The River's Badge

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Why Ray Stevens Was A Genius

What? Ray Stevens? The guy who did Gitarzan and The Streak? What do you mean, a genius? Isn't he just kind of corny?

I sometimes think that I'm the only person who recognizes the genius of Ray Stevens.

You see, in 1975, Ray released an album titled, "Misty". Ring a bell? Yea, you know the song. You know Ray's rendition. He took an old standard and "bluegrassed" it up. It was a hit.

I had that album on EIGHT-TRACK. Yes, eight-track. Remember those? They were around for about a year or so. I remember, my dad had an eight-track player in his Lincoln. He had about 3 eight-track "albums", I guess you'd call them. Of course, he also had one of those console stereos. You know, the kind that you matched to your furniture. The kind that had that nice fake-wood detailing and the velvet inserts. And, if you wanted to play an album, you had to carefully lift the stylus and place it just so on the track you wanted to play.

But, back to Ray Stevens.

I was fascinated and enthralled by his "Misty" album (eight-track). He redid a lot of standards, such as, "Deep Purple", "Indian Love Call", and "Young Love".

And he also had a song on the radio that was totally strange, yet mesmerizing, in the same way that a train wreck is mesmerizing. It was a barnyard of chickens doing, "In The Mood". It was never labeled a Ray Stevens song. It was by some group called something and the Henhouse Five. (Sorry, my memory fails me at times).

But that's neither here nor there.

My point is, if you listen to the album, "Misty", with remakes of all the old standards, as only Ray could do them, you realize that Ray Stevens was a genius.

I have three of those songs on my mp3 player, and trust me, they're really good.

He recorded these songs with kind of a bluegrassy, doo-wop, pop sensibility. If that makes any sense.

I really love them. And I know you would, too, if you listened to them.

LUCKILY, I discovered that Ray's original album is now available on Amazon.com (repackaged with his "Turn Your Radio On" album).

MISTY

I just ordered it. For old time's sake. And because it's fantastic.

A couple of other cool facts about Ray:

1. He had the guts to stand down Webb Pierce, when all the tour buses were constantly coming around to show fans Webb's guitar-shaped swimming pool.

2. He recorded "Sunday Morning Coming Down" first, before Johnny Cash recorded it. He knew a classic song when he heard it.

So, you can remember Ray Stevens for his campy songs, or you can give a listen to his serious stuff.

I'd strongly recommend listening to his serious stuff. You'll like it.

Ray had a bunch of stuff before he ever unleashed "The Streak" on the buying public. He had "Mister Businessman"; he had "Everything Is Beautiful" (of course). He had, as I said, "Sunday Morning Coming Down".

I guess the "comedy thing" was a goldmine for him. But I really miss the good stuff.

Although that chicken song was pretty funny.

I leave you with Ray performing his most famous "serious song", Misty:




6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh wow...i'm way late in replying as i don't usually do Blog searches but i decided to do one at random on Ray Stevens and came across this. I do not know every little nuance about Ray off-stage, i don't think anyone but really close associates and family know him, but i've been a huge fan of his for years and years and years...i'll go out on a limb and brag a little and say i'm one of his biggest fans, even though that's a cliche. Anyway, it was good to see a blog give some spotlight on his non-comedy recordings. I have those two albums on vinyl and i have that 2 album on one CD that you promoted/spotlighted. There isn't a Ray Stevens album, cassette, CD that i don't have. I however do NOT have any 8-tracks...but i remember them well. They became obsolete in 1984 i think just as cassettes were taking off in sales? As you mentioned, the comedy songs were and still are his goldmine and those are what immediately spring to a non-fan's mind when someone mentions "Ray Stevens" but he is so much more than a singer of novelty songs. He also wrote/co-wrote nearly everything he recorded for the longest time except on the concept albums like MISTY and others of that era where one could tell by looking at the song titles that he was covering previously recorded songs by others. Ray also arranges everything he records...writes out all the music and everything...he also produces his own recordings and if that's not enough he publishes his own material through his own publishing company. As a side-note, "Mr Businessman" was written by Ray and according to an interview he gave he wrote it about being involved in a business deal that went wrong because the partner in the deal was corrupt. The "In the Mood" single whose name escaped you was released as The Henhouse Five Plus Too. They had a short but infamous career. The flip-side of "In the Mood" was another chicken clucker called "Classical Cluck". The chicken's un-official name is Henrietta and believe it or not Ray recorded a third song did with animal sounds based on the classical work Also Sprach Zarathustra by Strauss and Ray called it "Thus Cacked Henrietta". The chicken clucker performance is a little over a minute in length and leads off Ray's 1985 "I Have Returned".

Michelle Anderson said...

Thank you so much for this informative response! I'm just thrilled to find another person who appreciates Ray Stevens like I do, although I obviously don't know as much about him as you do! Funny, I was just listening to some of Ray's music last night. "The Henhouse Five Plus Too" - ahh, now it comes back to me! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I went to see Ray in concert yesterday on August 9th, down in Renfro Valley. He put on his usual great show but because it was a timed concert and couldn't go over-time because he had a second show at that same venue, he had to trim some of his older songs but his signature hits were performed in their entirety. He opened the show with "Such a Night", which he recorded in 1982 for the "Don't Laugh Now" album and closed the show with "The Streak". Sandwiched in between those two songs were complete and partial performances of a wide spectrum of songs and lots and lots of jokes and stories. "Misty", "Gitarzan", "Everything is Beautiful", "Thank You", "Safe at Home", "Smokey Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat", "The Streak", "Such a Night", "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", and "It's Me Again, Margaret" were all performed in their entirety but he had to trim "Shriner's Convention" and he did a medley of earlier songs "Sgt Preston of the Yukon"; "Jeremiah Peabody"; and "Ahab the Arab".

Michelle Anderson said...

I would kill to see Ray in concert. I envy you!

Anonymous said...

Well, he has a few more concert dates to go on his mini-tour. These are the last concerts if anyone's in the vicinity of these towns:

North Myrtle Beach, SC - Alabama Theatre
09/27/08

Sault Sainte Marie, MI @ Kewadin Casino
10/10/08

Wisconsin Dells, WI @ Crystal Grand Music Theatre
10/11/08

Des Moines, IA - Civic Center of Greater Des Moines
10/12/08

Michelle Anderson said...

Well, Wisconsin isn't too awfully far away. I'll have to keep that in mind. Thanks!