Ronnie Sessions was born in Henryetta, Oklahoma, a town east of Oklahoma City, though
we have seen it as "Henrietta", but no maps show that spelling. When he was growing
up, his father had a ranch in Oklahoma. A 1973 article notes that his time on the
ranch gave him pause as to what he might do for a career.
He went to college for a couple of years and was seriously thinking of going to a
school that taught animal husbandry. But he had the show business bug too
and that eventually won out. His father was still raising quarter horses and
thoroughbreds on his ranch, but it was now in California.
Ronnie started performing and recording when he was just nine years old.
Ronnie's uncle played the guitar and started to show Ronnie a few chords
to learn. Both of them were just learning the guitar at the time, so they
basically worked together and learned the guitar together. Ronnie had tried
to take guitar lessons from a teacher, but it seems Ronnie may have been a tough
student as the teacher got frustrated with Ronnie and eventually Ronnie went
back to learning the guitar with his uncle.
Eventually he got familiar with the guitar and entered a talent contest at
school and won. It turns out that one of his classmates was the son of Herb Henson
who told his dad about Ronnie.
Ronnie recalled in that 1973 interview that the family got their first television
set when he was eight years old, around 1956 or so, and the first show he got
to see was Cousin Herb Henson's Trading Post, a popular show in the Bakersfield,
California area back then. Ronnie eventually got to make his singing debut
on that show when he was just a kid and that gave him the show business bug.
Ronnie was a guest on the show, which was described as a Grand Ole Opry-style
show, three times. Herb then asked Ronnie to become a regular. He stayed
with the show for six years.
Ronnie spent the following years - the article mentions a span of 12 years -
honing his talents, working shows with such legends as Buck Owens, Glen
Campbell, Sonny James, Merle Haggard, Tex Ritter and Lynn Anderson. For a time,
he was a regular on the Gene Autry television show.
Singing wasn't Ronnie's only talent. Before he got his recording contract
with the MGM record label, he signed on as a songwriter with Tree Publishing.
That 1973 interview seems to have come about after a recent move to Nashville
back then. A couple of well-known tunesmiths named Hank Cochran and Glenn Martin
had encouraged Ronnie to move to Nashville and try his luck there. During
his first few weeks there, he stayed at Hank Cochran's farm.
Around that time, folks at the Windchime independent production company had
discovered his singing talents and had him do his first record. It was called
"I've Never Been to Spain", written by Hoyt Axton and was produced by Jimmy Bowen, Johnny Slate and Larry
Henley. Initially, they tried to place the recording with a major record label.
Their discussions led to a lot of interest, but no one was willing to give
them a firm response. But MGM picked him up and suddenly the record companies that
had previously uncommittal were suddenly wanting Ronnie's recording.
Ronnie told Donna DeLaney in a 1981 article that he met his wife Patty Tirney Sessions on
a TV show in California when she was only 12 years old. They were also both recording
for the MGM label at the time. By 1981, they had a daughter who was just two and a half
years old. He credits having the family life for settling him down.
Around the mid-1970s, Ronnie's career was pretty well established and could afford
the luxury of having a band travel with him. They initially travelled in a van, but
that was a bit uncomfortable. And eventually they got a Greyhound Scenic Cruiser.
Ronnie raves about being able to sleep on it, use the restroom and the time it saves. As
even in the past eras, Ronnie noted in the 1983 interview that the summer season
was the busiest with the fairs and rodeos. When the winter came, the dates seemed
to take them to Florida a lot.
He talked of his songwriting experiences as well. By 1983, he had his own publishing
company, War Drum Publishing. He said he'd write four or five tunes, then him
and a friend would go into the studio and create some demo tapes of them to pitch
to various artists that they thought might like them. Kenny Rogers cut one of his
tunes that he wrote with Ray Willis for his Lucille album - "When I Play the Fiddle".
Bill Anderson also cut it. Now you might figure a songwriter
would record his own songs, but Ronnie ironically notes - that the songs he wrote seemed
to fit others better - "I just don't write my own type of songs."
Ronnie also got a part in a movie, one starring Willie Nelson, "The Red Headed Stranger".
He had been offered a part in the Loretta Lynn bio-picture, Coal Miner's Daughter, but his
schedule had him in England and he had to turn that part down.
Ronnie started taking up the piano later in his career - mainly to help his songwriting as
he had just bought a piano for the house. He notes in that 1983 interview,
to write with a piano. I don't read music. I used to, when I was a kid, but I cut that loose. I'm gonna have to
learn to play by ear."
Ronnie retired from the music business in 1987. His career saw ten of his tunes reach
the Top Ten on the country music charts.
Credits & Sources
- Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 163; February 1973;
Charlton Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 265; August 1981;
Charlton Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
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