A life in the music business has given RayMan Ramsay plenty to write about.
The now-retired South Surrey resident has written two books about his time as a ‘promo monkey’, helping to sell records from the late 1960s.
The series features a wide variety of real-life stories and hands-on work experiences documenting Ramsay’s decades with Quality Records/TPC Distribution and later with record labels RCA/BMG in the BC market.
It also includes anecdotal stories and his thoughts on some of the world’s most famous musicians, including Elton John, KISS, David Bowie, Dolly Parton and others, along with music business insiders from the Vancouver area.
Full of puns that 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. .
Fries Press’ self-published books kept Ramsay busy during the COVID pandemic and in the years before.
“The reason there are 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 a record company promo/manager), but writing the book was something I 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 it and sent it to all my friends. Well they all came back wanting more – give us more! So OK, it’s been like this for years, and that’s when I got the idea to turn these thoughts of mine into a book, or books now. They enjoyed it and I wanted to enjoy something before my orbit goes up.”
A few years ago, Ramsay and his longtime wife Lynne von Ladner moved to a location in South Surrey.
As a young man, Ramsay entered the commercial fishing business, following in his family’s footsteps but eventually realizing his passion for music as a man of 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 “hunchback” in the warehouse for Quality/TPC, and the April Fool’s joke caught on with the author.
Later, another important day was August 16, 1977, when Elvis Presley died.
“Another good start,” Ramsay said dryly of his first day at RCA, Presley’s record label.
“I was driving home from the contract signing to go to work and the radio came up with the news that Elvis had died,” Ramsay recalled. “Record sales, of course, went through the roof.”
“I met Colonel Parker at an Elvis convention center in Vegas,” Ramsay continued, now talking about The King’s infamous manager. “He was sitting there counting things and Ricky Nelson, his latest victim, was sitting next to him. Years later we found out about Parker’s dealings with Elvis and I thought, you son of a bitch, why didn’t you take care of him?’ Taking 50 percent of what he earned was outrageous. I haven’t seen the movie (Baz Luhrmann’s biopic, released last summer) and it kind of annoys me to see Elvis being used in this way. I understand this business is all about money, but take care of the people.”
Similar stories are told on Ramsay’s Facebook page called “Monkey House: the Written Werd” and on the website he calls “A Lad in Ladner” (aladinladner.simplesite.com).
One story revolves around the night he had fun with American country artist Charley Pride at the old Newton Inn in Surrey in the late 1970s.
“He had a night off and wanted to go to a country club, and I knew at the time that it was the right one,” Ramsay recalled. “The club sent him a limousine, that was cool, he comes in and everyone’s jaw drops.”
Pride did not perform at the Newton Inn that night, but Ramsay said Kenny Rogers performed there another night.
“That’s when ‘The Gambler’ came out and it was really big,” Ramsay said. “A routing date was called and he had an open night to keep the calendar filled. Kitty Wells played there too.”
Ramsay’s sense of humor was shaped by the British comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
“I worked with Monty Python in the ’70s when they came through Vancouver,” he said with a smile. “The tickets didn’t sell (for the show) which blew me away because who wouldn’t see those loons? So I suggested they get a pickup truck, build a cage and put all the Monty Python signage on it for the concert, and pay a guy to drive around during rush hour. The guy who put on the concert, Hugh Pickett, said at the time it set a box office record for sales at the time because that was outside the box and different people react to different things.
For the record companies, Ramsay’s job was to promote and sell albums.
“I remember we had the Eurythmics and Annie (Lennox) had the mask on for that album (‘Touch’) and we were with A&B Sound. For the ad, I said, ‘We’re going to put this album upside down.’ The buyer, we screamed and screamed, he says, ‘This is stupid.’ But it was our ad and he didn’t understand how people on the bus read the province and there’s this upside down ad and how people would then get into a conversation about it.”
Of course it’s different in the record business now. Digital marketing has taken over the streaming world and there are very few CDs, vinyl albums and cassette tapes for sale.
“Back then we had to get creative sometimes,” says Ramsay. “I really enjoyed my job because I was absolutely blown away by the feeling that I could create an idea and move things forward. Some people didn’t care and believe me I don’t think I’ve ever done anything special that someone else couldn’t have done, I just did it because I saw an opportunity and I jumped at it. “
Ramsay says part of the proceeds from the sale of his two books will be donated to Wigs for Kids and BC Children’s Hospital.