Entertainment, On A High Note

Ray Stevens: A music legend in a category all by himself

Most of us know and love him as the guy who sings funny country songs with mega-hits like “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” “The Streak,” “Ahab the Arab” and many other comedy songs he put out in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. He has also won Grammys for his traditional songs like “Misty” and “Everything Is Beautiful.”  He is also a great musician, acting as a session player for the likes of Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Leroy Van Dyke, Jerry Reed, and many others.  He is one of the few artists who have been a session player, record producer, songwriter and the star of his own destiny. He is a musical legend in a category by himself – multi-platinum and Grammy award-winning artist Ray Stevens.

Ray Stevens chats with us at the 2016 CRS. PHOTO BY KAYLA SCHOEN

Ray Stevens chats with us at the 2016 CRS. PHOTO BY KAYLA SCHOEN

Stevens still performs, records and tours as much as he always has. When asked if he preferred singing funny songs, Stevens replied that he tries to mix up his music and still loves funny songs. He related that writing comedic songs is harder than a straight song. “I love music no matter what form it takes, and I’m just very happy that I can still be in this business because I’m having a good time.”  Music has been Stevens’ whole life, and he is always on cue for an audience.  He has his own weekly television show called “Ray Stevens’ Nashville,” which is broadcast by RFD-TV and is becoming quite the hit.

“I moved here in 1962 from Atlanta to become a session musician,” Stevens said of his first arrival in Nashville. “I was hired by Shelby Singleton at Mercury Records, and I worked a ton of sessions. I met a lot of great Nashville musicians and a lot of great artists that came in to record,” Stevens said. “I think I have a unique perspective on how Nashville became ‘Music City USA,’ because in ‘62 it was just Nashville.”

Ray Stevens is a novelty song extraordinaire, penning "Gitarzan," "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" and more. PHOTO COURTESY ABSOLUTE PUBLICITY

Ray Stevens is a novelty song extraordinaire, penning “Gitarzan,” “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” and more. PHOTO COURTESY ABSOLUTE PUBLICITY

Stevens’ television show honors the stars of the past and present, many of whom Stevens has worked with personally over the years. He brings in a lot of artists from his era plus new talent who have risen to stardom over the years.  “I think it’s an interesting show,” Stevens commented. “It’s only a 30-minute show, and you may only have time for one guest per show, but you can get into some very interesting conversations when you have only one guest.”

“Ray Stevens’ Nashville” is still airing its first season of 26 episodes, and they are just starting to record its second season.  The show airs locally on Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. CST on RFD-TV. With Stevens as the host, you are always guaranteed an entertaining guest discussing Nashville and the music business.

Stevens has also written a book called “Ray Stevens’ Nashville.” When discussing the book, he explained, “The book kind of goes with the TV show and I wouldn’t call it an autobiography – I call it a memoir. I tell how I got started, and you can get a copy from my website.” He explained with a grin, “but it’s in Barnes and Noble and places like that.” So go out and get you a copy.

Nashville is built on songs. Songwriting is a way of life for this town, and Ray Stevens is considered one of Nashville’s finest songwriters. Asked about his experience with co-writing songs, Stevens said, “I do a little, but not much. I have a friend who I’ve known since I was 17 years old from high school – Buddy Kalb – who also wrote “Mississippi Squirrel Revival.” We co-write sometimes, but mostly I write by myself.”

Stevens is also in the process of building a performance venue in West Nashville called “CabaRay,” and he told us a little about that.  “I’m building a performance venue,” Stevens said. “I’m building it from the ground up.”

Ray Stevens at the groundbreaking of "CabaRay." PHOTO BY CILLEA HOUGHTON

Ray Stevens at the groundbreaking of “CabaRay.” PHOTO BY CILLEA HOUGHTON

His inspiration came from one of the classic Las Vegas venues on the Strip. “There was a showroom at the Desert Inn called the Celebrity Room, but the Desert Inn is no longer there. I felt like I could see, hear and touch everyone in the audience. It only seated 650, and it was a lot of fun, especially when you sang comedy songs, so I’m building a similar showroom and I’m calling it CabaRay.” Stevens’ perspective on the addition of this venue to Nashville also comes from his decades of experience. “A lot of tourists are coming to Nashville now, and they go to the Grand Ole Opry, Lower Broadway and that’s about it. And it’s expensive to park.  My place will be out River Road with free parking, and it will be a showroom that seats about 700. I’m just building it to have fun.”

Most of the music that made us laugh, cry, and just enjoy the moment through the years has come from Ray Stevens.  He is a man of integrity and a true businessman, entertainer, songwriter, and the list goes on.  If you would like to check out his new TV show, remember Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. CST on RFD-TV. If you would like to purchase any of Ray Stevens’ music or his new book just go to his website, his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.