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Ralph Willis

Ralph "Bama" Willis was an outstanding Piedmont-style blues singer and guitarist, so named as he was born and raised in Alabama. He was not heard from until the late '30s, when he was known to have relocated to North Carolina and to work in the circle of musicians centering around Blind Boy Fuller, although Willis did not record with Fuller. By the time Ralph Willis did make it into studio, for the tiny, New York-based Regis label in 1944, his assimilation of Fuller's sound and style was already complete. Willis would continue to record with regularity through 1953, producing 50 sides altogether for Savoy, Signature, 20th Century, Abbey, Jubilee, Prestige, Par, and King.

Willis' material was all generally original, and rooted in his experience as a rural stylist, although during his recording career he lived and worked in New York City. Admittedly Willis' best recordings are the ones he made solo, as they have the most liberated sense of rhythm, but over time the record companies that employed Willis would prefer it when he worked with an accompanist. At first, little-known guitarist/bassist Judson Coleman joined Willis on his 20th Century sides, made in 1946. By 1949, Willis' old friend Brownie McGhee was backing him up on his dates; Willis would have known McGhee from their days with Fuller. For Willis' final sessions on Par, Prestige, and King in 1952 and 1953, Willis was joined by both McGhee and McGhee's regular partner Sonny Terry.

Willis never departed from the rural blues idiom in which he was best able. His recordings demonstrate a remarkable variety of styles, ranging from the languid, relaxed type of sad, slow blues that Brownie McGhee also specialized in when playing alone, to uptempo country dance numbers. Willis never jumped on the folk bandwagon, nor did he demonstrate any desire to upgrade his sound to an R&B format. Some of his records were issued under pseudonyms, such as Alabama Slim, Washboard Pete and Sleepy Joe (all used on his Savoy recordings.) When Willis died in New York City in 1957 he was only about 43 years old. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Bankers Blues: A Study In The Effects Of Fiscal Mischief

4. No Money

5. Million Dollar Blues

6. Sales Tax

8. A Sermon On A Silver Dollar

9. Save That Money

10. Income Tax Blues

11. The Banker's Blues

12. No Bonus Blues

13. The Pawn Shop Blues

14. Insurance Policy Blues

15. Stack O' Dollars Blues

16. Times Is Tight Like That

17. Poor Millionaire Blues

18. I Need A Hundred Dollars

19. All My Money Is Gone

20. Trying To Make A Living

21. Broke And Hungry

22. Money Kills Love

23. Ain't No Prison For The Corporation

x

Track List: Devil's Jump-Indie Label Blues 1946-1957

Disc 1

1. Horse Shoe Boogie

2. Ruby Moore Blues

3. Little Mary

4. Cheatin' Around

7. Hastings Street Opera, Pt. 1

8. Hastings Street Opera, Pt. 2

9. Stomp Boogie

10. Who's Been Jiving You

11. Wig Wearin' Woman

12. New York Central

13. Black Man Blues

14. Poor Joe

15. Forgive Me Darling

16. Please Don't Think I'm Nosey

17. Since I Seen Your Smiling Face

19. Blinds Blues

20. Slappin' The Boogie

23. Your Little Wagon

Disc 2

3. New Little Girl, Little Girl

4. Nightmare Blues

5. Late Last Night

6. Lend Me Your Love

7. Pacemaker Boogie

8. Wandering Blues

9. Don't Go Baby

10. Slim's Boogie

11. A Letter Home

14. Down At The Depot

15. Alabama Boogie

16. Penny Pinchin' Mama

17. Do It No More

18. Gonna Hop On Down The Line

19. Do Right

20. Something's Wrong With My Little Machine

21. Old Battle Ax

22. Hello Miss Jessie Lee

23. Dealing With The Devil

Disc 3

1. Low Land Blues

2. Round The World Boogie

3. My Baby's Acting Funny

4. It's My Time To Go

5. Devil's Jump

6. I'm Gonna Kill That Woman

7. Stop Messing Around

8. Pet Milk Blues

9. Moaning Blues

10. The Numbers

11. Root Hog

12. Gone Gone Gone

13. Baby' Don't Leave

14. (Sometimes I Feel Like A) Motherless Child

15. Life Is Like That

16. Baby Blues

17. In My Father's House

18. Mother Dear Mother

19. Side Walk Boogie

20. Early In The Morning

21. Miss Anna B

22. Door Bell Blues

23. Why'd You Do It

24. Boogie Baby

25. '54 Blues

Disc 4

4. I Believe I'll Go Downtown Again

5. Dixie Flyer

7. Midnight Jump

8. Hastings Street Woogie Man

9. Detroit Boogie

10. Heart Trouble Blues

11. Slim's Stomp

14. Up And Down

16. I'll Never Walk In Your Door

17. Black Cat Trail

19. I'm A Boogie Man

20. My Baby Left Me

21. I Stayed Down

22. I Was In St. Louis

Comments

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