Alt-Country Wit Ramsay Midwood Has a Quip for Every Tune
Ramsay Midwood and Randy Weeks playing "Crawdad"
Photos by William Michael Smith
Ramsay Midwood, who rolls into Under the Volcano Wednesday, wants everyone to know he's a nice guy.
"You're not going to print all those terrible things I said about people, are you," he asks as he's getting off our phone call. "Only print the nice stuff...I want to be the nice guy."
This from a scruffy ball-cap-wearing hippie who once wrote about himself in his own PR:
I was always an admirer of Woody Guthrie's seemingly heroic undertakings. I vowed to fight his same righteous fight. I immediately broke this vow by chasing an actress to Hollywood and many songs later I chased a stripper from Wisconsin to L.A., realizing that I was simply a make-believe cowboy unconsciously herding women of questionable virtue into a corral in my head, where I would engage in long periods of self-loathing.
This was when I decided to start my own space program. The initial fundraising has been difficult, but I'm certain once I get my driver's license things will pick up.
Always armed with a quick quip, Midwood will occasionally talk a little trash, but his overall vibe is entirely positive for a troubadour living on the scuffling edge of survival like a lot of underrated musicians and writers in Austin.
L-R: Old L.A. buddies Mike Stinson, Randy Weeks and Ramsay Midwood
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"Man, I wish I could just get this ramped up to where it wasn't which bill do I pay next and how do I pay it, but I know hundreds of music folks in that same boat," he laughs. "I'd like to have my own little studio where I could just work on stuff when the mood strikes. But just about the time I get a big idea I have to change a diaper or run to the store.
"Everybody at our level has the same set of problems," Midwood explains. "We all want to keep a good band together and take care of the band members like they were grown ups instead of handing them $24 after a gig. It's just hard to keep an ensemble together and be a touring band."
Midwood likes to use guitarist Bill Mullins and bassist Jeff Johnston (Lil Capt. Travis), "but when I can get Randy Weeks that's what I really like," he says. "
"That gives a three-guitar attack that I think probably best represents our band and works best for my material," Midwood adds. "Randy's sound is a big component of my sound, but he's got his own thing so we can't always have Randy with us."
Midwood and Weeks go back to Los Angeles where they worked together on Midwood's Shootout at the OK Chinese Restaurant, which was released on the prestigious Vangard Records label in 2002. Not long after, Midwood and Weeks both relocated to Austin, where they've continued to collaborate.
Midwood recorded Popular Delusions & the Madness of Cows in Austin in 2006 with Weeks. He released Larry Buys a Lighter in 2011.
"Randy really gets that kinda loping J.J. Cale groove that I like, and I've gotten very comfortable working with him over the years," he says. "So when he's not on the gig, we're just a little different than when we've got the three guitars whanging away at it."
Four years since his last album, Midwood is slowly assembling his next effort, but it's not a quick process.
"I've got four songs recorded not very professionally, which is something I like, not so clean and pristine, you know? I went to Oklahoma and did some writing, so I've got a couple more good ones rounding into shape. But I need to go up there again and get six or seven more written."
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Midwood bemoans the fact that he can't operate his life the way his neighbor and friend Kevin Russell (Shinyribs, the Gourds) can.
"I just have to go isolate myself," Midwood explains. "I really envy Kevin Russell, because his family life and duties aren't any different than mine, but he seems to be able to compartmentalize everything much, much better than I can. I just have to leave town and get by myself to get anything positive done as far as writing."
Midwood holds out Russell's Shinyribs project as something of his own dream.
"The Gourds were a conversation and a collaboration, it was fun to watch them literally working things out onstage," he says. "And they had that 'screw you' attitude, which we all loved about them, but which isn't who Kevin really is. This new thing is much more focused and it seems like Kevin has been set loose.
"It also is just unbridled joy, and Kevin gets to turn his inner freak loose with his dance steps and all that," Midwood continues. "He's really an entertainer, but it's smart too. It kinda heals that Cartesian split between the body and the soul."
For his part, Midwood is looking for the momentum that Shinyribs has found.
"My next upward step would be someone who's good at booking and routing would take us on so I could just concentrate on the music and the road," he says. "We've actually gotten to where we can play in San Francisco and people seem to come out and have heard of us. We can go to New Mexico and draw well, so it seems people know us. We've got a pretty good regular thing going in Oklahoma. But so far I just haven't been able to interest a high-level booker.
"I suppose at 51 it seems foolish to some people to still be chasing the rock and roll dream, the band dream," he laughs. "I'm encouraged by the success of bands like Shinyribs who've penetrated that Red Dirt market and widened their fanbase, guys like Sturgill Simpson who are trying to keep it real. Maybe this Sturgill thing will lift some similar boats, you know?"
Ramsey Midwood performs 8 p.m. Wednesday at Under the Volcano, 2349 Bissonnet.
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