by Robert Wilkinson
Today we send a big birthday shout out to progressive country pioneer Willis Alan Ramsey. This guy was and is one of the originals! Some amazing tunes follow....
As most long term fans of this site know, I lived in Austin Texas between 1969 and 1997, with stops of various lengths all over the map. Though I've "lived" many places, Austin was my true home. The self-proclaimed "Live Music Capitol of the World" actually lived up to that name during most of the decades I was there.
During those years I was privileged to see many of the immortals of music in countless venues, as well as promote hundreds of events many places around town. At the time we had an amazing number of clubs and types of music to embrace.
The music scene when I lived in Austin included such legendary spots as the Vulcan Gas Company (later Duke's Royal Coach Inn), the original Armadillo World Headquarters, Soap Creek Saloon, Raul's, Antone's, Liberty Lunch, the Continental Club, the Checkered Flag, Threadgills, the One Knight, and others too numerous to list. Just imagine a soundtrack that featured the Velvet Underground, Johnny Winter, Janis, Clifton Chenier with Sonny Landreth, Roky Erickson, Michael Nesmith, the Grateful Dead, Moody Blues, Saint Willie and a cast of thousands, and you get the idea! Long ago Austin really was hip......
The early 1970s brought the genesis of what came to be known as "Progressive Country," the independent gonzo Texas "Cosmic Cowboys" who created an alternative form of country music that set Nashville on its ear forever. Among the brightest lights of this genre are Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Michael Martin Murphy, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary P. Nunn, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Rusty Weir, Townes Van Zandt, and today's birthday boy and "cult legend," the amazing Willis Alan Ramsey.
Though he only released one album way back in 1972 on Leon Russell's Shelter label, his songs are nonetheless remarkable for their timeless appeal. They've been covered by dozens of major artists throughout the years, and are a treat to listen to even 40 years later. Very few people outside of Progressive Country fans have heard of this remarkable and singular talent, so I figured I'd bring you some of his music today. Just don't expect some of these tunes to sound like any country music you've heard!
(In the interest of full disclosure, his birthday is just a few weeks before mine, and since we're the same year vintage with quite a few mutual planetary contacts, of course I would like his music!)
I found some versions done by other artists, so I'll link to them as well. The respect his tunes get from some pretty top talent proves that this extraordinary Pisces creative force caught lightning in a bottle. And, the good news is he's still performing after all these years! All that said, on with the shew.....
First, my favorite song from his album, "Northeast Texas Women." Here's the first of several clips of Willis doing his tunes live at the legendary venue "Threadgills" on May 3, 2008. For your enjoyment, here's an acoustic performance of "Northeast Texas Women."
Here's a great performance by Jimmy Buffet & The Coral Reefer Band of "Northeast Texas Women" in Dallas, Texas, on May 22, 2010.For another (and very much less laid back!) take on the tune, here's Austinite Monte Montgomery doing "Northeast Texas Women" at Vnuk's in Cudahy, WI, 9-19-08.
From the album, here's Willis' version of "Muskrat Candlelight," later retitled and made into a huge hit for the Captain and Tennille as "Muskrat Love."
America also had a smash hit with the song way back in 1973. From their album “Hat Trick,” here’s the studio version of "Muskrat Love.” Here's a new version of America doing a live performance of "Muskrat Love."
For two more distinctly different versions of this song, I found Jimmy Buffett's performance of "Ballad Of Spider John and the "New Grass Revival" founder Sam Bush (also of the Nash Ramblers) doing "The Ballad of Spider John"
Here's Willis doing "Angel Eyes" live at Threadgills,
We close this birthday tribute with three of Willis' more well-known tunes done by others. First, here's Jimmie Dale Gilmore's version of "Goodbye to Old Missoula" set to a photo montage from the movie "The Last Best Place."Then, from A&E's "Live by Request," here's Lyle Lovett performing a tune co-written by Willis Alan Ramsey, "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)" We'll close this trifecta of tunes with the Widespread Panic version of Willis Alan Ramsey's "Geraldine & the Honey Bee."
So Happy Birthday and Solar Return, brother Silver Rabbit Cat! Glad you've hung in there all these years, and that your work has received the recognition it so richly deserves. May you have many more birthdays, write many more tunes, play many more gigs, and hear your music done by the best for the rest of your life and beyond. From one ex-Cosmic Cowboy to another who is still with us, see you in Austin.....
© Copyright 2012 Robert Wilkinson