Published on December 10, 2019
We Make The World We Live In By What We Give
“On some level we are all the same thing, and we wall want and need the same things”
“On some level we are all the same thing, and we wall want and need the same things,” says Grammy winning songwriter and acclaimed painter Ray Stephenson. “Helping others is helping yourself.”
His paintings hang in the homes of collectors like Willie Nelson and Oprah, and his songs have been recorded by Country royalty including Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Miranda Lambert, yet Stephenson remains down to earth and committed to making a positive impact with his time and energy.
A sense of gratitude and the belief that “what you put out, comes back” motivate him. Realizing his own Nashville dream solidified this philosophy for Stephenson and is part of why he gives back now.
“I manifested some pretty miraculous things in my life in my 20’s…and there were 10 (or 25) years of me wondering how in the hell I pulled that off or how it could have actually happened.”
“I was playing on Broadway back when it was rough. I was at Legends at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. It was February, and it was snowing. There was nobody in the bar except Betty, a homeless lady who hung out there sometimes, and me and the bartender. I was talking to the bartender over the mic and drinking coffee and waiting. Nobody was even walking up and down the street because of the snow. Then this shady looking guy comes in, and asks, ‘Do you know any Vern Gosdin?’”
“My all-time favorite singer, who I learned to play and sing harmonies with…I listened to him growing up, is Vern Gosdin. To this day he is still my favorite voice, ‘The Voice.’”
“So, I played a song for him. Then he asked me to play another. I told him, ‘Today’s your lucky day, seeing as you’re my only customer. I’ll play as many as you like for every piece of paper money you put in my jar.’
“I played 13 in a row, and then he said, ‘Well, you’re the guy I’m looking for. I’m Vern’s manager. He got into a fist fight with his guitar player on Saturday night and fired him. We leave for Bransen the day after tomorrow, and I need someone who knows 25 of his songs. I’ve been looking up and down these streets, but I can’t find anyone who wants to learn ‘em that fast.’”
“So, I went and played with them for six months. It was like I got to join the Beatles! Or tour with Michael Jackson. There was nothing bigger for me. It’s insane to me that I got to do that as a 23-year-old kid that didn’t know what he was doing.”
Since then Ray has gone on to collaborate and share his art and music with even more of his heroes. His own songs have been recorded by some of his personal idols, including Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson – his favorite “complete artist” who also owns one of the portraits Ray painted of him.
“Those were all dreams that I had, and I dreamed so hard that they happened! Putting that energy and emotion out into the world is what brought those opportunities about. We make the world we live in by what we give to it.”
The Gift Of Art
Stephenson is best known for his bold portraits of musical icons like Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan. He focuses on capturing the essence of the artist and listens to the music of whoever he is painting for inspiration. He even incorporates song lyrics into the canvas.
“For example, if I’m working on a Dolly portrait, I want that Dolly Parton feeling – glitter and big hair. The Bob Dylan feeling, on the other hand…that’s two very different sets of emotions.”
“A medicine man once told me that every work of art in his culture contained a prayer, and not just a prayer to the gods, but a prayer for the people. The artist’s important wish for humanity is a gift to all who see the work, whether they know it or not.”
Look closely at the uniquely Nashville series he created for Alive, and you may see symbols of home, tradition, and transformation. Stephenson wants viewers to take something personal from his art, so he isn’t saying what he painted into these pieces, but if you check the back of the canvas you will see this message: “Love.”
About Ray Stephenson
Musician Ray Stephenson is a Grammy winning singer/songwriter from Nashville, TN. Two of his tracks have gone Platinum: the title track of Kenny Chesney’s album Hemingway’s “Whiskey” and the Blake Shelton/Miranda Lambert album title track, “Red River Blue.” Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard are also among the artists who have recorded his songs. He was the Canadian Country Music Association’s Songwriter of the Year in 2013, and he was part of the Grammy winning team that created 2015’s Best Folk Album, “My Favorite Picture of You.”
His paintings hang in the collections of Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., and Oprah Winfrey to name a few. He has been the Official Painter of the Monsters of Rock Tour and his work has been featured at many local venues as well as on CMT.