Willis Alan Ramsey is the first, and only, album ever recorded by the Texas songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey. The album's genre is hard to categorize with touches of country, country rock, folk, and folk rock. The tunes range from the reflection and regret of "The Ballad of Spider John" to a heartfelt tribute to Woody Guthrie on "Boy from Oklahoma". It was recorded on Leon Russell's Shelter label in 1972, and Leon sat in on piano, keyboards, vibraphone. Other guest musicians include: Carl Radle, Jim Keltner, Red Rhodes and Russ Kunkel. The song "Muskrat Candlelight" was later covered by the band America in 1973 and then by Captain & Tennille in 1976, both using the title "Muskrat Love."
This, the lone album by enigmatic Texas singer-songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey, gave the world one of the most poignant songs ever written about Woody Guthrie (the pedal-steel drenched "Boy from Oklahoma") as well as "Muskrat Love," the whimsical hit for the soft-rock group the Captain and Tennille (here titled "Muskrat Candlelight"). That spread tells something about the Alabama-born tune-smith, whose works have been memorably covered by Jimmy Buffett ("The Ballad of Spider John") and Waylon Jennings ("Satin Sheets"). A storyteller with a quick wit and a penchant for catchy melodies, Ramsey helped develop the sound and the sensibility of "progressive" or "alternative" country associated with everyone from Lyle Lovett to Son Volt. And then he went underground.
Recorded quickly for a small label in 1972, Ramsey's debut has acquired mythic status over the years, in part because he's been so stingy with his work. He cowrote a few songs with Lovett in the 1990s, but has yet to release a follow-up. One website claims he moved to the British isles to study Celtic balladry.
The genius of Willis Alan Ramsey lies in his vocals. Ramsey's songs are salt-of-the-earth stuff, with zero pretension—no cornpone wizardry needed. Ramsey sings with a slightly bemused affect, a raconteur who counts on his slight drawl to keep his story at least plausible. This unassuming delivery makes you want to follow Ramsey's characters around and be there when the title character of "Watermelon Man," who's been awaiting the arrival of the sweet fruit for months, gets that first juicy bite.
- "Ballad of Spider John" (Ramsey) – 4:16
- "Muskrat Candlelight" (Ramsey) – 3:18
- "Geraldine and the Honeybee" (Ramsey) – 2:15
- "Wishbone" (Ramsey) – 2:42
- "Satin Sheets" (Ramsey) – 2:32
- "Goodbye Old Missoula" (Ramsey) – 4:53
- "Painted Lady" (Ramsey) – 3:02
- "Watermelon Man" (Ramsey) – 3:25
- "Boy from Oklahoma" (Ramsey) – 3:54
- "Angel Eyes" (Earl Brent/Matt Dennis) – 3:07
- "Northeast Texas Women" (Ramsey) – 5:43