bar room in western attire with a honky-tonk angel looking at him rather alluringly. The back of the album shows an ecstatic Ray, wearing the cowboy hat, possibly a visual reference indicating that the woman did in fact give Ray another chance after a night of steamy passion. (Yikes! Did I say that???) Well, remember, the first single from this album turned out to be "Night Games" after all...a song that examines the routines of couples who meet in singles bars. Unfortunately, though, following the 10 week chart run of "One More Last Chance" in the spring of 1981, which it reached the Country Top-40, this album wasn't given much publicity throughout the rest of the year. In fact, it would be nearly a year later that a new single from Ray was available: "Written Down in My Heart" entered the charts in early February 1982...nearly a year after the debut of "One More Last Chance".

Fortunately, though, I own this 1981 album and have heard the songs that weren't released as singles but should have been. "Let's Do It Right This Time", "Just About Love", "Melissa", and "I Believe You Love Me" all could have been promoted as A-side singles but weren't. This album also features his Mexican-Spanish music arrangement on the Nat King Cole pop hit, "Pretend". This album is ballad heavy to be sure...with "Pretend" being the only true up-tempo song on the whole album. "Night Games", which closes the album, is mid-tempo, as is "I Believe You Love Me". The rest of the selections are slow love ballads. This 1981 album has never been issued in CD or Mp3 format. It's only available on vinyl, which I have, and cassette. Aside from this album and the songs from it the only other major happening in 1981 for Ray Stevens was his guest-starring role in the daytime soap opera, Texas. Ray appeared as himself as he stopped by a local venue owned by a character in the soap opera. For the purpose of the storyline one of the female characters was written to be a big fan of Ray Stevens...and having him appear at the local night-club was played out like a surprise gift. In the show he performed "One More Last Chance".

Curb Records issued this compilation 20 years ago in 1991. It was one of the first compilation releases purposely focusing on a majority of non-comedy singles from Ray Stevens...previous compilations almost always emphasized the comical recordings first and foremost with a few non-comical songs thrown in. This collection is also noteworthy for it's alternate recording of "There's a Star Spangled Banner". A previous version had been recorded in 1989 for Ray's Beside Myself album. The version featured on this 1991 release features different lyrics but retains the same arrangement, chorus, and feeling of the 1989 version. Out of the 10 songs on this compilation just 2 were in the comical vein: 1969's "Along Came Jones" and 1987's "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". This 1991 release was not widely distributed but the picture sleeve's been seen by millions of people thanks to the internet but also thanks to Ray himself...this CD was highlighted in 1992 on his Comedy Video Classics mega-hit home video. It was promoted as the CD containing the song "Everything Is Beautiful" which you can clearly see is track number one on the 1991 CD.

Elsewhere in 1991 came the studio album, #1 With a Bullet. This all-comedy album was written almost entirely by Ray's songwriter friend, Buddy Kalb. The only song not written by Buddy is the album closer, "Workin' for the Japanese", which was written by Ron DeLacy. 20 years ago that song was released as a single...it hit in July 1991. Ironically, though, Ray didn't perform the song in concert too many times after it's summer/fall success. A second single from the album wasn't issued until early the following year. This CD features "You Gotta Have a Hat", which Ray performed several times on TV appearances and it also features "The Sheik of R&B" which re-visits the Arabian atmosphere made famous in "Ahab the Arab".

The big news in 1991, though, centered around Ray's grand opening of his theater in Branson, Missouri. Ray had his theater open for business starting in 1991 and he closed it down after the 1993 season...only to re-open it more than a decade later for another series of concerts...afterward he sold it to RFD-TV in 2006. Ray's theater played to sold-out shows in 1991, 1992, 1993, 2004 and 2005. Two home video releases in 1993 were filmed at his theater and those releases are the only commercially available products spotlighting his stage show at the theater. Those two releases are Ray Stevens Live! and More Ray Stevens Live!. I never got the chance to see Ray perform at his theater in person...in the early '90s I was still in high school so it was out of the question to even fathom making a trip of that length! Even now it's still unthinkable to travel that far and that's why I didn't see the 2004 or 2005 concerts. The few times I've seen Ray in concert is when he's appeared locally...which is what I consider anywhere between a 1 and 3 hour drive.

10 years ago, back in 2001, it was a rather quiet year for Ray Stevens...at first! A year earlier he had issued the home video, Funniest Video Characters, which featured the much-anticipated music video of "The Blue Cyclone". The 'year' didn't really start taking off until, ironically, the final months of 2001. It was in the last months of 2001, in the aftermath of the September 11th terror attacks, that Ray emerged with a single-only promo release: "Osama Yo' Mama" backed with "United We Stand". "Osama Yo' Mama" became an unexpected mainstream hit in December 2001...unexpected meaning that it had been 9 years since a Ray Stevens single had appeared on any music chart, no matter how popular Ray continued to be during that entire time period. This particular single debuted on the Country chart the last week of December in it's peak position...meaning that the single didn't chart higher than where it debuted. A music video emerged within the next year...and the commercial single had by that time became a highly successful retail hit as it remained on the Country Single Sales list for nearly half a year. Curb Records was in charge of distribution.

An Osama Yo' Mama CD was released in the spring of 2002 and it became a Top-30 Country hit. The music video was uploaded onto You Tube in 2009 and it's gotten 817,882 hits as of this writing...

This brings us up to the current year, 2011. I predict this year to be quiet compared to 2010 simply because it isn't an election year...for those who've been living under a rock and not paying attention to Ray's music lately he's been on a political run since November 2009 and practically all of his songs have been politically oriented in some form or another. This much we know: Ray, at some point, is to release more political comedy songs/videos and a box set covering novelty songs of the last 50+ years. There's not been a time-line/release date for those projects but it's highly likely that 2011 will consist of more Ray Stevens material building on the success he's been enjoying with the political/topical songs via the video hosting site, You Tube. When I refer to 2011 potentially being a quiet year I'm simply referring to mainstream exposure only...the sort of exposure on Fox News, for example, publicizing his music to a much more wider audience. Time will tell, though! I can't wait to see what Ray has in store for 2011!!