Welcome to Obscuro, a feature where Up on the Sun dives deep into the world of vinyl oddities: private press jobs, major label cast-offs, and general thrift shop clutter that's thus far escaped anyone's attention. These LPs have been hiding out, collecting dust, until we come along, investigate, probe and listen. Records, neglected by the years, given their moment in the blog-light.
The enthusiastically named American Recording and Transcription Service record label must've seen in Ronnie Prophet an artist potentially too big to even need a last name. But even by the time Ronnie's third(!) self-titled album was released in, oh, let's say 1968 (I was unable to confirm the date, because hardly any rock-solid information about this record could be found on the Internet), he was pretty much a nobody, knocking around in south Florida hotel lounges, playing standards such as "Ghost Riders" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and, of course, "King of the Road."
I picked up Ronnie Vol. 3 at Revolver Records recently because, obviously, the cover (Spock plays guitar?) is awesome and because of the notes on the back of the record jacket, on which our hero lists the weapons he chose to take into battle the night he sat down in the finely appointed Chart Room of the Bahama Hotel in Fort Lauderdale to record this would-be relic.
Dig it, gearheads:
• 1 Fender Guitar, Stratocaster Model (customized by "Me") • 1 Fender Amplifier • 1 Vox waw-waw [sic] pedal • 1 Echoplex (favorite echo unit) • 10 Fingers • 1 Thumb pick • 1 Human voice box, plus mouthpiece • Guts . . .
Ronnie tastefully sings and fingerpicks his way through 13 songs (including "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Little Green Apples," "Rock and Roll Music," and Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind").
Occasionally, he busts out the "waw-waw" pedal or Echoplex for some restrained guitar trickery. His reedy voice is tolerable but always less than moving. After each number, the Chart Room crowd -- you can almost smell the cloud of cigarette smoke through which these fully lubed and/or 'Luded Florida lounge lizards watched Ronnie deftly render "Theme for Exodus" -- applauds at a level that barely rises above polite, even after Ronnie ramps up his technique on instrumentals like "Warm and Windy."
Little did I know before researching this album that it's that technique that actually did provide the Canada native a nice career in the music biz. Presumably shortly after knocking 'em dead in Florida, Ronnie wised up and went to where all the good pickers should wind up: Nashville.
There, he found his way on to some sessions, wrote a tune ("Sanctuary") that hit number 26 on the Billboard country chart in 1975, had a short-lived Canadian TV show (The Ronnie Prophet Show) in the late '70s, played tons of shows in Vegas, and then backed up George Jones for three months on the road in 1985.
That stint with the Possum must've tipped the scales for Ronnie, who was inducted into Canada's Musical Hall of Fame in 1985. After that, he settled into a longstanding gig in Branson, where it is believed (his website was last updated in 2009) he still is playing "Ghost Riders" night after night to busloads of blue-hairs.
Details: Ronnie Prophet: Ronnie Volume Three, ART Records, 1968(?). Catalog number: ALP-71.
Google search reveals: I couldn't verify this, but I found multiple references to Chet Atkins' referring to Ronnie as "the greatest one-man show I've ever seen."
Who bought this: Dudes in 1968 who liked a little bit of fancy guitar wizardry, but certainly not the kind displayed by that dope-shooting colored fella Jimi Hendrix.
Bonus: Here's a video of Ronnie playing on Buddy Holly's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore."