March 31, 2012

Ray Stevens and those liner notes...

One of the things about Ray's earlier albums is that you could usually count on reading interesting or in-depth liner notes from writers or contemporaries of Ray...and at least one album features liner notes from Ray himself. In what I call the CD age, anywhere from the mid '80s through the early 2000's prior to the Mp3 digital download becoming the most preferred choice of music purchases, several CD compilations on Ray Stevens featured liner notes. A CD reissue of his first two studio albums features the original liner notes from the vinyl albums. In the picture the image of both albums appear on the CD. The insert features a fold-out that contains a reprint of the original liner notes. There is no credit given to who wrote the liner notes. I have the vinyl version of This Is Ray Stevens but I forgot to look and see if the liner notes writer was credited or not. Sometimes liner notes were written by a staff member of the record label, too. A fair amount of confusion arises a lot of times if a CD reissue features newly written liner notes while the vinyl counterpart has different liner notes. This scenario plays out with the reissue of Ray's 1968 album, Even Stevens. The album, originally on Monument Records, featured liner notes by writer Tupper Saussy who penned "The Earl of Stilton Square" found on the album. The CD reissue from 1996 features liner notes from Randy Poe. The 1969 Gitarzan vinyl album contains liner notes from Merv Griffin while the 1996 reissue contains Randy Poe liner notes. A writer by the name of John Grissim wrote the liner notes for Ray's other 1969 album, Have a Little Talk With Myself. To date that 1969 album has not been reissued. On the back of that particular album there are a couple of pictures of Ray inside the recording studio. A compilation from Mercury, rather two compilations from Mercury, The Rock and Roll Show and The Best of Ray Stevens, each featured liner notes. Each of those compilations are closely linked due to the fact that both releases feature tracks from the early '60s. In fact, The Rock and Roll Show is a 9-track reissue of Ray's first studio album, 1962's 1,837 Seconds of Humor. The two songs omitted from the reissue are "Rockin' Boppin' Waltz" and "Furthermore".

After 1969's studio album, Have a Little Talk With Myself, liner notes wouldn't grace the back of another Ray Stevens studio album until 1978's There Is Something On Your Mind. In this case Ray himself wrote the liner notes as he gave his feelings and opinions of the classic and obscure R and B songs being highlighted on the collection. I believe that the 1978 release was his last studio album to feature liner notes. Now then, a couple of compilation albums afterward would feature liner notes: 1987's Greatest Hits, a Platinum selling album for MCA, featured notes from Ronnie Pugh. In 1991, Curb Records issued a Greatest Hits collection with liner notes by Don Ovens. In 1995 Curb Records issued the compilation 20 Comedy contains a fold-out insert with liner notes and pictures. A guy named Barry Alfonso wrote the 1995 liner notes. This is the collection that features the 1993 rendition of "Shriner's Convention" lifted from the Platinum selling Ray Stevens Live! home video. 1995 was also the year that the 1993 home video was released in CD format. It was also in 1995 that Warner Brothers released a 3-CD collection of recordings that Ray did for the label in the mid to late '70s. Unfortunately there were no accompanying liner notes on any of those CD's! What a shame!

In 1997 Rhino Records issued their collection on Ray Stevens with liner notes by Dr. Demento. This collection was fueled largely by the fact that 1997 marked Ray's 40th year as a recording artist.

A year later Varese Sarabande, the label that had reissued Even Stevens and Gitarzan in 1996 on CD, went through the Barnaby catalog and assembled The Country Hits Collection in 1998. This particular collection featured quite a few songs that are still rather obscure to the general audience...with a track list made up of mostly album tracks found almost exclusively on vinyl at that point in time (more about that later). The 1998 CD contains 16 songs with liner notes written by a man named Mike Ragogna in January 1998. It includes quotes from Ray on a couple of the songs. The first 5 songs on the CD are single releases while the remaining 11 are album tracks. The liner notes feature pictures of various promo advertisements of Ray's singles, too. The CD contains 3 tracks taken from his 1973 under-rated Losin' Streak album. Another of the songs in The Country Hits Collection was released as an exclusive b-side in 1975, "Piece of Paradise". Unless a fan out there has the actual 45-single of "Indian Love Call" backed with "Piece of Paradise", then this 1998 CD is the only collection that offers the b-side in CD format.

In 2001 came All-Time Greatest Hits on Varese Sarabande with liner notes written by Brian Mansfield. The liner notes for the Varese Sarabande releases tend to be more detailed, which I like, instead of sounding like a gushing fan essay, which I obviously like, too! In 2002 Varese Sarabande issued 12 Hits, a CD that features, you guessed it, 12 songs...recorded between the years of 1968 and 1975. The liner notes this time around were written by Howard Evets. When I read the 12 Hits liner notes for the first time I overall enjoyed them but then after re-reading the notes several times in the days following my purchase of the collection I grew annoyed that the latter part of the track-list wasn't mentioned and quite a few career milestones weren't mentioned, either, just in case any of the CD's would be purchased by someone new to Ray's music.

The versions of "Ahab the Arab" and "Harry the Hairy Ape" that are on this CD are from his 1969 Gitarzan album on Monument which is a common occurrence on many compilation albums released on Ray. At least Varese Sarabande made note of this on the back of the CD...some labels don't tell if they've used a re-recording or an original of a song on the visible part of the CD. It isn't until after purchasing that the disclaimer is shown in small print inside the fold-out. I don't really have an issue with re-recordings if they're better, musically and or vocally, than the original...but some out there absolutely detest re-recordings with a passion. Later on, Collectible's Records released a treasure of Ray Stevens music via the 2 album on 1 CD concept in 2005. Collectible's released 6 of Ray's 7 studio albums for Barnaby Records from the '70s. Three CD's were released, each contained 2 full-length studio albums. This marked the debut of those albums in CD format: Everything Is Beautiful was paired with Unreal, both albums from 1970. Turn Your Radio On (1972) and Misty (1975) were paired together and lastly, Nashville (1973) and Boogity Boogity (1974) were paired together. Sadly, there were no liner notes boggles the mind how a release of that magnitude (6 studio albums!) didn't contain any liner notes of some kind. Each of the CD's fold-outs feature musician and photo credits with thumbnail images of the front and back of the albums but beyond this there's nothing else. I mention those 2005 releases because of their significance in bringing long out of print recordings back into distribution. A purist may be put off by the fact that the track lists are in different order from how they originally appeared on their vinyl counterpart but I never make a big deal about that because it's not that big of a deal, to me.

I hadn't purchased many compilation CD's of Ray since the mid 2000's because I already have the I have no way of knowing if any of the latter day compilation CD's on Ray that pop-up from time to time on Amazon have liner notes or not. I also purchase more Mp3 digital downloads than CD's even though I do plan on getting a CD copy of Spirit of '76, Ray's 2011 project. I have it in Mp3 format but at some point want the official CD copy, too.

There have been a couple of CD's released by Ray which contain what I call greeting notes...typically these are a few sentences or a paragraph from Ray remarking on the creation/concept of the particular CD (see the releases of 2002's Osama Yo' Mama, 2004's Thank You, and 2009's One For the Road for examples). Ray's current release, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music, features an in-depth booklet filled with commentary and information about all 108 recordings in the box set.

March 29, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 12...

Good Thursday morning...I'm attempting to figure out how to navigate this new Blogger design and layout scheme and so this particular blog entry will perhaps have a different flow of language to it as I'm not yet comfortable with this new version of Blogger. It's odd not seeing the usual design when I go to write an entry...I prefer the previous look, though!

A couple of days ago Ray Stevens, via Facebook, posted another image taken during a music video shoot. The first time around the image was of "Cigareets, Whuskey, and Wild, Wild Women" and a few days ago he posted an image of himself in a straight jacket. Making sure it fit right was his songwriting, business, and music video partner Buddy Kalb. Here's the link to the Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. Once you visit the link you'll be at Ray's web-store. I noticed that a lot of the people who stop by this blog page have visited those Encyclopedia links that I'd been posting in this now 12-part Encyclopedia blog series. Judging from things I've read, Ray plans on doing a lot more national television and radio programs to promote this's only been available for 1 month and day (February 28th was the release date).

Since Ray's putting together music videos of some of the songs from the box set, presumably they'll be released on You Tube at some point, those video's should create even more awareness for the box set from the exposure they'll receive all over the world. 

March 26, 2012

Ray Stevens and Those Wonderful Warner Brothers Records...

Get Crazy With Me is a single from Ray Stevens released in 1977 from the Warner Brothers studio album, Feel The Music. The single charted in the lower portions of the Country Top-100 starting in late February 1977 and based upon my research it was quickly swept under the rug after it's quick chart appearance. This doesn't mean that the single was no good...and it certainly doesn't mean that the artist wasn't only means that country radio missed it's chance at playing this emotionally provocative recording. Instead, country radio was playing another single released a month earlier from Ray...the chicken clucking classic "In The Mood". The chicken clucker was released in December 1976 and became a hit almost immediately...charting early in January 1977 and statistically out-lasting "Get Crazy With Me" by one chart week. Also, "In The Mood" reached the Top-40 of both the country and pop charts plus it reached the Top-40 in England. In June of 1977 "Dixie Hummingbird" did much better, in terms of chart position, as it peaked a few slots below the Country Top-40. Feel The Music, overall, wasn't a country music album though. Aside from "Dixie Hummingbird" there weren't any other recordings that would be considered 'country'. The track list for the 1977 album is below:

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

1978's There Is Something On Your Mind is a rather obscure release. As I've touched upon in previous blog entries it's a salute to early R&B music and it features liner notes from Ray about each and every recording contained on the album. The project features 8 selections but don't let that number fool you into thinking that the album is a quick listen. Several of the songs on here have a running time of 4 minutes and there are some that clock in just under 4 minutes. The "Old Faithful Trilogy", for example, has a running time of more than 5 minutes. "The Dance Trilogy" is almost as long at 4 minutes and 37 seconds (give or take a few seconds). There is another trilogy on here, "The Banned in Boston Trilogy", and it also has a 4 minute plus running time. Doing the math that's at least 15 minutes for just three of the recordings. What are the songs in those trilogies you may be asking? Well, in the "Old Faithful Trilogy" we have a medley of "Shake a Hand", "Since I Met You Baby", and "Always". In the "Dance Trilogy" there's the medley of "Do You Wanna Dance?", "When You Dance", and "Save the Last Dance For Me". In the "Banned in Boston Trilogy" we have the medley of "Sixty Minute Man", "Work With Me Annie", and "Annie Had a Baby".

The album is exquisite. Yes, I use that phrase for practically everything Ray's put out...but I especially use that description whenever I'm writing about his Warner Brothers and later RCA material. Aside from the three trilogies there are five additional recordings to further tell the story of early R&B. We hear Ray tell us several love stories...each with different outcomes on "One Mint Julep", "Money Honey", and "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash". In the latter two recordings Ray adds a lot of unique instrumentation...with a loud, pulsating drum intro for "Money Honey" followed by other funky instrumentation. The other two songs on this collection are "Talk To Me" and the half-comical title track, "There Is Something On Your Mind". Ray had a ball recording these songs judging by the way he performed them and the amount of production that went into the recordings. The liner notes, too, speak for themselves as Ray enthusiastically remarks on each of the songs on the album.

1. Dance Trilogy
2. Talk To Me
3. One Mint Julep
4. Old Faithful Trilogy
5. Money Honey
6. Banned In Boston Trilogy
7. Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash
8. There Is Something On Your Mind

Here's an interesting image. It's the back of Ray's 1978 album, Be Your Own Best Friend. Click the following Be Your Own Best Friend flip side link and notice for that particular album it was decided to offer the lyrics to all 9 of the songs on the album. If you come across the album on eBay and you happen to purchase it you can easily sing-a-long once you play it. The Be Your Own Best Friend album features the Country Top-40 title track. The album, like the rest of Ray's albums, is impeccably produced and it also includes some of my all-time favorites: "L'amour", "You're Magic", "Comeback", and "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right". I'm sure a lot of you already know what the front of the album looks like. In case you don't here's another look...

March 25, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 11...

I'm interested in hearing from the fans of Ray Stevens and their reaction to the Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. Quite a few of us purchased the box set the day it became available back on February 28th but I'm having a difficult time finding much feedback/commentary from those who purchased it. When you click the following Share Your Thoughts Here link it'll take you to the Encyclopedia page at Ray's web-site. While there you will see the promo video along with song samples. Also, there is the comment section. At the moment there are 48 comments dating back to February 27th. Breaking this down it amounts to what I call 33 headliner comments and 15 response comments. The bulk of the comments arose during the earliest days of release, February 28 through March 5, and as a result the comments are about anticipation of the box set arriving in the mail so there's not too many comments about the actual recordings, etc. etc. The first comment arrived on February 27th...and surprise, it wasn't made by me! I started making commentary on February 28th, though, and have answered questions from others that have made posts, too. That sort of thing, providing information about Ray, has become a fixture during my time on-line. I can't help answering something about Ray Stevens if someone else hasn't provided an answer yet. Now, there have been times when I'd see questions about Ray that I'd deliberately not answer...just to see if anyone else would care to answer...but ultimately what has happened is I've ended up providing information and answers all over the internet about Ray Stevens---not because I think I know more than everyone else---it's because nobody else has provided a response. Those of you who purchased the 9-CD box set and have had time to listen to it share your thoughts in the link I provided. In three days time it'll mark 1 month since the box set became available.

Jumping back more than 1 month ago we take a look at a single from Ray Stevens from 30 years ago. "Written Down In My Heart" arrived in 1982 as one of two singles released from Don't Laugh Now, the exquisite Ray Stevens album on RCA that year. The single reached the country Top-40 and it's a love ballad. The writer is W.T. Davidson. Ray performed this song on an episode of Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters in 1982 and I once had it on tape but unfortunately that particular video tape wore out. It was the first time I'd heard the song. This was the early '90s when The Nashville Network used to air repeats of Barbara's television show. It was also in the days before I had bought a record player and had no vinyl albums or singles in my music Ray Stevens items then pale in comparison to now.

Anyway, I happen to like Ray's performance of the song and it's become one of those obscure gems on an equally obscure album that pretty much only the dedicated know about. Ray recorded a lot of highly emotional recordings while on RCA Records in the early '80s...even though his time there is almost always represented historically for the recording of "Shriner's Convention", his Top-10 country hit from early 1980. I can understand why the song is always singled out on CD compilations: it reached the Top-10 and it's a comedy song. So, given that criteria, it's going to always be a part of any number of Ray Stevens compilations even though other recordings from the same time period that are just as good get overlooked...such as "Written Down In My Heart".

Always keep in mind that chart statistics fail to tell the Ray Stevens story. A measure of true popularity isn't always determined in how many #1 songs or #1 albums an artist obtains or how many awards they may have won...those statistics add to the story for an artist BUT, in my opinion, the measure of a singer's true popularity is measured in other ways too numerous to mention. Ray Stevens is one of those singers whose popularity, as an artist, has never waned. Commercial success is something that comes and goes, though, with any entertainment figure. Yet what I call legitimate popularity will either stay with or vacate an artist long after the so-called mainstream commercial hoopla has died's stayed with Ray Stevens.

Don't forget to visit his web-page and Share Your Thoughts about his new 9-CD box set!

March 24, 2012

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 33...

Good early Saturday morning Ray Stevens fans! The other day on Facebook it was announced that Ray's in the process of making music videos of some of the songs on the Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music! A photo taken during the production of one of the music videos was posted on his Facebook page. Judging by the visuals it looks as if it'll be a music video to "Cigareets, Whuskey, and Wild, Wild Women". Here's the picture. I can't wait to see the finished video AND whatever other music videos are to come from the Encyclopedia!! In a couple of months "Ahab the Arab" will turn 50. When the time comes I plan on posting something that I made using one of the programs on my computer celebrating the milestone. It's something that I made at the first of the year but I've not shared it on this blog page yet...but this will change during the summer months. Ahab came along in the summer of 1962 and it's such an important song in Ray's career that saluting it this summer is the least any Ray Stevens fan can do.

It was also in June, the year 1991, that Ray opened up his famed Branson, Missouri Theatre. The theater's props had an Arabian design...referencing "Ahab the Arab". A recurring segment featured Ray riding out on stage on Clyde the Camel (a life-sized puppet version). The stuffed camel can be seen in the official music video of "Ahab the Arab" from 1995. The Branson era of Ray's career consumed a good dose of his life for three consecutive years: 1991, 1992, and 1993. It was also during this era that music video/home video entertainment became a major factor in his career. It was 20 years ago that Comedy Video Classics emerged...followed by Ray Stevens Live! and More Ray Stevens Live! in 1993. Those two home videos were followed up by Get Serious!, a direct-to-home video movie starring Ray, and released in 1995. MCA released the movie to retail stores and it promptly reached the weekly best-seller charts starting in December 1996 and it remained on the charts through mid 1997. Ray's theater was re-opened in 2004 and he performed there an additional three more years: 2004, 2005, and 2006. He closed it down and put it up for sale soon afterward and it was bought by RFD-TV. For those who get that channel you'll be able to see Ray's former theater in a lot of advertisements that air regularly plus the channel puts on concerts at the people a chance to see the theater's interior. The stage set-up and overall design remains the way it looked when Ray owned it and the only changes are the obvious ones: the logo's and imagery associated with Ray were replaced with RFD-TV's logo and imagery.

March 19, 2012

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 32...

I looked over on the traffic list and seen that someone had visited the blog page looking for information about "Erik the Awful". This particular song comes from 1984 and was written by Ray Stevens, Buddy Kalb, and Carlene Kalb. It originated on the album, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens, as the first song on Side Two of the vinyl album. That particular album was certified Platinum for over a million copies sold and it reached the Top-10 on the country album chart in 1985. The album was released in cassette and CD format's as well but those versions quickly went out of print. The entire album was re-released in CD format under the new title, Mississippi Squirrel Revival, which is what you see in the photo. The squirrel song is track 4 on the album and one of the two biggest hits from the project. The other hit from the 1984 album is "It's Me Again, Margaret". "Erik the Awful" also appears on a collection titled The Legendary Ray Stevens...which features an image of Ray that I once had as my desktop background. Originally recorded in 1984, "Erik the Awful" was re-recorded by Ray and made into an animated music video nearly 20 years later in 2003 and placed on a home video Ray issued at the time called Cartoon Video Collection. In this collection it featured live-action Ray interacting with limited animation characters in front of animated backdrops. The collection featured just 6 of these experimental music videos and "Erik the Awful" was one of those 6. The re-recorded version would later appear on the Box Set that came along in 2005 on his own label, Clyde Records. A year later Curb Records would release the collection to much wider distribution. Currently the 7 year old Box Set is still among the Top-40 best sellers on a variety of lists at Amazon. That 2005 release isn't to be confused with the brand new Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music that Ray released a couple of weeks ago. The 2012 box set has 9 CD's and is chock full of Ray's versions of classic novelty and comedy songs of the last 60+ years.

Edit 3-21-2012: Here's Ray's interview with Michael Horn of CRN from March 19th. I wasn't able to access the link yesterday because my flash player needed updated. It's since been updated and here's the link to Ray's interview. Several of Ray's own recordings, in their entirety, are played at various times in the interview.

March 18, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 10...

Click for your copy here ----> Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music

Is anyone a member of a site called Sound Cloud? Ray has several audio tracks uploaded at the Sound Cloud site. The songs come from the Encyclopedia and if you hadn't visited the site you can visit by clicking here. The audio links are to "White Lightnin", "I'm Kissin' You Goodbye", "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor?", and "Mississippi Squirrel Revival". The first and fourth song have gotten the most plays while the middle two are close in play totals. I'm not a member of this site but you don't have to be to hear the audio clips in their entirety. If you want to favorite a song or write a comment you'll have to become a member.

It's impossible for me to name a favorite from the Encyclopedia because, as I've pointed out, I like them all. There are ones that stick out more than others but that's mostly due to the production that went into them or the fact that I was a fan of the song(s) prior to Ray recording them. "The Bricklayer's Song" goes back to 1969 from the pen of Pat Cooksey. It's officially known as "The Sick Note" but it's been modified and recorded by hundreds of artists worldwide under several titles. The most used title is "The Bricklayer's Song" which Ray recorded in 1993 but re-recorded for this collection. Other titles for the song are "Paddy's Not at Work Today", "Dear Boss", and "Murphy and the Bricks". The song tells the funny story of a bricklayer who had a lot of bad luck on the job. I first heard this song by Noel Murphy...a late-night trucker's radio show played the song during a comedy break...and it wouldn't be until Ray's Classic Ray Stevens CD came along in 1993 that I heard the song once again. Meanwhile, "Little Brown Jug" is a song that I hadn't singled out yet. It's a fun sing-a-long drinking song and Ray performs it with such energy...really getting to the ha-ha-ha's. Once you hear the song you'll know what I mean! The song dates back to the 1800's and much like "The Bricklayer's Song" there have been a lot of modifications and interpretations through the years. According to the booklet in the box set, "Little Brown Jug" was made the most popular as an instrumental by Glenn Miller but the song's history is recounted as well. Ray remarks that in the case of "Little Brown Jug", where there are multiple versions and modifications, he picked what he felt was the best rendering he could find and then recorded it that way.

March 17, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 9...

Hello Ray Stevens's a St. Patrick's Day and being part Irish I often intentionally wear something green on this day. I wore a darker green shirt at work last night and at the moment I'm in my usual olive green attire. There's not been a whole lot of news about Ray for much of the week and so I've been on a hiatus from the blog page.

However, I was looking through Twitter this morning and came across a link to a newly published interview at the Examiner web-page.

The interview is with Buddy Kalb and it picks up on a lot of information about Ray's Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music which is available at Ray's web-site. When you click this Jeremy Roberts interviews Buddy Kalb link you'll be taken to the Examiner web-page where you can read the interview. There are links to previous interviews, too!

Also, you can read my review of Ray's 9-CD Encyclopedia by clicking here. It's a quite lengthy review and one that I'll refer to as the weeks and months go by as Ray continues to promote the collection on TV and or radio programs. As soon as I find any link or web-site to any interview he's given, either it be on TV, radio, or for a magazine, I'll post the link(s) here of course!

~Just give us Ray Stevens and we're Happy~

March 12, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 8...

It's an early Monday morning...and yes, I'm pointing up to the advertisement image posted by Ray a few weeks ago on his Facebook page. As I mentioned at the time I don't have the newer Facebook design with the banner and all the bells and whistles that come with the updated look of the social network site (I prefer the basic design) and so I decided to post the image on several of my blog entries this month. I noticed several visitors were clicking the image...perhaps thinking it was a link to Ray's web-store? I'll post a link to the Encyclopedia page later on in the blog. As you can see from that image the Encyclopedia went on sale on February 28th. Tomorrow will make 2 weeks since it's release. Also, all of the songs on this box set are by Ray Stevens! Early on some people were thinking that Ray had gone through and compiled comedy songs by other singers and put their recordings in this collection as some sort of various artist project but that isn't what Ray did! Ray recorded all of the songs on this 9-CD, no, it isn't a compilation project of various artists as some very early on had assumed. When you get the CD you'll hear Ray's versions of a lot of the comedy songs from the last 60+ years. A lot of the songs on this collection I first heard by the original artists on Doctor Demento's radio program as I mentioned in a previous blog. Do you have any suggestions for additional comedy songs not found on this 9-CD collection? I'd like to hear Ray do versions of the following: "Shaving Cream", Spike Jones' "Chloe", two Johnny Cash hits called "Oney" and "Chattanooga City Limit Sign", "The Little Lady Preacher" and "Turn It On, Turn It On, Turn It On" both by Tom T. Hall. That's just a couple of the songs that I'd like to hear Ray include on some later project.

The video below has a little more than 3,000 views and I've embedded it before but I decided to embed it again because the earlier blog entry where it first made it's appearance is over in the archives somewhere. Of course you can easily watch this video clip on You Tube and at Ray's web-page in the Encyclopedia section. Here's a tip: while at You Tube it's best to do a search for the collection's title, Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music, and it'll be the first video in the search results because that's what Ray and his associates have titled the upload. If you search 'Ray Stevens' you'll have to sift through quite a few homemade video uploads until you come across this particular clip from a week ago...

I don't know what the advertising rates are but imagine if the video clip played on RFD-TV, as a commercial, during his appearance on Larry's Country Diner. It's just a belated thought, though. I'm sure those who purchased the box set have had time to digest it and analyze it by now. Speaking of RFD-TV, I came across just a few less than flattering comments regarding Ray's appearance on Larry's Country Diner last Thursday. Actually it was only two such comments so it's hardly the opinion of a majority of viewers/fans. The reason I point this out is because the criticisms were petty, in my opinion, and one of these criticisms was laced with political references so it's safe to say the criticism was politically motivated. A majority of Ray's fans enjoy his television appearances and I'm in that majority. It makes no difference to me if Ray sings or doesn't sing...if he uses click-tracks or uses a band...if he's political or not political...whether he's comical or being serious.

The bottom line is:

~Just give us Ray Stevens and we're happy!~

Click: Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music

March 9, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 7...

Hello all the Ray Stevens fans!! I'm sure quite a few of you already have The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music but if not you can get it at Ray's web-store. The link to the store is located further down the blog entry. My review of the 9-CD Encyclopedia was spotlighted on Ray's Facebook page the other day!! It was neat seeing my blog entry singled out by Ray's people. I wasn't expecting it because I've written reviews of previous CD's by Ray and so the one I wrote about the 9-CD collection was something I assumed would be seen by just those who visit this page so it was a surprise to see it spotlighted on his page of all places. It was surreal.

There have been several interviews and reviews and previews of Ray's 9-CD collection since my previous blog. One of those items turned up in Billboard magazine by a writer named Chuck Dauphin. The article revolves around the absence of comedy music on radio stations.

It can be read here.

As far as audio, Ray did a call-in on WKDW radio in Virginia. It's a classic country radio station on the AM dial. He called in to the Kris Neal program and spoke about past and current recordings. The call-in lasted a little more than 7 minutes.

You can listen to it by clicking the WKDW Podcast link.

Here's another audio clip...this is an interesting one and maybe appreciated only by those who are dedicated fans of Ray as I am but others might like hearing it, too. It's a short montage of a couple of radio station disc jockey's promoting Ray's Encyclopedia box set. Included in the audio clip is an unidentified female listener who won a copy of the collection during a station giveaway. Again, it's perhaps only interesting to certain ones but here's the link...

Radio promo spots

Depending on your browser these links may take you away from this blog page or the links may open up in a new window. If any of the links take you off this page, return and pick up reading where you left off.

Ray Stevens Encyclopedia web-store link

Last but certainly not least...Ray's fabulous appearance on Larry's Country Diner on RFD-TV. The episode aired March 8th at 8pm Eastern and it re-airs Saturday night at 11pm Eastern on RFD-TV. If you're not home Saturday and you get the channel make sure you tape it! The show opens up with Ray seated at the keyboard which is where he remains throughout the entire program. In his previous appearance in 2010 he was seated at the bar with friends Buddy Kalb and Norro Wilson. This time around Ray's way more music-driven than his previous episode from 2010 where he sang a couple of songs. Throughout the hour last night Ray performed four songs in their entirety...and chit-chatted for most of the program, too. Larry asks about "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon" which leads into discussion about "Jeremiah Peabody". Larry mentions the 9-CD Encyclopedia and they discuss the motivation behind it...bringing up Phil Harris and other comedy/novelty performers.

Ray performs "The Preacher and the Bear" and later the conversation turns to Chet Atkins which leads to "I Still Write Your Name in the Snow". The show's on-camera announcer, Keith Bilbrey, delivers a joke about the song and wonders about a dilemma occurring if the woman's name happens to be really long. For those who don't know what that song is all about the jokes will not be understood! Larry asks Ray if he co-wrote the song with Chet but Ray identified the co-writer as Billy Edd Wheeler.

Larry brings up "Everything Is Beautiful" and they both ponder about the certain things that experts say shouldn't be discussed at any great length because the subject matter can be divisive: religion and politics. Later the conversation turns to You Tube and political comedy...and as jobs/economy are being discussed Ray launches into "Get a Job". At one point in the show Larry brings up "Mr. President - Mr. President" and Ray remarks that the guy who wrote that is the same one that wrote the song about the squirrel. Buddy Kalb makes an appearance and discusses "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" which Ray also performs after referring to an Obama-prompter that the lyrics appear on.

It was a great appearance and it re-airs Saturday night March 10th at 11pm Eastern on RFD-TV.

March 4, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set: My Review...

This collection of comedy/novelty songs from Ray Stevens is a testament to his dedication to a style of music that he acknowledges is no longer in the mainstream with only a scant few artists and groups keeping the genre going. This 96 song collection represents a huge portion of the recorded comedy gems, jewels, and obscure golden nuggets from a bygone era where radio programmers weren't ashamed to program off-the-wall novelty songs back-to-back with the non-comical songs. I said 96 songs...but there's actually 108 songs if you count the 12 songs on the bonus CD. The main focus, though, are the first 8 CD's where Ray musically and vocally has a blast doing impressions along the way of old women, country folks, sophisticates, Irishmen, Englishmen, chickens, dogs, cows, goats, and Boris Karloff! What a group! Also, there is Ray's take on a wide array of R&B vocalizations that bring back the feel of any number of early R&B groups that Ray has long identified as inspirational to him. As a longtime fan of comedy songs he tells us in his own words how he feels about the comedy song genre: from it's lucrative heyday to it's forced fall from the spotlight by those in radio who feel the 'novelty song' is beneath them.

Once you open the Encyclopedia and look on the inside part of the cover you'll see the image of Ray that's been used for publicity for this collection. I've used the image several times at the start of my last series of blog entries and in this blog entry it's located further down the page. The booklet goes into great detail about the comedy song. A bio of Ray, written by Don Cusic, graces the first few pages and the last few pages of the booklet. A written introduction from Ray appears first, followed by the first few pages of the bio on Ray, followed by deep coverage of all 108 songs on the 9 CD's, concluding with the continuation of the bio. Musician, songwriter, and publisher credits fill out the last several pages. In the booklet's introduction Ray explains that it was extremely difficult in the days of radio-only exposure to have a hit if radio wasn't playing the song. In order for a song to become a hit back then it had to have adequate exposure on radio...and if audiences liked what they heard chances were they'd go out and buy the song...and sales data would provide all the proof that radio programmers needed to add a song to their playlists. Of course, if radio didn't play a song it had obviously little to no chance of becoming a hit. Today, of course, it's all different. The music video craze in the '80s enabled a lot of music not heard on the radio a chance to get exposure to a wide audience. Several artists became popular through music videos first and radio airplay second. No longer was radio airplay needed to secure a hit song.

However, this came to an end when a wide variety of music video channels began popping up on cable television by the late '90s. The newer channels were something of a brand...with an advertising agenda...never daring to deviate from formula. This branding also led ALL the video channels to only program music videos to songs that were currently on the radio. That sort of thing, in my opinion, defeated the whole point behind the concept of seeing if exclusive music video exposure could potentially generate music sales. Ray mentions this sort of thing during his commentary for a few of his songs that were wildly popular on country music video channels in the early '90s but were pulled in favor of what's termed as radio-friendly artists. This term, for those unaware, is applied to any musical act who performs songs that follow a certain edict or pattern for universal radio airplay acceptance. Ray, nor the biographer, go into as much detail as I just did but when you get your Encyclopedia collection you'll see that Ray has some opinions about the programming side of the music industry.

I listened to this collection, with a few breaks, throughout the night. I'm a night-owl anyway...I work nights through the week so when I'm wide awake on the weekends during the overnight hours it afforded me the time to listen to the collection virtually uninterrupted. A lot of the songs remain faithful to their originals...a few of the songs include added lyrics as Ray offers asides and commentary as the songs go into a fade-out. "Searchin'", for example, ends with a lyric not heard on the original recording from The Coasters. "Mr. Custer", another example, ends with Ray offering additional dialogue not heard in the original by Larry Verne or the first cover version from Ray on his 1969 Gitarzan album.

One of the things that shines through is Ray's love of early R&B and novelty music...I didn't take count but there are more than a few covers of Coasters recordings on here as well as Spike Jones classics from the '40s and '50s. Ray brings out the sound-effects in all their audio glory when he delivers "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", "Cocktails For Two", "William Tell Overture", "I Went To Your Wedding", and "My Old Flame". In the latter Ray does a broad impression of Peter Lorre...the original by Spike Jones featured voice actor Paul Frees as the Peter Lorre sound-a-like.

As far as The Coasters, Ray takes us on a musical ride through the following: "Poison Ivy", "Searchin'", "Little Egypt", "Along Came Jones", "Yakety Yak", and "Charlie Brown". Technically The Coasters also recorded "Love Potion #9" but didn't have the biggest hit with it. This distinction is held by The Searchers, an early R&B group. Ray's version is on CD 5. In a vocal display heard throughout the 8 CD's we have Ray's uncanny mimicry of early R&B vocalists countering the other forms of novelty/comedy music. Ray gives us "How Much Is That Hound Dog in the Winder?", a country comedy classic from Homer and Jethro. Ray and Lori Stegner do a few duets on this massive collection. Stegner, for those who don't know, is the woman who portrays Sarah Palin in Ray's music video, "Caribou Barbie". Ray and Lori team up for "No Help Wanted", a classic from The Carlisles; "Tim-Tay-Shun", a parody originally recorded by Red Ingle and Jo Stafford of a song spelled "Temptation"; and "Too Old To Cut the Mustard", another classic from The Carlisles.

A lot of production was put into these recordings...a hefty amount of production can be heard in his version of "They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha! Ha!" in which Ray eerily performs the song in a memorable haunting voice...building up to the equally haunting high-pitched laughing paranoia of the clearly insane man. It's as close to the original as possible. "Transfusion", a song I first heard on a low-budget novelty song tape released by K-Tel in the early '90s, is covered by Ray. In the original by a singer known as Nervous Norvous the delivery is low-key and calm in spite of the dangerous car crashes that appear to consume him...requiring the insistence for more blood. Ray's version keeps the car crash sound effects but musically it's much different. An impression of Boris Karloff is on "Monster Mash", one of the few songs that several on-line sites erroneously credit to Ray. Another erroneous credit is "Grandma Got Run Over by the Reindeer". In the book Ray refers to this erroneous credit by stating that up until now he'd never recorded or performed the song. It is just one of the Christmas songs on here. The previously mentioned "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", "Santa Claus Is Watching You", and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" all appear on this Encyclopedia. His rendition of the hilarious "The Thing", a hit originally by Phil Harris, will have you caught up in the song as you strive to figure out exactly what the mystery is. Ray covers some of the songs made famous by the likes of Roger Miller, Jim Stafford, George Jones, and one song in particular by Toby Keith(!). Those songs are "Chug a Lug", "Dang Me", and "Kansas City Star" (from Roger Miller); "Spiders and Snakes" (Jim Stafford); two drinking songs made famous by George Jones- "White Lightnin" and "The King Is Gone and So Are You"; and lastly the country rap song "I Wanna Talk About Me" by Toby Keith.

Did you ever think that Ray Stevens would do an update on "In The Mood"? In the original from late 1976, released by Ray as The Henhouse Five Plus Too, Ray clucks out the instrumental with some help from a cow. On this project Ray demonstrates his technical prowess with sound effects and vocal tricks...successfully reviving "In The Mood" without deviating from the original chicken clucking recording from 36 years ago!

The bonus CD features 12 songs that were recorded by Ray within the last several years...the most recent being 2011's "Obama Budget Plan" and the earliest being his re-recording of "The Camping Trip" in 2005 (the original from Ray goes back to 1986). In the booklet Ray remarks why he's re-recorded a lot of his older has to do with ownership of a recording. Also, with regards to the more topical songs on CD 9, Ray offers his opinions about You Tube and social media and how it's become an alternative to radio when it comes to getting his music to the masses. His original You Tube music videos, those that debuted on You Tube prior to their exposure elsewhere, single handedly revived his touring schedule which had, up until 2010, been minimal at best. Up until 2010 Ray was pretty much off the road without any major touring schedule and only did performances at select venues or an occasional visit at The Grand Ole Opry. After the You Tube videos started to amass hundreds of thousands of views...with some obtaining millions of was then pretty much decided that Ray needed to get back out on the road and tour wherever he could and become more visible on high-profile television programs to reintroduce himself to a sea of consumers who only knew of his classic, older recordings.

"Come to the U.S.A.", one of those massively popular on-line music videos, is included on CD 9 in it's audio form.

This massive collection of music is a must-have for any comedy/novelty song enthusiast. It's also a must-have for the sheer amount of recordings...108 altogether...and without question any fan of Ray Stevens shouldn't be without this Encyclopedia project, either!

Ray Stevens delivers a truly unique and comprehensive collection of comedy music...The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music to be precise! It's fantastic.

This collection is available, for now, as CD-only. Ray's web-store is easy to navigate and if you purchase with an electronic transaction the shipment will arrive a lot sooner. I ordered my copy the day it went on sale, February 28th, a Tuesday, and it arrived on a Friday...three days later!

During a recording career that's amidst it's 55th anniversary (dating back to 1957) this Encyclopedia project will astonish those who've been away too long...the energy level of these recordings is top-notch...a lot of those early novelty songs require a lot of energy to pull off and sound comparable to the original. When you get the project listen to the energetic Stevens storm his way through all those Spike Jones hits and those of The Coasters. "The Witch Doctor" is on here, too, which is another one of those songs erroneously credited to Ray but never recorded by him until now.

Ray once recorded a song in 1980 titled "The Last Laugh", a very funny comedy song I might add, and with this Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music it looks as if Ray will continue to have that last laugh on those who dare say that the public never remembers a comedy song beyond it's original shelf life.

Click the 9-CD link below:

Purchase Ray's 9-CD Encyclopedia Here

CD 1:
Abba Dabba Honeymoon
Ahab The Arab
Alley Oop
All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth
Along Came Jones
A Boy Named Sue
The Ballad Of The Blue Cyclone, Part 1
The Ballad Of The Blue Cyclone, Part 2
The Bricklayer’s Song
Bridget The Midget
Chantilly Lace
Charlie Brown

CD 2:
Chug A Lug
Cigareets And Whuskey And Wild Wild Women
Cocktails For Two
Dang Me
Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor
The Dooright Family
The Downtown Poker Club
Drop Kick Me Jesus
Dry Bones
Freddie Feelgood
Get A Job

CD 3:
I'm Kissin' You Goodbye
Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
Harry The Hairy Ape
Haunted House
The Haircut Song
Henry The Eighth
Hello Muddah Hello Fadduh
Huggin' And Chaulkin'
How Much Is That Hound Dog In The Winder
If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus
I’m My Own Grandpa

CD 4:
In The Mood
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
I Still Write Your Name In The Snow
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
It’s Me Again Margaret
I Wanna Talk About Me
I Went To Your Wedding
Jeremiah Peabody’s Green And Purple Pills
Kansas City Star
The King Is Gone And So Are You
King Tut
Little Brown Jug

CD 5:
Little Egypt
Love Potion #9
Mairzy Doats
Makin’ The Best Of A Bad Situation
May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose
Mississippi Squirrel Revival
Monster Mash
Moonlight Special
Mr. Custer
My Old Flame

CD 6:
No Help Wanted
Ode to The Little Brown Shack Out Back
Open The Door, Richard
Osama Yo' Mama
The Pirate Song
Poison Ivy
The Preacher And The Bear
The Purple People Eater
Rub It In
Running Bear
Santa Claus Is Watching You

CD 7:
Short People
Shriner’s Convention
Sittin’ Up With The Dead
Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette
Spiders And Snakes
Splish Splash
The Streak
That’s What I Like About The South
There Is Something On Your Mind
The Thing
Three Legged Man

CD 8:
Three Little Fishes
They’re Coming To Take Me Away! Ha! Ha!
The Too Fat Polka
Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport
Too Old To Cut The Mustard
Western Movies
White Lightin'
William Tell Overture
The Witch Doctor
Would Jesus Wear A Rolex

Bonus material/CD 9:
The Camping Trip
Come To The U.S.A.
Cooter Brown
The Cure
Happy Hour
The Higher Education Of Old Blue
Hugo The Human Cannonball
Obama Budget Plan
The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore
Sucking Sound

March 3, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 6...

Good late Saturday night!! The brand new Ray Stevens project, the Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music, arrived in the mail on Friday! It was a super fast delivery considering that I placed the order on Tuesday afternoon. I skimmed parts of the book that comes with the CD's but I read in detail other parts of the book. A further reading will take place later tonight/early Sunday morning. The project itself is described as a labor of love and there's commentary about how much time was put into the collection: 2 years! In a previous blog entry I supplied the track list so there's no urgency to re-post the track list yet. Once I write my official review of the Encyclopedia I'll provide a track list again. While reading the book one of the things that you, as the reader, will pick up on right away is Ray's feelings about novelty/comedy songs as compared to music critics and radio programmers. Ray offers commentary, some lengthy and some not as lengthy, about each of the recordings and who had the most popular recording originally. When it comes to the songs that are part of Ray's career such as "The Streak", "Come to the U.S.A.", "Ahab the Arab", etc. he offers his opinions on each of his own previous hits and why he feels they've remained vital to his career.

The box set, as you can see, can fit nicely on any bookcase or bookshelf. I have a couple of shelves in my room where I store DVD's and so it looks as if some of those DVD's are going to be finding a new place to rest as I make room for this Encyclopedia! The main 8-CD's are housed in a red fold-out, containing two pictures of Ray, while the 9th CD is situated underneath this fold-out feature. The booklet's pages aren't numbered but it's one of those thick booklets of rectangle design. If you've purchased other box sets you'll be familiar with the style. A writer by the name of Don Cusic wrote the biography section which is broken into two parts. The first part is in the front of the book while the continuation is near the end of the book. There's an introduction page containing Ray's comments about the project, his inspiration for doing it, and his joy at recording the songs. As I mentioned in previous blog entries there are 12 songs on each CD totaling 108 altogether. There are pictures of some of the song's writers and pictures of some of the artists associated with the songs within the book. Also, there are a few pictures of album and CD artwork from Ray's career. Fans can get their copy at Ray's web-store:

Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music

March 1, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set, Part 5...

Welcome everyone to March! Ray Stevens was promoting his Encyclopedia yesterday at a local bookstore in Nashville and pictures of the event were uploaded. You can see the pictures and the photo captions by clicking the following Ray Stevens at Nashville book store link. I got an e-mail yesterday late afternoon informing me that the Encyclopedia was being sent out and so I should have it at some point in the near future...perhaps as early as tomorrow or Saturday!!

Vintage Vinyl News did a review of the Encyclopedia and it was picked up by another web-site yesterday. Country Weekly is still on the store shelves for a few more days. The issue of March 5th has the promo for Ray's Encyclopedia. In the photo link of Ray at the book store you'll see pictures of the Encyclopedia opened up and catch a glimpse of it's interior layout and the booklet that comes with it. I don't know how long those pictures will stay on-line so I'm going to save some of them tomorrow.