He has an incredible resume including 2 major record deals, the title tracks on Kenney Chesney’s album, Hemingway’s Whiskey, and Blake Shelton/Miranda Lambert’s upcoming duo album and numerous other cuts by artists like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and many more.
Today he continues to quickly climb to the top, but in the beginning it started out slower than he had hoped. This is a classic story of a man making it in Music City and how for Ray: Dreaming is more important than doing.
Ray moved to Nashville 13 years ago leaving his small town for the big city as he calls it, "A young, dumb and cocky 21 year old." For 10 years he struggled with successes here and there wondering if his songwriting career would ever take off. He told me over the phone in our interview, “It seemed like an impossible thing to get a song recorded, if I’d known how hard it would be I would have stayed back home.”
Although a songwriting career is never an easy one, Ray did what any dreamer would do, kept his eye on the prize and continued to move forward. The idea of quitting never entered his mind, but after 10 years of laborious work he knew he needed a break and took a 3 month vacation from writing and shifted his focus towards painting.
During those few months of painting, Ray learned a lesson that would alter his life forever. He discovered the Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, which is an ancient text that (provides advice that imparts balance and perspective, teaching us how to work for the good with the effortless skill that comes from being in accord with the Tao - the basic principle of the universe.) It teaches that practicing is more important than doing and it has similarities to the Christian saying, “Let go and let God.” He applied those philosophies to this art and writing and began to burst with creativity.
Ray went from painting 2 pieces of art a year to nearly 150. He went from writing 115 songs a year with BMI, Sony and Curb with maybe 6-8 really good songs to writing 30 songs a year with the same results. In the last three years since discovering the Tao, Ray’s songwriting cuts and success has grown exponentially. He says, “Now I feel like I never have to work. If I want to paint – I paint, if I want to write – I write, if I want to work in the yard – I do that."
Today Ray is living his dream and that small yet so simple change in his thinking is what he attributes to all his success. He wants to take his art even further and combine his two loves of music and art to create a body of work that directly reflects the songs he has written. He wants to paint his songs and that's something that he doesn't practice very often. He also believes that the best way to sell his songs will be through his albums, so he'll be writing and recording working towards his next big dream, winning a Grammy.
When I asked him if he had any advice for new-to-Nashville songwriters with hopes of making their own dreams come true he said, "If you want to get ahead don’t work harder, dream harder."
For more of Ray you can find him playing most Friday nights at the Corner Pub in Green Hills and view his artwork all around town at Simon Ripley’s Music and Art, 12th and Porter, Hotel Indigo on West End and Alfred Williams. You can also visit his website at www.raystephenson.com and like his page on facebook at www.facebook.com/RayStephensonPaintings.
Below is a small sample of his music and artwork, please share if Ray’s story has inspired you -- so you can inspire others.
|Click on video to play "Forget My Name" and check out Ray's YouTube Channel.|
|Artwork by Ray Stephenson.|