Ray Stevens Biography
From his comedy hit, "The Streak" to the socially aware "Mr. Businessman" to his Grammy award winning pop standard "Everything is Beautiful," Stevens continues to showcase his observant and witty songwriting.
Ray Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale in Clarkdale, Georgia, a small cotton mill town twenty miles north of Atlanta, on January 24, 1939. At six years old while taking piano lessons, Ray had the realization that music would be his life.
At age seventeen while still in high school, Ray made his first trip to Nashville to record his first track," Silver Bracelet," at the now historic RCA Studio "B" for Prep Records. It was during this trip that he met Chet Atkins, who was the head of A&R for RCA and a life-long friendship was formed.
Ray returned to Atlanta, finished high school and started college at Georgia State University where he studied classical piano and music theory and composition until his junior year when he left to move to Nashville and pursue his music career. In 1962, Ray recorded "Ahab the Arab" which was his first Top 5 pop chart hit. During this time Ray occasionally sang with the Jordanaires and played on sessions for Elvis Presley and other Country and Pop Icons of the era. Several years later Ray would publish, "Way Down," Elvis' last hit.
After recording hits including "Harry The Hairy Ape" and "Santa Claus Is Watching You," Ray also focused on producing other artists. Working at Monument Records during that period, Ray produced a newcomer, Dolly Parton.
In 1970, Ray joined Barnaby Records, a label owned by Andy Williams. After performing on Williams' television variety show, he became Barnaby's first contemporary artist. That summer, Ray had the opportunity to host as the summer replacement for the Andy Williams Show on NBC. He needed a hit song for the show and the end result of three days spent in his basement song writing was "Everything Is Beautiful," which became Ray's first #1 hit on the pop charts and won him his first Grammy for Male Vocalist of the Year.
In 1974 while flying to Los Angeles, Ray read an article about a new fad among college students called 'streaking'. Inspired, he jotted down a few notes when he got home and wrote "The Streak." It was released five days after Robert Opel snuck onto the 1974 Academy Awards broadcast and streaked across the stage. The incident made front page news and the release of "The Streak" was perfect timing. This was Ray's second #1 hit on the pop charts.
In 1975 Ray received his second Grammy Award. It was in the Best Arrangement category for the remake of the Erroll Garner/Johnny Burke classic, "Misty." One day in the studio while rehearsing his band for an upcoming television appearance they started clowning around with "Misty" using a banjo, fiddle and steel guitar. It sounded good. So good that Ray called his engineer to come in to the studio and two takes later, viola!
From 1979 to 1984 Ray's major hits included "Shriner's Convention", inspired from a real experience in a hotel booked full of Shriners, "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival" and "It's Me Again Margaret."
1991 brought the opening of his two thousand seat Ray Stevens Theatre in Branson, Missouri. From 1991 to 1993 during the tourist season Ray performed twice a day, six days a week for over 1.6 million fans. Several years later in 2004 and 2005 Ray reopened the show for two more seasons and in 2006 the show closed permanently when Ray sold the theatre.
During his time in Branson, Ray made music videos of several of his greatest hits to liven up the stage show. A true pioneer, Ray released those videos through his own Clyde Records, Inc. in 1992 and made them available for purchase through a mail order/television ad campaign. The release of "Comedy Video Classics" proved very successful selling over two million copies. The release debuted at #1 on the Billboard Music Video Chart and stayed on the chart for 115 weeks. It was named Billboard's Video of the Year. He then released "Ray Stevens Live!" in 1995, a video from the Branson show which sold over a million copies. In 1995 Ray made "Get Serious" a full length movie. It earned platinum status from TV advertising and was released to retail outlets by MCA Records in late 1996.
In 2007 Ray decided to record exclusively for his own label, Clyde Records, Inc. Changing it from direct market only to a full service label that would make releases available to retail and for download. Ray felt that the time was right, being that independents are enjoying the same success as large corporate labels. It also allows him control of the timeline in which new recordings are released.
Ray's genre of music is truly eclectic. It spans pop, country, rock and comedy and it truly is all his own. It's hard to imagine that he has been making us laugh and think for 50 years but time flies when you are having fun.