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Stevens on The Johnny Cash Show, c. 1971
|Birth name||Harold Ray Ragsdale|
January 24, 1939 |
Clarkdale, Georgia, U.S.
Harold Ray Ragsdale (born January 24, 1939), known professionally as Ray Stevens, is an American country and pop singer-songwriter and comedian, known for his Grammy-winning recordings "Everything Is Beautiful" and "Misty", as well as comedic hits such as "Gitarzan" and "The Streak". He has worked as a producer, music arranger, songwriter, television host, and solo artist; been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and the Christian Music Hall of Fame; and received Gold Albums for his music sales.
Stevens was born in Clarkdale, Georgia. While attending high school, Stevens formed his first band, a rhythm and blues group named The Barons. Following his graduation, Stevens enrolled in Georgia State College as a music major.
At 16, Stevens signed to Capitol Records' Prep Records division in 1957, and produced the singles "Silver Bracelet" and a cover of "Rang Tang Ding Dong", which met with a positive review from Billboard. The latter was originally recorded by doo-wop group The Cellos in 1957.
Stevens signed with Mercury Records in 1961. With Mercury, he had several hits including "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 no. 5 on the Hot 100 in 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", and 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 show, The Ray Stevens Show, in 1970. In Australia, Ross D. Wylie reached the top 20 with his cover of Stevens' Funny Man. Stevens' collection of Hot 100 hits is evenly divided between serious and comedy.
As an A&R man, producer, writer, and arranger, Stevens assisted many artists at Mercury Records and Monument Records, 1961 through early 1970, including Ronnie Dove, Brenda Lee, Brook Benton, Patti Page, Joe Dowell, Dusty Springfield, and Dolly Parton. "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 during the late 1950s on the NRC label.
In the 1970s, Stevens became a producer and studio musician in Nashville. 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 UK chart in 1971 and number 50 in the U.S. His 1971 gospel/country single, Albert E. Brumley's "Turn Your Radio On", reached the country Top 20. Two more songs in 1971 were also minor hits, "A Mama and a Papa" and "All My Trials," but both made the Top 10 Adult-Contemporary lists. Stevens frequently toured Canada and went to the UK. A rock-inflected gospel arrangement of "Love Lifted Me" became a hit in Thailand in 1972, reaching the Top Five.
In 1973, Stevens had a top 40 country hit with the title track of his album Nashville, and performed on a variety of prime-time TV 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 (#3 US country, #14 US pop chart, #2 UK Singles Chart). 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 parted from Barnaby Records and joined Warner Brothers in 1976, where his debut single was a cover of "You Are So Beautiful" (country Top 20), then "Honky Tonk Waltz" (country Top 30). He then released a novelty single under the pseudonym "Henhouse Five Plus Too": a version of Glenn Miller's "In The Mood" in the style of a clucking chicken; a Top 40 hit in the US and UK in 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 "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' comedy albums were the cover photos, where, for example, he's dressed up as Napoleon Bonaparte, Humpty Dumpty, or 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 US dollars are boosting non-US 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. MCA released two new CDs in 1997: Hum It and Christmas Through a Different Window, the latter 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.
Stevens returned to Curb Records in 2001. In 2002 "Osama - Yo' Mama" was released. It reached the Top-5 on the country single sales chart, achieved Gold 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.
A single-only release in 2005 "The New Battle of New Orleans" was a response to Hurricane Katrina. Curb Records continued to release DVD music video collections on Stevens during this time. The music videos featured limited animation.
Stevens returned to releasing music again in 2007, firstly with the single-only "Ruby Falls," and the CD New Orleans Moon, released on his own label. This CD contains songs in tribute and honor to New Orleans and Louisiana.
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 album Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What?? was released. In 2009 he released One for the Road, a CD aimed primarily at truckers. It was sold exclusively at the Pilot truck stops prior to its release nationally.
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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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.
On April 14, Stevens released his album, The Spirit of '76.
On February 28, Stevens released the 9-CD The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music box set. 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.
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 was filled with video clips from Stevens' catalog interwoven with newer footage, and scenes from home video projects.
RAY-ality TV ended its digital TV run in January 2014. In March 2014 a webisode series, also titled Rayality TV was launched. In this series clips from his various music videos and his former on-line sitcom, We Ain't Dead Yet, are edited together to fit a specific episode theme.
In May 2014 Stevens announced that he'd be co-starring in the movie Campin' Buddies. 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 2014: The Ray Stevens Gospel Collection: Volume One.
Stevens' songs have been showcased in several videos. "Gitarzan" was featured on The Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection. Stevens' video albums were frequently offered via television commercials. 1992's Comedy Video Classics contained eight music videos, winning the Billboard 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. 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 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 number of the videos released after 2009 are political in nature and have obtained more than half a million unique views.
|1970||Best Contemporary Male Vocalist||"Guitarzan"||Nominated|||
|1971||"Everything Is Beautiful"||Won|||
|1971||Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)||"Everything Is Beautiful"||Nominated|||
|1971||Contemporary Song||"Everything Is Beautiful"||Nominated|||
|1971||Record of the Year||"Everything Is Beautiful"||Nominated|||
|1971||Song of the Year||"Everything Is Beautiful"||Nominated|||
|1971||Best Inspirational Performance||"Love Lifted Me"||Nominated|||
|1976||Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)||"Misty"||Won|||
|1976||Best Country Vocal Performance – Male||"Misty"||Nominated|||
|1980||Best Comedy Recording||"I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow"||Nominated|||
|1988||"Would Jesus Wear a Rolex"||Nominated|||
Stevens was the recipient of several BMI awards 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.
See Stevens' discography for sales certification awards for singles.
- 1980: Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame induction
- 1980: Georgia Music Hall of Fame induction
- 1986–94: Music City News Awards for Comedian of the Year
- 1992: Billboard No. 1 Home Video Plaque – 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
- 2009: Christian Music Hall of Fame induction
-  Archived September 21, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- "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.
- "Grammy Awards: Best Pop Vocal Performance - Male". Rock on the Net.
- "Past Winners Search". Grammy.Com.
- "Grammy Awards 1971".
- "Grammy Awards 1976".
- Arar, Yardena (January 9, 1980). "Grammy awards field a definite mixed bag". The Spokesman-Review. Cowles Publishing Company. Retrieved April 23, 2010.
- McShane, Larry (January 15, 1988). "Irish rockers among Grammy nominees". The Telegraph. Telegraph Publishing Company. Retrieved April 24, 2010.