Cledus T. Judd
Working with producer Chris Clark and executive producer Chuck Rhodes, Judd and his superstar friends have recreated some of Stevens' biggest hits for the millions of fans who have treasured him through the years and those who are about to. It is a project that leaves the normally unflappable Stevens as close to speechless as he'll ever get.
"When I first heard that Cledus wanted to do a tribute album to me, of all people, I was surprised and flattered," Stevens said. "Then, when I was invited to the listening party to hear what he had done, and heard all the great artists he had gotten to participate, I was humbled and honored, to say the least. The fact that someone would think my work deserved of such a tribute leaves me fumbling for anything else to say. What a great CD!"
Boogey, Boogey is a treasure trove of classic material redone as only Cledus T. Judd could--with all the nuance, wit and care he has always brought to his work. As for those stars, even a partial list will make clear both the level of affection he has earned from his friends in the business and the level of esteem in which the timelessly funny Stevens is held. They include Vince Gill, Trace Adkins, Wynonna, Keith Urban, Rascal Flats, Darryl Worley, Charlie Daniels and Joe Daffier, to name just a few.
The songs themselves conjure up a parallel universe that sprang from the inventive mind of Ray Stevens and wove itself in and out of the popular culture for decades. They include "Ahab The Arab," "It's Me Again Margaret," "Galarza," "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival," "Shiner�s Convention" and many more side-splitters, as well as classic American music in the form of "Everything Is Beautiful," a pop smash, and Ray's Grammy-winning country reworking of the Errol Garner/Johnny Burke chestnut "Misty."
Through it all, while Judd's comic skills are of course clearly in evidence, it is worth noting his equally impressive behind-the-scenes skills in selecting and arranging songs, gathering friends among his talented peers and overseeing the long recording process. He did it, he says, for two reasons. One is as a fund-raiser for the Minnie Pearl Foundation, which raises money for children with cancer. The second involves a cause Judd thinks is well overdue.
"I'm dumbfounded and amazed," he says, "that we can stand here in 2007 and Ray Stevens is not yet in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I want to put the spotlight again on the guy who is probably the most recognizable humorist of any genre of music, period."
As he did so, his dream turned gradually into a summit meeting of country stars, all of whom were more than happy to help out.
"I was really glad for the chance to be a part of this," said Adkins. "Ray Stevens is a legend and Cledus is just the man to do him justice. Throw in the fact that it's raising money for kids, and I'm really proud to lend a hand. It's obvious from the rest of the line-up that a lot of my fellow country singers feel the same way about both Ray and Cledus."
As the guests poured in, Judd got more and more excited.
"It was absolutely the most amazing thing I've ever been a part of," he says. "One person after the next would call and say, 'I want to be part of that project.' On the first day, Wynonna came in and had everybody join hands and prayed over the project, prayed it would help the sick children. And I don't think I would have changed one single duet partner. You can't beat Trace singing 'It's Me Again, Margaret,' or Darryl Worley doing 'Mississippi Squirrel Revivval' or Charlie Daniels doing 'Shriners' Convention.' Then there was Keith Urban on 'Guitarzan,' literally spending hours in the studio. He put his heart into it, as did all the people involved."
It was in a way a karmic payback for Judd's tireless willingness to help out when artists have done charitable benefits, and it helped him acknowledge his own professional debt to Stevens.
"From the time he did 'The Streak' and I streaked across the gym floor at Cloverleaf Elementary in 1973 or 74, he's been my idol," says Judd. "I've always had just an enormous amount of respect for his humor, and I always got it. I've been such a fan of the storytelling."
He immersed himself again in Stevens' catalog, listening to those classic records over and over as he prepared to go into the studio.
"I tried to get his inflections and get as close I possibly could and make him proud," he says. He pauses and adds, "I think I did that."
Judd's incredible success in the past decade belies his humble Georgia beginnings. He was born in Marietta, where home was a double-wide mobile home he shared with his mother and stepfather. He became a hair stylist but got a break in show business when he won an open mike comedy night at the Buckboard Saloon in Atlanta, singing two funny rap songs. He moved to Nashville six months later and eventually earned a record deal with Razor & Tie, an independent label.
He was perfect for the era when video became a staple of country music and CMT and GAC could help make stars. At a time when physical beauty was at a premium, Judd was the anti-star, a big, outrageously coiffed wild man parodying stardom, the country lifestyle and the music business. The cameras and the fans both loved him, and the hits started rolling. He turned major country smashes on their heads, and songs like "If Shania Was Mine" and "Did I Shave My Back For This?" became TV stables.
Additional hits like "My Cellmate Thinks I'm Sexy," "How Do You Milk A Cow?" "It's A Great Day To Be A Guy," and last year's "Paycheck Woman" helped him sell millions of albums like Just Another Day In Parodies, Cledus Envy and Bipolar & Proud.
His guest stars over the years have included Vince Gill, Diamond Rio, Phil Vassar, Toby Keith, John Anderson, Brad Paisley, Shania Twain, Buck Owens, Deana Carter, Alan Jackson, Trace Adkins, Charlie Daniels, Chad Brock and Joe Diffie. His Just Another Day In Parodies held the #1 spot on the Billboard Comedy Album chart for 18 weeks. "Every Light In The House Is Blown" won CMT's "Independent Video of the Year," a nod Cledus also won in 1996 with "If Shania Were Mine." Judd was nominated for "Favorite Male Newcomer," "Funniest Country Performer," "Favorite Video" for "If Shania Were Mine," and "Favorite Video Entertainer" in Country Weekly's Golden Pick Awards in 1997. He was a nominee for CMT's Male Video Artist of the Year in 2000. He was the co-host of CMT Most Wanted Live from 2002-2004 and was special correspondent during the 2005 season of Nashville Star.
After performing before 25,000-plus at Alabama's 1997 June Jam, Cledus went on to emcee and perform at some of the biggest country tours in history.
"I don't think there has been another tour as strong as the 2000 Neon Circus & Wild West Show Tour," he says of the extravaganza which included Brooks & Dunn, Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry and Keith Urban. "A hillbilly like me making sure the acts are being brought on on time? I'm still glowing."
He is a skilled golfer with a hole-in-one to his credit, and one of history's proudest fathers, thanks to his daughter Caitlyn.
IN 200?, he began doing a morning radio show on WQYK in Tampa, Florida, hosting The Cledus Party to spectacular ratings.
"Radio is something I want to do all the rest of my career," he says, "along with tours now and then. I thought for a while I'd pull back from the road, but I want my daughter to see all this. I want her to see the hard work her dad does and the creativity behind it."
If he's got renewed energy and a new outlook, it may be because he's lost more than 100 pounds in the past couple of years, capped by a stint on "Celebrity Fit Club." (Fortunately for his legions of fans, they were not funny pounds).
"I'm much healthier now," he says. "It's kind of like a new beginning."
Given his track record, there's no telling how far this new beginning can take him. He has made millions of people laugh, he has developed friendships with and won the admiration of many of country music's biggest stars, and he has lit up television screens with his incredibly funny videos. And through all of it he knows that with the CD bearing the improbable title Boogity Boogity, he has added something truly important.
"If I had to go out on a project, this is the one I would want it to be," he says. "I would like people to remember this one. It's my heart and soul, along with the heart and soul of the 23 people who helped me put it together, and I think it will stand the test of time."