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Fiddlin’ Around – November 2017

Fiddlin' Around headerThere’s a big ‘ole country music guy from Clover Bottom, Kentucky who nowadays owns and operates a fishing boat in Quepos and plays guitar and sings at a few venues around town. He’s got a quick and genuine smile, a beautiful and powerful voice and he’s written songs that literally millions of people have heard and love. He’s funny, been around a couple of blocks, is friends with country music legends and is respected by them in return. His name is Ralph Simms, though he went by ‘Buck Cody’ back in the early days of his career.

Ralph and NancyRalph came from a musical family—his Dad played dobro and had worked with the great Lester Flatt, and when Ralph was 17 he helped him sign with BMI Records in Nashville. His first song for them was called ‘Baby I’m Leaving’, and that’s what he did—moved to Nashville, put together a 5 piece band, and started playing wherever he could get gigs. Performing live was his main focus, and he spent years in the musical trenches, playing many hundreds of gigs from huge state fairs to seedy bars. He managed to find time to fulfill his BMI writing obligations and worked with fine producers like Larry Morton and with different notable publishing companies, including Prairie Dust Records. Ralph is one of those rare journeymen musicians who are at home on stage as a lead or rhythm guitarist, lead singer, background singer, arranger, and producer, and who also has successfully penned material recorded by other artists. He’s had several of his songs on the country charts, including The Fireman as done by Mac Vickery, and the huge hit version by George Strait of his song Amarillo By Morning. He’s played with many of the greats, like Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Thompson, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Jerry Reed—just to drop a few bigshot names. He performed on the TV show Hee Haw, a cornball show about hillbillies which actually featured some great players and helped launch the careers of many still enduring musicians. Ralph was male vocalist of the year in 1984, his band won for best instrumentalists, and he’s had his share of fame and accolades—yet he says, “I’m happy to have made a living playing with great musicians who I admire and am moved by. I’m just a country boy from Kentucky who got lucky.”

Ralph SimmsWell, he also got lucky in love—his bride of 43 years, a feisty little lady named Pat, has given him 4 kids, 11 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. He missed his wedding day—claims he forgot—but then that’s a whole ‘nuther story best told by one of them… He also proudly served in the US military, is pissed off at the NFL, has great musical generosity, and can down a glass of Flor de Cana rum before noon without flinching!

One Saturday afternoon Ralph and I were playing together at Dos Locos, and he started singing the Bob Wills hit song Faded Love. Now this is a sentimental but powerful song which Bob Wills, his father John Wills and his brother Billy Jack adapted from a bluegrass instrumental, and I have played it many times and have always loved the song. Patsy Cline had a hit with the song, but it was bittersweet, as it was the last recording session she took part in before dying in a horrible airplane crash. But when Ralph sang the song that day, he clearly was tapping into his deepest parts, ‘cause the hair stood up all over my body and I got some serious goosebumps. Ralph played with Bob Wills’ band the Texas Playboys back in 1975—they were country swing royalty and featured the great fiddle player Johnny Gimble. I met Mr. Gimble many moons ago when we were both playing in Branson, Missouri—had lunch with him, hung onto his every word, and still consider it to be one of the best days of my life. He was 80 at the time, still handsome and gracious, and boy could he play. He also gave me goosebumps. Here’s the lyrics to Faded Love in case you need a refresher:

As I look at the letters that you wrote to me, it’s you that I am thinking of. As I read the lines that to me were so dear, I remember our faded love. I think of the past and all the pleasures we had, as I watch the mating of the doves. It was in the springtime that you said goodbye, and I remember our faded love. I miss you darlin’ more and more every day, as heaven would miss the stars above. With every heartbeat I still think of you, and remember our faded love.

Ralph and NancyAccording to scientist types, getting goosebumps while listening to music is fairly rare, and there is a difference in brain structure between the folks that get ‘em and the ones that don’t. A Harvard University guy did a study and said that the folks who experience goosebumps tended to have more fibers connecting their auditory cortex and areas associated with emotional processing, making for more efficient processing between them. He speculated that they have an “enhanced ability to experience intense emotions”. Another study said that music stimulates an ancient reward pathway in the brain—dopamine floods the striatum, a part of the brain activated by addiction, reward and motivation—the same way that sex, gambling, and probably chocolate does. One neuroscientist says that sad music triggers chills more often than happy music. A melancholy tune activates a distress response, and makes us feel nostalgic or wistful. Well, I don’t really know what all that means, and explaining music is a flawed endeavor anyway, but I know that great music often times gives me goosebumps. I don’t know if it is the melody that gets to me, or the lyrics, the singer or the player, that particular night or how much rum I’ve had to drink, but I trust my goosebumps.

There are fine musicians around here playing their hearts out for you, the audience, and they might even trigger some bumps of your own! Thanks to the folks who donated whatever they could to the brave people of Costa Rica after Hurricane Nate. The Ticos did not complain or blame the government—just quietly helped their neighbors and got on with the business of cleaning up. Including Ralph, who returned from stateside to find his house inundated with mud… Ralph and I play every other Saturday at Dos Locos and there are quite a few music venues in Quepos, Dominical and Ojochol, so get out and listen to live music!

The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. Maya Angelou

When music and courtesy are better understood and appreciated, there will be no war. Confucius

If you pour some music on whatever’s wrong, it’ll sure help out. Levon Helm

8 Responses to “Fiddlin’ Around – November 2017”

  1. Dottie Evans said:

    Love reading your articles Nancy. Please keep them coming. Love y’all

  2. Dottie Evans said:

    Love your articles Nancy. Great reading. Great material! Love y’all and will visit as soon as poss

  3. Jill Walton said:

    Your article gave me goosebumps…Miss you all & hope to see you & Ralph at Dos Locos someday soon.

  4. Jo Lettera said:

    Just left Quepos after spending a wonderful evening listening to Ralph. Not only goose bumps but tears flowed down my cheeks listening to Ralph sing and play …as well as looking at my friend Frankie knowing we may not see each other again. Music brings out the best in all of us. Thank God for the gift of music and good friends!

  5. PamSB said:
  6. admin said:

    Ummm…I’m not sure what you mean. We didn’t have anything to do with writing or publishing that Facebook article.

  7. PamSB said:

    What I mean is did the other guys lie and Ralph Simms actually wrote it? Your story and the one I linked to do not match at all.

  8. PamSB said:

    I apologize for misreading what you wrote. I see now that you aren’t saying incorrectly that Ralph Simms wrote both The Fireman and Amarillo by Morning (which he didn’t), but that those are songs that he only sings in his act (songs that were by those artists you named and written by others). I jumped to the wrong conclusion that you were saying he wrote both of those songs. Sorry for the confusion.