Stevens on The Johnny Cash Show, circa 1971
|Birth name||Harold Ray Ragsdale|
January 24, 1939 |
Clarkdale, Georgia, United States
|Genres||Country, pop, novelty|
|Occupation(s)||Singer-songwriter, arranger, comedian|
|Instruments||Vocals, keyboards, guitar, vibraphone, trumpet|
|Labels||NRC, Mercury, Monument, Barnaby, Warner Bros., RCA, MCA, Curb, CBS, Janus|
Stevens was born in Clarkdale, Georgia. While attending high school, Stevens formed his first band, a rhythm and blues group he named the Barons. Following his graduation from high school, Stevens enrolled in Georgia State College as a music major.
Capitol Records signed Stevens to its Prep Records division in 1957, and produced the singles "Silver Bracelet" and a cover of "Rang Tang Ding Dong", for which Billboard credited the 16-year-old Stevens' vocals as "strong, attractive." The latter was originally recorded by Manhattan doo-wop group The Cellos in 1957, and written by Cellos bass singer Alvin Williams.
In 1958, Bill Lowery created the National Recording Corporation (NRC), and brought Stevens on board to play numerous instruments, arrange music, and perform background vocals for its band. Around that time, he had adopted the professional name of "Ray Stevens", which was inspired by his middle name and his mother's maiden name.
Stevens signed with Mercury Records in 1961. With Mercury, he recorded several hit records including songs such as "Harry the Hairy Ape," "Funny Man," the original recording of "Santa Claus Is Watching You," "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving, Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills," and "Ahab the Arab." "Ahab the Arab" reached number five on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1962.
In 1966 Stevens signed with Monument Records and started to release serious material such as "Mr. Businessman" in 1968, a Top 30 pop hit; "Have a Little Talk With Myself" and the original version of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" in 1969, which became Stevens's first two singles to reach the country music charts. O.C. Smith covered the Stevens-penned Isn't It Lonely Together while Sammy Davis, Jr. covered "Have a Little Talk With Myself." Stevens continued to release comedic songs, and in 1969 he had a Top 10 pop hit with "Gitarzan." Stevens also became a regular on The Andy Williams Show during the 1969–1970 season, and he hosted his own summer show, The Ray Stevens Show, in 1970. In Australia, Ross D. Wylie reached the top 20 with his cover of the Stevens-penned Funny Man. Stevens' collection of Hot 100 hits is evenly divided between serious and comedy.
As an A&R man, music producer, songwriter, and music arranger, Stevens assisted many artists in the recording studio during his years at Mercury Records and Monument Records, 1961 through early 1970. Some of the acts he was associated with during that time period were Brenda Lee, Brook Benton, Patti Page, Joe Dowell, Dusty Springfield, and Dolly Parton. Stevens was a writer or co-writer of several songs those particular acts recorded. "My True Confession," a Top-10 on the R&B chart in 1963 for Brook Benton, was written by Stevens and Margie Singleton. Stevens was the arranger for the Doyle Holly recording of "My Heart Cries For You," which had been recorded previously by Stevens himself during the late 1950s on the NRC label.
Starting in the 1970s, Stevens became a producer and studio musician on the Nashville scene. He recorded songs for Barnaby Records and Warner Brothers during 1970–79. Stevens' biggest hit in the U.S. was his gospel-inflected single "Everything Is Beautiful" (1970). The single won a Grammy Award, was the theme song for his summer 1970 TV show, hit number one on both the pop and Adult-Contemporary charts, and marked his first time in the Top 40 on the country charts, peaking at number 39. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. His other 1970 singles were "America, Communicate With Me" and "Sunset Strip," both of which reached the Top 20 on the Adult-Contemporary lists. His novelty song "Bridget the Midget (The Queen of The Blues)" made number two on the United Kingdom chart in 1971 and in the U.S. it reached number 50. Stevens had a gospel/country hit single in late 1971 with Albert E. Brumley's "Turn Your Radio On", reaching the country Top 20. Two more of Stevens' songs in 1971 were also minor pop hits, "A Mama and a Papa" and "All My Trials," but both crossed over to the Top 10 Adult-Contemporary lists. Stevens frequently toured Canada and went to the UK. A rock-inflected gospel arrangement accompanied his version of "Love Lifted Me" and it became a hit single in Bangkok in the fall of 1972, finding its way into the Top Five.
In 1973, Stevens had a top 40 country hit with the title track of his album, "Nashville," and increased his exposure on television by performing on a variety of prime-time programs. 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 became number one in both the UK and the US and No. 3 on the country chart. In 1975, he released the Grammy-winning "Misty," which became his biggest country hit (reaching number three on the country charts and number 14 on the pop charts); he also entered 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. Stevens' tenure with Barnaby came to an end in early 1976.
Stevens joined Warner Brothers in 1976, where his debut single was a cover 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: 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. In 1978 he had a hit with "Be Your Own Best Friend" on the country charts, and in 1979 he had his last Hot 100 hit (to date) with the novelty "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow," which he released from the album The Feeling's Not Right Again. In the US, Stevens' singles would reach only the country chart nationally thereafter.
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After joining RCA in 1980, he released "Shriner's Convention" and then "Night Games". In 1981, only one single made the charts, "One More Last Chance." In 1982, after he had released a few more singles, notably "Written Down in My Heart," Stevens left RCA and returned to Mercury Records. 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. The fan-voted Music City News awards named Stevens Comedian of the Year for nine consecutive years from 1986 to 1994. A few of Stevens' singles charted during this time, but only one, "Mississippi Squirrel Revival," made it to the Top 40, making that his final single to hit the Top-40 portion of the country singles chart. During his 1984–1989 stint on MCA, the single "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex" stalled at number 41 in 1987.
Stevens' first two albums for MCA reached the Top-5 with I Have Returned hitting the top spot in early 1986. A 1987 Greatest Hits album became a platinum seller, while several other releases achieved gold status. One of the trademarks of Stevens' string of comedy albums were the photo shoots. For example, on one album he's dressed up as Napoleon Bonaparte, on another he's Humpty Dumpty, and on another he's dressed as General Douglas MacArthur.
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Stevens left MCA in 1989 for Curb/Capitol Records. The two labels split up soon after and Curb Records continued releasing material on Stevens. His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits, a compilation released in 1990, became a gold album by mid-decade. Lend Me Your Ears and Number One With a Bullet were released in 1990 and 1991 respectively. The latter featured the satirical hit "Working for the Japanese" in which Stevens sings about the American economy and how dollars are boosting overseas economies instead of its own.
In the 1990s, Stevens took new directions. The most ambitious was the opening of his own theater in Branson, Missouri in 1991. The theater business had been steadily growing in Branson for years and by the time Stevens began building his theater the area was reaching its peak. Stevens benefited from the theater boom largely because his stage show was different from others. When the crowds reacted favorably to his music videos being played on a large screen at his theater, Stevens began selling videos.
In the spring and summer of 1992, his Comedy Video Classics became a million-selling home video through direct marketing and television advertisements. Branson was also experiencing its highest commercial peak in the summer and fall of both 1992 and 1993. In the midst of all the success, though, Stevens closed down his theater after the 1993 season citing exhaustion and monotony after doing two shows a day, six days a week, for five to six months at a time. Several of his performances at his theater were filmed and surfaced in home video form. Ray Stevens Live! became another home video mail-order success in 1993 following the same path of Comedy Video Classics.
Meanwhile, Comedy Video Classics became a big retail seller again. In 1993, it was named Home Video of the Year by Billboard magazine.
Classic Ray Stevens was issued in 1993. This was the first audio release from Stevens since early 1991. The album's title was a reference to the classical-looking photo shoot which features a bust of Ray Stevens mocking Beethoven. The home video of Ray Stevens Live! was released in 1994 and it became a Top-5 success on Billboard's Home Video chart.
In the summer of 1995, the movie Get Serious! was released on home video and was released to retail stores, via MCA, late in 1996. The video hit the Top-5 on Billboard's Home Video chart early in 1997 during a more than 20 week chart run. Stevens had by this point exited Curb Records.
Stevens found a new home with his previous label, MCA. MCA was responsible for the retail distribution of Get Serious! and for marketing Ray as a comical singer for the first time in the mid-1980s.
The reunion with MCA also saw the release of two new audio CDs in 1997: Hum It and Christmas Through a Different Window, the latter release being a collection of Christmas novelty songs. After the MCA contract ended, Stevens became exclusive to his own label, Clyde Records, for a period of years.
On-line rumors began circulating about his death. The confusion may have arisen in 1996 following the death of a wrestler named Ray "The Crippler" Stevens. The singer Ray Stevens once recorded a wrestling song entitled "The Blue Cyclone." Stevens, the singer, reported to the media that his office had received thousands of sympathy cards due to the confusion.
In April 1999 Stevens was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer and had to cancel his series of concerts at the Acuff Theatre that summer. Stevens received a clean bill of health upon successful surgery and returned to the stage in time to deliver his Christmas concert series.
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Stevens returned to Curb Records in 2001. In 2002, "Osama Yo' Mama" was released. It 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. Stevens returned to Branson and re-opened his theater in 2004. He remained active there for three more seasons. He shut the theater down for good after the 2006 season, selling it off to cable network RFD-TV.
An obscure release called "The New Battle of New Orleans" came along in 2005 as a response to the vandals and looters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The song was issued as a single-only in 2005.
Curb Records, in the meantime, continued to release DVD music video collections on Stevens during this time. The music videos featured limited animation.
Stevens returned to releasing music once again in 2007, firstly in July 2007 with the single-only "Ruby Falls," and with the CD New Orleans Moon, released on his own label. This CD contains songs in tribute and honor to New Orleans and Louisiana. Stevens covers "Louisiana Man," "Louisiana," "The Battle of New Orleans," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "New Orleans," and several more.
The following year Stevens issued the album Hurricane, also on his own label. This CD featured an array of comical songs including a pair of redneck anthems, "Hey Bubba, Watch This!" and "Bubba the Wine Connoisseur." The CD also marked the debut of "Sucking Sound," a political/economic song about Ross Perot.
Concurrently in 2008, a tribute to the songs of Frank Sinatra was issued. The album Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What?? became nationally distributed in February 2009. Stevens did not promote or publicize the tribute album. Later in 2009 he released 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. The CD includes "Concrete Sailor," "Convoy," "Right Reverend Road Hog McGraw," and "Hang Up and Drive." "Mary Lou Nights" and "Oh, Lonesome Me."
In 2009, Stevens was 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. In 2009 Stevens released Ray Stevens Christmas.
In December 2009, Stevens issued the single and on-line video "We the People," which surpassed a million unique views in a month's time on YouTube. The video is critical of health care reform. Stevens followed this music video with "Caribou Barbie" in March 2010. This music video is supportive of Sarah Palin.
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In April 2010 Stevens released a CD/DVD, titled We the People, containing 22 political songs. This album made its Top-10 debut on the Billboard Comedy Album chart for the week ending June 26, 2010, and it moved into the Top-5 for the week ending July 3, 2010.
On April 24, 2010 the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum honored Stevens in the series "Nashville Cats: A Celebration of Music City Musicians." The special focused mostly on Stevens' career as a Nashville session musician during the 1960s and 1970s.
On December 2, "Bad Angel," a song that Stevens published and his daughter, Suzi Ragsdale, co-wrote, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Country Collaboration category. The song's trio of artists are Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, and Jamey Johnson. It is available on Bentley's CD Up on The Ridge.
Stevens performed three songs while at CPAC on February 10, 2011.
On April 14 Stevens decided to end his subscription-based web-site, Ray Stevens Backstage, after a two-year run. A music video from Ray uploaded on YouTube in 2009 but taped in 1992 entitled The Mississippi Squirrel Revival surpassed a million on-line views. This became the third music video from Stevens to obtain at least a million on-line views. On April 25 Stevens uploaded a new music video onto YouTube entitled "The Obama Budget Plan." The same day Stevens released his album, The Spirit of '76. By May 1, Stevens' "Obama Budget Plan" on-line music video had generated over 95,000 unique views in less than a week's time. Later that same night news broke on the death of Osama bin Laden and as a result Stevens' music video from 2002 entitled "Osama Yo' Mama," which was uploaded on YouTube in 2009, experienced a resurgence in on-line activity. The video had received more than 990,000 unique views prior to the news of bin Laden's death and in the aftermath it received more than 20,000 additional plays causing it to surpass a million on-line views and as a result it became his fourth music video to surpass a million plays.
On August 12 the "Obama Budget Plan" music video surpassed half a million views (eventually surpassing two million views by the fall of 2012.) On September 27 Stevens uploaded the music video, "Mr. President – Mr. President," and it quickly amassed more than 200,000 unique views in a little more than a week's time. On October 10 Stevens announced that his upcoming novelty song encyclopedia will consist of nine CD's and will be released in January 2012.
On February 29, just a day after releasing the 9-CD The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music box set, Stevens' on-line music video, "Mr. President – Mr. President," passed the half a million mark in YouTube views. Also, on March 8, an article on Ray by writer Chuck Dauphin appeared on Billboard.com detailing the Encyclopedia's contents. The article also included Ray's feelings about the lack of an abundance of comedy songs on contemporary radio stations, and the "unfounded stigma" that exists about comedy songs.
On the music product side of things, Stevens issued a couple of CD/DVD packages in the summer of 2012. A concert collection titled Such a Night: 50 Years of Hits and Hilarity and Patriots and Politics were issued in both CD and DVD formats. A third DVD release, Get Serious!, was a re-issue of Stevens' 1995 direct-to-video movie. It marked the first time it had been issued on DVD.
On December 3, 2012 Stevens issued a non-comical music video in the form of "White Christmas". He had recorded this for a non-comical project he released in 2009 titled Ray Stevens Christmas. On December 11 Stevens released a second seasonal music video, his comical version of "Blue Christmas". This video's availability was an exclusive on AOL's web-site, The Boot. Ten days later, on December 21, it was available on YouTube. It was around this same time period that Stevens appeared on the local FOX television station in Nashville to promote The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music as well as perform a medley of Christmas songs. A third seasonal video, "Redneck Christmas", arrived on December 22. This song goes back to Ray's first Christmas release in 1997. This marked the debut of its official music video.
A fourth seasonal music video, "Merry Christmas", also debuted on December 22. The video overshadowed the three other seasonal music videos. "Merry Christmas" obtained more than 100,000 online views within several hours of its debut.
Amidst the seasonal music video releases that took up the month of December 2012, The Nashville Network had by that time been re-launched as a digital television sub-channel. The actual re-launch was at the beginning of November 2012. This event eventually led to Stevens becoming the host of a television series that he titled RAY-ality TV. The series, which airs on the re-launched Nashville Network is a program filled with video clips from Stevens' catalog interwoven with newer footage as well as scenes that had been taped for numerous home video projects that, for whatever reason, were left on the cutting room floor.
RAY-ality TV ended its run in January 2014.
Soon after, in late March 2014, Stevens announced the debut of a webisode series, also titled Rayality TV. In this series, said to have more than 70 individual installments of various length, clips from his various music videos and his former on-line sitcom, We Ain't Dead Yet, are edited together. All clips are deliberately edited together to fit a specific episode theme that week. If an installment is about "food", for example, video clips from Stevens's archives that deal with health and eating or dieting are used. Each installment debuts on YouTube every Friday and usually features an introduction from Stevens or a commentary from him midway through.
In early May 2014 Stevens announced that he'll be one of the participants and co-stars of an upcoming movie titled Campin' Buddies.
The film, in production in Louisiana, takes the "how not to" concept and applies it to the great outdoors. Stevens' co-stars include Tom Lester, Don Most, Victoria Jackson, and several others. Stevens plays a character named Rayford. The filming began on May 16, 2014, and was set to end on May 31. A couple of political music videos from Stevens emerged in 2014: "If You Like Your Plan" and "Nero Fiddled".
Stevens released his first gospel album in more than 40 years in the latter half of 2014. Titled The Ray Stevens Gospel Collection: Volume One, it featured 12 gospel and inspirational recordings. Some of the songs recorded by Stevens included "Dry Bones", "Farther Along", "Onward, Christian Soldiers", and the recording that he singled out and performed at personal appearances titled "If Jesus Is a Stranger, Check Your Circle of Friends".
Stevens emerged in the early part of the new year by issuing a surprising music video titled "Taylor Swift is Stalking Me" which comically pokes fun at Swift's presence on multiple magazine covers and video programs. In the video Ray plays the part of a man in an asylum coping with his delusions of being stalked by the pop-country singer due to his seeing her everywhere he turns. The song itself is to be a part of Stevens' CD Here We Go Again! due out on March 24, 2015.
Stevens' songs have been showcased in several videos. "Gitarzan" was featured on The Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection. Stevens videos were frequently offered via television commercials. 1992's Comedy Video Classics contained eight 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 contains ten music videos sandwiched within an actual movie. 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. Stevens' video albums are released by mail order on his own label, Clyde Records. Beginning in late 2009, Stevens began releasing new music videos directly to YouTube. A lot of the music videos released by Stevens since December 2009 are political in nature. The music videos, many of which have obtained more than half a million unique views, have helped establish Stevens as a legitimate political entertainer.
Awards and accomplishments
Stevens has 11 Grammy nominations and 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.
Music City News was a monthly subscription magazine. Stevens won in the Comedian of the Year category nine consecutive years and performed on their awards telecasts on a consistent basis.
Stevens was the recipient of several publisher awards from BMI Music for songs he either wrote, recorded, or published. Some of the recordings that received these citations were "Everything Is Beautiful", "The Streak", "Shriner's Convention", "Gitarzan", and several songs recorded by Sammy Kershaw and published by Stevens.
In July 2009, Stevens began uploading music videos onto YouTube for the first time. Many of the uploads were of music videos that were made in the early and mid-1990s. His user name, raystevensmusic, has since released quite a few music videos on YouTube and by late summer of 2010, a combined total of 10,000,000 unique views was obtained.
- 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 induction
- 1980: Georgia Music Hall of Fame induction
- 1984: Gold Album – He Thinks He's Ray Stevens
- 1985: Gold Album – I Have Returned
- 1986–94: Music City News Comedian of the Year
- 1986: No. 1 Country Album Plaque from Billboard – I Have Returned (week ending March 15, 1986)
- 1987: Platinum Album – Greatest Hits
- 1987: Gold Album – Greatest Hits, Volume Two
- 1990: Gold Album – All-Time Greatest Comic Hits
- 1992: No. 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: Platinum Home Video – Ray Stevens Live!
- 1995: Platinum Home Video – Get Serious!
- 1995: Country Weekly Golden Pick Award for Best Comedian
- 2001: Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame induction
- 2002: Gold Single – "Osama Yo' Mama"
- 2009: Christian Music Hall of Fame induction
- [dead link]
- "Shelby Singleton, Nashville Producer, Dies at 77". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
- "Ray Stevens Comes Streaking Back With Immigration Song". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
- Roy, Don (1998). "Ray Stevens." In The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 507.
- "Ray Stevens". Raystevens.com. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
- Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Steven Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladamir; Erlewine, Michael (1997). All Music Guide to Country: The Experts' Guide to the Best Country Recordings. Backbeat Books. p. 448. ISBN 978-0-87930-475-1.
- "Reviews and Ratings". Billboard: 52. January 24, 1957.
- Warner, Jay (2006). American Singing Groups: A History, From 1940 to Today. Hal Leonard. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-352-33533-3.
- Wadhams, Wayne (2001). Inside the Hits: The Seduction of a Rock and Roll Generation (Pop Culture). Berklee Press. pp. 78–82.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 286. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- "Ray Stevens – Timeline Photos". Facebook. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
- "Campin' Buddies". Facebook. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
- Official website
- Ray Stevens at the Internet Movie Database
- Tom Redmond – Working with Chet Atkins: An Interview with Ray Stevens
- Its Me Again Margaret
- Video magazine and subscriber's website