Willis Alan Ramsey

A one of a kind record from a talent so deep it kills you to learn… this is all there is. Straight out of Austin, TX this may be the best of the whole Armadillo/outlaw scene, though Willis never wanted a part of it in the first place. Country fans and foes alike should grab this record and hold on tight.

Willis Alan Ramsey’s record merges country and soul as much as it combines chicken shack production with a touch of studio glitter. Put out by Leon Russell on his Shelter label (Russell also contributes keyboard), Ramsey was only twenty when he wrote many of these tunes, and only 22 or so when he laid down the vocals. Pretty remarkable considering the sound. It’s an ecclectic mix of styles with songwriter tunes ranging from the sweet and waltzy to bluesy, gritty grooves. “Muskrat Candlelight,” the album’s most sugary spot, would be covered by America and forever confined to the Lite 97s as “Muskrat Love.” But other tracks tear it up. All originals except for “Angel Eyes,” which fits like a glove on Side 2, every song is a serious keeper.

A few tracks are ornamented with strings and orchestral accompaniment, which works for the more developed numbers, but the sound gets so nicely stripped at times. On two tracks, “Satin Sheets” one of them, the only percussion is a steady kick drum with a thick cardboard sound. “Ballad of Spider John,” the hypnotic storytale opener, also achieves this effect; the simplicity delights me to no end.Then this little green bit of heaven closes with a cut no one could argue, a swampy and irresistible groove: “Northeast Texas Women.”

Willis Alan Ramsey made one of those perfect albums. Unfortunately for us, he was seriously jaded by the music business, and never put out another record. However, rumors of a follow-up record, near 40 years later, titled “Gentilly” have been popping up in the past couple years.   words/ b mcgrath

MP3: Willis Alan Ramsey :: Northeast Texas Women
MP3: Willis Alan Ramsey :: Geraldine and the Honeybee

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24 thoughts on “Willis Alan Ramsey

  1. Really does sound like an absolutely fine record. Thanks for this. It’s people/music like this that I love discovering (the kinda ‘unknowns’ of the past).

    If i can find this record somewhere i’ll be purchasing it for sure.

    Thanks again.

  2. Really excited that you posted about this record. It is one of my favorites, and also one of my favorite albums to give to people who have a passion for music, genre preferances aside, it always seems to grab people. Thanks for talking about it.

  3. Mr. Ramsey was on a panel and played a few songs at a Woodie Guthrie tribute at the Smithsonian American History Museum in 2000, which was how I first learned of him. He was fascinating to hear speak.

    Jimmy LaFave and Dave Marsh also spoke. It was a terrific event.

  4. In a genre ruled by singles, Willis Alan Ramsey produced one of the great, cohesive country albums. “Goodbye Old Missoula” is a classic outlaw anthem, the ragged counterpoint to the Stones’ “Before They Make Me Run.”

    There is a worthwhile chapter on WAR in Jan Reid’s book The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, an of-the-era survey for Austin’s then-burgeoning country scene. The book covers some fascinating characters and records that time has relegated to the dollar bins.

  5. You know I still have a copy of an ad that says there will be a new CD releasede on NOnesuch …this was ten years or so ago. I’ve been through four copies of the vinyl one 8 track 2 cassettes, one CD and a couple of downloaded copies (on a crashed hard drive) …stil got one vinyl copy. Looks like I’ll have to do a transfer again. I’ve been playing ‘Ballad of Spider John’ myself for years (and sometimes the ‘Muskrat”, too)and have friends that do ‘Satin Sheets’ , ‘Wishbone’

    He did have two songs (one covered by Eric Clapton “Positively” and one by himself “Sympathy For A Train”) on Mad Dogs & Okies, a 2005 collection that features JJ CAle, Bonnie Bramlett, Tony Joe White, Peter Frampton (?), Ray Benson, Willie Nelson, Taj Mahal, Vince Gill and others…sure might be a nice one to look up and review again…it really is a great collection.

    Please Willis, before I die…one more full album…please?

  6. Looking forward to tracking this one down. Some good stuff on Shelter Records! I’ll never forget the first time I ever heard Freddie King – “Goin’ Down” from his Shelter best-of, blasting out of a record store in Davis, California. I was transfixed for about 5 minutes, then I went in and bought that thing right off the turntable.

  7. My Dad passed away today and strangely the album I reached for first and have been playing all day is this one.

    On a lighter note there’s a famous story involving Willis being asked if he was going to record another album. His reply apparently was “why – what’s wrong with the first one.”

  8. Northeast Texas women was a tune I never stopped playing back and forth driving from Dallas to Fort Worth back in college, only I was playing Luke Olsen’s version (a family friend from San Antone). Thanks for sharing the original version, absolutely love it. Searchin for this vinyl now,

    Love the roots.


  9. Finally picked this record up this morning. I’m only up to the end of Side 1, but already…wow. This is really, really, really good. It sounds like the 15th and best album of a career artist, not a 22 year old’s first shot.

    Thanks so much for turning me on to this! Lyle Lovett’s been going on about him for years, but I just never made the connection. Glad I did.

  10. This is the one album I could *not* live without. I saw WAR in the early 1970s and was hooked. He’s going to be playing at Poor David’s Pub in Dallas on May 13. I will be there and my hair will be sprayed pink in honor of NETW, an anthem for us girls with “cotton candy hair.”

  11. I saw willis last nite may 16th in OKC at the world famous (at least it should be) BLUE DOOR, and he was GREAT. He did most of the songs from the album and quite a few others. My favorites are Spider John and Boy from Oklahoma. The rumours are still persistant about a second album—Come on willis, put all those other songs on a cd, how hard can it be? You know we’ll all buy it

  12. Saw Willis at Threadgill’s south store, Austin, TX Friday 5/14/10. Wow!! No discs at the show! amazing stuff, would love to see it again!!

  13. WAR has always been one of my favorites. When I was about 15 I heard he was going to perform at SMU in Dallas. It turned out he was in a relatively small room where most of us sat on the floor just a few feet away from Willis. It was such a memorable night listening to WAR sing and talk in such an intimate setting. I’d love to see a new album from him.

  14. The “Angel Eyes” on this album is indeed by WIllis Alan Ramsey. The more well-known “Angel Eyes,” by Matt Dennis and Earl Brent, and sung by Sinatra and many others, is a different song with the same title.

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