The Complete Recordings, Volume 1 (1944-1951) by Ralph Willis

Label: Document Records.
Release Date: July 12, 1994.
Releases: 1994, 2000, 2005.
Recording Time: 68 minutes.
Recording Date: 1944 - 1951.
Recording information: New York, NY (1944-1951).

Styles: Country Blues, Piedmont Blues, Regional Blues.

Featured Artist: Ralph Willis.

A native of Birmingham, AL, guitarist Ralph Willis learned to sing and play the blues in North Carolina where he absorbed the influence of Blind Boy Fuller, and cut his first record in New York City in 1944 at the age of 34. Out of about 50 sides cut for eight different labels over a span of nine years, 42 were reissued by Document on two albums in 1994. Volume one, which covers the years 1944-1951, opens with his earliest pair of titles, which originally appeared on a record bearing the Regis logo. "Comb Your Kitty Cat" is closely related to "Let Me Play with Your Poodle" and fits into a blues subgenre of harmless exercises in smuttiness that was perfected 10 and 15 years earlier during the hokum boom by people like Bo Carter, Sam Theard, and Tampa Red. Willis recorded for 20th Century Records in 1946 with guitarists Brownie McGhee and Judson Coleman as the Ralph Willis Alabama Trio. In June, 1948 he recorded again as a solo act, this time for the Savoy label on which he was billed as Alabama Slim. Three months later, he cut four more sides for Savoy with washboard percussionist Pete Sanders. "Christmas Blues" and "Neighborhood Blues" were released under the name of Washboard Pete, while "Amen Blues" and "Mama, Mama Blues" were issued under the heading of Sleepy Joe & His Washboard Band. After waxing four titles for the Signature label in late 1948 and early 1949, Willis teamed up with McGhee (who was listed as Spider Sam) and knocked off a few sides for Abbey records, including the premonitory title "I'm Gonna Rock." This enjoyable survey of mid-century East coast blues closes with Willis' first two Jubilee recordings, made in 1950 with McGhee and bassist Dumas Ransom. Seventeen more selections representing most of the remaining works of Ralph Willis can be found on a second volume together with eight tracks by his fellow Alabamian Leroy Dallas. ~ arwulf arwulf

Living Blues - 9-10/94, pp.88-89
"...Willis played more like Blind Boy Fuller--using rhythmic, swinging guitar work to support humorous, imaginitive lyrics....partyin' Piedmont blues at its best and...unreservedly recommended to all fans of the form."

Personnel includes: Ralph Willis (vocals, guitar); Big Chief Ellis (piano); Brownie McGhee (vocals, guitar); Sonny Terry (guest artist).
Includes liner notes by Dave Moore.

Credits: Big Chief Ellis - guest artist; Lonnie Johnson - composer; Brownie McGhee - composer, guest artist, guitar, vocals; Dave Moore - booklet; Johnny Parth - producer; Sonny Terry - guest artist; Ralph Willis - composer, primary artist.

Tracks: 1) Worried Blues; 2) Comb Your Kitty Kat; 3) Just A Note; 4) Church Bells; 5) Trouble Don't Last; 6) Shake That Thing; 7) So Many Days; 8) That Gal's No Good; 9) New Goin' Down Slow; 10) Goin' To Chattanooga; 11) Steel Mill Blues; 12) I Will Never Love Again; 13) Goin' To Virginia; 14) Boar Hog Blues; 15) Eloise; 16) I've Been A Fool; 17) Christmas Blues; 18) Amen Blues; 19) Neighbourhood Blues; 20) Mama, Mama Blues; 21) Cool That Thing; 22) Sportin' Life; 23) I'm Gonna Rock; 24) Everyday I Weep And Moan; 25) Somebody's Got To Go.