Harold Ray Ragsdale (born January 24, 1939), known professionally as Ray Stevens, is an American country and pop singer-songwriter and comedian.
Stevens was born in Clarkdale, Georgia. While attending high school, Stevens formed his first band, a rhythm and blues group he named the Barons. Following his graduation from high school, Stevens enrolled in Georgia State College as a music major
Capitol Records signed Stevens to its Prep Records division in 1957, and produced the singles "Silver Bracelet" and a cover of "Rang Tang Ding Dong", for which Billboard credited the 16-year-old Stevens' vocals as "strong, attractive." The latter was originally recorded by Manhattan doo-wop group The Cellos in 1957, and written by Cellos bass singer Alvin Williams.
In 1958, Bill Lowery created the National Recording Corporation (NRC), and brought Stevens on board to play numerous instruments, arrange music, and perform background vocals for its band. Around that time, he had adopted the professional name of "Ray Stevens", which was inspired by his middle name and his mother's maiden name.
Stevens signed with Mercury Records in 1961. With Mercury, he recorded several hit records including songs such as "Harry the Hairy Ape," "Funny Man," the original recording of "Santa Claus Is Watching You," "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving, Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills," and "Ahab the Arab." "Ahab the Arab" reached number five on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1962.
In 1966 Stevens signed with Monument Records and started to release serious material such as "Mr. Businessman" in 1968, a Top 30 pop hit; "Have a Little Talk With Myself" and the original version of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" in 1969, which became Stevens's first two singles to reach the country music charts. O.C. Smith covered the Stevens-penned Isn't It Lonely Together while Sammy Davis, Jr. covered "Have a Little Talk With Myself." Stevens continued to release comedic songs, and in 1969 he had a Top 10 pop hit with "Gitarzan." Stevens also became a regular on The Andy Williams Show during the 1969–1970 season, and he hosted his own summer show, The Ray Stevens Show, in 1970. In Australia, Ross D. Wylie reached the top 20 with his cover of the Stevens-penned Funny Man. Stevens' collection of Hot 100 hits is evenly divided between serious and comedy.
As an A&R man, music producer, songwriter, and music arranger, Stevens assisted many artists in the recording studio during his years at Mercury Records and Monument Records, 1961 through early 1970. Some of the acts he was associated with during that time period were Brenda Lee, Brook Benton, Patti Page, Joe Dowell, Dusty Springfield, and Dolly Parton. Stevens was a writer or co-writer of several songs those particular acts recorded. "My True Confession," a Top-10 on the R&B chart in 1963 for Brook Benton, was written by Stevens and Margie Singleton. Stevens was the arranger for the Doyle Holly recording of "My Heart Cries For You," which had been recorded previously by Stevens himself during the late 1950s on the NRC label.
Stevens' recording career began in the mid-1950s with two singles released on Prep Records. He then signed a contract with Capitol Records with the help of Atlanta, Georgia music maven Bill Lowery. In 1958, Stevens joined Lowery's National Recording Corporation (NRC), playing numerous instruments, arranging music, and performing background vocals for its band. After NRC filed for bankruptcy, he signed with Mercury Records with whom Stevens recorded a series of hit records in the 1960s that included songs such as "Ahab the Arab", "Harry the Hairy Ape", "Funny Man", the original recording of "Santa Claus is Watching You", and "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving, Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills".
Stevens often employed canned laugh tracks in his comedic novelty songs, such as "The Streak", "Harry the Hairy Ape", "It's Me Again, Margaret" and others, which contributed to his success in the 60s and 70s (during a time when canned laughter was used to "punch up" TV sitcoms). Stevens continues to use canned laugh tracks in recent recordings.
In 1968, Stevens signed with Monument Records and started to release serious material such as "Mr. Businessman" in 1968, a Top 30 pop hit, and "Have A Little Talk With Myself" and the original version of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" in 1969, which became Ray's first two singles to reach the country music charts; Johnny Cash's recording of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" was a hit in 1970. Stevens continued releasing novelty songs, and in 1969 he had a million-selling Top 10 pop hit with "Gitarzan". Stevens also became a regular on The Andy Williams Show during the 1969–1970 season, and even hosted his own summer show (The Ray Stevens Show) in 1970.
50s, 60s Hits
Ahab The Arab
1837 Seconds of Humor
Let me tell you 'bout Ahab The Arab
The Sheik of the burning sand
He had emeralds and rubies just dripping off 'a him
And a ring on every finger of his hands
He wore a big ol' turban wrapped around his head
And a scimitar by his side
And every evening about midnight
He'd jump on his camel named Clyde...and ride
Silently through the night to the sultan's tent
where he would secretly meet up with Fatima
of the Seven Veils, swingingest grade "A" number
one U.S. choice dancer in the Sultan's whole harem,
'cause, heh, him and her had a thing going. You know,
and they'd been carrying on for some time now behind
the Sultan's back and you could hear him talk to his camel
as he rode out across the dunes, his voice would cut
through the still night desert air and he'd say
(imitate Arabian speech)
which is arabic for, "stop, Clyde!" and Clyde would say,
(imitate camel voice).
Which is camel for, "What the heck did he say anyway?"
He brought that camel to a screeching halt
At the rear of Fatima's tent jumped off Clyde,
Snuck around the corner and into the tent he went
There he saw Fatima laying on a Zebra skin rug
Wearing rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
And a bone in her nose ho, ho.
There she was friends lying there in all her radiant beauty.
Eating on a raisin, grape, apricot, pomegranate,
bowl of chitterlings, two bananas, three Hershey bars,
sipping on a "R C" Co-Cola listening to her transistor,
watching the Grand Ole Opry on the tube reading the
Mad magazine while she sung,
"Does your chewing gum lose it's flavor?" and Ahab
walked up to her and he said,
(imitate Arabian speech)
which is arabic for, "Let's twist again like we did last summer, baby."
(laughter) You know what I mean! Whew!
She looked up at him from off the rug,
give him one of the sly looks, she said,
(coy, girlish laugh) "Crazy baby".
'Round and around and around and around...etc.
And that's the story 'bout Ahab the Arab
The Sheik of the Burnin' sand
Ahab the Arab
The swinging Sheik of the burnin' sand