Stevens, Ray [Ragsdale, Harold Ray ]
- Don Cusic
(b Clarkdale, GA, Jan 24, 1939). American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, music publisher, television star, and entrepreneur. Harold Ragsdale began his musical career with a high school band that played R&B songs by the Coasters, Drifters, and other R&B groups. In 1955 the family moved to Atlanta, where publisher Bill Lowery signed him as a songwriter and secured his first recording contract with Capitol Records; Capitol’s Head of A&R, Ken Nelson changed Ragsdale’s name to Ray Stevens. After attending Georgia State University, where he studied music, Stevens had his first success with his recording of “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills” (Mercury, 1961). In 1962 he moved to Nashville, supplementing his own recording career with work as a session musician, arranger, and background vocalist. He garnered a number-one pop hit and his first Grammy with his recording of “Everything is beautiful” (Barnaby, 1970); his second came with his recording of the pop standard “Misty” (Barnaby, 1975), which reached the top five on Billboard’s country chart.
Stevens is best known for such comedy recordings as “Ahab the Arab” (Mercury, 1962), “Gitarzan” (Monument, 1969), “The Streak” (Barnaby, 1974), and “Shriner’s Convention” (RCA, 1980). He also appeared frequently on television, including shows such as the Dean Martin Presents series (1973), The Andy Williams Show (1969–71), and Music Country (1973–4). Ray Stevens became known as the “Clown Prince of Country Music” and won the TNN/Music City News Comedian Award for nine consecutive years (1986–94).