21 September 2000
“When are you going to make another album?”
“What was wrong with the first one?”
-- A famous exchange between Willis Alan Ramsey and a fan at some point in the past
Tonight I saw another Texas music legend at the Mucky Duck, none other than Willis Alan Ramsey. Most people today don't know Willis Alan Ramsey. The self-proclaimed perfectionist has only one album to his credit, and that was released nearly 30 years ago. I was recently introduced to his stuff by Hallmark, a longtime fan. Ramsey's name has come into circulation again because of his recent work with Lyle Lovett, who calls him a genius publicly and frequently, but he has written great songs for Jimmy Buffet, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, even Shawn Colvin.
His is an interesting story. After becoming "known" following his first album (his song Muskrat Candlelight was popularized -- or perhaps bastardized depending on whom you ask -- by the Captain and Tennille), he gradually disappeared from the music scene, with apparent disdain for the problems that "becoming commercial" thrusts upon creative people.
Lately, he's been playing again, with his lovely wife (who has a great voice) and a youngish guy (I forget his name) who plays multiple instruments (pedal steel, electric and acoustic guitars, dobro, etc) and sings well to boot (incidentally, Hallmark tells me he's the song of the fellow who wrote Joe Ely's great song, "Gimme a Ride to Heaven"). Hallmark saw him a few months ago at the Duck, in his first public Houston appearance in gawd knows how long, and he really seemed to enjoy himself, Hallmark said. A short time later, the Duck announced he was returning -- the show I saw tonight.
Despite being exhausted, I thought he put on an amazing show. We knew the guy was a great songwriter. He's also a perfectionist -- tuning and retuning and sound checking half the night. He can also play, and has a great sense of how to put together backing vocals and instrumentation. And his voice -- amazing. But the most compelling part: his sheer joy at being on the stage at the Duck. He has a great smile, and he smiles a lot. Not the goofy grin you sometimes see from imbeciles and other people who are clueless, but the authentic smile that reflects a joyous sense of life and how one is living it. His two band members (one his wife) shared his smile. Maybe it's infectious. Watching him in mastery of the craft he obviously loves made me smile.
I think he really enjoys the Duck, and the sorts of music fans the venue draws. It's really a compelling story in its own right (which you can read about on their website), but musically it's a small, intimate venue with tables that one reserves prior to shows. The fans who go to see people there really know music, and are highly appreciative when it is done well. Ramsey fed off of that. His encore sets (yes, sets) went on and on. He didn't want to stop playing, so he did the encore songs he intended, he did a few requests, and he even did a song that the whole series of events reminded him that he ought to do. At times, he seemed a little amazed that people were so appreciative of his work -- though I could tell he's not the sort of person who has ever doubted the quality of his own work.
I was too exhausted properly to appreciate what took place during the show, I think. Writing it up after the fact, I'm damn glad I went.
Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited