Sunday afternoon at 5 o’clock was the meeting point for us youngsters at that time. Light hit films were shown, often with well-known actors and pimped out with pop singers. There was no television yet, so apart from the radio and the jukebox, film was an additional medium to get to know the stars of the time “in person”. Bill Ramsey as the male klutz and Trude Herr as the female counterpart could be seen together in some films. It was funny and we liked the hits. Whereas we as “budding dance musicians” noticed even then: Bill Ramsey’s singing style was different, was jazzy.
Bill Ramsey, the son of a schoolteacher and an advertising executive, sang in a college dance band in his youth. When he began studying sociology and economics at Yale University in New Haven from 1949 to 1951, he sang jazz, swing and blues on the side. His idols included Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and above all Louis Jordan. As a young US recruit, Ramsey was sent to Germany in 1952. There, the soldier station AFN discovered the young man with his resonant baritone voice in jazz venues. Eventually he became chief producer at AFN, and a few years later he conquered the German music industry.
In 1954, he met Heinz Gietz, a leading German music composer and producer, in Frankfurt’s Jazzkeller. Gietz first placed Ramsey in the film industry, where he appeared in more than 20 films. Then in 1957, Gietz asked Ramsey if he wanted to make a record. When asked, “Do you want to sing rock ‘n’ roll or something funny?”, Ramsey chose funny. At the time, no one seemed to understand that Ramsey’s hits, perceived by many as silly, were deliberately cabaret in nature. “The songs were a reflection of the economic miracle era,” he once said in an interview. The “Pigalle”, he said, referred to the German bowling clubs that travelled to Paris. His first number one song, “Souvenirs”, satirised the first German holidaymakers who could travel to Italy and return with bags full of souvenirs. An earworm was just about every one of his hits: “Wumba-Tumba Chocolate Ice Cream Seller”, the “Sugar Doll (from the Belly Dance Troupe)” and countless others.
In the mid-60s, due to his declining success as a pop singer, he came to a crossroads: from then on, he recorded songs exclusively in his mother tongue, English, and produced almost only jazz and blues. But at the same time, he never finally closed down with the more lucrative light entertainment.
His fans celebrated Ramsey for his distinctive bluesy voice, which had lost little of its soul and energy over the decades. He closed his eyes with pleasure, bobbed his knee to the beat, felt the groove and conjured up the spirit of the music from smoky jazz basements in New Orleans or Chicago.
Bill Ramsey died in Hamburg on 2 July 2021 at the age of 90. (Source: ORF)