Ralph Willis (blues musician)

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Ralph Willis
Also known as Ralph "Bama" Willis
Alabama Slim
Washboard Pete
Sleepy Joe
Born 1910
near Birmingham, Alabama, United States
Died June 11, 1957
New York, United States
Genres Piedmont blues, country blues[1]
Occupation(s) Singer, guitarist, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active Late 1930s–1953
Labels Savoy Records
King Records

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


Willis was born near Birmingham, Alabama.[2] In the late 1930s, Willis moved to North Carolina and started to play along with musicians who were familiar with Blind Boy Fuller. Willis recorded his debut material in 1944, and continued until 1953, issuing fifty tracks via several record labels including Savoy, Signature, 20th Century, Abbey, Jubilee, Prestige, Par, and King Records.[1]

Similar to Gabriel Brown, Alec Seward and Brownie McGhee, Willis relocated to New York.[3] Willis originally recorded singly, but record label demands saw him used more frequently with accompaniment. Judson Coleman joined Willis on his 20th Century recordings, and in 1949, McGhee was employed. His latter recordings utilised both McGhee and Sonny Terry.[1]

Willis employed an array of musical styles from slow blues to uptempo 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 later recordings saw his guitar style leaning towards the booming resonance of Lightnin' Hopkins.[3]

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

Selected discography[edit]

  • Faded Picture Blues (1970) - King
  • Carolina Blues (1974) - Blues Classics
  • Ralph Willis Vol. 1 1944-1951 (1994) - Document
  • Ralph Willis Vol. 2 1951-1953 (1994) - Document[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lewis, Uncle Dave. "Ralph Willis". Allmusic. Retrieved February 5, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Ralph Willis discography". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2014-01-28. 
  3. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 190. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  4. ^ "Ralph Willis | Discography". AllMusic. 1957-06-11. Retrieved 2014-01-28. 

External links[edit]