Happy New Year to all of you fans of Ray Stevens!! Much like in year's past I usually start off each new year with a blog entry centering around the past, present, and future in the career of Ray Stevens. Of course I don't spend too much on the future due to the fact that you can't predict the future...especially when it concerns the unpredictable Ray Stevens...so, let's take a look at some songs celebrating anniversary milestones...
The milestone that I want to focus on the most in this specific blog entry centers around 2017 marking the 60th anniversary of Ray's debut on records. Oh yes...you read that correctly...2017 marks Ray's Diamond Anniversary in the music business. Admittedly those early recordings (1957-1960) carry a regional/local flavor without the later polished production values that became synonymous with his recordings but everyone has a starting point...but in saying that it doesn't mean that those early recordings are no good or not entertaining...they just happen to be recordings without a whole lot of production put into them.
The B-side of "Silver Bracelet", for those curious, is a novelty recording. Although not necessarily laugh out loud funny or bizarre it's an offbeat recording...and in those days music critics and radio DJ's collectively referred to those kinds of recordings as being 'novelty' rather than 'serious' or 'thought provoking'. The B-side is "Rang Tang Ding Dong (I'm the Japanese Sandman)". As mentioned Ray's early recordings featured a heavy dose of rhythm and blues, doo-wop, and frenetic arrangements and vocalizations indicative of the era in pop music overall. Ray's early recordings can be found on a CD titled Ahab, Jeremiah, Sgt. Preston and more... The Early Ray Stevens on Jasmine Records. I gave a lot of space to that particular CD during the lead-up to release and on release day back in 2014. You can find that CD at Amazon and other on-line retail outlets.
Having a year marking your Diamond Anniversary as a professional recording artist is amazing enough but 2017 will also mark the re-launch of Ray's television program. Previously airing on RFD-TV as Ray Stevens' Nashville the program is being re-launched on PBS this month as Ray Stevens' CabaRay Nashville. As mentioned in a couple of previous blog entries there's a PBS affiliate in my area that has Ray's television series listed on their site but there's not been any information posted on it's debut date. The publicity for the program states that it's to start airing on PBS, nationally, starting in January 2017. I'm anxiously awaiting for the moment to arrive in which his television program begins to air. He produced more than a season's worth of television programs for RFD-TV. His production cycle happened to be all his own, too. Rather than taping 26 episodes a season and then having those episodes rerun to fill a 52 week calendar year, as is the norm all across commercial television, Ray's series would air first-run episodes for 13 weeks. This would then be followed by 13 weeks of repeats. Then, at week 27 in the television season, when almost all of the television programs would be entering their 26 week long rerun period, Ray would emerge with 13 first-run episodes...and those episodes would then repeat to fill out a 52 week calendar year.
Returning to the past again...2017 marks anniversary number 55 for good ol' "Ahab the Arab"...the 1962 hit from Ray Stevens in which he built a much bigger career. For Ahab not only became a Top-10 pop and Rhythm and Blues hit it would eventually lead to logo's and career trademarks for Ray over the next 5 decades. "Ahab the Arab" is the song that made Ray Stevens 'a star overnight' as the saying goes. Although Ahab wasn't his first comical or first novelty recording it became the song that at long last created national awareness for Ray and sent him to places outside the regional areas of the South (Ray was born in Clarkdale, Georgia as Harold Ragsdale on January 24, 1939). The Ahab recording became a million selling hit and his second Top-40 pop hit for Mercury Records following 1961's "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills".
An album turning 20 this year, Hum It, from 1997 features 9 comical recordings and one seriously infectious homage to the Old South...notable among those recordings happen to be "Too Drunk To Fish", the official music video from 1997 became a hit on YouTube more than 10 years later...November 2009 marks it's YouTube debut; "Virgil and the Moonshot", a send-up of NASA and coinciding with all the hype and celebration surrounding the Apollo-13 movie...the 1997 music video hit YouTube in May 2011; "Mama Sang Bass" is a parody of the Johnny Cash country music classic "Daddy Sang Bass". Ray's recording features J.D. Sumner in the vocal role of Mama. The song is about hormonal imbalances. The non-comical but still upbeat recording found on Hum It is "I'll Be in Atlanta". It paints a picture with words concerning a fictional but modern-day twist on the lives of Rhett, Scarlett, Ashley, Prissy, Melanie, Frank and all the rest as it's as much a salute to the classic film, Gone with the Wind, as is it a salute to the Dixieland music sounds of the South. The music arrangement is definitely Dixieland inspired.
Later this month Ray Stevens reaches 78...on January 24th. As time gets closer to that date I'll be posting a birthday blog entry...and perhaps by then we'll have more detailed information about his re-launched television series and it's PBS airing. As always I'm looking forward to what the new year holds in store in the career of Ray Stevens. Perhaps a much anticipated CD, one that's to feature a specific music genre that he spoke about nearly 5 years ago, is to be forthcoming this year!?! He spoke of a CD in the works a couple of years ago and even issued a music video of one of the songs from this forthcoming CD as a teaser but so far a full-length CD of music hasn't emerged. Is 2017 going to be the year it arrives?? Stay tuned...