The muscular, pompadoured Ramos has recorded his fourth solo album in Los Angeles, this time with harmonica players Paul de Lay, Johnny Dyer, Rick Estrin, James Harman, Lynwood Slim, Rod Piazza and Charlie Musselwhite. Ramos also performs and records as the exciting guitarist for the legendary Fabulous Thunderbirds. If you could peer inside his soul, you would find an amalgam of American guitar styles: a jukebox full of rhythm & blues, jump, blues, swing, country, jazz, and rock styles.
Earlier this year, Kid received two W. C. Handy nominations (the "grammys" of blues music) for his 2000 Evidence release West Coast House Party (ECD 26110). Those nominations were for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year -- Guitar. Ramos had previously received three W.C. Handy nominations for his 1999 release on Evidence: the self-titled Kid Ramos (ECD 26104). Those nominations were for Best New Blues Artist, Best Blues Instrumentalist -- Guitar, and Blues Song of the Year (Walk Around Telephone Blues written by James Harman).
Having made his previous two Evidence albums with horn sections, keyboards and a cast of zillions, Kid Ramos decided this time "to get it basic and lowdown," he recalls, "I wanted to strip it down to just guitar, bass, drums, a lot of harmonica and some piano." To that end Kid invited some of the blue's greatest harp players along for the ride in making Greasy Kid Stuff.
Although told of the low-down concept, the players showed up armed with new songs of all styles to lay on Kid. Rather than try to force his original concept on them, Kid went with the flow. "It's all great stuff, so I wasn't going to be the one to tell them it didn't fit," he quips. "I get a great harmonica player like Harman in the studio with me, and he doesn't even play harmonica on two of his three cuts. Instead he's singing about a woman who drinks vanilla extract and Pine Sol. Rod Piazza, who can play all that Chicago stuff instead comes in with an instrumental that sounds like something the Benny Goodman Sextet might have done, if Goodman played harmonica and gargled with grits."
"I hear people calling blues music 'retro', and some players certainly treat it that way, like it was some dead language they're mouthing. But that's not what it's all about. Think about when those English guys like Keith Richards heard a Howlin' Wolf record for the first time. It changes you, and you never are the same. To me, there's still a world full of expression waiting to be created in there. It's not retro; it's unfinished business." -Kid Ramos
"There are few guitarists in the country as thoroughly schooled in the tradition of the blues as Ramos, and fewer still who are willing to employ that tradition as an engine for their playing instead of a brake pad... In a typical evening, Ramos will assay an atlas-worth of regional styles on his flamed guitar and make every one of them come up sounding just like him." -The Los Angeles Times
David "Kid" Ramos (Rah'-mos) was born on January 13, 1959, in Fullerton, CA., which coincidentally is the birthplace of the Fender Stratocaster guitar. His mother and step-father were both professional opera singers who met while moonlighting as restaurant entertainers. His parents would bring the five-year-old "Kid" to the "La Strada" restaurant, where they would perform and the young "Kid" would watch. There was also plenty of music in their home: guests at his parents' all-night parties would include fellow opera singers, actors, TV hosts and other show-biz folk, and Kid would entertain the grown-ups with magic tricks or music. "Sometimes I would walk downstairs in the morning and find guests from the night before sleeping under the piano."
Even opera singers can get tired of life on the road. and Kid's stepdad, who worked seasonally with the N.Y. Metropolitan Opera Company, bought a gas station in Anaheim. One day, a customer offered an electric guitar and amplifier for sale, and Kid was playing guitar by the age of 8. By the way, it was on his stepdad that Kid saw his first pompadour.
At age 14, Kid decided he wanted to become a professional guitarist, bought a Kay guitar and started practicing in earnest. "There were a bunch of neighborhood guys who I idolized who had a garage band. I really wanted to join them, but I wasn't good enough to approach them. I rehearsed every day." One year later, Kid revealed to them that he played guitar and proceeded to blow them away. With their new-found guitarist, they began playing parties all over Orange County ("mostly at teenagers' houses whose parents were gone for the weekend"). In 1977, the 18-year-old Ramos played his first gig at a nightclub, and was writing and performing original material.
Kid continued to play various local gigs, but joining local harmonica ace James Harman's band in 1980 was "the turning point" for the now-21-year-old guitarist. "That's where I got my education. On-the-job training! From San Diego to Santa Barbara, six to seven nights a week, four sets a night. There was no job we wouldn't take. We were opening for all the punk bands: X, Oingo Boingo, the Blasters, the Plimsouls. We were the blues guys in the sharkskin suits."
"There was one night," Ramos remembers in the liner notes of his debut CD (Two Hands One Heart on Black Magic Records), "at the Roxy in Hollywood when one guy kept hurling stuff at us. I finally told him, ëBuddy, you're mine as soon as this show is over.' I was ready to throttle him. He kept it up, so I whacked him in the forehead with the head of my guitar, and he seemed to like it, so I kept whacking him while I played the song. James came over, grabbed him, and swung the guy by his hair while we dodged beer bottles. It was just nuts sometimes." It was in this environment that Kid first met Cesar Rosas and Los Lobos, another popular local "roots" band traveling in the same circles.
"I learned almost everything I know playing with James, that and him having us over for record parties all the time, with his incredible stacks of old 78s." It was through playing with the band that Ramos learned "how to have my own personality inside all these different styles." Kid's bandmates at the time were pianist Gene Taylor, bassist Willie J. Campbell, and drummer Stephen Hodges.
In 1983, Harman recruited a second Southern California guitarist, the legendary Hollywood Fats (Michael Mann), but only after securing the Kid's okay. Fats had played with J.B. Hutto, Muddy Waters, Albert King and had led his own band, which was killed off by the advent of disco. "Fats was a kind of misfit, a rich kid who only wanted to play guitar. And he could do it all ó play all night and give everyone the ultimate lesson in the blues, playing in every style while always making it his own. I had two choices: to shrink into a corner, or try to come up with something special of my own." Despite the gap in experience, the two guitarists got along very well. "It was never a competition," Ramos recalls. "Fats was a friend, a mentor, a big brother to me. He never tried to intimidate me or look down his nose. When I soloed, he'd play back-up. In hindsight, he may have been my biggest influence." The Harman band's double-guitar attack elevated Kid's playing to a new level. Hollywood Fats died tragically young in 1986.
Kid stayed with the Harman Band for 7 years, until he quit in 1988. He wanted to get married and, like his step-father, tired of the road that left him no richer than when he had started. He filled in briefly as the guitarist for Roomful Of Blues, but refused when he was asked to join the band full-time. Kid got married, started a family, and for the next 7 years worked primarily as a water delivery man. "I schlepped bottles," said Ramos.
During the evenings and weekends, Ramos would answer the call to fill in on guitar with bands at L.A. gigs. One of the bandleaders who called was harpist Lester Butler, a friend of Hollywood Fats. "I bowed out of Lester's band, the Red Devils, because they started working so much I couldn't do that and still make it to work in the mornings. So I left, and the next thing I knew, they were hanging out with Mick Jagger and had a record deal. Laying out was helpful for my personal life and for my playing, but it wasn't helpful for my career. I liked being able to go home every night, and the regular pay, but otherwise I eventually started to feel like I was dying on the job. One day I woke up and said, 'This water looks just like the water I delivered yesterday.'"
Kid began doing more local gigs, performing and recording with vocalist Lynwood Slim, "a character out of a film noir B-movie, a bohemian and hipster from another time," as Kid describes him. They recorded Too Small To Dance under the name "The Big Rhythm Combo" in 1994, and the solo album under Kid's name, Two Hands One Heart in 1995. The latter album also contained vocals by Janiva Magness, who contributed three performances on Kid Ramos and one on West Coast House Party.
What happened next is best described in Jim Washburn's liner notes for Kid Ramos: "In 1995, Ramos got a call from the Fabulous Thunderbird's Kim Wilson to join a band that had inspired him 17 years earlier. He still had doubts about returning full-time to the uncertainties of the musicians' life, but after considerable soul-searching and encouragement from his wife Linda, the bottle water industry lost a fine carrier."
But since that time, Ramos has maintained a high profile as guitarist for the T-Birds, and enjoyed great success with his two popularly and critically acclaimed albums previously released on Evidence.
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