Willis Alan Ramsey “Willis Alan Ramsey”

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#605 in the Series) is Willis Alan Ramsey, Willis Alan Ramsey

Willis Alan Ramsey is the Harper Lee of the Americana, Alternative Country scene of the 1970’s and his eponymous album is his To Kill a Mockingbird.

Released on New Year’s Day 1972 Willis Alan Ramsey was the first, last, and only album to be released by an artist that many consider to be one of the forefathers of the Outlaw sound who heavily influenced such Cosmic Cowboys as Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

With a Texas Troubadour sound that is more Steve Earle, Guy Clark, and Joe Ely than Willie Nelson, Willis Alan quickly became a critics darling and a much sought after songwriter with Jimmy Buffett covering “The Ballad of Spider John” on his Living and Dying in ¾ Time album, America recording a version of “Muskrat Candlelight” renaming it for some unknown reason “Muskrat Love” that was subsequently re-done in a supreme shark jumping version by The Captain & Tennille that included (rumor has it) an actual recording of muskrats making love.

Jerry Jeff Walker lovingly recreated a primo version of “Northeast Texas Women”, Waylon Jennings a sensitive cover of “Satin Sheets” a song that was also covered much later on by Shawn Colvin, and Big Lebowski co-star Jimmie Dale Gilmore borrowed “Goodbye to Old Missoula” recreating a unique version of his own. If you are scoring at home that is 5 of the 11 songs on this album that were recorded by major artists, quite an accomplishment considering the songs were written when he was 20 years old and recorded when he was 22.

Rounding out the stellar list of songs is the whimsical  “Geraldine and the Honeybee”, “The Boy From Oklahoma”, a tribute to Woody Guthrie,  along with “Wishbone”, “Watermelon Man” and “Angel Eyes” all sung in a bluesy country style that at once enthralls and captivates at the same time. The production on the album includes a nice mix of stripped down songs, sting, and orchestral arrangements.

The jury is still  of out as to the reason Ramsey was one and done after this one stellar album.  Some say he was disenchanted with the record business as a whole, others say that he was a victim of a bad recording contract at Shelter Records that caused him to be bitter about the business end of the show business equation. He subsequently moved to England experimenting with Celtic music while still staying on the fringes of the music business co-writing “North Dakota” with Lyle Lovett who recorded it as a duet with Rickie Lee Jones on his Joshua Loves Ruth album.

There have long been what has turned out to be unfounded rumors of a second album that have never been realized. Sporadic touring has included stops in various Texas venues including The Acoustic Café, a singer-songwriter venue that is only as big as two living rooms and is run by Wrecks Bell, former bass player for Lightning Hopkins and Townes Van Zant, and the namesake for Rex’s Blues, where I had the good fortune to see the fabulous Mr. Ramsey.

One should not feel sorry for Willis Alan Ramsey, he seems to be in a good place, marching to his own drummer, popping out of his rabbit hole to play music whenever he feels the need, and living off some monster royalties from other artists.

And think about it, unlike most artists that produce a monster hit album right out of the box he doesn’t have to worry about a sophomore slump.

— Jeremey Wren

Track Listing

  1. Ballad of Spider John (Ramsey)  4:16
  2. Muskrat Candlelight (Ramsey) 3:18
  3. Geraldine and the Honeybee (Ramsey) 2:15
  4. Wishbone (Ramsey) 2:42
  5. Satin Sheets (Ramsey) 2:32
  6. Goodbye Old Missoula (Ramsey) 4:53
  7. Painted Lady (Ramsey) 3:02
  8. Watermelon Man (Ramsey) 3:25
  9. Boy from Oklahoma (Ramsey) 3:54
  10. Angel Eyes (Ramsey) 3:07
  11. Northeast Texas Women (Ramsey) 5:43

Personnel

  • Willis Alan Ramsey – Bass, Guitar, Harmonica,  Vocals
  • Robert Aberg –  Bottle, Guitar, Slide Guitar
  • Kenny Bulbey – Drums
  • Tyller Collie – Drums
  • Waller Collie –  Drums, Vocals
  • Nick DeCaro – Accordion, String Arrangements
  • Tim Drummond – Bass
  • John Harris – Piano
  • Eddie Hinton – Guitar
  • Jim Keltner – Drums
  • Russ Kunkel – Drums
  • Charles Perrino – Guitar, Vocals
  • Cathy Pruitt – Cello
  • Carl Radle – Bass
  • Dusty Rhodes – Fiddle, Violin
  • Red Rhodes – Guitar (Steel), Pedal Steel
  • Leon Russell – Keyboards, Piano,Vibraphone, Vocals
  • Tim Self  – Fiddle – Violin
  • Mike Sexton – Vocals
  • Leland Sklar – Bass
  • Larry Stedman – Piano
  • David Ward II – Bells, Cowbell, Sound Effects
  • Ernie Watts – Saxophone

 Links

Listen to Willis Alan Ramsey by clicking on the playlist below


Posted by Larry Carta

2 Comments

  1. Maggie Mae (11 Feb 2012, 11:31)
    Reply

    Fine article about a really excellent album. But I’ve got a couple of corrections.

    By the “Outlaw” movement I think you mean the Texas Singer-Songwriters. The “Outlaws” were part of the Nashville Country Scene, even if most of them were Texans; there was a bit of overlap & most “names” for scenes are really marketing tools. Townes van Zandt & his running buddy, Guy Clark, were the fathers of that scene, along with Jerry Jeff Walker–all of whom I saw in the folk clubs of Houston back in the day. (Mickey Newberry was the grandfather.) Willis Alan Ramsey & Ray Wiley Hubbard joined in a bit later.

    Next, the third photo on this page is Walter Hyatt, leader of Uncle Walt’s Band out of South Carolina. Great singers & songwriters & skilled instrumentalists–everybody used to wonder why they never became giant stars. Later, Walter had a solo career–until he died in the ValuJet crash.

    Lyle Lovett was one of the later arrivals; after he’d become a big star he expressed his love for his influences with the excellent “Step Inside This House.” The 2-CD set includes tunes by his contemporaries & the pioneers, giving them all recognition–& royalties. There are several tunes each by Townes & Walter–both of whom had passed on by then….

    Good work!

    • Larry Carta (11 Feb 2012, 13:59)
      Reply

      Thanks for the post Maggie. I’ve removed the third picture. I’ve left your post intact and leave it published as a learning experience for people like me that weren’t quite sure. Thanks again, Larry



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