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Obray Ramsey
September 13, 2010 4:13 PM   Subscribe

You'll come to crave the high lonesome sound of Obray Ramsey, whose vocals and banjo were as pure as a mountain stream, and as Whip-poor-will wild as the cold rain and snow. This is the old time Appalachian hillbilly blues.
posted by puny human (43 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've never heard of Ramsey, but I like those two songs you've linked to on youtube. Thanks for sharing.

[At the same time, I want to propose a new in-text tag, similar to "NSFW" or "Spoiler Alert." It would read "W:GD" and would stand for "Warning: Grateful Dead." Such a practice, if adopted, would make my life on the internet much more pleasant.]
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:24 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obray's version directly inspired Jerry's version. Sorry for the confusion .kobayashi.

If you are feeling any lingering ill effects, maybe you should see the nurse?
posted by puny human at 4:29 PM on September 13, 2010


Footage of Obray from the DVD about Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Though not about Obray, the DVD shows how Lunsford was instrumental in exposing this music to a wider audience.
posted by l2p at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2010


Wow, thanks, puny human. This is a guy who's passed me by until now. Great to learn about a "new" old time songster.

No time to get into making a lot of links right now, but for the benefit of any folks out there unfamiliar with the names but wanting to hear more jin-you-wine old time banjo pickers/singers, here's a list to start googling around on:

Buell Kazee
Hobart Smith
Roscoe Holcomb
BF Shelton
Clarence Ashley
Dock Boggs
Bill Cornett
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Nice.

That first song, "I Am A Pilgrim" is such a classic that I went looking for other versions to compare it to.

I found versions by The Byrds, an instrumental version by Willie Nelson and Chris Sharp, another instrumental version by thumbstyle guitar player Moon Mullins that's so effortlessly and perfectly executed that it makes me never want to pick up a guitar again, a lovely version by Merle Travis, a rough-and-tumble version by some guy sitting in his kitchen making a joyful noise, and a real oddity -- a cover by Johnny Cash on Pete Seeger's 1960s TV show, "Rainbow Quest" that ends with June Carter (not-yet Cash) telling a story about how she lost some teeth in Korea.

Damn but I love the Internet.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:37 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: I am hereby requesting a flapjax cover of "I Am A Pilgrim" get posted to MeFiMusic with a quickness.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:40 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


One aside: while the banjo/song stylings that we've come to classify as "old time" are (seemingly) the providence of southern white folk, it's definitely worth keeping in mind that the black southerners making this music were mostly just... not recorded and marketed. Blues musicians were, but black banjo songsters pretty much weren't. Thankfully, there was a bit of documentation here and there, like this amazing film clip.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:45 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Funny, he's from my county, up at Sodom Laurel. I live way out in the sticks, but that's fucking back there. A lovely area, though. There are Ramseys all over the place.
I appreciate his banjo style, but I'm not as much a fan of that kind of quavering singing.
posted by Red Loop at 4:46 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Song in the "rain and" link now unavailable.
posted by kenko at 4:46 PM on September 13, 2010


A couple of favorite versions:

This Peter Rowan - Tony Rice version [SLYT] is wonderfully bittersweet.

This GD version from New Years Eve 1983 (link to archive.org page w/streaming of whole show) is very well played, and a very clean soundboard to boot. [W:GD]
posted by mosk at 4:49 PM on September 13, 2010


Lunsford was instrumental in exposing this music to a wider audience.

Yes, Lunsford was really a kind of cultural custodian, wasn't he? Very consciously so, in a way not dissimilar to, say, Alan Lomax.

Also: I am hereby requesting a flapjax cover of "I Am A Pilgrim" get posted to MeFiMusic with a quickness.

BOP, I love you madly, as you are well aware, and I'm gonna do my best to fulfill this request. Still, given my current schedule "a quickness" might mean a couple of days. Maybe sooner, though. I'll drop you a MeMail when it's posted.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 PM on September 13, 2010


Thanks for this post, and all the supplemental links everyone.
posted by marxchivist at 4:55 PM on September 13, 2010


Yay!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:55 PM on September 13, 2010


Hey, maaan, this new [W:GD] thing, it's kinda like, you know, "with God". Right? And that's like, so... like... it all comes together, y'know? Whoa.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:00 PM on September 13, 2010


Just noticed something funny: all 5 "Related Posts" at the bottom of this page...

Old-time songster, Henry Thomas May 11, 2010
A barber came to Bristol... July 29, 2008
Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old March 25, 2008
Down with the old folks at... MySpace. October 24, 2007
Stringbean. And his banjo. And those pants. October 17, 2007

... are by me.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:01 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


flapjax, that video you linked to here, led to this. That's the real deal, I wonder where that footage is from.

"Now I told you once and I told you twice, you can't get to heaven with a sweetheart and a wife."
posted by marxchivist at 5:03 PM on September 13, 2010


flapjax˚: can you recommend banjo bangers who specialized in ballads? I'm not too interested in play-as-fast-as-you-can-nowplayfasterfasterfasterFASTERheeeeee-yaw! stuff, but I do love a great Appalachian murder/betrayal/love tune played at a slower pace on a creaky creepy banjo.

˚(or anyone else, I guess, but c'mon - the man knows his shit)
posted by item at 5:04 PM on September 13, 2010


This, from the first link, is interesting too -- "Ramsey and his music is also credited with having a large influence on the writer Manly Wade Wellman, a creator of science fiction, adventure, and mystery stories who once beat out William Faulkner in a writing contest. Through a friendship with folklorist Vance Randolf, Wellman met Ramsey during one of several collecting and recording trips in hillbilly territory. "
posted by puny human at 5:05 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder where that footage is from.

You mean which state? That I don't know. Could be Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee... But if you mean where those clips (your link and mine) in their most most recent and available commercial incarnation, that would be this fabulous Yazoo records collection. Most highly recommended.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2010


That first song, "I Am A Pilgrim" is such a classic that I went looking for other versions to compare it to.

You'll find even more if you search under the alternate title "Wayfaring Stranger". For me, the version that all others need to live up to is Bill Monroe's, probably because it was the version I heard as a kid.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:14 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, the link: Monroe's "Wayfaring Stranger".
posted by oneirodynia at 5:15 PM on September 13, 2010


Whoah flapjax, check out the Wellman bestiary. It's like the hillbilly version of Japanese Yōkai :)
posted by puny human at 5:16 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah flapjax, I meant what movie, thanks.
posted by marxchivist at 5:19 PM on September 13, 2010


flapjax˚: can you recommend banjo bangers who specialized in ballads?

You can't go wrong with Dock Boggs. This version of Pretty Polly, from an 78rpm recorded early in Dock's career, will surely satisfy your old and creaky, murdered-girlfriend ballad jones. And as fond as I am of that version, I like this version (recorded for Folkways as a much older man, after his "rediscovery" in the 60s) even better.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:20 PM on September 13, 2010


check out the Wellman bestiary.

thanks, that looks totally wild!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:23 PM on September 13, 2010


Oooh - I actually know and dig Mr. Boggs' work - he was who I had in mind when I left the above comment. Any others?
posted by item at 5:23 PM on September 13, 2010


I thought "Wayfarin' Stranger" was the same tune with different lyrics. Huh.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:31 PM on September 13, 2010


Any others?

Roscoe's Darling Cory, though it's not a murder ballad. Also BF Shelton's Darlin' Cora is pretty great. Check the post I made on BF Shelton.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2010


"Song in the "rain and" link now unavailable."

Works for me kenko. Did you click play right under the words "bluegrass gem" near the top of the page?
posted by puny human at 6:11 PM on September 13, 2010


> can you recommend banjo bangers who specialized in ballads?
Try Clifton Hicks; he's a young 'un, but he sounds like a centenarian: Backstage with Clifton Hicks : Last Gold Dollar : Cumberland Gap.
posted by scruss at 7:32 PM on September 13, 2010


I like the fact that the article in the first link is by Eugene Chadbourne (previously on the blue). His version of "Take The A Train" from the album Country Music from Southeastern Australia has long been a fav of mine. (warning auto-play link)
posted by DaddyNewt at 7:38 PM on September 13, 2010


flapjax at midnite: "Just noticed something funny: all 5 "Related Posts" at the bottom of this page..."

flapjax, I found that Bristol post before I ever joined here. When I was a kid, I spent my summers in Bristol, and used to get my hair cut at this barber shop on State Street. The barber shop had an area where occasionally there would be some guys playing bluegrass. Like really, really, really good bluegrass. I don't know who they were, I was just a kid. But as an adult, I wondered if it still went on, or if there was any information on the shop itself. For whatever reason, I couldn't find it then, but I did find your post and learned some stuff I didn't know about Bristol. Thanks for that and thanks again, because you reminded me to search again, and I just found out that it was the Star Barber Shop. Apparently they used to have jam sessions every Thursday morning. It was fantastic.
posted by Red Loop at 7:51 PM on September 13, 2010


I like the fact that the article in the first link is by Eugene Chadbourne...

Yeah, Eugene, aside from being a fiendishly good string player and a warm and hilarious personality (onstage and off) also happens to be one of the most knowledgeable people alive when it comes to the American banjo tradition.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:53 PM on September 13, 2010


"Morgan Sexton: Bull Creek Banjo Player" is a nice biographical short.
posted by Rumple at 8:44 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nice, Rumple. Thanks!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:42 PM on September 13, 2010


The writing of Manly Wade Wellman turned me on to Ramsey and Lunsford. Joe Bethancourt did an album called Who Fears The Devil that features many of the songs from Wellman's Silver John stories played on old, creaky, creepy banjos.
posted by irisclara at 11:52 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is that Tom Waits on the right in the "sey" link? Those sure look like Tom Waits' sideburns.
posted by puny human at 11:01 AM on September 14, 2010


As someone who has just discovered him irisclara, are there any Wellman books you would recommend?
posted by puny human at 11:02 AM on September 14, 2010


Worse Things Waiting is a great collection of his non-Silver John stories for the pulps. It has wonderfully creepy illustrations by Lee Brown Coye. Unfortunately it is a bit of a collector's item now. Who Fears the Devil collects the Silver John stories and thankfully has been reissued. I highly recommend both titles.

Now ya'll shut up about Wellman. This thread inspired me to do a post on him, hopefully in the next few days.

; )
posted by marxchivist at 6:03 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, some kind soul has memailed me a link to the entire album if anyone is interested :)
posted by puny human at 8:11 PM on September 15, 2010


oooh! many thanks, ph!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:27 PM on September 15, 2010


Wow, check out Shortenin' Bread and Wildwood Flower in that link. Dude plays a banjo like ringing a bell.
posted by puny human at 8:31 PM on September 15, 2010


Go go! Go Obray go go go!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:08 PM on September 15, 2010


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