A lifetime in the music business has given RayMan Ramsay plenty to write about.
The now-retired South Surrey resident has authored two books about his days as a “Promo Monkey” who helped sell records, starting in the late-1960s.
The series offers a wide selection of real-life stories and hands-on working experiences documenting Ramsay’s decades with Quality Records/TPC Distribution and, later, the RCA/BMG record labels, in the B.C. market.
He also includes anecdotal stories and his thoughts of some of the world’s most famous musicians, including Elton John, KISS, David Bowie, Dolly Parton and others, along with Vancouver-area music-biz insiders.
Full of puns Ramsay is known for in conversation, the two “Promo Monkey” books are subtitled “Monkey See, Monkey Two: Personas & Prima Donnas” and “My Life as a Bellhop in the Waldorf Hysteria: Friends & Enemas.”
“The reason there’s two books is because they’re written in different styles, and I just couldn’t mix them,” Ramsay said over a cup of coffee.
“I kind of miss the job (as record company promo rep/manager), but writing the book is something I’d wanted to do,” he continued. “In 2013 I realized it was my 45th anniversary in the music business so I wrote a little thing about that and sent it to all my friends. Well, they all came back wanting more — give us more! So OK, that went on for years, and that’s where I got the idea to turn these thoughts of mine into a book, or books now. They were enjoying it and I wanted to enjoy something too, before my orbit goes to obit.”
A couple of years go Ramsay and his longtime wife, Lynne, moved from Ladner to a place in South Surrey.
As a young man Ramsay got into the commercial fishing business, following in family footsteps, but eventually put his passion for music to work, as a guy with a creative mind and a way with words and ideas.
On April 1, 1968, Ramsay got his start in the music business when he was hired as a 19-year-old to work as a warehouse “hump” for Quality/TPC, and the April Fool’s joke is not lost on the author.
Later, another landmark day was Aug. 16, 1977, when Elvis Presley died.
“Another good start,” Ramsay deadpanned about his first day with RCA, which was Presley’s record label.
“I was driving home from signing the deal to work there, and on the radio comes the news that Elvis died,” Ramsay recalled. “Record sales went through the roof, of course.”
“I did meet Colonel Parker at an Elvis convention centre in Vegas,” continued Ramsay, now talking about The King’s notorious manager. “He was sitting there counting stuff, and Ricky Nelson, his latest victim, was sitting next to him. Years later we found out about Parker’s treatment of Elvis and I thought, you son-of-a-bitch, why didn’t you look after him?’ Taking 50 per cent of what he made was outrageous. I haven’t seen the movie (Baz Luhrmann’s biopic, released last summer), and it kind of angers me to see Elvis being used that way. I understand this business is all about money, but look after people.”
One story involves the night he had some fun with American country artist Charley Pride at Surrey’s old Newton Inn in the late-1970s.
“He had a night off and wanted to go to a country club, and I knew that was the one at the time,” Ramsay recalled. “The club sent a limo for him, which was cool, he walks in and everyone’s jaw drops.”
Pride didn’t perform at the Newton Inn that night, but Ramsay said Kenny Rogers did on another night there.
“It was just when ‘The Gambler’ was coming out and blowing up really big,” Ramsay said. “It was called a routing date, and he had an open night, to keep the calendar filled. Kitty Wells played there, too.”
Ramsay’s sense of humour was shaped by “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the British comedy show.
“I worked with Monty Python in the ’70s when they were coming through Vancouver,” he said with a smile. “The tickets weren’t selling (for the show), which blew my mind, because who wouldn’t go see these loons? So I suggested they get a flatbed truck, build a cage and put all the Monty Python signage on it, for the concert, and pay a guy to drive around in rush-hour. The guy putting on the concert, Hugh Pickett, said at that time, it then set a box-office record for sales, because that was outside the box, and different people react to different things.”
For the record labels, Ramsay’s job involved getting albums noticed and sold.
“I remember we had the Eurythmics and Annie (Lennox) had the mask on for that album (“Touch”), and we were at A&B Sound. For the ad I said, ‘We’re going to put this album in upside-down.’ The buyer, we got into it screaming and yelling, he says, ‘That’s stupid.’ But it was our ad, and he didn’t get the concept of people reading the Province on the bus and there’s this upside-down ad, and how people would then get into a conversation going about that.”
Things are different in the record business now, of course. Digital marketing has taken over in the streaming world, and there are very few CDs, vinyl albums and cassettes to sell.
“Back then we had to get creative sometimes,” Ramsay said. “I really enjoyed the work I did because I was absolutely thrilled by the feeling that I could create an idea and move the thing forward. Some people didn’t bother, and believe me, I don’t think I ever did anything special that someone else couldn’t have done, I just did it because I saw an opportunity and moved with it.”
Ramsay says partial proceeds from sales of his two books will be donated to Wigs for Kids and BC Children’s Hospital.