For fifty years, Ray Stevens has helped create
the soundtrack of our lives. From the days of
vinyl records and AM radio stations to today’s
Internet and iPods, his remarkable songs
have filled the airways, grabbing the
imagination of generation after generation
with an unforgettable blend of zany, heart-
warming and toe-tapping tunes.
Since the time when `57 Chevy Bel Airs and
Ford Crown Victorias spent Saturday nights
dragging Main Streets all across America, the
prolific singer and songwriter has touched the funny-bones and hearts of
people of all ages with such whimsical songs as “Ahab the Arab,” “Gitarzan,”
“The Streak,” “Everything Is Beautiful,” “Shriners’ Convention,” “Mississippi
Squirrel Revival” and “Osama Yo’ Mama.”
The fictional characters and images he created—“Freddie Feelgood,” “Ahab,”
“Fatima of the seven veils,” “the camel named Clyde,” “a girl name Jane,” “sister
Bertha Better-Than-You,” “Bubba,” “Coy,” “Bridget the Midget the Queen of the
Blues,” “Erik the Awful” and “the Blue Cyclone”—have remained timeless,
permanently imprinted in our memories.
At the same time, his tender ballads such as “Mr. Businessman,” “Misty” and “All
My Trials” have shown a completely different and revealing side of the
unassuming music legend from Georgia.
Along the way, the singer, songwriter, producer and performer has hit the pop
and country charts again and again, sold millions of recordings and videos, won
Grammys, hosted a popular NBC network variety show, was inducted into the
Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame (1980), won nine Nashville Network-Music
City News “Comedian of the Year” awards, and helped establish Branson as the
heartland’s live entertainment showcase.
Still, somehow he has remained grounded in the red dirt and real-life values of
tiny Clarkdale, Georgia, where he was born Harold Ray Ragsdale in January 1939.
Never was that more apparent than during a recent interview with MyBestYears.
RS: It was a small cotton mill town some twenty miles north of Atlanta.
MBY: What was life like for you as a child in Clarkdale?
RS: It was a great life. Very normal. Typical family with loving parents. We were
surrounded by pretty much the same kind of down-home, church-going, hard-working
MBY: Were you always interested in music?
RS: We listened to the radio a lot, and I always liked that. I spent summers at the city
swimming pool along with most of the other kids, and they had a jukebox there with all
kinds of music. I always remember enjoying music of all kinds—country, southern Gospel,
rhythm and blues, big band—anything and everything. Back then the radio stations
played a wide variety of music, so you heard it all.
MUSIC—FRONT AND CENTER
MBY: When did you get interested in playing and singing?
RS: I was six years old taking piano lessons, and I remember looking at the keyboard, and
suddenly it all made sense. From that day on, I can honestly say that music was front and
MBY: When did you realize that you might be able to make it in the entertainment industry?
RS: Well, some people are still wondering about that one! (laughs as only Ray Stevens
RS: I was fifteen when I first started performing in a band.
MBY: The Barons, right?
RS: Right. By that time my family had moved to Albany, Georgia—200 miles to the south.
Some guys and I started this little band. We played dances and things like that…the
American Legion, Elks Club, parties.
PEACH CITY AND BEYOND
MBY: Then came Atlanta…
RS: Right. I moved to Atlanta for my senior year in high school. and met Bill Lowery, a
music publisher. He was the on-air announcer for all the Georgia Tech football game
broadcasts and quite a radio personality. He had also started a music publishing company
and began encouraging all of the talent around Atlanta to write so that he could publish
their songs. Guys like Jerry Reed and Joe South were getting their start at the same time.
I went out to Mr. Lowery’s house, and I said, “My name is Ray Ragsdale, and I'm going to
write songs for you.” He said, “Okay lad, go to it.” Amazingly, when I brought him my first
one, he actually liked it. He had some connections and got me a recording contract when I
was still only seventeen and still in high school.
MBY: What was the first song you showed him?
RS: “Silver Bracelet.” I borrowed a tape recorder from a friend, got the key to the high
school assembly hall, went in by myself one Sunday, got all set up with the piano onstage
in this big high-ceilinged room and made a demo of this song I had written.
MBY: And the rest is history for Ray Ragsdale...
RS: Not exactly. Mr. Lowery liked it enough to call Ken Nelson at Capitol Records. Ken
liked the song, too, and signed me to Prep Records, which was one of Capitol’s small
MBY: What happened with “Silver Bracelet”?
RS: It didn’t do much. It was a hit in Atlanta but
MBY: It introduced you to some industry people that
would be important for you later, though. All of a
sudden you were in pretty tall cotton…
RS: I went to Nashville and recorded that first
record at the old RCA "B" studio. Chet Atkins was in
charge of A&R (Artists & Repertoire) for RCA. That
was amazing to meet him.
MBY: That was quite a beginning, even though it
wasn’t the huge hit that later songs would be…
RS: It was great. I started recording in 1957, and I haven’t really done else anything since.
I’ve never had a “real job,” as my Dad used to say.
MBY: Were there times when your friends and family back home wondered, “I wonder
when Ray’s gonna finally come home and get that real job?”
RS: I don’t think so. They always knew I was set on making it in music.
MBY: You came out of the chute and did some pretty big things early on, then were able
to sustain it…certainly no “one hit wonder.”
RS: I’ve always been very lucky and blessed. Mainly, I just kept plugging at it and trying to
learn more about the whole entertainment biz.
MBY: The first national hit came in 1961, right?
RS: I had just signed with Mercury Records. It was "Jeremiah Peabody's Poly Unsaturated
Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills."
MBY: The world’s longest song title…
RS: That’s what I’m told.
MBY: It broke into the national Top Forty. That obviously changed even more things for
RS: In so many ways. I was in college at Georgia State University by that time majoring in
classical piano and music theory. After “Freddie Peabody,” I headed for Mercury Records
in Nashville and began working full-time as a pianist, arranger and vocalist.
MBY: Is it true that you did almost 300 sessions during your first year in Nashville?
RS: Yes. And one of those sessions was to do my own recording of “Ahab the Arab.”
MBY: Which went to the top five during 1962…
RS: That tune really did change everything. By that time I was the assistant A&R person at
Mercury, but that career ended as my songs took off. “Harry, the Hairy Ape” and “Santa
Claus Is Watching You” came next.
LOVING THE PROCESS
MBY: You still kept working with other artists…
RS: I’ve always loved the process of recording. I eventually joined
Monument Records as a producer. One of the new artists I worked
with was Dolly Parton.
MBY: And Elvis?
RS: I used to fill in with the Jordanaires sometimes when one of them couldn’t be there for
sessions or gigs. And I played trumpet one time on one of his records.
RS: I’m a terrible trumpet player, but they were doing a session for the movie tracks. They
decided they needed some trumpets with a Mexican lick. I’ll never forget it. It was the only
Elvis session I ever actually played on, and it ended up being on an instrument I could not
claim to be all that good at playing.
MBY: It obviously sounded good enough to help produce another hit for the King.
RS: I guess so. Later on, I published a song that was the last hit for Elvis before he died,
MORE HITS, MORE EXPOSURE
MBY: You kept having hit after hit, including your first number one pop hit, “Everything Is
Beautiful,” in 1970. How did that come about?
RS: That year I joined Barnaby Records, owned by singer Andy Williams, and I appeared
on his NBC television variety show. I was then signed to host my own summer
replacement show, and I needed a very special song for the program. I went down in my
basement for about three days. I had crumpled paper all over the place. And suddenly the
idea for the song came to me. I wrote it in maybe 45 minutes.
MBY: Did you know right then that it was a hit?
RS: I really did. It just felt right.
MBY: And it was. It won the Grammy Award for Male Vocalist of the Year.
RS: It was a very special song and one that a lot of people still remember and sing along
when I do it in shows.
MBY: Are you surprised that your songs have spanned so many generations and continue
to so timeless?
RS: A little bit. I don’t really think about that a lot. It always feels
nice to have people remember what I’ve been doing through the
MBY: Are you surprised at the number of young people in your
RS: It’s always great, whoever is there. I’m just glad they’re there.
MBY: What has kept your career going when so many others with great talent have
sputtered and stopped?
RS: I don’t really know the answer to that. If I had to guess, it would be that down-deep I
just really love what I’m doing.
MBY: And it shows.
RS: I think so. I believe that if you really love what you’re doing, whether you are
successful at the moment or not, you’re going to keep doing it. It’s like the songwriter who
won the lottery and was asked, “Well, what are going to do now with all these millions?”
And he said, “I guess I’ll keep writing songs until the money runs out!”
MBY: It’s apparent to anyone who sees or hears you perform that you love what you’re
RS: I really do. It’s still fun and exciting to me, and it’s always such a thrill to be able to
make that connection with people in the audiences.
EDITING AND INNOVATION
MBY: But it has to be more than that. There are lots of artists who love what they’re doing
and enjoy playing to the crowds, yet they aren’t able to keep the career going strong.
What’s different about you?
RS: I’ve always thought that I had a pretty good sense of being an editor of myself and the
songs I record. There’s a lot of material out there to pick and choose from, and I think
success depends upon your ability to make good choices of songs that people want to
MBY: I don’t think anyone would argue with that. And you’ve always seemed to be on the
edge in terms of using leading technology in the recording studio…overdubbing so many
of your own voice tracks on “Everything Is Beautiful,” for example, or appearing as an
entire “quartet” of Ray Stevens on your network show. Those were considered leading
edge at the time.
RS: I’m not really a techno-type person. I’m not very technical at all. I just hear the
arrangements in my head and love to get things recorded like I’m hearing. I’ve tried to
keep great technicians and engineers around me, and that allows me to concentrate on
playing and singing.
MBY: But recording studios are sometimes superstitious
places, and there are a lot of people who have hits who
are hesitant to try something new and edgy. What
makes you so different?
RS: Maybe I’m just not superstitious. I’ve always been
pretty inquisitive and wanting to try new things. Maybe
that has made a difference.
MBY: Such as doing an entire chorus of chickens (recorded under the pseudonym
"Henhouse Five Plus Too") to the tune of Glenn Miller’s classic, “In the Mood”?
RS: The idea of clucking chickens was a little different, I guess.
MBY: And edgy, but it worked. There are people still walking around making chicken
noises to that tune! And you certainly turned a lot of people’s heads with your innovative
comedy videos and the marketing strategies you used.
RS: That changed everything for us. Comedy Video Classics, released in 1992, ended up
selling over two million copies. Our "Live" video from the Branson show in 1993 sold over
one million copies. We were going into uncharted territory, and I think the videos surprised
everyone, including me!
MBY: How did Branson fit into all this?
RS: I built my theater there in 1990 and did the 1991-1993 seasons. It was a 2,000-seat
theatre, and I performed there six days a week, twice daily, for six months at a time.
Someone figured out that during those first two seasons, I played to over 1,600,000
people. I left for awhile to do some projects, but I came back 2004-2005, then I sold it in
MBY: And there are broken hearts all over the globe because you did…
RS: Well, I can still play Branson, and I will probably be there sometime in the future. It’s a
very special place to me.
MBY: Why did you decide to leave Branson?
RS: I'm in my sixties now, and there's such a thing as enough of even a very good thing! I
had a wonderful run in Branson. It was such an important part of my fifty-year career in
the music business. It was great to part of what has happened there. I love Branson and
the wonderful audiences. But I just wanted to take time to do things that simply aren’t
possible when you are committed to 8-12 shows a week for 8-10 months every year.
MBY: During the time you took off from Branson during the Nineties, you said in an
interview that you wanted to concentrate on movies.
RS: I produced a movie called Get Serious. We sold it direct over the cable channels. It
did well. But it wasn’t meant to compete with a true Hollywood production to put into
theaters. The concept was ten music videos that I strung together with a story line. We
had a great motion picture crew, but it was never meant to be a movie-movie, if you know
what I mean. I’m still interested in producing videos, as well as audio recordings, so you
never know what will happen in the future.
MBY: How was that experience?
RS: It was my first time doing a full motion picture production, so we made mistakes, but it
still turned out pretty well.
MBY: Do you see yourself doing more movies in the future?
RS: I’m really interested in producing videos, as well as audio products, and we’re in the
midst of doing that now.
MBY: Will you ever use that Ray Stevens creativity to take on Hollywood with a full-length
dramatic or comedy movie?
RS: I doubt it. I found out just by doing Get Serious that movies are very, very complicated
and competitive. You’ve really got to have deep pockets, and you’ve got to be totally
committed to it.
MBY: Soaking $100 million dollars in an adventure flick doesn’t appeal to you?
RS: Nope. I don’t think so. I’ve got better things to do with my time and money.
COMEDY AND CAREER
MBY: Understandably. Let’s talk about the music industry’s tendency to pigeon-hole you
as a comedy artist. Some of your best work, from “Everything Is Beautiful” to “Misty,” “Turn
Your Radio On” and “Mr. Businessman” has been more serious, yet these tunes have
also crossed over to be commercial pop and country hits. Does it bother you, as you look
back, that you’ve always tended to be seen as one-dimensional by the industry as a
comedian? And has it been hurtful?
RS: I haven’t consciously tried to change it. It might have
been a roadblock from time to time, but the public often
sees you the way they want to see you. First impressions
are important in the entertainment industry, as with
MBY: It doesn’t bother you?
RS: Hey, if people see me as a comedy singer, that’s
great. There are worse things. I’m just glad people like
what I do. I mainly do what really touches me and what I
like, and people seem to enjoy it. That’s all that really
MBY: Obviously the demographics are changing a lot. Radio was so important to so much
of your career, but it has changed so much. Do you purposely record your music now to
try to get airplay, or…?
RS: Truthfully, I just record what I want to. The industry is constantly changing, but if I do
material that really appeals to me, I feel like others out there will like it, too.
MBY: You can’t argue with fifty years of success.
RS: Well, I don’t know. I just keep sticking with it, and I’m still enjoying it. Thankfully people
out there seem to still like what I do, which is very gratifying.
MBY: Where do your best song ideas come from?
RS: I try to stay aware of what’s going on in the world. I keep up with current events and
check up on what's going on. I find that if there's a topic everybody is talking about, then
there's usually a good song in there somewhere. And usually if it's something I think is
funny then other people probably think it's funny, too.
MBY: Through the years, your faith has always seemed important to you. It comes through
loud and clear on songs such as “Everything Is Beautiful” and even “Mississippi Squirrel
Revival.” How difficult has it been to allow your personal faith to come through in what you
do? And has it ever been a problem to you, career-wise?
RS: I personally think it’s very important for people to have an understanding of being part
of something greater than ourselves. From the time I was born, I was exposed to Sunday
school and vacation Bible school and revivals. I am definitely a product of my up-bringing.
I don’t know how to do it otherwise than staying true to what I believe.
TODAY AND TOMORROW
MBY: Tell us about your current projects…
RS: I’m in the studio right now recording several new albums. I just re-activated Clyde
Records, and with the developments in the record business that are happening these
days, the independent labels have a shot. I’m recording for Clyde Records, as are several
other artists that we’re excited about. I’m in the studio recording a comedy album, a
bluegrass album, a Gospel album, a country album, and an adult contemporary album.
Actually, I feel like I’m chasing my tail, but I like staying busy.
MBY: Busy indeed!
RS: I feel like I’ve got some great material, and I’m excited to
finish up the projects so people can hear them.
MBY: One final question—everyone that comes up to you
after concerts or wherever you go undoubtedly has that “one”
favorite Ray Stevens’ song. What is the one people mention
RS: Probably “The Streak.”
MBY: What is Ray Stevens’ favorite Ray Stevens’ song.
RS: It’s like picking a favorite child. There have been several high points and songs that
were sort-of milestone records like “The Streak,” “Everything Is Beautiful,” “Misty” and
“Ahab the Arab.” Those will always be very special to me.
The biggest news from the INTERVIEW SPOTLIGHT with the pop, country, Gospel
and comedy legend known worldwided as the King of Country Comedy is that he
is recording again. Fans all over the world will love to hear that headline. The
word is out that he is even more creative and energetic than the moment back in
1957—over 50 years ago—when he first stepped into the studio.
He has stood the test of time, yet it is our hope that the biggest and best hit
songs are among the ones he has yet to record. After all, nothing with this man
seems impossible anymore. And at this point in his unpredictable career,
nothing would surprise the zillions of fans around the world who have spent the
past half-century absolutely, positively, passionately loving Ray Stevens!
|“...my name is
and I'm going
to write songs
|"`Ahab the Arab'
thought that I
had a pretty
good sense of
being an editor
of myself and
the songs I
|“I just keep
sticking with it,
and I'm still
out there seem to
still like what I
|“I'm in the studio
excited to finish
up the projects
so people can
and feature for
by bestselling author
Saturday evening at
7:30 PM (Central) on
Fans everywhere are excited that Ray is now host of his popular weekly television
show, Ray Stevens’ Nashville.
“I hope lots of folks tune in a watch," he says during a recent break in production.
"This show is fun to do,and I guarantee it’s going to be fun to watch. I get to
introduce America to a side of Music City they may have never seen or known
about. Best of all, I get to perform with great Nashville musicians and recording
And an exciting new chapter of the Ray Steven' saga begins!
FEATURED EXCLUSIVELY SATURDAYS AT 7:30 PM (Central) ON