I mailed this 1971 Rebel LP out to Ralph Stanley's mountain home in Southwestern Virginia in March of 2010 and received it back yesterday. I don't really think I could ask for a better looking Ralph Stanley autograph. The LP cover has a nice design, the signature is clean and bold, and it has perfect placement. In general, I wish Ralph didn't sign his name with a "Dr." in front of it, but he has done this ever since he received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee back in 1976. I assume that every Ralph Stanley autograph signed with a sharpie says "Dr." on it.
My friend John and I went on a road trip to McClure, Virginia in the summer of 2008. After touring the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, we drove six or seven miles up a windy mountain road to pay our respects to Carter Stanley at the Stanley family plot on Smith Ridge. As you can see from the photographs, Ralph's own resting spot is already designated. Before we left the area, we stopped at the gate of Ralph's modest ranch house and rang the buzzer, but no one answered.
By 1982, the Outlaw Movement was long over and commercial radio-friendly pop music (e.g, the 1981 smash "9 to 5") had practically taken over the country music scene. In light of this trend, it made sense for legendary Memphis producer Chips Moman to record Willie singing a few well-chosen rock, soul, and pop selections from the 60s and 70s, though I doubt anyone could have predicted the immense popularity of Elvis's "Always On My Mind" as sung by Willie Nelson. As far as I know, it's his biggest hit as a performer.
Despite its obvious commercial appeal, Always On My Mind is not without aesthetic merits. Willie's voice was recorded perfectly and while the music isn't especially groundbreaking (The Flying Burrito Brothers recorded a country version of "Do Right Woman" back in 1968), the album cover has a post-modern quality to it that makes it stand out, despite its ubiquity. Whether intentional or not, the synthetic nature of Willie's chrome-colored outfit, his painted hair, and the collage of mountains in the background makes Willie look like some sort of futuristic hippie-cowboy in an alien landscape. At the same time, the look is his eyes is warm and inviting.
I mailed the Always On My Mind cover to Willie's ranch in Austin, Texas in January of this year and received it back yesterday, practically a year later. When I opened the package and examined the cover, I was surprised by the location of Willie's autograph, which is in the top right corner directly below the album title (pictured above). I've seen several signed copies of this record on eBay, but I haven't seen any signed in this particular spot. While one can never be 100% sure whether through-the-mail autographs are authentic, I do believe mine is real, despite the unusual signature placement. Otherwise, why would it have taken so long for the package to be returned to me? A secretary could have signed and returned this record 11 months ago. I also know that Willie has a reputation for being a very willing signer.
Below the album scan is a picture of a Willie Nelson autograph that I know is real. To my eyes, both autographs look like they were written with the same hand, though the first loop after the "W" on the album cover is higher than it is in the second photograph and in most other examples I have seen.