Ralph Willis (blues musician)

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Ralph Willis
Also known asRalph "Bama" Willis
Alabama Slim
Washboard Pete
Sleepy Joe
Bornc. 1910
Near Birmingham, Alabama, United States (possible)
DiedJune 11, 1957
New York, New York, United States
GenresPiedmont blues, country blues[1]
Occupation(s)Singer, guitarist, songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, guitar
Years activeLate 1930s–1953
LabelsSavoy Records
King Records

Ralph Willis (c. 1910 – June 11, 1957)[2] was an American Piedmont blues and country blues singer, guitarist and songwriter.[1] Some of his Savoy records were released under the pseudonyms Alabama Slim, Washboard Pete and Sleepy Joe.[1]


Sources suggest that Willis was born either near Birmingham, Alabama,[2] or at Irvin, Wilkes County, Georgia.[3] In the late 1930s, he moved to North Carolina and started to play with musicians who were familiar with Blind Boy Fuller. Willis made his first recordings in 1944[4] and continued recording until 1953, issuing fifty tracks on several labels, including Savoy, Signature, 20th Century, Abbey, Jubilee, Prestige, Par, and King.[1]

Like Gabriel Brown, Alec Seward and Brownie McGhee, Willis relocated to New York City.[5] At first he was recorded on his own, but eventually his record companies frequently paired him with accompanists. Judson Coleman joined Willis on his 20th Century recordings, and McGhee was employed in 1949. McGhee and Sonny Terry contributed to Willis's later recordings.[1]

Willis played in various musical styles, from slow blues to up-tempo country dance tracks. However, he spurned the growing popularity of folk blues and R&B.[1] He was musically conscious of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Luke Jordan, but in his later recordings his guitar style leaned towards the booming resonance of Lightnin' Hopkins.[5]

Willis died in New York in June 1957.[1]

Selected discography[edit]

  • Faded Picture Blues (King, 1970)
  • Carolina Blues (Blues Classics, 1974)
  • Ralph Willis Vol. 1 1944–1951 (Document, 1994)
  • Ralph Willis Vol. 2 1951–1953 (Document, 1994)[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lewis, Uncle Dave. "Ralph Willis: Biography". Allmusic.com. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Ralph Willis Discography". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  3. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 271. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  4. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 13. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  5. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 190. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  6. ^ "Ralph Willis: Discography". AllMusic.com. 1957-06-11. Retrieved 2014-01-28.

External links[edit]