Harold Ray Ragsdale was born in 1939 in Clarksdale, Georgia. He started piano lessons when he was six and formed a band called the Barons, aged 15. In 1958 he was picked up by Bill Lowry music publishing company (National Recording Corporation) and recorded “Five more steps” on the Prep label (subsidiary of Capitol records).
Although the single went nowhere Ray was keen to continue recording and did so on the NRC label as he was studying classical piano and music theory at Georgia State University. In 1960 he enjoyed some success with "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon," but due to copyright infringement the single was pulled from the radio.
Ray Stevens continued to record with NRC until the company finally filed for bankruptcy. After he appeared on the Georgia Jubilee radio show, Mercury Records offered Ray a job as an AR assistant. There Stevens recorded "Chickie Chickie Wah Wah" in 1961 but it failed to do well.
"Jeremiah Peabody's Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills" was released a little later in the same year and gave him his first hit.
Other successes followed with "Ahab the Arab" (1962), "Santa Claus Is Watching You," (1963) and "Harry the Hairy Ape" (1963) but despite the recognition Ray preferred to work behind the scenes.
At Mercury’s studio he worked with Brenda Lee, Patti Page, Brook Benton and Elvis Presley. Sometimes Ray even sang as a substitute vocalist with the Jordanaires. Keen to increase his CV, he moved to the Monument label as a producer and arranger and became friendly with fellow producer Bill Justis. Whilst at Monument Ray produced works by Dolly Parton and B.J. Thomas and then in 1968, he returned to recording with a protest song called "Mr. Businessman.”
Ray enjoyed light hearted comedy and scored high in the hit parade a year later with Gitarzan which originated from collaboration with Bill Justis.
The singer followed up with a cover version of the Coasters' "Along Came Jones," which reached the Top 30. "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," (written by Kris Kristofferson) was a country song which although it did not chart he would return to the genre later in his career.
In 1970, Ray signed with Barnaby label (owned by Andy Williams) and had a major hit with "Everything Is Beautiful."
Now established as a ballad, country and comedy singer Ray’s next success was "Bridget the Midget (Queen of the Blues)" in 1971.
This became an instant hit in the UK but did less well in the US. His gospel-styled "Turn Your Radio On" was a hit in 1972.
"The Streak," released in 1974 was an instant winner securing his international success.
After this Ray started to take country music seriously and came up with a bluegrass version of "Misty" which gave him yet another world wide hit record.
More country songs followed with "Indian Love Call," "Honky Tonk Waltz," and "You Are So Beautiful."
In 1977 the singer switched to Warner Brothers and released a comic version of Glenn Miller's "In the Mood." The single was credited to The Henhouse Five Plus Too and all the instrumental parts were clucked like of chickens.
The record scored well in the UK. In 1979 he was again in the charts with "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow" but had less success with his next set of singles, although "Shriner's Convention" did reach the charts in 1980.
By the middle of the decade Ray Stevens enjoyed a short renaissance on the MCA label and both his albums and singles sold well. "It's Me Again, Margaret," "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival," "The Haircut Song," "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex," and "I Saw Elvis in a U.F.O." did not enjoy enduring chart success but introduced a new generation of fans to his body of works.
Ray continued to record and chart well into the 90s but later diversified his interests to become successful in video with many of his earlier hits ending up as television commercials and on the World Wide Web. During this time he formed Clyde Records and now his video albums are released by mail order on his own label.
Worth a listen
Ahab the Arab (1962)
Mr Businessman (1968)
Everything is beautiful (1970)
Turn your radio on (1971)
The Streak (1974)
Shriner’s Convention (1980)
I saw Elvis in a UFO (1988)