Gene Watson’s Peers within the country music industry believe in the sheer talent of this unassuming man from east Texas, so much so that Gene is regarded by many of them as ‘the singer’s singer’ – and rightly so!
All of Gene Watson’s Peers, who were contacted during 2011, were most gracious with their time and words.
It is here, within this special part of The Gene Watson Fan Site, that you have an opportunity to read a quote from Ray Stevens, which he submitted to this site on Wednesday 21 September 2011.
Sean Brady would like to take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to Ray Stevens who made a special contribution to this unique part of this online ‘celebration of a Lone Star Hero’.
This quote was submitted on Wednesday 21 September 2011.
‘When asked today (Wednesday 21 September 2011) if I were asked to make a comment about Gene Watson, I replied by stating that Gene Watson is one of the best country singers I have ever heard’
Thank you, Ray Stevens, for your support of Gene Watson.
About Ray Stevens…
Ray Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale in Clarkdale, Georgia on Tuesday 24 January 1939. Clarkdale was a small cotton mill town, which was situated twenty miles north of Atlanta.
Ray Stevens’ early influences came from the radio and the jukebox at the village swimming pool where Ray and most kids spent their summers. In those days, radio stations were diverse and played music of all different styles and that, along with the records that the jukebox played, exposed Ray Stevens to an eclectic selection of music.
As a seven year old taking piano lessons, Ray Stevens realised that music was his life. By the time he was a teenager in Albany, Georgia Ray Stevens had absorbed many of the great Southern musical influences, from country to rhythm and blues.
When he was fifteen years old, Ray Stevens sang and played piano in a band called The Barons; they played all over the area for the American Legion, the Elks, private parties, anywhere.
When he was seventeen years old, Ray Stevens moved to Atlanta where he met radio personality and Georgia Tech football broadcaster Bill Lowery.
In 1957, while Ray Stevens was still in high school, he made his first trip to Nashville and recorded his first track, ‘Silver Bracelet’, at the now historic RCA ‘B’ studio. It was on that trip that he met Chet Atkins (Friday 20 June 1924 – Saturday 30 June 2001), who was the head of A&R for RCA and a lasting friendship was formed.
‘Silver Bracelet’ was a hit in Atlanta, but there were bigger things to come. Shortly thereafter, Ray Stevens left Prep Records and went to Capitol Records, its parent label.
In 1958, Ray Stevens recorded some tracks for Capitol Records and it was during this time that Bill Lowery formed National Recording Corporation (NRC).
National Recording Corporation (NRC) had a little studio that wasn’t state of the art, but was somewhere to play and record. Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed (Saturday 20 March 1937 – Monday 1 September 2008) and Joe South (Wednesday 28 February 1940 – Wednesday 5 September 2012), among several others, would show up daily bugging the engineer to let them record.
Ray Stevens returned to Atlanta, finished high school and started college at Georgia State University where he studied classical piano and music theory.
Ray Stevens left school during his junior year and, in 1961, recorded ‘Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green & Purple Pills’, which reached No.35 on the Billboard pop music singles chart and was included on ‘Ahab The Arab: 1837 Seconds of Humour’ (Mercury Records, 1962).
At that point, Ray Stevens’ wide range of talent landed him a job with Mercury Records in Nashville; he arrived in Music City on Tuesday 2 January 1962 and worked on countless sessions as a pianist, arranger and vocalist in his first year alone. It was during one of those sessions that he recorded ‘Ahab The Arab’, which reached No.5 on the Billboard pop music singles chart in 1962.
On occasion Ray Stevens used to sing with The Jordanaires. Ray Stevens also played on a session for Elvis Presley (Tuesday 8 January 1935 – Tuesday 16 August 1977); that was the only Elvis Presley session that Ray Stevens ever played on. Ray Stevens played trumpet with Charlie McCoy and, in his own words, he explains:
‘I’m a terrible trumpet player. I played keyboards, of course, and they didn’t need me to play on this particular song. It was a sort of Mexican song, so they asked Charlie and me to get our trumpets and play a little Mexican lick on it, and we did.
I’ll never forget that! The only Elvis session I ever played on, I played an instrument that I could barely hold’
Several years later, Ray Stevens published ‘Way Down’ (written by Layng Martine Junior), which was Elvis Presley’s last hit single before he died; the track was No.1 on the Billboard country music singles chart for one week in 1977, and No.18 on the Billboard pop music singles chart in 1977, was included on Elvis Presley’s ‘Moody Blue’ (RCA Records, 1977).
While he was at Mercury Records, Ray Stevens also recorded ‘Harry The Hairy Ape’ (No.17, 1963) and ‘Santa Claus is Watching You’ (No.45, 1964). After that, Ray Stevens’ recordings tapered off. He was spending his time in the studio producing and not focusing on his own music. Soon Ray Stevens left Mercury Records and joined Monument Records as a producer overseeing new artists, one of those being a young Dolly Parton.
BJ Thomas (Friday 7 August 1942 – Saturday 29 May 2021) recorded Ray Stevens’ ‘Mr. Businessman’, which was co-written with Fred Foster (Sunday 26 July 1931 – Wednesday 20 February 2019), and included the track on ‘On My Way’ (scepter Records, 1968).
1969 would result in a year of phenomenal releases from Ray Stevens. As always, the music was drawn from all styles of music. The jungle band comedy ‘Gitarzan’ returned him to the Billboard pop music singles chart Top 10 in 1969, reaching No.8. The track ‘Gitarzan’ was included on ‘Gitarzan’ (Monument Records, 1969), an album which also included Ray Stevens’ rendition of ‘Alley Oop’, which was written by Dallas Frazier (Friday 27 October 1939 – Friday 14 January 2022).
In the later latter part of 1969, Ray Stevens hit the Billboard pop music singles chart again with a revival of the old Coasters pop and R&B hit ‘Along Came Jones’, which reached No.27.
On the country music front, Ray Stevens recognised the talent of a young Nashville writer and became the first artist to record Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’; the track was included on Ray Stevens’ ‘Have A Little Talk With Myself’ (Monument Records, 1970).
In 1970, Ray Stevens joined Barnaby Records, a label owned by singer Andy Williams (Saturday 3 December 1927 – Tuesday 25 September 2012).
After he performed on Andy Williams’ television variety show, Ray Stevens became Barnaby Records’ first contemporary artist.
The summer of 1970 gave Ray Stevens the opportunity to host the summer replacement for the Andy Williams’ Show on NBC. Ray Stevens needed a hit song for the show and the end result of three days spent in his basement at his piano surrounded by crumpled paper was ‘Everything Is Beautiful’, which became Ray Stevens’ first No.1 hit on the Billboard pop music singles chart and won him a Grammy Award for ‘Male Vocalist of The Year’.
‘Everything Is Beautiful’ was included on Ray Stevens’ ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ (Barnaby Records, 1970) and reached No.39 on the Billboard country music singles chart in 1970.
For the next few years, Ray Stevens continued to release music from gospel to comedy.
Marie Osmond recorded Ray Stevens’ ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ and included the track on ‘Paper Roses’ (MGM Records, 1973).
In 1974, while flying to Los Angeles, Ray Stevens read an article about a new fad among college students called streaking. Inspired, Ray Stevens jotted down a few notes and decided to work on a song about it later. The result was ‘The Streak’.
Ray Stevens’ album, ‘Boogity Boogity’ (Barnaby Records, 1974), was released five days after Robert Opel, a thirty-three year old advertising executive, snuck into the 1974 Academy Awards broadcast and streaked across the stage past David Niven (Tuesday 1 March 1910 – Friday 29 July 1983).
The incident made front page news and the release of ‘The Streak’ was perfect timing; the track, which was Ray Stevens’ second No.1 hit single on the Billboard pop music singles chart in 1974, also reached No.3 on the Billboard country music singles chart in 1974.
In 1975, Ray Stevens received his second Grammy Award. It was in the ‘Best Arrangement’ category for the remake of the Erroll Gardner / Johnny Burke classic, ‘Misty’.
One day, while 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. The track sounded good; so good that Ray Stevens called his engineer to come down to the studio and the arrangement was recorded.
‘Misty’, which was included on Ray Stevens’ ‘Misty’ (Barnaby Records, 1974), was one of Ray’s last hits for Barnaby Records. The label was being shut down, so Ray Stevens signed with Warner Brothers Records.
It was during this time when Ray Stevens’ publishing company was enjoying the success of Elvis Presley’s last hit, which was ‘Way Down’; the track was No.1 on the Billboard country music singles chart for one week in August 1977.
During his time at Warner Brothers, Ray Stevens also recorded ‘In The Mood’ (No.39, 1977) and ‘I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow’ (No.85, 1979).
Between 1979 and 1984, Ray Stevens recorded for RCA Records; his major hit during this time was ‘Shriner’s Convention’, inspired from a real experience in a hotel booked full of Shriners; the track, which reached No.7 on the Billboard country music singles chart in 1980, was included on Ray Stevens’ ‘Shriner’s Convention’ (RCA Records, 1980).
Billie Jo Spears (Friday 14 January 1938 – Wednesday 14 December 2011) recorded Ray Stevens’ ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ and included the track on ‘Special Songs’ (Liberty Records, 1980).
Billie Jo Spears (Friday 14 January 1938 – Wednesday 14 December 2011) recorded Ray Stevens’ ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ and included the track on ‘Only The Hits’ (Liberty Records, 1981).
The original version of ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ (written by Ray Stevens) was included on Ray Stevens’ ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ (Barnaby Records, 1970), and reached No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music singles chart in 1970, and No.39 on the Billboard country music singles chart in 1970, earning Ray Stevens a Grammy Award for ‘Male Vocalist of The Year’.
For the next few years, Ray Stevens continued to release music from gospel to comedy.
In 1984, Ray Stevens signed with MCA Records and enjoyed Billboard country music hit singles with ‘The Mississippi Squirrel Revival’ (No.20, 1984) and ‘It’s Me Again, Margaret’ (No.74, 1984); both tracks were included on Ray Stevens’ ‘He Thinks He’s Ray Stevens’ (MCA Records, 1984).
Ray Stevens continued to record for MCA Records until 1990 when he signed with Curb Records.
In 1991, Ray Stevens saw the opening of his two thousand seat Ray Stevens Theatre in Branson, Missouri.
Between 1991 and 1993, during the tourist season, Ray Stevens performed twice a day, six days a week for 1,600,000 fans.
Several years later, in 2004, Ray Stevens re-opened the show for another season, and in 2006 the show closed permanently when Ray Stevens sold the theatre.
During his time in Branson, Ray Stevens made music videos of several of his greatest hits to liven up the stage show.
The videos went over so well that they were released through Ray Stevens’ own Clyde Records, Inc. in 1992 and made available for purchase through a mail order / television advertising campaign.
The release of ‘Comedy Video Classics’ proved very successful, selling over two million copies. Ray Stevens then released ‘Ray Stevens Live!’ in 1995, a video from the Branson show, which sold over a million copies.
In 1995, Ray Stevens made ‘Get Serious’, a full length movie, which earned platinum status from television advertising and was released to retail outlets by MCA Records in the latter part of 1996.
It was also in 1996 when Ray Stevens returned to the recording studio and recorded a new comedy album, ‘Hum It’ (MCA Records, 1996), which included the tracks ‘Virgil & The Moon-shot’, ‘Too Drunk to Fish’ and ‘RV’.
Another video collection, ‘Ray Stevens Latest & Greatest’, was released in 1996. It contained four of the songs from the original ‘Comedy Video Classics’ and six songs from the movie, ‘Get Serious’.
In 1997, Ray Stevens saw the release of his very first Christmas album; ‘Christmas Through a Different Window’ (MCA Records, 1997) included ‘Bad Little Boy’, ‘Guilt For Christmas’ and ‘The Little Drummer Boy Next Door’, some of the songs included in an album which showed a skewed version of real life.
In 2000, ‘Ray Stevens’ Funniest Video Characters’ was released; the collection included some of Ray Stevens’ funniest songs, including ‘The Pirate Song’, ‘The Haircut Song’ and ‘The Ballad of The Blue Cyclone’.
It was also in 2000 when Ray Stevens returned to the Curb Records roster, where he made yet another video album and this time appeared onscreen with cartoon characters from some of his favourites, including ‘Bridget The Midget, The Queen of The Blues’ and ‘Erik The Awful’.
‘Ear Candy’, a collection of comedy tunes which managed to find humour in everything from dogs, cats, funerals and having a baby the natural way rounded out Ray Stevens’ 2000 releases. ‘Osama-yo’ Mama’ (Curb Records, 2002) followed in 2002 and in 2004 ‘Thank You’ was released.
Both albums contained a variety of music from comedy, pop to country, every song of course, having the sound that can only be recognised as that of Ray Stevens.
In 2007, Ray Stevens decided to record exclusively for his own label, Clyde Records, Inc. Changing it from direct market only to a full service label which would make releases available to retail and for download, Ray Stevens felt that the time was right, being that independents are enjoying the same success as large corporate labels.
It also allowed Ray Stevens control of the timeline in which new recordings were released.
The first release on Clyde Records was ‘New Orleans Moon’, which shared a title with the first single. The album included many great standards, including ‘Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans’, ‘Saint James Infirmary’ and Randy Newman’s ‘Louisiana’. The album was Ray Stevens’ tribute to the music, the culture and the people of New Orleans.
In April 2010, Ray Stevens saw the release of ‘We The People’, a CD / DVD package; the videos included ‘We The People’, which was featured twice on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, ‘Caribou Barbie’, ‘Throw The Bums Out’ and ‘Thank You’ filmed at Nashville’s Veteran’s Cemetery.
Other songs on the collection included hits like ‘The Global Warming Song’, ‘Mr. Businessman’, ‘Obama Nation’ and ‘If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus, It Oughta Be Enough For Uncle Sam’.
Ray Stevens brought us the pop classic ‘Everything Is Beautiful’, the insightful ‘Mr. Businessman’ and the Grammy Award winning arrangement of ‘Misty’. Ray Stevens has memorably spoofed everything from Tarzan movies to trendy crazes and he brought us his very own comedy classics.
Ray Stevens’ genre of music is one of his own making; it spans from pop, country, rock and comedy and it is truly his own.
Ray Stevens is a talented musician, arranger, writer and singer, and he is a magnet for other talented artists in Nashville.
Ray Stevens has surrounded himself with an A-List of the best of Nashville and the proof is the wonderful music and energetic but relaxed pace of his show, ‘Ray Stevens’ Nashville‘, on RFD-TV; one of Ray Stevens’ special guests in 2016 was Gene Watson.
On Monday 18 March 2019, at 10:00am Central, Bill Cody of Nashville’s WSM 650AM announced the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum inductees for 2019, Brooks & Dunn (Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn) (Modern Era), Jerry Bradley (Non Performer) and Ray Stevens (Veteran Era).
On Friday 31 December 2021, Penny Jackson Ragsdale, wife of Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Stevens, passed away, following a prolonged battle with cancer.
Penny Jackson Ragsdale died at her Nashville home, on Friday 31 December 2021, shortly before midnight; she was 78 years old.
Penny Jackson Ragsdale was survived by Ray Stevens (her husband of more than 60 years), two daughters (Timi and Suzi), four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.
• Visit Ray Stevens’ official site at raystevens.com