Why is Ray Stevens, country singer, more than just the guy from The Streak? – Rolling Stone

Just as the popular portrayal of Johnny Cash as an impeccable coach neglects the nuanced human love for faith and family, paint Ray Stevens, 80, inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame, as a comedy act breaks his decades of working businessman and multi-Grammy singer winning serious country and gospel songs.

Stevens' role as ambassador for country music began as soon as the native of Atlanta signed his first recording contract in 1957. In addition to leaving his mark on 'Ahab the Arab' "And other novice artists early in the career, Stevens worked in the shadows. scenes in the sixties for Mercury and Monument Records, producing singles by Jim Glaser ("A pair of loaded dice") and Dolly Parton ("Do not give up"). His early examples of well-rounded writing found themselves in the repertoires of popular artists such as Sammy Davis Jr. ("A Little Conversation with Myself") and Brook Benton ("My True Confession").

Of course, the relaxed links between Dolly and the Rat Pack hardly make the artist a member of the Hall of Famer. A more advanced defense of Stevens' legacy is to highlight less jovial songs that dispel the clichés of country music without destroying an image as healthy as Opie Taylor.

Although Stevens' musical output in his later years was characterized by a far-right tendency (see the unfortunate "Osama-Yo & Mama"), his 1970 single, "America Communicate With Me ", reminds us of the open-minded and let-live attitudes that are as consistent with country classics as jingoism wielding a flag. In the song, Stevens' narrator is fed up with headlines from the Vietnamese era and pressure from society to turn left and right. Statements as honest as "despite your headlines, I will continue to believe in you", aged gracefully, contrary to what makes you crack "Oussama, yo 'mama did not raise you as it should. When you were young, she had to tighten your turban too tight. "

As with "America Communicate With Me", Stevens was also open to the 1970 Grammy-winning film "Everything Is Beautiful," which endorsed the biblical golden rule ("Do to others what you would like them to do you "). Years before long hair was socially acceptable in men and school integration, Stevens was releasing a very progressive version of this gospel in the words of "Everything": "We should not worry about the length of his hair / or the color of his skin. "

To capitalize on the success of the song, Andy Williams' Barnaby Records etched together songs from the 1970 album. Everything is beautiful. On paper, Stevens playing the surrealist title of The Beatles "She came through the bathroom window" looks as promising as Pat Boone, a heavy metal stylist. After all, the guy from "Guitarzan" had to drop hints about Paul McCartney's supposed disappearance. It's one of the Beatles' best hits on a country album, and it helps to prove that Stevens played his rendition of the song well.

These serious successes in 1970 gave Stevens the freedom to begin creating albums for adult and contemporary gospel audiences. Among the best-known songs that followed was a version of "Turn Your Radio On," written in 1937 by Alfred E. Brumley, father of Buck Owens long-time guitarist Tom Brumley. Not less than Merle Haggard, the Statler Brothers and John Hartford covered the song, but Stevens' recording in 1972 is particularly noteworthy, as his rural camp-meeting also seems to appeal to fans of southern gospel and country music .

Overall, the seventies did not remain a joke for the artist. Only his determinant "The Streak" and the 1974 album, Boogity Boogitydeviated from his interest in spirituality and sentimentality. His courting with the easy listening crowd paid off in 1974, when he covered "Misty", the popular jazz and jazz standard by Erroll Garner, and won a Grammy.

But Stevens' 1984 jump from Mercury to RCA marks a return to fun songs. However, it was a career change that revealed Stevens' business intelligence, which quickly realized that his wacky voices and comic characters were perfectly suited to video clips and VHS releases on television. The success of Stevens' audiovisual country comedy guaranteed, for better or for worse, that a new generation who did not know "Misty", "Everything Is Beautiful" or "America Communicate With Me" would only judge him as a joker. .

Nowadays, Stevens conducts and plays in his own Nashville-area dinner theater, CabaRay. It is a return to the musical city for the artist who, in 1991, moved to Branson, Missouri to prevent country music from focusing more on young performers and – as he did in the 70s with the whole easy listening – meet a particular brand of entertainment demand.

As at the time, he remains aware of his place in the world of the country. Stevens represents more than the camel sound that your grandmother hated in "Ahab the Arab" from 1962 and has served country music well through varied roles for over 60 years. He received a Hall of Fame plaque that should describe him as more than a mere comedian. . "

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