Grammy-winning Ray Stevens bring his music and comedy to Lebanon for the fourth annual Music at the Mill.
The McClain Christian Academy benefit, set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, also stars The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, Michael W. Smith, Deborah Allen, Sal Gonzalez and Rachel Bradshaw.
Stevens, 74, famed for such funny songs as “The Streak,” “Shriners Convention,” “Gitarzan” and “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” also can sing ’em straight like his big hits “Everything Is Beautiful” and “Misty.”
But these days, he is letting his humor flow as in his new TV series, “Rayality TV,” which air at 8 p.m. Sundays on The Nashville Network with reruns at 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays. And last year, he released “The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music” with 108 songs, as he went into the studio and cut new versions of classic rib ticklers.
What compelled him to undertake such a mammoth project?
“I’ve always been a big fan of that style of music,” Steven said. “Even though all of my recordings are not comedy, and I’ve had success in other fields, most people identify me in the comedy music vein. I figured why not go with that.
“I noticed in the last few years that you don’t hear much comedy music on the radio. I’m kind of on a mission to save the endangered comedy music songs, so I wanted to put together a real long comprehensive collection that could have a long shelf life. If you can think of a classic comedy song, there’s a very good chance you’ll find it in this set.”
The project, a labor of love that took more than two years to complete, includes about 20 of his own songs but also stars tunes like “Alley Oop,” “The Preacher and the Bear,” “The Purple People Eater,” “Monster Mash,” “Hello Muddah Hello Faddah” and “Little Brown Jug.”
“To say I was influenced by comedy records would be a big understatement. They are a major reason I am who I am musically,” he said. “I had recorded a couple of regular teenage love song records that were all the rage in the late ’50s, but they didn’t catch fire nationally for me, so I told myself that I needed to do something different and see if I couldn’t get the ball rolling.”
The musician of mirth, who was born Harry Ray Ragsdale in Clarkdale, Ga., began his humor streak on the radio in 1960 with “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon” and kept it going fast forward with such hits as “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly-unsaturated, Quick Dissolving, Fast Acting, Pleasant Tasting, Green and Purple Pills,” “Ahab the Arab” and “Harry the Hairy Ape,” but also won Grammy Awards for the songs “Everything Is Beautiful” and “Misty.”
He also nailed down nine Music City News comedian of the year awards.
“I originally started out just doing straight-ahead love songs. I just kind of evolved into the comedy songs. I was a big fan of comedy songs and guys likes Spike Jones and all the acts that I involved in my ‘Encyclopedia,’” he recollected.
In the meantime, Stevens said he is having fun with “Rayality TV” on the revived TNN. He describes the half-hour program as a “musical comedy.”
“The show consists of several things I’m putting together," he explained. "I made pilots for TV shows down through the years so we’re taking snippets from all these things and combining them into each show. Each show has a sort of a theme. One them will be, for example chickens, and we’ll do chicken jokes. It’s really a new concept."
Several years ago, Stevens produced four episodes of a show titled “We Ain’t Dead Yet,” about a retirement home for entertainers that never reached the air. Thus, he will use segments from those episodes, which featured such celebrities as Ralph Emery, Darrell Waltrip, Louise Mandrell, George Lindsey and Phil Everly, on “Rayality TV.”
Stevens, who arrived on the Nashville scene in 1962, has seen a world of changes in the city.
“Back when I came here country music was really a stepchild, and now it’s the main style of music,” he said. “Nashville has come a long way in view in of the far-sightedness of those, like the Country Music Association that started and promoted country music. Nashville and Music City USA has grown due to all that effort back in the old days.”
Stevens said he is not yet ready to hang up his music hat or his hilarity.
“I’m pretty much stuck in the music business rut," he said. "I still enjoy it. I got a great studio here and spend a lot of time in the studio, writing and recording.”