Down by the Brazos
“I play a lot of small halls,” he said. “This is the smallest hall I’ve played in Bryan in the last four years. But that’s just because we’ve worked for the college the last four years and this year they just felt like it was gonna start lookin’ suspicious if they kept bringing back Michael Murphey.
“You’ve gotta have change. So this year they wanted to do some other people in concert, and I think they were right in deciding so. But at the same time I wanted to come back and play for the people who’ve supported me.”
And Murphey did play. Two hours and three encores after the concert started, he walked offstage. The crowd was mesmerized.
“I feel in some ways that tonight was the most special concert that I ever had here in town,” Murphey said later. “In spite of all the enthusiasm and hoopla at the A&M shows, this audience was really an incredibly respectful, kind audience t hat listened one minute and really got energetic at the next.
“Tonight was just really special for me because these people didn’t get in for nothin’. They paid to see the show. They wanted to be here. They weren’t here just because their student ID got ’em in. And that really means somethin’ to me.”
Murphey came out wearing a cowboy hat and boots and did play “Cosmic Cowboy” toward the end of the concert, but the set reflected musical changes his career has undergone.
“I catch flak about it once in a while, but it only fans the flame,” he said. “It doesn’t discourage me, it encourages me. I know I’m going in the right direction when there are some people who don’t approve. Because when everybody’s your friend and everybody likes what you’re doin’, you’re in trouble — you’re stagnating.
“Somebody’s gonna have to look at it and say, ‘Hey, aren’t you changin’?’ And if you’re not changin’, if you’re not experimenting around and moving on musically, you die. You play the same thing every night.
“I’m too intrigued with music to let that drag me down. I like to play. I’m not worried about my image. Two hundred years ago I don’t think anybody said, ‘Hey Bach, we like your string quartets, but stay away from the organ and sacred music.”
WILLIS ALAN RAMSEY
April 30, 1979
At two and a half bucks a ticket, the Basement Coffeehouse in the Memorial Student Center was the best deal in town last weekend. Not just the best musical deal, but the best deal, period — even better than a Cowpie and fries.
The star was Willis Alan Ramsey. And there’s not a better place around than the Basement for pure listening.
This was Ramsey’s second performance at the Basement. His first was in 1970s when he played the national coffeehouse circuit, back when he was Willis Alan Who? But that was before his album — before Jimmy Buffett recorded “Ballad Of Spider John”, and before America and The Captain & Tennille recorded and changed the name of his “Muskrat Candlelight” to “Muskrat Love”.
The Basement has talked about bringing Ramsey back for at least the last three years, but until this year, MSC staff put down the idea, saying he was “too big.”
If everyone sits just right, 220 people can fit in the Basement. Friday’s show was sold out, but Saturday’s show left about 70 empty seats, making Ramsey the Basement’s third-biggest draw this semester, behind Shake Russell and St. Elmo’s Fire.
Three year’s ago he may have been “too big,” but last weekend Ramsey was just right.
He was to go on at 9 p.m., but it was just after 9 when he pulled up in his Nova. His manager unloaded two guitars, but Ramsey stayed in his car, writing out, presumably, a song list for the performance.
“It’s after 9 and he’s sitting in his car writing something,” the Basement house manager said in a frustrated voice.
“Well, you’re not dealing with a local performer you can push around,” someone said. “You’re dealing with Willis Alan Ramsey.”
“He’s dealing with me,” the house manager said.
After adjusting mike stands and untangling cords, Ramsey started playing at 9:30. Onstage, he looks almost shy and is indeed a man of few words. It’s not that he doesn’t talk, it’s that when he does, he gets to the point.
“I hate looking at these things,” he said about the wound-up mike cords in front of him — as he kicked them off the stage.
“There, now you can look at them,” he said to someone in the front row.
Ramsey, as usual, began with “Spider John” and eventually played all the songs on his album, interspersed with a few of his newer songs. He played two songs by DesChamps Hood and Walter Hyatt, both from the Austin-based Uncle Walt’s Band, plus a few songs by The Band’s Robbie Robertson one can expect to hear in a Ramsey performance.
Saturday night, after ad-libbing his way through “Northeast Texas Women”, he started talking about his runaway dog Oblio as he continued playing the song’s guitar part.
“What’s the point?” somebody called.
Ramsey stopped. After a second or two he resumed playing the song and sand, keeping time in a bluesy whine:
And the point is…Has nothin’ to do with Northeast Texas women…Is that sometimes I just miss my old dog…Oblio…Oblio…