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Working with Chet Atkins
An interview with Ray Stevens (cont.)

by Tom Redmond

TR: What do you think Chet liked most about you? I mean, about you as a person?

RAY: I don’t know. I had a lot of energy. I was, very enthusiastic, ready to try anything in a studio. I loved being in a studio with guys that could really play. I remember the first time I came up here I was amazed, these guys could really play!

TR: These guys in Nashville didn’t need multiple takes did they?

RAY: No, they just played it. It was wonderful.

TR: Is it true that you did almost 300 sessions during your first year in Nashville?

RAY: Yes. And one of those sessions was to do my own recording of “Ahab the Arab.”

Ray's 1962 Hit - "Ahab the Arab"
TR: Which went to the top five on the charts in 1962.

RAY: That tune really did change everything. By that time I was the assistant A&R person at Mercury, but that career ended as my songs took off. “Harry, the Hairy Ape” and “Santa Claus Is Watching You” came next.

TR: It sounds like you probably developed a lot of your relationship with Chet in the studio. You learned some things from Chet there as well?

RAY: He was one of the best producers of all time.

TR: What production techniques or skills did you get from Chet?

RAY: I don’t know I just watched him; most of it just seeped in by osmosis. I wasn’t as good at working with other artists as he was. He was just terrific. He would sit back and not say very much but he would be analyzing the whole situation and when it came time to say something to make it go right he would say a few words and BAM!, it would fall into place.

TR: He figured out exactly what was needed?

RAY: That’s right.

TR: Was Chet somewhat intuitive about what to do in the studio?

RAY: Yeah, he was the Gary Cooper of Nashville Record Producers. He didn’t say much but when he did it was a gem.

TR: Was humor always part of your music from the early days?

RAY: I didn’t intend it to be, it just happened that way. I was always a fan of comedy. I loved the Coaster’s records and I loved all the Homer and Jethro records and also Bill Carlisle – all of those comedy things.

TR: What did Chet think of your records?

RAY: Oh Chet, he loved a good record and a good song and he knew how to identify them. He had had so much experience, and also he was just born with a great ear. He could have a stack of recordings a foot high and pick that one hit out.

TR: That’s interesting, but I mean he probably had a good talent for recognizing good humor too I mean?

RAY: Of course, sure. Well there’s humor and then there’s humor that sells. There are a lot of funny things, that aren’t commercial. You can’t put them on a record, they don’t translate. And there are a lot of things, that aren’t that funny but when you put them on a record they do translate into something funny.

Video: Ray cutting up with Jerry Reed and Norro Wilson

TR: And you probably see that as a producer as well. Not just with your own stuff.

RAY: Yeah, let’s face it - you are recording a sound, and sounds by themselves are sometimes hilarious without any punch line, without any setup, without any joke even; it’s just that they are funny.

TR: I know you guys did “Frog Kissing”. Did you have other songs you did together?

RAY: He came across the song that Felice and Bordeleux Bryant wrote called “I can hear Kentucky calling me”, and he asked me to help him do that and we did that together here in this little studio in this building, it was a lot of fun.

TR: “Frog Kissing” is extremely popular with Chet’s fans.

RAY: Yeah that’s a great song. I didn’t write that one but I wish I did. Buddy Kalb wrote it. He also wrote Mississippi Squirrel Revival for me.

TR: Perhaps people identify with the whole “frog to prince” kind of thing.

Chet Atkins and Friends - "Frog Kissin'"
RAY: Yes, and you know after Chet’s record came out George Burns recorded that song too.

TR: For your work, “Everything Is Beautiful” is very popular, how did that song happen?

RAY: In 1970 I joined Barnaby Records, owned by singer Andy Williams, and I appeared on his NBC television variety show. I was then signed to host my own summer replacement show, and I needed a very special song for the program. I went down in my basement for about three days. I had crumpled paper all over the place. And suddenly the idea for the song came to me. I wrote it in maybe 45 minutes.

TR: It won the Grammy Award for Male Vocalist of the Year.

RAY: It was a very special song and one that a lot of people still remember and sing along when I do it in shows.

TR: Do you have favorite songs of your own?

RAY: Yeah, but you know I don’t think enough about that to rattle them off. I’m still in the studio working to see what I can come up with.

TR: Is recording music more fun today or was it more fun back then?

RAY: It was more exciting back in those days but I am better equipped to record now. The technology is better and I’ve learned a few things over the years.

TR: I know you and Chet were business partners, and you owned some buildings together. Was Chet a good business man?

RAY: He was for sure.

TR: You mentioned he was intuitive about finding the hit in a stack of music but was he intuitive about investing, buying properties or other investments?

RAY: He did have a philosophy about Music Row properties – “buy all you can get” because it was going to go up in value.

TR: He was right on that I guess.

RAY: Oh yeah, I remember we once owned a piece together and I wanted to sell it. I said “Chet we need to sell it and I think it’s a really good deal – a great price ”, Chet disagreed, but said “Alright, if you want to - but you will be sorry.” And so I sold it for us and I am sorry I sold it. I wish we still had it!

TR: I am guessing he wasn’t a ‘See- I-told-you-so’ kind of guy.

RAY: No.

TR: So it sounds like those were for the most part successful ventures together and rewarding.

RAY: Yeah, well I sold the one piece.



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