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Ray Stevens
Birth name Harold Ray Ragsdale
Born January 24, 1939 (1939-01-24) (age 71)
[1]Clarkdale, Georgia, United States
Origin Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Genres Country, pop, novelty
Occupations Singer-songwriter, arranger, pianist
Instruments Vocals, piano, keyboards
Years active 1958 – present
Labels NRC, CBS Records, Janus Records, Mercury, Warner Bros., MCA, RCA, Curb Records
Website RayStevens.com
Notable instruments
Piano
Banjo

Ray Stevens (born Harold Ray Ragsdale, January 24, 1939,[1] Clarkdale, Georgia) is an American country music, pop singer-songwriter who has become known for his novelty songs as well as more serious works. He was born in Clarkdale, a small town west of Atlanta.

Contents

Career

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Early career

Stevens' recording career began in the mid-1950s with two singles released on Prep Records. He then signed a contract with Capitol Records with the help of Atlanta, Georgia music maven Bill Lowery. In 1958, Stevens joined Lowery's National Recording Corporation (NRC), playing numerous instruments, arranging music, and performing background vocals for its band. After NRC filed for bankruptcy, he signed with Mercury Records with whom Stevens recorded a series of hit records in the 1960s that included songs such as "Ahab the Arab," "Harry the Hairy Ape," "Funny Man," the original recording of "Santa Claus is Watching You," and "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving, Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills."

In 1966, Stevens signed with Monument Records and started to release serious material such as "Mr. Businessman" in 1968, a Top 30 pop hit, and "Have A Little Talk With Myself" and the original version of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" in 1969, which became Steven's first two singles to reach the country music charts; Johnny Cash's recording of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" was a hit in 1970. Stevens continued releasing novelty songs, and in 1969 he had a million-selling Top 10 pop hit with "Gitarzan." Stevens also became a regular on The Andy Williams Show during the 1969–1970 season, and he even hosted his own summer show, The Ray Stevens Show, in 1970.

The 1970s

Starting in the 1970s, Stevens became a producer and well-known studio musician on the Nashville scene. He recorded hits for Barnaby Records and Warner Brothers during 1970–1979. Stevens' biggest hit in the US was his gospel-inflected single "Everything Is Beautiful" (1970), a plea for love and tolerance. The single won a Grammy, was the theme song for his summer 1970 TV show, hit #1 on both the pop and Adult-Contemporary charts, and marked his first time in the Top 40 on the country charts, peaking at #39. His other 1970 singles were "America, Communicate With Me" and "Sunset Strip". Each of those songs made a big impact with adults, reaching the Top-20 on the Adult-Contemporary lists. His novelty song "Bridget the Midget (The Queen of The Blues)" made #2 on the UK chart in 1971 and in the US it reached #50. Stevens had a gospel/country hit single in early 1972 with Albert E. Brumley's "Turn Your Radio On," reaching the country Top 20. Two more of Steven's songs in 1972 were also minor pop hits, "A Mama and a Papa" and "All My Trials," but both crossed over to the Top 40 Adult-Contemporary lists. In 1973, Stevens had a top 40 country hit with the title track of his album "Nashville." In 1974, Stevens recorded perhaps his most famous hit, "The Streak," which poked fun at the early-1970s fad of running nude in public, known as "streaking." It made No. 1 in both the UK and the USA and No. 3 on the country chart. Steven's tenure with Barnaby came to an end in early 1976, after he had racked up several more hit singles; "The Moonlight Special" is a spoof of the TV program The Midnight Special. In 1975, he released the Grammy-winning "Misty," which became his biggest country hit (reaching #3 on the country charts and #14 on the pop charts); he also hit the country Top 40 with a doo-wop version of "Indian Love Call," "Everybody Needs a Rainbow," and a ballad version of "Young Love" in early 1976.

In the spring of 1976, Stevens joined Warner Brothers, where his debut was a strong showing with three hit singles in a row. The first was the up-tempo version of "You Are So Beautiful," which reached the country Top 20, then "Honky Tonk Waltz," which reached the Top 30. He then released a novelty single, billing himself as a choir of chickens: under the pseudonym "Henhouse Five Plus Too," Stevens recorded a version of Glenn Miller's "In The Mood" in the style of a clucking chicken; it became a Top 40 hit in the US and UK in early 1977. Stevens never made it to the Top 40 throughout the rest of 1977 on either the pop or country charts. In 1978 he had a hit with "Be Your Own Best Friend" on the country charts, and in 1979 he had his final hit, as of 2007, on the Hot 100 pop chart with the novelty "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow," which he released from the album The Feeling's Not Right Again. He joined RCA in late 1979, releasing new material in 1980.

The 1980s and after

After joining RCA in 1980, Stevens continued having hit singles, but with somewhat less success than in the previous decade. His debut single, the Top 10 "Shriner's Convention" and then the Top 20 love ballad "Night Games" performed relatively well on the charts. In 1981, only one single made the charts, the Top 40 hit "One More Last Chance." In 1982, after he had released a few more singles, notably the Top 40 "Written Down in My Heart", Stevens left RCA and returned to Mercury Records, the label that made him a star in the early 1960s. This resulted in only one album, the 1983 project Me, and only one chart hit, "My Dad", in early 1984.

Stevens then joined MCA in 1984 as a "country comedy" act and thereafter released only novelty song albums. Stevens's first two albums for MCA were both successful, both hitting sales of over half a million. His next series of albums were high sellers as well. The fan-voted Music City News awards named Stevens Comedian of the Year annually for nine consecutive years from 1986 to 1994. However, Stevens's singles were no longer making the Top 40 charts as they were considered comedy–novelty, and country radio resisted playing songs that were not serious. Even though it meant little airplay, the sales and overall popularity Stevens was enjoying during the 1980s and into the 1990s because of the switch to all-comedy was a runaway success. His newer and younger fans bought many of the greatest hits albums MCA and other record labels had released during the 1980s.

A few of Stevens's commercial singles charted on the Single Sales charts during this time, but only one single, "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", actually made it to the radio-dominated Top 40. "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" reached the Top 20, making that Stevens's final single to hit the Top-40 portion of the country chart. "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex" is the only single during his 1984–1989 stint on MCA that came close to reaching the Top 40, stalling at #41 in 1987. Second to that, the other single close to hitting the Top 40 on the country chart was the #45 hit "The Haircut Song".

Stevens left MCA in 1989 for Curb/Capitol in 1990. The two labels eventually split apart and Stevens continued with Curb Records afterwards. The relationship with Curb would remain solid until 1996 when he was dropped from the roster. Stevens found a new home, ironically, with his previous label, MCA. The reunion with MCA was short-lived and it consisted of two new albums, Hum It and Christmas Through a Different Window, the latter release being a collection of nutty and zany Christmas novelty songs. After the partnership with MCA evaporated he remained active on his own label, Clyde Records, until he found another home with Curb Records, returning to the label in 2001 and debuting early in 2002 with "Osama Yo' Mama", which made the country Top 50, reached the Top-5 on the country single sales chart, achieved Gold selling status, and the album of the same name reached the country Top-30. After the release of this album and a popular on-line music video, Stevens retreated out of the spotlight once again. An obscure release called "The New Battle of New Orleans" came along in 2005 as a satiric response to the vandals and looters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Curb Records continued to release music video collections on Ray during this time period as well, notably in the form of DVD due to the reality of the VHS video tape becoming obsolete. The music videos were of the animated variety, featuring limited animation.

Ray returned to releasing music once again in 2007 with the serious salute to Louisiana in the form of the CD New Orleans Moon, on his own label. The CD was not promoted heavily and few, outside of his fan-base, are aware of its existence. The following year Stevens issued the album Hurricane, also on his own label. The CD was released twice, actually. It hit in February of 2008 as an exclusive offer at Stevens' on-line music store at his website but then it was released nationally in November of that year to a wider audience.

Concurrently in 2008, a jazzy tribute to the songs of Frank Sinatra that Stevens recorded was also being offered at the web-site store during the latter half of 2008. The album is titled Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What?? and it became nationally distributed in February 2009. If all of this activity wasn't enough, 2009 saw the release of One for the Road, a CD aimed primarily at truckers. It was sold exclusively at the Pilot truck stops for several weeks prior to its release nationally.

In 2009 Stevens found himself being inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame and he appeared on the PBS series Legends and Lyrics. A television show that Stevens stars in, We Ain't Dead Yet, became available to subscribers at his web page. The subscription is to an exclusive section of his web-page called Ray Stevens Backstage and each month a different episode becomes available. The series focuses on senior citizens and it usually features a special guest each episode stopping by the main set, a retirement home, to perform songs.

In the early fall of 2009 Stevens released a holiday collection of serious songs simply titled Ray Stevens Christmas. It was his first Christmas release in 12 years. His last holiday release was all-comical. Late in November an EP became available featuring a couple of his serious Christmas songs but the main attraction was his cover of Seymour Swine's (a fictional group that recorded a stuttering rendition of "Blue Christmas") "Blue Christmas", complete with stutter. Stevens had also recorded a non-comical version of this song for his Ray Stevens Christmas release. The stuttering version can only be found on the EP release.

On December 11, 2009, Stevens issued the single "We The People". The music video went on to become a You Tube sensation with 2.7 million hits to date. Stevens followed this music video with "Caribou Barbie" on March 11, 2010. This music video is about Sarah Palin and it takes the derogatory phrase caribou barbie and twists it around as a compliment. The video uses a Palin impersonator and through the help of sight-gags it takes aim at several high profile personalities on cable television. The video also has fun with Sarah Palin's image.

Videos

Stevens' songs have been showcased in several videos. "Gitarzan" was featured on Disc 1 of The Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection. Stevens videos were frequently offered via television commercials. 1992's "Comedy Video Classics" contained 8 music videos, winning the Home Video of the Year in 1993 as well as other awards. Two videos filmed at his Branson, Missouri theatre "Ray Stevens Live!" and "More Ray Stevens Live!!" were released in 1993, although the second collection was only available to fan club members at the time. In 1995 he released a movie, Get Serious!! which contained 10 music videos inserted at appropriate times throughout the spoken dialogue. The video collection Latest and Greatest was released in 1996. In 2000 he released Funniest Video Characters including the video to his 1985 song "The Ballad of the Blue Cyclone." In 2004 Greatest Video Characters was released; this was a large collection of 1990s Stevens music videos. Stevens' video albums are released by mail order on his own label, Clyde Records. Curb Records also offers retail distribution.

Grammy awards

Stevens has won two Grammy Awards: one for "Everything Is Beautiful" and one for the arrangement of his country and western version of the jazz standard "Misty" (1975). Stevens was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980 as well as the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Other awards and Accomplishments

  • 1969: Gold Single — "Gitarzan"
  • 1970: Gold Single — "Everything Is Beautiful"
  • 1970: Grammy — "Everything Is Beautiful" (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance)
  • 1974: Gold Single — "The Streak"
  • 1975: Grammy — "Misty" (Best Arrangement of the Year)
  • 1980: Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
  • 1980: Georgia Music Hall of Fame
  • 1984: Gold Album — "He Think He's Ray Stevens"
  • 1985: Gold Album — "I Have Returned"
  • 1986: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1986: #1 Country Album Plaque from Billboard — "I Have Returned" (week ending March 15, 1986)
  • 1987: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1987: Platinum Album — "Greatest Hits"
  • 1987: Gold Album — "Greatest Hits, Volume Two"
  • 1988: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1989: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1990: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1990: Gold Album — "All-Time Greatest Comic Hits"
  • 1991: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1992: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1992: #1 Home Video Plaque from Billboard — "Comedy Video Classics"
  • 1992: Ten Times-Platinum Home Video — "Comedy Video Classics"
  • 1993: Billboard Home Video of the Year
  • 1993: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1993: Platinum Home Video — "Ray Stevens Live!"
  • 1994: Music City News Comedian of the Year
  • 1995: Platinum Home Video — "Get Serious!"
  • 1995: Country Weekly Golden Pick Award "Best Comedian"
  • 2002: Gold Single — "Osama Yo' Mama"
  • 2009: Christian Music Hall of Fame
  • 2010: Music video, "We The People", reaches 1 million hits on You Tube and then 2 million

Discography

References

  • Roy, Don (1998). "Ray Stevens". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 507.

External links


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