Ray StevensHarold 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.
In 2019, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Early lifeStevens 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 University as a music major.
Early careerAt 18, 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.
In 1958, Bill Lowery created the National Recording Corporation (NRC), and hired Stevens to play numerous instruments, arrange music, and perform background vocals for its band.
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' 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 1969–1970, and hosted his own show, The Ray Stevens Show, in 1970. In Australia, Ross D. Wyllie 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, music 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.
1970sIn 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, No. 14 US pop chart, No. 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.
After joining RCA Records 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, Stevens left RCA and returned to Mercury, releasing the 1983 album Me, and 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. In 1985 he performed at the Lanierland Music Park in Georgia with Pinkard & Bowden. 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 of the country singles chart.
Stevens' first two albums for MCA reached the Top-5 with I Have Returned hitting No. 1 in 1986. A 1987 Greatest Hits album became a platinum seller, while other releases achieved gold status. Stevens' comedy albums covers usually showed him dressed as various characters, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Humpty Dumpty, or General Douglas MacArthur.
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 1990 compilation, 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.
In the 1990s, with country music as a whole rapidly changing direction and largely abandoning older and more established artists, 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 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 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 1992 and 1993. In the midst of this success 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 released in video form. Ray Stevens Live! became another home video mail-order success in 1993. Meanwhile, Comedy Video Classics became a big retail seller again. In 1993, it was named Home Video of the Year by Billboard magazine.
The 1993 album Classic Ray Stevens was his first audio release since 1991. The video of Ray Stevens Live! hit Top-5 on Billboard's Home Video chart in 1994. In 1995, the movie Get Serious! was released on home video, and in 1996 to retail stores. The video hit the Top-5 on Billboard's Home Video chart 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.
Online 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 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 concerts at the Acuff Theatre that summer. Stevens received a clean bill of health upon successful surgery and returned 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 shut the theater again after the 2005 season, and sold it to RFD-TV in 2006.
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 during this time.
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.
The following year Stevens issued the album Hurricane, also on his own label. This CD of comical songs included, "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 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.
2010–2014In April 2010, Stevens released We the People, a CD/DVD of political songs. This album reached Top-5 on the Billboard Comedy Album chart.
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. Performed by Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, and Jamey Johnson, the song appeared on Bentley's CD Up on The Ridge.
On April 14, 2011, Stevens released his album, The Spirit of '76. On February 28, 2012, Stevens released the 9-CD The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music box set.
By December 2012, The Nashville Network had been re-launched as a digital television sub-channel. This led to Stevens becoming the host of a television series titled RAY-ality TV.
RAY-ality TV ended its digital TV run in January 2014. In March 2014 a webisode series, also titled Rayality TV was launched. In 2014 Stevens co-starred in the movie Campin' Buddies. A couple of political music videos 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 published his autobiographical memoir Ray Stevens' Nashville in 2014.
Since 2015Stevens released the album Here We Go Again on March 24, 2015, which includes the Taylor Swift spoof single "Taylor Swift is Stalking Me" and "Come to the USA". In November he launched his television series, Ray Stevens Nashville, on cable channel RFD-TV. It aired on the network for a season (26 episodes).
Following its season-long run on RFD-TV in December 2016 Stevens' television series was re-launched as Ray Stevens CabaRay Nashville in January 2017 and along with the slight change in title came a change in network. It left RFD-TV and began airing in local syndication on PBS stations across the country.
On January 18, 2018, Stevens opened a performance venue, CabaRay, located on River Road in West Nashville. The venue is a 700-seat showroom which offers a dinner and a show in addition to housing a piano bar along with recording facilities for both audio and video productions. There is balcony seating for those who purchase concert-only tickets, with dinner-and-concert seating at floor level. In December 2018 Stevens stirred up some minor controversy within the Music Row area of downtown Nashville when he sold his existing properties to a real estate developer. Stevens' property in the Grand Avenue section of Music Row was purchased and several studios were demolished to make room for a multi-story skyscraper intended to be used for creative musical endeavors by musicians and songwriters alike. The minor controversy surrounded the demolition of facilities Stevens owned which local historians proclaimed should've been protected. The controversy died down several weeks after the news broke.
In January 2019, his CabaRay Nashville television series returned to the RFD-TV airwaves in addition to a sketch-filled series called Rayality TV. CabaRay Nashville continued to air in local syndication on PBS in addition to its weekly airing on RFD-TV. On March 18, 2019, an announcement was made that Stevens was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame alongside record producer Jerry Bradley and country music duo, Brooks and Dunn. The formal inductions into the prestigious Hall of Fame took place on October 20, 2019. In November 2019, almost a month after Stevens was formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, RFD-TV removed his CabaRay Nashville series from their prime-time Saturday night line-up without any advance warning to the viewers/audience of the program. Rayality TV continues to air on the network on Friday afternoons while CabaRay Nashville continues airing on local PBS stations scattered across the country.
VideosStevens' 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 won the Billboard Home Video of the Year in 1993, and other awards. Two videos filmed at his Branson theatre, Ray Stevens Live! and More Ray Stevens Live! were released in 1993. In 1995, he released a movie, Get Serious! containing 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 were political in nature and have obtained more than half a million unique views.
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.