As the “boys of summer” return to Major League Baseball diamonds this month, singer-songwriter Willy Welch comes to mind.
Welch’s song “Right Field” isn’t about the stunning on-field acrobatics of Jackie Bradley Jr., who once again patrols the position for the Boston Red Sox. It is the story of an “awkward and slow” kid who does not question his fate. Always picked last for a team, he takes his place in right field, “watching the dandelions grow.”
It is a safe but boring position because, as the catchy and insightful lyric is phrased, “little leagues never have lefties that pull.” Caught daydreaming, the kid makes a game-saving catch and, for that moment, he is a star.
As a kid, Welch played right field, so he knows of what he sings.
Thirty-five years ago, Welch’s fortunes were altered when the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary recorded his song for their 1987 album “No Easy Walk to Freedom.”
“My life actually changed radically,” Welch said from his home in South Egremont. Songwriting royalties allowed Welch “to quit my day job and to have a downpayment on a house.” At the time, his day job involved “typing briefs and trying to write computer programs” for a law firm.
But he still worked, mostly in jobs that he found interesting and in which he could use his acting and singing talents. For a time, he delivered singing telegrams while dressed as a “good ol’ boy,” rooster, beaver, leprechaun, etc.,” and worked as a Starbucks barista for two years “when we needed medical insurance.”
“The biggest factor,” Welch said, “was when Peter, Paul & Mary performed (the song) at the Little League World Series. Little League was being sponsored by Pizza Hut that year. The ad agency heard the song and made it into a Clio-winning commercial.” The song was also released as a single, “so (it) got lots of attention.”
“Right Field” was also included on three other albums recorded by the folk trio between 1993 and 2011. Noel Paul Stookey – the Paul of Peter, Paul & Mary – has called Welch “a great songwriter with an engaging voice and masterful guitar playing but it’s Wily Welch’s authenticity of spirit that sells me; his music from him arrives in your heart with warmth, charm and gracious wit. ”
Welch “wrote the song one afternoon in 1982 or ’83.” He said he had no idea anyone would like it until he performed it at a New York City cafe in 1983. “I played it and the crowd went nuts,” he said; “You never know, really, it turns out.” I have recorded the song in 1987; in performances today he refers to “Right Field” as a “medley of my hit.”
Welch grew up a Red Sox fan while his family was living in Natick. “The only tattoo I have is a Red Sox logo on my arm,” he said. When attending Boston University he lived near Fenway Park and recalls spending “many, many days and nights in the bleachers and had a sort of spiritual awakening about the beauty of baseball.”
Welch’s career as a singer began when he and boyhood friend William Finn performed “Sunrise, Sunset” for a women’s group at Temple Israel in Natick. It was an auspicious start: Finn went on to write the Tony Award-winning musical “Falsettos” and several other theater productions. Finn lives in Williamstown and is co-founder and artistic producer of the Musical Theater Lab of Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield.
Welch took his guitar and performed at Boston folk-music venues, then moved on to clubs in New York City. It was there he met and began to harmonize with the woman he calls “the golden-voiced Texan Wendy Jackson,” who is now his wife. “Wendy & Willy” recorded three albums of their songs and performed regularly at New York “clubs, camps, churches, old-folks homes, house concerts, neighborhood-association parties … you name it,” Welch said.
Welch also “penned three-dozen tunes” as a staff songwriter for the PBS children’s series “Barney & Friends.” Other Welch songs have been recorded by RSVP, David Roth, The Limeliters and Jason Alexander (George Costanza of “Seinfeld”).
“Somewhere in there,” Welch said, he and Wendy moved to the Dallas area where they spent three decades making music and “several amazing children.” He also concentrated on writing and performing children’s music and acted in musicals produced in Dallas, Fort Worth, New York and Oklahoma cities. He also acted in and was commissioned by the Dallas Shakespeare Festival to compose for the musical “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” His most-recent acting job in Texas was playing the part of the king at the Medieval Times dinner theater in Dallas.
Welch also won roles in several off-Broadway productions. He portrayed the father of singer Patti Page, performed with Tony-Award winner Lilias White in “Texas in Paris, ” and did a two-person musical about the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. He said that production was featured in Dallas-Fort Worth schools “for about 20 years,” usually during Black History Month.
And he’s also a writer. Welch turned his baseball song into a children’s book, “Playing Right Field,” which was published by Scholastic. He also wrote “Grumpy Bunnies,” published the same year; “Dancing with Daddy” was published in 2009. When “Playing Right Field” became a book in 1995, Welch was sent on a national tour by the publisher, “playing at bookstores, reading conferences and schools … oh, and Major League Baseball parks.”
Willy and Wendy visited Massachusetts several times to reconnect with friends who relocated to the Berkshires. “I was sick of the heat in Texas and the kids were grown and gone, so” in the summer of 2019 they bought a farmhouse in South Egremont.
Why the Berkshires? “The short answer, basically, is old and deep friendships,” Welch said, adding that “Wendy fell in love with the area.” For him: “After 30 years in Texas, living in Western Massachusetts is a wild treat.”
These days, Wendy & Willy occasionally perform together but Wendy, Welch said, “has been mostly working as an actress and voice teacher.”
Welch now works as “Mister Willy,” a solo act, and is seeking venues at which to share his music and stories. “I’m always excited to travel wherever the music calls,” Welch said; “I’m available for gigs.”
Norm Roy, a retired copy editor for The Republican, lives in Florida and travels in an RV. He is eager to hear from readers about their own travel adventures. His e-mail address of him is: firstname.lastname@example.org