January 14, 2018

Ray Stevens album, "Me", turns 35...

Hello to all the fans of Ray Stevens! This is going to be a somewhat busy several days given the grand opening of the CabaRay four days away on January 18th. Those of you fortunate enough to attend the grand opening on the 18th or any of the concerts during opening weekend and beyond no doubt will have memories that'll last forever. Are you all excited?? I imagine the fans in attendance will share their experiences on social media so I'll be looking for commentary to spotlight on this blog. In this particular blog entry I decided to put some spotlight on an album that turns 35 this year...the wonderful album, Me.

The album is packed with an assortment of recordings...ten altogether...and of those ten Ray wrote or co-wrote seven of them. As mentioned the album hit in 1983 on the Mercury Records label and technically the album arrived very late in the year but I wanted to celebrate the 35th anniversary of it's release a bit early...after all it's 2018 so mathematically it's 35 this year...and anyway it's one of my favorite albums from Ray Stevens. The album was produced by Ray and Jerry Kennedy. This marked the second album in a row in which Ray was aided in the production of an album. His previous release, Don't Laugh Now, featured Bob Montgomery as a co-producer. The Me album, however, was kind of a homecoming in that Mercury Records is the label upon which Ray became a nationally recognized recording artist in the early '60s under the guidance of both Shelby Singleton and Jerry Kennedy. If you look at the credits on a lot of Ray's early and mid '60s single releases on Mercury you're going to find Shelby Singleton listed as producer and Jerry Kennedy listed as the orchestra leader of the sessions (specifically The Merry Melodies Singers). By the mid '60s several single releases credited both Shelby Singleton and Jerry Kennedy as producers of Ray's recordings. For example...a mid '60s novelty recording titled "Mr. Baker the Undertaker"...

If you click the image of that single you'll see a close-up or you may be able to see the producer credits, Shelby and Jerry, without having to click the image. That image is the promotional copy of the single. The commercially released image had the standard black color label but during this era the promotional copies of the single releases had a red color label. Even though this blog entry is mainly to spotlight the 35th anniversary of the Me album I decided to step back in time even more just to show that Jerry Kennedy played a role in those early Mercury recordings from Ray Stevens...going from being credited as an orchestra leader to being credited as a co-producer along side Shelby Singleton. You will also note over on the left hand side of the single the publisher credits belong to Lowery Music. Yes, as you may have guessed, it was the publishing company headed up by Bill Lowery...the man responsible for getting Ray onto records in the late '50s on Prep and it's parent company, Capitol...and eventually NRC (a label that Bill co-owned). Even though it's true that the single releases from Ray involving co-production by Jerry Kennedy weren't what you'd consider wildly successful nevertheless the recordings are first rate for their era and there's no denying the infectious fun of both the novelty and ballads being issued by Ray Stevens during those early to mid '60s Mercury Records years.

Fast forward 20 some years to 1983 and Ray finds himself reuniting with Mercury Records for a one album deal featuring Jerry Kennedy as co-producer. At this point in time the biggest recording act for the label and Jerry Kennedy was arguably the country music group, The Statler Brothers, even though he produced almost all of the roster on Mercury's country music division throughout the late '60s and into the early '80s (acts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom T. Hall, early recordings by Reba McEntire, Roger Miller...anyone recording country music for Mercury or it's subsidiary labels often featured Jerry Kennedy as producer and sometimes even session musician). Once the CabaRay opens on January 18th you'll be able to see the glorious red leather section of the venue honoring numerous record producers based in Nashville and among those spotlighted is Jerry Kennedy (the other five are Shelby Singleton, Chet Atkins, Fred Foster, Owen Bradley, and Billy Sherrill).

As I pointed out earlier in the blog entry the album officially turns 35 later in the year but I wanted to celebrate it's debut earlier. If you have never heard of Ray's Me album seek it out on eBay. It's been in my Ray Stevens vinyl collection for more than 10 years. I purchased my copy off of eBay and sometimes a cassette copy comes up for sale on eBay, too. Some of the songs from this 1983 album have been re-recorded by Ray for recent projects...so chances are you've heard some of the songs but weren't aware that they originated earlier. Just what are the songs on this album?? Here is a track list...I highlighted in bold the songs that Ray had a hand in writing:

1. Love Will Beat Your Brains Out
2. Mary Lou Nights
3. Special Anniversary
4. Piedmont Park
5. Me
6. My Dad
7. Yolanda
8. Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee
9. Kings and Queens
10. Game Show Love

In case you have the album, too, you can glance over all of the technical aspects of the project such as length of each song and the writers credited on tracks 4, 6, and 7 plus the photographer credits, etc. etc. The entire album is serious, in tone, but some have declared "Game Show Love" as a comedy song and there are those that have never heard "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out" but nevertheless erroneously declare it a comedy song, too, based entirely on the title.

In case you've heard rumors for years let me assure you they're true...Ray did in fact appear as a special guest on an episode of The Fall Guy in 1983 titled The Pirates of Nashville. Ray portrayed a character that just happened to be a country music singer and near the end of the episode he performs "Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee" all decked out in the shirt he's wearing on the 1983 Greatest Hits album that RCA issued. The episode originally aired on November 23, 1983 right around the time Me was considered his most recent album. Mercury issued several single releases from the 1983 album...the one that reached the country music charts happened to be "My Dad", one of the songs Ray didn't write. The single peaked on the country charts in early 1984 but well below the radio heavy Top-40 section. It is not the same song that Paul Petersen had a pop hit with even though several internet sites erroneously make that claim. Ray's recording of "My Dad" is a completely different song.

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