On June 11, 1949, Hank Williams’s rendition of “Lovesick Blues,” on his debut night at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, prompted six encores from a crowd of 3,000 people. It stopped the show “colder than it had ever been stopped in its 31 years,” one witness said, according to the Library of Congress.
Though Williams didn’t write the song, his version of “Lovesick Blues” helped catapult the 26-year-old singer to country music fame. It remained No. 1 on the charts for 16 weeks, selling 11 million copies. Less than four years later, Williams died of alcohol-induced heart failure, at the age of 29.
Now, nearly 70 years after Williams’s Grand Ole Opry show, “Lovesick Blues” is back at the top of the music charts, climbing to No. 4 on Spotify’s Viral 50 Global. A live radio broadcast of Williams’s “Lovesick Blues” from his 1950 compilation album, “The Garden Spot Programs,” has seen a 2,452 percent spike in Spotify streams between March 26 and April 9, according to Forbes.
And it’s all because of an 11-year-old boy yodeling in the air mattress aisle at an Illinois Walmart.
Millions of people are now familiar with Mason Ramsey, the toe-tapping “Yodeling Walmart Boy” with the red bow tie, black cowboy boots and massive belt buckle. A video of Mason singing “Lovesick Blues” at his local Walmart went viral early last week, and in the days since, he’s enjoyed some celebrity in his own right. He’s racked up 183,000 followers on Twitter and 847,000 followers on Instagram. He landed a spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Tuesday, where he learned he won a $15,000 scholarship from Walmart, as well a chance to perform this coming Saturday at the Grand Ole Opry — just like Williams.
Mason is from Golconda, Ill., a town of about 700 people just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. He lives with his grandparents, and has been singing since he was 3 years old. He has grown up listening to his grandfather’s Hank Williams records in his basement — his grandfather has said Mason started to sing as soon as he could talk.
By the time he was 4 years old he was already performing for crowds, singing for Josh Turner at the Carson Center in Paducah, Ky., and opening for Gene Watson by the time he was 5, according to a local radio station. He started playing guitar at age 6, younger than when Williams got his first guitar.
He has won a talent search at the Kentucky Opry, where he was performed repeatedly in recent years. But what made him a local celebrity were his renditions of songs by his favorite artist — Williams — at area Walmarts, where he would belt out songs like “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and “Hey Good Lookin’.” Last year, local radio station Beaver 100.3 FM picked up a popular video of him performing at a Paducah Walmart, in a shopping cart in front of the Straight Talk Wireless aisle, wearing a white cowboy hat and white shirt with fringe and sequins.
The radio station ended up inviting Mason and his grandparents to record an interview and performance, Beaver 100.3 FM recounted this week. “Mason didn’t come because he wanted to be famous, he’s just a good kid that wanted to visit a radio station for the first time, sing some country, and eat Reese’s cups,” the radio station wrote.
“Hey Internet! That’s right, we saw him first, before he was a meme!” the station wrote.
He belted out “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” playing a guitar that looked to be about as large as he was at the time. His grandfather told the local radio station that Mason inherited the guitar, an Alvarez, from an “older fellow” who used to sing with Mason at jam sessions and willed the instrument to the boy after his death.
The 11-year-old played that same guitar with him when he sang “Lovesick Blues” on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” show Tuesday, tipping his hat at the end of the performance.
Mason said the trip to Los Angeles for the show was his first time on an airplane. Asked about the trip by DeGeneres, Mason said: “It was very good, but … the driver letting me go in the back of the limo, that was awesome.”
“Then I tried some sparkling water and eh, wasn’t so good,” Mason said. “It just kind of tastes kind of funny.” He excitedly told the audience that the limo’s driver was named Ernie, just like his grandfather.
When DeGeneres asked him what he thought about Los Angeles, he said he liked it but, “I’m a country boy.”
“All we do is build straws of hay and next thing you know you’re sitting under a tree with your hat down and a weed in your mouth,” he said.
He talked about learning to sing at his grandfather’s place. Asked if his grandfather was a good yodeler he said “no,” laughing as he covered his face. In the audience, his grandfather wagged his finger.
Asked why he always sings at Walmart, Mason said: “Because that’s the only store we’ve got.”
“My dream is to sing at the Grand Ole Opry,” he said.
After his performance, DeGeneres told him he would be performing at the Opry this coming Saturday. “Oh, my God,” he said.
She also presented him with a $15,000 check from Walmart, and said the corporation would be organizing a “huge concert” at his local Walmart in Harrisburg, Ill., on Wednesday. It’ll be live-streamed so that Mason’s hundreds of thousands of fans can tune in.
In recent weeks, Mason is not the only performer to catapult a decades-old song to the top of the charts. Last week, a meme of a dance squad at Alcorn State University in Mississippi went viral, propelling Fleetwood Mac’s song “Dreams” — more than 40 years old — into the top 20 on Billboard’s rock music chart. Streams of the 1977 song were up 24 percent to 1.9 million during the last week of March.
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