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Ray Stevens Dishes on New ‘Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music’ Set

Ray Stevens
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Ray Stevens has gone above and beyond with his latest project. The country comedy legend has created a nine-disc set, ‘The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music.’ Issued on his own label, Clyde Records (named after the camel from his hit ‘Ahab the Arab’), Stevens says that the collection is so massive that it comes with an owner’s manual — a book detailing the story behind each whimsical tune.

In an exclusive interview with Taste of Country, the crazy country crooner spills there was a big motivating factor behind his decision to release the box set. “I didn’t want them to be forgotten. I am on a mission to save the endangered comedy song,” he says. “I think the world’s ready to laugh a little bit, and I had a lot of fun doing it too, it was a real labor of love.”

Ray Stevens included comedy music from every genre and every era in his set, listed in alphabetical order. The long list of the cream of the crop of comedy songs includes the Hollywood Argyles’ ‘Alley Oop,’ Little Jimmy Dickens’ ‘May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,’ Count Basie’s ‘Open the Door Richard,’ C.W. McCall’s ‘Convoy,’ and several novelty numbers penned by Roger Miller, Shel Sivlerstein, and J.P. Richardson.

The collection also includes several cuts by Stevens’ comedy heroes Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. In his words, “These guys wrote and produced records that are just classics in the comedy music field!”

In addition to re-recordings of his own classics like ‘The Streak,’ ‘Santa Claus Is Watching You’ and ‘Mississippi Squirrel Revival,’ Stevens hopes that people will enjoy the laughter they’ll get from the release.

“I hope they take away an appreciation of life that is seen through the eyes of people who sometimes have to deal with sad situations,” he says. “But that’s life — you have to adjust and accommodate the real world and comedy songs do that in a way that’s pretty palatable- it’s a spoon full of sugar that makes the medicine go down.”

Further proof that laughter is the best medicine, Stevens says the music has also helped him cope with the loss of friends and fellow country comedians like Minnie Pearl, Jerry Clower, Roger Miller, Chet Atkins and George ‘Goober’ Lindsey. “I miss them as well as so many other great folks around Nashville that I have known for years and years,” Stevens says. “It’s just a fact a life that we all get older and we all leave this world. The one’s left behind have to deal with it.”

The Georgia native shares many great stories in the collection, including the comical tale of the Sonny James’ hit ‘Running Bear.’ Stevens actually performed the song at Sonny James’ induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame — with a twist, of course. “I asked George Goober Lindsey to come and dress up as little white dove, the female character in the song,” he spills. “When George walked out in a dress, Sonny James laughed for 15 minutes, I’ve never seen him so amused.”

‘Shriner’s Convention,’ Stevens’ own Top 10 hit from 1980, also has an amusing story found in the owner’s manual. A real story inspired by a rowdy hotel stay, Stevens says, “They kept us up all night. I had no idea that grown men could have that much fun. I looked out my window at one point and there was a Harley Davidson in the swimming pool and a guy was still riding it.”

A friend of the Shriners, Stevens continues, “They are one of the great organizations in our country, they raise a lot of money for children’s hospitals and burn hospitals, they are the good guys!”

The 73 year-old clown of country is hoping to make people laugh for as long as he can — Stevens says he has no plans of slowing down in the near future. “I don’t have any desire to retire. I really enjoy what I do, it’s like the old expression: ‘Do what you like and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”

He concludes, “I really don’t consider this work. This is something that I wake up and look forward to doing every day.”

Watch the Ray Stevens’ ‘Shriner’s Convention’ Video

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