Ramsay Midwood doesn't really care too much if the stories written about him are wrong.
"My favorites are the wrong ones that make me seem better than I am!," says Midwood.
His low gruff voice and gritty songs are not generally overhyped. His following has been won person-to-person and by way of enthusiastic reviews.
Midwood grew up in Arlington, Va. His parents were "pre-hippies" who introduced him to a wealth of roots music. His mother worked at the the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where Midwood was exposed to blues and folk greats.
He began writing songs when he was in his 20s.
"They probably weren't really good, but I really enjoyed it. I'm glad that most of them didn't get heard. It was my 30s when I started writing good songs. It's so impressive that there are kids out there writing really great songs, but I had to have a little life under my belt."
He says it was the song "Chicago" that really began to win him an audience.
"For some reason when I started playing that song, people seemed to gravitate towards it and I got a lot of encouragement from that. I think it was the first time I included something a little more personal. It wasn't as obvious as other songs — more these cryptic, personal things. That was the really got me going. I'm not sure why."
Midwood moved to California in the early 1990s. He played music and got a few acting jobs in TV shows, including "Chicago Hope," "Matlock," "Hunter" and "Sunset Beach," as well as a few feature films.
"I try not to talk about it too much," says Midwood. "It's not like Keanu Reeves and Dogstar."
He says he doesn't want to be characterized as an actor who plays music. Music is his primary focus.
"I started playing in Venice with a nice group of derelicts and sort of developed a scene there and went on alochol, drug-induced adventures around the country trying to track down Jimmy Driftwood and people like that that I was interested to meet."
He returned to California with a stack of songs.
"It was right when everything was going to digital and everything I heard digital just sounded terrible! It was all sharp and clinky and perfect about everything and that just wasn't what I was interested in."
He and fellow songwriter/producer Randy Weeks decided to record "Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant" with old-school analog equipment and a very old-school sound.
The album was picked up by a German label and, later, in the United States, by Vanguard Records. The album earned good reviews and a solid following, including among other musicians. A friend living in Amsterdam had a copy of the album and played it while driving Austin, Texas-based band The Gourds around Europe while they were on tour. Gourds member Kevin Russell loved the album and put it on his list of Top 10 favorite albums of the year.
When Midwood moved to Austin in the early 1990s, he went to see The Gourds play a concert and he introduced himself to Russell after the show.
"He said, 'No, you're black!' I told him, 'Thanks.' But he made me show him my ID! We became friends after that."
Suddenly, Midwood shifts his voice away from the phone and shouts: "No, no James is in Alaska! No worries!"
"Sorry," he says returning to the phone. "We're in Tulsa, staying in the home of a guy who's in Alaska and someone's come to mow the yard."
Midwood says he's now touring more than he used to and enjoying it.
"I didn't go out much when I moved to Austin, but now the kids are little older and more people are wanting me to get out on the road. To really make a living you gotta get out!"
With: Strung Like a Horse
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4
Where: Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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