if you want to know me..here's an article
The Most Famous Man You’ve Never Hear Of:
Nicknamed “Bear,” which is fitting due to his stature and protective nature, Gary Ramsey performs under his given name. He has hobnobbed with some of the biggest rock stars in our modern era. I did not hear the entire list, because “I don’t want anybody to judge me based on that,” he said in his ol’ shucks” way. But the ones I managed to hear referenced during our conversation are Black Sabbath, Guns’n’ Roses, Metallica, and Appalachian’s musical pride, Doc Watson.
His modesty is part of his charm. As is his humor.
“I’m a musical whore,” he said, which in reality, isn’t that far from the truth. “I’ll jam with anybody,” he said, reaffirming that this guy is all about music. His music has passed hand to hand all across the globe, and likely even further. His encounters with UFOs would be a great paper by itself, but back on planet Earth he has done numerous collaborations with Finland’s Pekka Loikannen, under the name “The Ramsey Loikkanen Project.” They met on the now-defunct MySpace. This past weekend he sold a song to Playground Records.
Ramsey isn’t just a talented guitarist. He excels in songwriting and lyrics. This “poet of the hillbillies” is what first caught my attention. Currently, he resides in Kings Mountain, with his wife and two stepdaughters, in a modest house near the highway. The unassuming front of his home belies the backyard, which reminded me of a nature preserve with its winding path through an encyclopedia of tree types and jutting boulders. Ramsey spends a lot of time here. This is where he comes to clear his mind and listen to the voice that delivers his songs.
Ramsey’s “musical wholeness” can also be explained by the numerous instruments he has mastered, including guitar, bass, and some piano, but also by the various types of music he has embraced. He has been the songwriter and lyricist for country and bluegrass, but also the frontman and lead singer in the heavy metal, punk, and rock genres. Most of his songs are “about the freedom of traditional rural life” (Lipscomb) which includes what many would term “white trash.” But Ramsey doesn’t identify himself with categories like that. His mentality “is an ancient, hard-earned, local kind of freedom” that has been compared to the “kind of freedom that the nineteenth-century 'peasant poet' John Clare wrote about” (Lipscomb). Ramsey simply writes and sings what he wants, and if you don’t like it, then don’t listen. It’s as simple as that.
While Ramsey’s music is uniquely southern, the “universalization of a generalized notion of southernness as cultural shorthand is not limited to music.” This is apparent in Ramsey’s stories and tall tales that he uses to amuse his listeners. For example, when talking about the weather he said “it was so hot today all the corn in my barn popped into popcorn...my horses thought it was snow and they froze to death... Also, some guy came to the door trying to sell me powdered water but I didn't know what to add to it.” He’s got an entire suitcase full of funnies like these that he uses to entertain his fans in between his songs.
Ramsey is also humble when talking about his musical beginnings. He was given a guitar and he was able to remember the finger placements easily. The music just came to him, he explained. Then he went on to write his first song, “If Loneliness Had a Name” at age 17. Interestingly, he still sings this song at his shows and by the number of requests he gets for it, it is still a fan favorite after 40 years. Ramsey excels in crafting the “singability of the melodies” and makes his music “in the old vein” of sitting with a guitar and playing what he hears (Arant). This is evident in his song “Down on Me” where he laments not having financial security. There is a brief pause just before he sings “I’m used to losing.. I never win.” These silences are profound in the effect of his songs. They are “essential in shaping noise into music, in making sense of sound. Cultural narratives are shaped by what is said, but also by what is left out” (Thompson).
When I first approached Ramsey about this project, he said he was happy to help but wanted to be clear that he doesn’t consider his type of music to be Appalachian. To show me an example of Appalachian music, he sent me a link of an old woman in a dress down to her ankles who was playing the banjo. Like me, Ramsey thought that Appalachian music was contained within the Appalachian mountains. I shared with him our class map of the Appalachian region and showed him that he could, indeed, be considered an Appalachian musician. He seemed mildly surprised. The point was driven home further when I shared that Earl Scruggs was raised not far from Ramsey’s home. As a future paper, it would be greatly interesting to further pursue this sense of identity (or non-identity), and learn “why individual businesses or individual people identify with one regional identity over another” (Cooper). However, I will save that topic for a future class.
Ironically, this man with seemingly no boundaries verbally was also under the assumption of regional boundaries and was unaware of the expanse and blurring of the lines that encompass this region. These "mythical boundaries" of Appalachia lead one to “focus[ed] on geography as a marker of Appalachian identity” (Webb-Sunderhaus). Upon further study, Loyal Jones was quoted as identifying “ten values” that are “especially important to Appalachians: religion; independence, self-reliance, and pride; neighborliness; familism; personalism; humility and modesty; love of place; patriotism; sense of beauty; and sense of humor” (Webb-Sunderhaus). The idea of religion can easily be seen in Ramsey’s “Southern Man: A Rebel’s Prayer” and his sense of humor shines through in “Barred.” Independence and self-reliance are at the root of his song “The Ride” and his love of place is magnified in “Carolina Queens.” His humility and modesty are evident in just about every song; he never sings to praise himself, but rather to identify and distinguish what he sees taking place in the world around him. This is evidenced in “Way of the World” and “Down on Me,” which focuses on economic struggles and “Dead Dream Junkie” which is a commentary on the current opioid crisis.
In addition, Ramsey’s “sense of place” as a southerner becomes “one of the unifying values of mountain people” and “makes it hard for [him] to leave the mountains, and when we do, we long to return"(Webb-Sunderhaus). Ramsey spent several years in Los Angeles, hoping to pay his dues in the artistic world but found that California was not where he felt at home. He hitchhiked back across the country and settled back in Kings Mountain, smack dab between the larger metropolises of Shelby and Gastonia, and made a name for himself on the local music scene as well as using technology to expand into having global collaborators and listeners.
One of Ramsey’s signature songs is “Stumpy,” which I suggest not listening to if you are easily offended. This song was based not on a true story, but rather on an idea that was used for humor around a campfire one night. Many of his songs make it perfectly clear that when writing lyrics about his home and his experiences, Ramsey does not provide a “detoxified South[s] of which Andy Griffith's Mayberry is representative" (Vernon). Ramsey’s lyrics focus on economic subordinantion including being in a lower class, freedom and desire, and loss; in a nutshell, white trash. He has also had to push back against the derogatory views of hillbillies that “perpetuated throughout the great Depression when ‘images of violent mountaineers were somewhat displaced by images of poor, ignorant, lazy hillbillies popularized in nationally syndicated cartoons such as Li'l Abner and Barney Google and Snuffy Smith’” (Cooper). If anything, Ramsey is proud of his background and uses these stereotypes to his advantage in his music. He shared that numerous times he has gone into a venue and been treated like a second-class citizen, only to watch everyone’s jaw drop when he opens his mouth and starts to sing.
One of Ramsey’s musical influences is Lynyrd Skynyrd, and like the members of this band, he “evoke[s] regional characteristics” in his songs which helps to “create a sense of community among listeners with similar backgrounds” (Zwier). The relationship between his song and the audience “helps to explain the popularity..at concerts, there are 3,000 to 4,000 people who all think the same," a fan said when talking about the band Normaal, who makes music similar to Ramsey’s (Zwier). In this way, “music functions not only to reflect but often to mobilize feelings of regionalism” as is evident in Ramsey’s catalog. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Normaal, Ramsey represents “the rebellion of the countryside” but yet avoids the shameful history of the South that “was inextricably linked with the region's troublesome history of slavery and segregation (Zwier). All of that is part of the past, and Ramsey likes to focus on the right here and now, “cause that’s really all we have,” he said.
Ramsey’s “reputation for being an intimidating and belligerent [band] of hard-drinking rednecks” helped him to carve out his musical spot. Like others from the south, he “display[s] markers of [his] identity by singing in thick southern accents and displaying a huge Confederate battle flag” (Zwier). If you look on Youtube at some of the videos he has produced, the Confederate flag is visible in several but is most prominent in his video for “Southern Man” and shows that Ramsey is proud of his southern heritage. His songs typically find favor among rural, working-class whites and “revolt[s] against the dominant conventions of middle-class manners, decency, and civility” (Zwier). Much like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ramsey’s “strategy” was to reinforce “the negative national image of country pe
I was born
I am still rocking...
...to be continued
I have performed in front of thousands and I have performed for one person and a bartender, and still did the same show for both. I play for one the same as I do for thousands.
I have so many, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, The Doors, Skynrd of course, and so on ..if it played between 1950 and now I liked it and took something from it.
I love my fans..they are why I do what I do.