Ray Stevens just thinks funny. His humor is keenly observant and rich in nuance. His style is unaffected and unpretentious which for the past fifty years has allowed for entertainment that is both witty and guileless. From his multi-million selling comedy hit, “The Streak” to the socially aware “Mr. Businessman” to his Grammy award winning pop standard “Everything Is Beautiful” his talent has touched so many. Not only a singer and composer, Ray has also produced, arranged and played on the recordings of some of Nashville’s most legendary performers.
Ray Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale in Clarkdale, Georgia on January 24, 1939. Clarkdale was a small cotton mill town twenty miles north of Atlanta. Ray’s 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 to an eclectic selection of music.
As a seven year old taking piano lessons Ray had a realization, and in his own words, “It all made sense.” From that time on music was his life. By the time he was a teenager in Albany, Georgia, he had absorbed many of the great Southern musical influences, from country to rhythm and blues. At age fifteen he sang and played piano in a band, the Barons and they played all over the area for the American Legion, the Elks, private parties, anywhere.
At age seventeen he moved to Atlanta where he met radio personality and Georgia Tech football broadcaster, Bill Lowery. “Bill had all types of shows. He was on several different radio stations around town and he had started a music publishing company. He was looking for talent to write songs. I went out to his house and I said, ‘My name is Ray Ragsdale and I’m going to learn to write songs for you.’ He said, ‘Okay lad, go to it.’ I borrowed a little tape recorder from a friend. I got the key to the lunch room, which also served as the assembly hall, from the principal. The room had a very high ceiling and a piano on a little stage. I went there one Sunday by myself and made a demo of a song that I and a friend had written called, “Silver Bracelet”. I took it to Bill and he liked it. He called Ken Nelson at Capitol Records, who was coming to Nashville a lot during those days to produce records. Ken liked the song and signed me to a contract with Prep Records.”