Lewis Ross

Born: Mobile, AL

Rock Drums Wet Willie

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

 

Lewis Ross: Wet Willie founder, Now a Po' Monkey

By Jerry Henry

I interviewed Lewis Ross at Bailey Brothers Music Company's store on Highway 280 in Birmingham. Lewis is manager of all things percussion for Bailey Brothers three stores. He is well qualified because as a drummer, he is considered legendary. He was the original drummer for Wet Willie, which scored hits with songs like "Keep On Smilin'," "Leona," "Keep A Knockin'" and "Country Side Of Life." Wet Willie was a versatile, high energy Southern rock band that was signed to Capricorn Records in the 70's.

Lewis learned to play drums in a parochial school marching band in the 4th grade. He loved the rhythm and syncopation, especially when he was exposed to black school bands. His influences were Al Jackson (Otis Redding), Dino Danelli(the Young Rascals), Mitch Michell (Jimi Hendrix) and Ginger Baker (Cream).

The Wet Willie saga started in Mobile, home to Lewis and all the other band members. The original members were Jimmy Hall (vocals, harmonica & saxophone), Jack Hall (bass), John Anthony (keyboards), Ricky Hirsh (guitar) and Lewis Ross (drums & percussion). Jimmy and Jack's sister Donna Hall (now wife of Rollin' In The Hay bassist Stan Foster) was part of the background vocals that became known as "The Williettes."

Jimmy Hall, Jack Hall, Wick Larsen, Marshall Smith and Lewis all played in a band that broke up because Marshall Smith got drafted. Lewis started forming another band, in late 1968, when he contacted John Anthony, who was in The Sons of Creation. He remembers that day; they were playing the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo in Dauphin Island. He then called Ricky, then Jack, they started rehearsing. Jimmy was singing in a group called Mrs. O'leary's Cow. They wanted Jimmy to join them but Jimmy's band had won a national battle of the bands contest and was going to cut a record. So they got George Mills that sang and played guitar for The Sons of Creation. George could not make up his mind which band he wanted to be in. Lewis approached Jimmy over and over trying to convince him to join them. He finally convinced Jimmy to come to a band rehearsal. Jimmy joined them and they started gigging on the road. The band was called Fox. They had to return to Mobile in order for John to finish high school. They played around Mobile until they got a phone call that would change their lives.

They got their start with Capricorn Records when Frank Freidman, a staff songwriter, needed a band to fulfill some contractual dates they had booked for a band called Willie. Frank called Ricky Hirsch (whom he had met in Tuscaloosa while both attended U of A) to ask him to be part of a band they were putting together to honor their commitments. Ricky said he would not come alone because he liked playing with Fox. Then asked if the band could come to Macon, Ga. to do the dates for them and get an audition. They had one original song and were working on the second. When they arrived at Capricorn they found it filled with Tuscaloosa/Muscle Shoals musicians; Lou Mullenix, Tippy Armstrong, Johnny Wyker, Cort Pickett, Eddie Hinton, Duane Allman and others. Capricorn had a huge stable of quality musicians. They did the dates after working up several of Frank's songs. They got their audition, in a warehouse where they had been rehearsing, by Frank Fenter, vice president of Capricorn. He liked what he heard, signed them, added Wet to the band name Willie and Paragon Agency began booking them. Lewis said, "It's remarkable that we did what we did. One of the driving forces behind all of that was the fact that people said we couldn't do it."

I asked Lewis about the unique and remarkable art work on their first album, Wet Willie (1971). He said they went to Athens, Ga. to play. While there they befriended a commune of artist that really liked the band. The artist set up an easel, with drawing paper, in the entrance way to a house they were renting. Every day someone would draw something different on it. The ear and the finger seemed befitting for a band named Wet Willie. The other odd graphics were the contributions of several artists. This was in the R. Crumb cartoon era and his influence is apparent. The sleeve photos were shot in Macon.

Lewis also co-wrote several of Wet Willie's songs. The most notable was their hit "Keep On Smilin'." Another is "Red Hot Chicken" which is an instrumental tribute to Macon's Le Carrousel Restaurant with his Dixie/Latin percussion pushing it. "Macon Hambone Blues" is also his; it is a stand out on their live album.

Back in those days Lewis played a set of Gretsch drums and played them until about 3 years ago. He still has them but they are too loud for his sound now. He played a vintage Slingerland set for a while but about a year ago got a Drum Workshop set. He said, "I absolutely love them."

Lewis also played with The Beat Daddys, a mixture of blues and Southern rock band. The Beat Daddy's had 2 releases for Malaco/Waldoxy, No, We Ain't From Clarksdale and South To Mississippi.

Lewis met Ross Roberts in Macon, during the Capricorn days, when Ross was in the Black Mountain Band. He ran into Ross again in 1992 when he was playing in a band at the Pink Pony and Ross was with Dick's Hat Band across the street gigging at the Barefoot Bar in Gulf Shores. Then one day Ross came into Bailey Brother's Music store, they began talking about music, one thing led to another and they started playing together. Now they have an 8 piece band, named Po' Monkey, that will represent Alabama in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in February. Po' Monkey is Ross Roberts (lead guitar), Bruce Andrews (singer & harmonica), Clayton Swafford (keyboards), Mike Lingo (trombone), Rick White (trumpet), Jon Remley (saxophone), Eric Onimus (bass) and Lewis Ross (drums). Po' Monkey has an album in its final production stages (engineered by Tuscaloosa's John Kliner) and should be released in late October (watch Music Matters for review).

Source: Planet Weekly - In The Beginning

 

 

Po' Monkey has gone through a name change since I last wrote about them. It seems another group is also using that name. Alabama Blues Machine is now the name for one of Alabama's hottest blues bands. They won the Battle of the Blues Bands and will be representing Alabama at the IBC in Memphis, TN from February 4th through February 7th, 2009. Their new release is Must Be Love (R2 Records) with a CD cover that reminds me of a couple of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's vinyl album covers from days gone by. Alabama Blues Machine is a band of old pros: Ross Roberts (guitar), Bruce Andrews (vocals/harmonica), Lewis Ross (drums), Mike Lingo (trombone), John Remley (saxophone), Rick White (trumpet), Clay Swafford (keyboards) and Eric Onimus (bass). These guys have played in bands such as Wet Willie, Dick's Hat Band, 2blu, SuperJazz Big Band, Alabama Symphony and many, many more. Must Be Love can rival any swing or jump blues album ever released by anybody, anywhere. This is truly a world class blues project that should get these old pros the recognition they so rightly deserve. OZ Music will have Alabama Blues Machine's Must Be Love soon. Jerry W. Henry

Source: Planet Weekly - MUSIC MATTERS

 

A founding member of the Southern rock band Wet Willie and one of the initial bands signed to the legendary Capricorn Records label in Macon, Georgia, Lewis Ross recorded seven albums and several hit singles with the band including "Keep On Smilin'", "Dixie Rock", "Keep A Knockin'", "Leona" and "Country Side Of Life" among others. Touring constantly throughout the '70s with the likes of The Allman Brothers Band, the Guess Who, Jeff Beck, Grand Funk and others, Lewis was a seasoned veteran of the highway before he turned 25. He left the band in 1978 to return to his family home in Mobile, Alabama to help rebuild following a hurricane that ploughed through the city. Resuming his music career, Ross played with several bands including the Beat Daddys until the fall of 2000 when he was summoned once again to oversee the repair of the family home that was 80% destroyed by Hurricane George. In 2001 he married and moved to Birmingham where he went to work at Mars Music selling drums. Lewis hooked up with a Birmingham band called The Buicks and has been playing with them for some five years. He became drum department manager and buyer for Bailey Brothers Music, the largest independent music retailer in Alabama, which is where he rekindled his friendship with Ross Roberts and helped sow the seeds for Alabama Blues Machine.

Source: Alabama Blues Machine - Alabama's best blues and soul music

The Best of Wet Willie, Wet WillieDrippin' Wet, Wet WillieThe Wetter the Better, Wet WillieLeft Coast Live, Wet WillieFive Moons, The Beat Daddys

Listen: Alabama Blues Machine | CD Baby

Listen: Wet Willie - Download Wet Willie Music on iTunes

Listen: Amazon.com: Wet Willie: Songs, Albums, Pictures, Bios

Listen: Five Moons by The Beat Daddys - Download Five Moons on iTunes

Listen: Amazon.com: Beat Daddys: Songs, Albums, Pictures, Bios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subscribe to Newsletter

Rick Carter Radio - All Alabama Music

Accepting submissions and adding them daily. Artists can send their songs in MP3's to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. One song per email. Graphics and song and artist info should be included of course.

This space
for rent!

Contact:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.