Ray Stevens — the country legend responsible for past funny songs about “Ahab The Arab,” “Gitarzan,” and “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival” — is at it again. His new song is called “Taylor Swift Is Stalkin’ Me” and is pretty self-explanatory with a title like that. In an interview at his Nashville office, Stevens said the idea came from a radio friend in Florida.
“Chuck Redden had the idea for the title,” he said. “He sent a rough draft of something he had put together. I got Buddy Kalb to work on the lyric and I did the melody and some of the lyric. It turned out to be a three-writer song, but Chuck had the idea. I thought it was an attention grabber and wanted to see if we could make something out of it.”
It definitely has caught the attention of many, especially through the viral ranks. Has Swift and her camp heard the song yet?
“I think they have,” Stevens told Billboard. “I haven’t heard any direct feedback from them — pro or con, but I can’t imagine that anybody would take offense. It’s all in fun.”
In a sense, the song almost serves as tribute to the superstar, with the titles of many of her tracks being represented in the lyrics. “Taylor Swift Is Stalkin’ Me” is the first single from Here We Go Again, the latest release from the entertainer. In the liner notes, Stevens said he wanted to make an album that was reminiscent of some of his earlier work, of which fans have said was “go-to” music on their family vacations. There are a few different sides of the singer represented, but this is by and large a comedy album, he stressed. “But some of the songs on there that are not flat out comedy are still in that general category. They are fun. For instance, the bluegrass version of ‘What I’d Say,’ the old Ray Charles classic. Before I put the vocal on it, I listened to Ralph Stanley a couple of times so I could get that feel in my voice.”
Recording the Charles classic brought back a memory or two of his teenage years in Atlanta — where he once saw the iconic performer. “I saw him do that at Herndon Stadium and it was dynamite. When that record came out, the whole world loved it.”
Country Comedy Legend Ray Stevens Recalls Early Days in ‘Nashville’
In a recording career that has spanned more than five decades, Stevens said recording has changed in many ways but some elements still remain. “You still have to have talented people playing and singing, but the technology has changed so much,” he said. “All the tracks you have now and ability to overdub without any tape noise. Looking at the video with those color blobs and being able to move the sounds around visually, that’s just wonderful. If you have a song with two or three choruses which are all the same, you only have to record the background voices once and then you can take them and move them to chorus number two or three, which saves you a lot of tonsils.”
“Knock Him Out John,” is based on a story that was a hallmark of the stage show of fellow comedian Jerry Clower. Stevens said relationships with such performers are ones that he cherishes to this day. “I’ve enjoyed getting to work with all of them. I used to do shows with Jerry and he was always a great friend. When I shot the movie Get Serious back in 1994, he played my manager in that movie.” Stevens also worked with Clower and the legendary Minnie Pearl in 1986 for the single “Southern Air,” of which he said “We should have shot a video for that, but we didn’t. Videos weren’t as such a big deal back then.”
His success in comedy aside, Stevens calls it an “element” of what he does. After all, he has had success with such material as “Mr. Businessman” and the 1970 classic “Everything Is Beautiful.” But he knows that comedy is what he is largely recognized for. “People have called me a comedian. I’m not really a comedian in the strictest sense of the word. I’m a musician and I get on stage and I sing songs. Some of them are funny. I’ll tell jokes between the songs and I guess that qualified me as a comedian coming through the back door, so to speak. I’m just a guy who loves music and to have fun. When I get on stage, I’ll tell a joke and sing a funny song.”
For Stevens, there is no slowdown in sight. The singer has several projects on tap and is working on building a performance venue in Music City. He is also returning to the road in 2015 after a lengthy absence. And don’t mention the word retirement, because he has no intentions of going there. “I love what I do and I still feel good,” he said. “I’ve seen guys retire. They don’t last long. Something about it just clicks a switch off in your brain and you just say ‘The funeral isn’t far off.” I don’t want to do that.”