Jan 2, 2014

A small introduction and Willis Alan Ramsey

Howdy! And happy new year...

For those of you reading this, I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Bob Simpson. I'm a Texas-based singer-songwriter with a passion for music, beer, donuts, and more music.

I’m a record collector with thousands of pieces in my library chocked full of everything from the 13th Floor Elevators to ZZ Top. I LOVE MUSIC! I love finding music I’ve never heard. It’s my bread and butter.

In the great state of Texas, we are blessed to be surrounded by the sounds we hear out of local venues, record shops, and sometimes radio. It’s unlike any other place. I spend hours of time (and money) seeking out and searching for bands and artists alike in and around Texas. Escaping the typical Kevin Fowlers and Josh Abbots is hard to do, but every now and again, I come across that one diamond in the rough. From those of our past, in the backyards of our present, and hearing the developing sounds of the future in practice spaces and bars, I cover it all to bring to you.

I’m a fan of music, first and a musician, secondly. I can’t say I know it all, but I try to learn all I can. I’ll be the first to admit - my radio dial sticks a little to the left.

Music is art. We are consistently influenced by it. It’s the soundtrack to our everyday lives. Perhaps the artists I bring to your attention can be part of that soundtrack.

Now on to the real article at hand...

An unmentionable Dallas based songwriter once said to me, “Those songs are so good, there’s no way he wrote them. Except for maybe “Muskrat Candlelight”. I think he stole those songs and murdered the guy who wrote them by throwing him into a meat grinder and then buried his remains someplace”.

Indeed “those songs” are good. So good that many artists such as America, Jimmy Buffett, and Jerry Jeff Walker made them recognizable. Even 70’s based pop group the Captain and Tenniel made one of his songs their own and went to number four on the pop charts with it.

Willis Alan Ramsey, the Birmingham born (then Dallas raised) songwriter who has had a cult following since his first and only record was released in 1972 on Leon Russell’s Shelter Recordings label, hasn’t had his proper due or joined the ranks amongst those of Texas’ more “familiar” songwriting caliber – that is unless you ask those in the caliber itself. He has been influential on a lot of newer Texas artists – William Clark Green, Josh Grider, and even the Texas Songwriter Hall of Famer Lyle Lovett who’s even had the delight to co-write with Willis and had him on a few tracks as guest vocalist on 1994’s I Love Everybody.

So if this guy is so good, how come I can’t find the album? 

Good question as the album has been out of print for more than 30 years and saw a small run of replication on CD in the 90’s at one point. In the digital age, where we can now buy our music online from retailers such as iTunes, it’s rare you can find the download of the album unless you’re into torrents or really do a hard search. Then for some of us with turntables who spend our time and hard earned money every weekend at record stores and thrift shops in search of gems like this, you’re lucky if you can find it. If you do, congratulations; you’re now the proud owner of a real piece of Texas music which is more than the frat kid who bought a copy of each Wade Bowen album at last night’s Wild West show can say.

Ramsey’s self-titled debut is the kind of record where there’s not one bad song on it. It’s a rarity in this day in age where an album has several great songs and the rest is filler leaving the listener disappointed and, well, broke. With its choice tracks, “The Ballad of Spider John”, “Muskrat Candlelight”, “Geraldine and the Honeybee”, “Satin Sheets”, “Angel Eyes”, and “Northeast Texas Women”, it’s a wonder why someone with such great material would only release one album. When asked when his second album is to be released, the only response you can get from him, “What’s wrong with the first one?”. But a second album has been a project in the works for several years now. The status is unknown as to when the project will be finished, but like many local Texas news outlets such as the Houston Chronicle who may report on how far along the project is or a release date, don’t hold your breath as he’s had his fans on our toes for awhile. 

Oh, so he’s still alive? Yes, he is still around, performing and you can catch him at Dosey Doe's in Conroe or Poor David’s Pub in Dallas or even in your own backyard (Yes, he will play your backyard).
He’s certainly left a legacy but it’ll take the average Texas music fiend to look past the trend of what it’s become to find it. If one is seeking out to find a true artist within the niche of Texas music without the facade, Willis Alan Ramsey is where it’s at. 

Here's Willis performing "Northeast Texas Women" at Poor David's Pub in Dallas.

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