Born Ronald Self, 5 July 1938, Tin Town, Missouri
Ronnie Self was his own worst enemy. His self-destructive behavior is probably the main reason why he is no more than a footnote in rock 'n' roll history. Hugely talented, both as a singer and a songwriter, he could have been a big star if he hadn't possessed such an unstable personality.
The oldest of five children, Ronnie was born on a farm in rural Missouri. After the war, the family moved to Springfield where his father took a job with the railroad. The signs of instability showed themselves early. On one occasion Ronnie chopped down a tree to block the school bus from getting to his house. Another story has him attacking a teacher with a baseball bat in grade school.
Radio KWTO in Springfield was the home of the Ozark Jubilee, ABC's alternative to the Grand Ole Opry. As a teenager, Ronnie was often seen hanging around the station, pestering the staff with his demos. Already then, he was a prolific songwriter (there are 259 titles by him in the BMI database). Singer Bobby Lord, a regular on the Ozark Jubilee, heard Self, liked what he heard and arranged a demo session that he took to Dub Albritten, who managed Red Foley, and, from 1957 onwards, also Brenda Lee. Albritten set up a session for ABC-Paramount on April 24, 1956. Ronnie recorded four songs, of which "Pretty Bad Blues" (a fine rockabilly track) and "Three Hearts Later" were released in June (ABC 9714). The single vanished without trace. The second release should have been "Sweet Love"/"Alone", and although an issue number (ABC 9768) was assigned, nobody has ever seen a copy of this record, nor have the tapes been found.
Early in 1957, Ronnie joined the Phillip Morris Caravan as the token rockabilly in a country cast. Those who have seen Self perform say that he had the wildest stage act, which gained him the nickname of "Mister Frantic". In February 1957, Dub Albritten secured him a contract with Columbia Records, where he was produced by Don Law at Bradley Studio in Nashville. The first sesssion resulted in the single "Big Fool"/ "Flame Of Love" (Columbia 40875), pleasant but unexciting rockabilly. The follow-up, "Ain't I'm A Dog" hinted at things to come. His third Columbia single, "Bop-A-Lena", is one of the most frenetic rock n roll records ever committed to wax. Colin Escott has called it "the first punk record". Written by the unlikely team of Webb Pierce and Mel Tillis, "Bop-A-Lena" gave Ronnie his only chart entry, peaking at # 63 on the Billboard charts in March 1958. The equally wild "You're So Right For Me", recorded at the same session as "Bop-A-Lena", should have been the follow-up, but Columbia decided to release "Date Bait"/"Big Blon' Baby" first. "Date Bait" was marred by inane lyrics and a contrived vocal. "Big Blon' Baby" was covered by Jerry Lee Lewis in November 1958, with as little success as Self enjoyed. "You're So Right For Me"/ "Petrified", issued in September 1958, was Ronnie's final single on Columbia ; his two-year contract was not renewed. From 1959 until 1962, Self was contracted to Decca, but sessions were few and these resulted in only four singles. His biggest successses during this period were not as a singer, but as the composer of two monster hits by Brenda Lee : first "Sweet Nothin's" (# 4, early 1960) and then "I'm Sorry" (# 1, mid-1960). Writer's credit for the latter went to Ronnie Self and Dub Albritten. Brenda Lee explains in her autobiography : "Ronnie was burning bridges left and right. But Dub kept loaning him money and arranging for song-publishing deals and recording sessions, eventually including some with Owen Bradley at Decca.
Dub wasn't a songwriter, but his name is listed as the cowriter on a lot of Ronnie's songs. I don't think he was trying to be dishonest. That was the only way Dub could hope to recoup all the money he'd invested in that crazy guy." ("Little Miss Dynamite", 2002, page 63-64). Other hits that Ronnie wrote for Brenda are "Anybody But Me" (# 31, 1961) and "Everybody Loves Me But You" (# 6, 1962). Among the other artists who recorded Self's compositions are Carl Perkins ("Mama Of My Song") and Jerry Lee Lewis ("Love On Broadway", done at his last Sun session, but unreleased until 1971).
There were isolated singles on Kapp (1963), Scratch (1967) and Amy (1968) before Ronnie completely disappeared from view as a recording artist. By the mid-1960s, Mr. Frantic was almost completely out of control. He had added amphetamines and marijuana to his alcohol consumption. After Dub Albritten died in 1971, Ronnie reportedly became completely unhinged. The story goes that when he discovered that his Gold Record of "I'm Sorry" wouldn't play on his stereo, he burned all of his songwriter awards in front of his publisher's office on Music Row. Ronnie Self died dissipated in 1981 at the age of only forty-three. His son Roman Self (born 1963) has followed in his father's footsteps as a rockabilly singer.
More info : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/RonnieSelf1.html
Discography : http://www.rocky-52.net/chanteurss/self_r.htm
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott.
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