Webster’s Dictionary defines a renaissance man as a person with many talents or areas of knowledge, and if anyone in Webster County fits that definition, its Luther Willson, who will begin work later this year on a film that will likely become one of the Hallmark Network’s beloved Christmas movies in 2022.
Willson’s story began in the mid-1970s when he graduated college and began touring as a songwriter and drummer for the rock band Tracks. While touring regionally, the band tried unsuccessfully to promote their single ‘Lady of Darkness’ to major record labels. Despite developing a following, getting radio play across the region and getting some favorable looks from labels, the song and band never took off.
“We had some success,” Willson said. “We were on the road for over a year. Then I decided to come home, get a job and grow up.”
In 1978, Willson met Ricky Sisk, a man who would become not only a lifelong friend but his manager and promoter. He began helping schedule performances locally, and in 1980 helped Willson secure a songwriters contract with Nashville publisher Tessalou Music. Among the songs written during this time period were ‘Another Country Love Song’ and ‘Again Tonight.’
During this period Willson also began touring with a cover band named The Breed.
But by 1983, he was once again looking to get off the road.
“I had the opportunity to get into oil and gas and started a company with my father,” Willson said. “At that point, I just kind of got out of the music business.”
Giving up on his music dreams, Willson started what some might call a normal life. He worked. He raised a family. He even served on the Webster County School Board from 1992 through 2004, the last two years of which he was chairman of the board.
In 2014, 31 years after he walked away from a career in the music industry, the business came calling again. That year Willson played a reunion concert with The Breed, which led to him reconnecting with Sisk. He then performed in a reunion with Tracks, which caught the attention of a record producer.
“Danny Ramsey, who owned a recording studio in Nashville, asked me about the song ‘Still Waters’,” Wilson said. “He convinced me to go into the studio and record it. He told me then that things had changed since I started. If you had a song, you had to have a music video.”
While exploring his options for filming a music video, almost by accident Willson was handed a minor role in a film called ‘The Silent Natural,’ a feature about William Hoy, Major League Baseball’s first deaf player.
The film featured Marshall R. Teague of ‘Roadhouse’ and “Armageddon.” The two quickly became friends on the set.
From there Willson said networking began to take effect. He’d get word of a new project from someone he’d worked with on the previous project.
Following ‘The Silent Natural’, he played roles in two short films, ‘Detective O’Malley: A Family Affair’ and ‘Grievance,’ the latter of which has been nominated for awards at Christian film festivals.
David Risotto, the director of ‘The Silent Natural’ then called him for what might be the funniest role of his career. He was coming to Webster County to make a short film about the Harp Brothers, two serial killers who hunted the western Kentucky area in the late 1700s. Knowing that Willson lived in the county, he asked him to come on board as a consultant.
“The opening scene of the movie starts with a hitchhiker getting picked up in front of the Harp’s Head historical marker in Dixon,” Willson said. “For the scene they decided to use my truck with me driving, because traffic was pretty heavy that day. Because of that, I got credited with a stunt driver role.”
‘Harp Brothers’ was released in 2020 and is now available on DVD.
This year Willson landed two movie roles. The first, ‘The Final Sunset’ is currently filming at Copper Canyon Ranch on the edge of Christian and Todd County.
“Its a western done the old way,” he said. “Its the type of movie where the hero gets the girl in the end and everybody is happy.”
While most people have not heard of Copper Canyon, Willson said it may be one of the best kept secrets in the region.
“They come up from Nashville and film a lot of music videos there,” he said. “Florida Georgia Line filmed their video for ‘Dirt’ there. Christian Slater has done scenes there. And that’s where we filmed the ‘Silent Natural.’ ”
However, its his next film that Willson believes could be the most successful. ‘Rose Garden’ will begin filming in the Indianapolis-area this December. The Christmas-themed film is already being considered for a time slot in the Hallmark Network’s annual Christmas Movie marathon, which runs from Thanksgiving until New Years.
Although he couldn’t say much about the movie or his role, he promised that it would be a tear jerker.
“I’ve been very fortunate that some good strong people in the film industry have approached me about being a part of these projects,” Willson said. “The characters I play, they are a special niche type character, not leading roles. But to be honest, at my age, I’m not looking for a Brad Pitt type role.”
Much of Willson’s music, including his single ‘Lady of Darkness’ with Tracks can be found on Youtube. ‘The Silent Natural’ is available on Amazon.
Contact Matt Hughes at email@example.com or 270-667-2069