Ralston Bowles – The Johnny Cash of Grand Rapids

Ralston Story I:

When The Cheat and I first visited Grand Rapids in 2004, for Sarda and Kari’s wedding, they introduced us to their Neighbour, Ralston Bowles. As well as having an unusually brilliant name, he was introduced to us as being a singer/songwriter who works for a radio station. A description that could just as easily fit Bob Dylan these days, and one that for Ralston was as much of an understatement of what he meant to the music scene in Grand Rapids as it would be for Bobby D.

Ralston offered to show us round the venues in the town. Sounded like fun. A weird thing happened – every venue we went up to, the people on the door ushered us in like VIPs. Past queues, through hordes of fans for whichever band was playing. Folk venues, rock clubs, underground punk venues, no difference for Ralston. He was greeted with affection and recognition wherever we went. It was becoming transparently clear that he was a man who through years of advocacy for the music of Grand Rapids had built up an astonishing level of respect that transcended genre or age barriers. He truly was the Johnny Cash of Grand Rapids.

We ended our tour of venues at some nuts party, full of very stoned and drunk people. The Cheat and I sat in with Ralston on a few of his songs – simple, deep, gospel songs. Songs of hope and justice. Story songs. All of them with about 3 chords and no bridge. Great stuff to jam on.

Ralston Story II:

When Lobelia and I went to Grand Rapids, in the summer of 07, Ralston hooked us up with a gig at Four Friends coffee shop. Lots of cool people had played there, sounded like a fun venue, we were well up for it. When we went to the venue on the evening of the gig, we found that not only were they not prepared for us to play, they were shut! They’d actually closed early. So this was about 7pm.

I wonder if anyone’s playing at The Pony?” says Ralston. We’ve no idea what he’s talking about, but run with it. We head off to ‘The Pony”, which turns out to be nearby venue The One Trick Pony, and as we walk in the owner greets Ralston with a jokey ‘hey, Ralston, are you playing tonight?‘ ‘we are if you want us to‘ says Ralston, and within about 20 mins we’re set up, Lo and I do a set, Ralston plays a set, and a marvellous gig is had (off the back of which we end up with a gig in St Louis too!)

He’s since played with me in London, slept in our cupboard, hung out and been a bit of a legend.

Ralston needs our help:

Which is why, when I read this story about him having just had cancer surgery, and people putting on benefit gigs for him in Grand Rapids, I decided to blog about him, and suggest that you lot

  • check him out, and
  • buy some of his music.

Here’s a link to his stuff on last.fm so you can hear him.

And here’s a link to his CD-buying page on his website. And another link to the page on CDBaby where you can buy his Cds and MP3s.

Here’s what I suggest: you can obviously buy one of his CDs. Or you can buy either Carwreck Conversations or Rally At the Texas Hotel on iTunes. and if you feel like donating some more dough to help someone out who has given so much to his local music scene, has little or no insurance for the surgery he had (when is the US going to wake up to the economic apartheid of its medical system???) then you can send him money via paypal (the address is ralston [at] his domain name)

Last week I was sat opposite a guy on the train who had been sold the wrong ticket. He was going to be thrown off the train cos he didn’t have a fiver for the ticket, and they wouldn’t accept his Solo Card. I paid for his ticket, he stayed on the train, the guard was suddenly all apologetic for his aggressive tone, and the bloke had his faith in nature restored. I didn’t even notice the missing £5. I mean, 5 quid’s basically nowt. And when you can actually buy someone’s music rather than just ‘donating’ it, it’s win-win. Go on, I dare you.

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