I’ve been a fan of Ray ever since I heard “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival” many, many years ago and picked up the album “He Thinks He’s Ray Stevens” on vinyl. That began a lifelong fandom of Ray and his music that included purchasing all of his albums that were released over several years on vinyl, cassette tape and CD.
But for all of my love of Ray, I’ve never got to hear him in concert or meet him in person.
So when I found out that the Nashville library was hosting a special afternoon with Ray Stevens as part of their That Nashville Sound series, I made plans to attend.*
* Unfortunately, I only found out about the event on Friday afternoon so it was a bit late to try and rally some friends who are also fans who might have enjoyed going.
Ray was there to promote his new book, Ray Stevens’ Nashville, looking back over his long and distinguished career. The program was a conversation between Ray and Ralph Emry, looking at some of Ray’s history in Nashville and some of his big hits….well, up to a certain point. Given how long Ray’s been producing hits, there was only so much ground that could be covered during the hour and a half (or so) program. I will admit I was a bit frustrated that the set-up included a keyboard and yet when Emry discussed some of Ray’s bigger hits, we went to a video clip of each. I wanted to get a chance to hear Ray play and sing a bit — which he did, but not quite enough.
It was interesting to learn a bit about how Ray wrote some of his famous songs. For example, he said that he took out the rhyming dictionary to pen his big hit “Gitarzan.” When he ran out of rhymes for a word, he said he just changed the verse of the song.
He also said that his Grammy winning blue-grass version of “Misty” came one afternoon while working on other material in the studio and that it was recorded in two sessions. Another tidbit of interest was that his famous hit “The Shriner’s Convention” came from staying a hotel and wanting to get some sleep but that wasn’t on the agenda of the local Shriners staying there for their convention. And while there wasn’t a motorcycle on the high dive (as he says in the song), he drew inspiration from one actually being in the swimming pool.
Another interesting tidbit was that Ray flew to LA and was offered the chance to record “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” but he passed. It seems he’s spent a lot of time, energy and money working on a “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and was afraid he’d have to put that song on hold while he worked on “Raindrops” to meet the deadline for the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “Raindrops” went on to become a huge hit while “Sunday Morning” wasn’t one of the bigger hits on Ray’s career.
Alas, we didn’t get to hear anything about “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” (one of my favorites) or his later stuff like “Would Jesus Wear A Rolex.” I easily could have listened to Ray reminisce for another several hours about all the songs I’ve come to know and love.
I’m hoping that will be covered in his book, which I picked up and got autographed. I look forward to reading it and hearing more about one of favorite entertainers. His music has been a companion on a lot of roadtrips over the years. In fact, a few years ago, I pulled out my iPod listened to several songs that reference Hahira, Georgia as I drove into and near the town. My personal favorite — “Eric the Awful.”
The only negative to the experience had nothing to do with Ray or the Nashville Library. It had to to do with Parnassus Books, who was on hand to sell copies of Ray’s book.
Going into the show, the store had a table set up and books out. I got there early and wanted to buy a book as I went in so I could get into line to meet Ray immediately following the show. Well, as we went in, I asked if I could buy a book and was rudely told I couldn’t and I would have to wait until after the show. I shrugged this off but was annoyed to see people filing in after I was seated who were allowed to buy the book.
Then, after the show I went out to buy a book…but was underwhelmed by the staff’s responsiveness to customers. Several people ahead of me were not used to paying using the iPad addition and this slowed things down a bit. Part of it was impatience by the staff for not being able to understand why anyone couldn’t just sign on the iPad and move along. There was also a frustration by myself and several other customers who had cash and wanted to just pay, get a book and get into the next line when only one of the TWO people at the table could be bothered to take our money or offer any kind of service.
So often I hear about how we should support our local independent book stores — and I totally agree that sentiment. But I also feel that I should expect the same or better level of customer service as I get from the big box bookstores or their on-line competition. And I really feel like these representatives of Parnassus Books really dropped the ball there.
But I won’t let that ruin what was, otherwise, a great afternoon. Hopefully I will get a chance to see Ray in concert someday. But if not, I’m just glad I got the chance to meet him and to shake his hand. And to thank him for the years of entertainment he’s given me.