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Kid Ramos

Interview by Carl 'Sonny' Leyland

West Coast wonder David 'Kid' Ramos cut his teeth playing in the James Harman band alongside Hollywood Fats in 80s and then had a long stint in The Fabulous Thunderbirds in the 90s before releasing a series of solo albums featuring collaborations with my of the great modern blues names. These days he's a stalwart of the Delta Groove label and plays regularly with their festival 'Supergroup' The Mannish Boys as well as the tex-mexy Los Fabulocos. Our man on the West Coast Carl 'Sonny' Leyland did a show with him recently and had a chat after the gig...


CSL: When was the first time you met the blues, Kid?

Ramos: Jeez, I don't know if I ever met the blues, to be honest with you. I think you see things or hear things and you identify with something; I don't know what it is. There's no way to describe it but I heard that music and it just did something to me and I went from there. As far as learning about it; I've always been somebody that was inquisitive and read a lot of books when I was a kid, so once I got some records I started reading the liner notes and then Guitar Player magazine or whatever. Somebody would say 'I listened to this or I listened to T-Bone Walker...' and I'd go 'T-Bone Walker?!' and start looking for those records. Back when there were records, y'know? I just discovered one thing after another.
CSL: Who or what has most influenced your career?

Ramos: Hmm, that's a tough one too - I mean, my career is different from what's influenced me musically. James Harman influenced my career because meeting him really got me over to the next thing. Growing up where I did in California at that time, people my age were not into the blues - I was the only one! I played in bands in High School but would always try and steer it in the direction of the blues but everybody was listening to Led Zepplin and everything else, y'know. I was born in '59 and raised in Anaheim my whole life.
CSL: What was it like being next to Hollywood Fats in James Harman's Band? That must have been a lot of pressure for a young player?

Ramos: It was. It was one of those things that was either gonna make you or break you, I realised at that time that this guy would take a guitar solo and build it up - for ten minutes! - and the people would go crazy. He'd take them all on a ride, man, and it was fabulous. Then he'd look over at me and it would be my turn... But we played every night in those days. We'd play six or seven nights a week doing four sets a night in clubs so we got the chance to do a lot of on the job training and a lot of playing.
Before Fats was in the band, there was Bill Campbell. Junior Watson lived at James' [Harman] house - rented a room - so I was around all these great guitar players who were older than me. I came to the conclusion that I better come up with something that was my own and not try to copy someone else per se. Then whatever was in me was gonna come out of me. I wasn't gonna try and be Hollywood Fats, y'know? There were times when it was very intimidating; you might have a good night or a bad night but Fats was consistently good! If it was a bad night and I had to follow him it was very difficult. I just tried to man up, and do what I had to do.
CSL: Like a baptism of fire, isn't it?

Ramos: It is!
CSL: There's no substitute for just getting up there and doing it...

Ramos: Yeah, and luckily at that time the music scene was happening and there was opportunity... We were working all the time. We just mostly stayed in California; we'd go from San Diego to Santa Barbara or up to San Francisco. Then we started touring and going to the Mid-West and other places but at that time we could work 21 nights in a row, man. I can remember working almost every day in a month many times, playing more than one set.

Photo: Matt York
CSL:You took a long break from playing professionally - what motivated you to get back out there again, and did you find much had changed in the meantime?

Ramos: I never stopped playing professionally really, but I did take a break from going on the road - and I didn't make any records for a while. I played with (Lynwood) Slim and Juke (Logan) and different people. But then I got the call to be in the Thunderbirds - Kim Wilson called and asked me - and that was one of those things that I knew that if I didn't do it I'd regret it forever. I was a big fan of the Thunderbirds, I'd seen them in '78 I think - I just happened to walk into a club with a friend and they were there playing three sets and I was floored.
CSL: They were kind of revolutionary...

Ramos: It really was. And it really got everything going. So when Kim called I just said "This is something I wanna do!" and got with the Thunderbirds. That would have been probably 1995 - I was in there for about seven years...

Photo: Matt York
CSL: What about gear - what guitars do you like?

Ramos: Well that depends what mood you're in. I like to have a hollow body but you can't travel with them - it's such a hassle on the airlines - so I always take a Strat with me. I wouldn't say it was my favourite guitar to play to be honest, but as far as a tool goes it's like bringing a crescent wrench or are you gonna bring five different open-end wrenches, y'know?! You can't hurt it - it's a practicality.
As far as amps, I like the [Vox] AC30 - the English amps - I've two old ones form the 60s with the silver Bulldog speakers that I love. They're not particularly a blues amp, I don't see a lot of people playing them... It's a great design, that Class A amp. To me it's just warmer than a Fender. Fenders sound great with certain guitars but Fender amps and Fender guitars together sounds a bit trebly for me. So for the last ten years or so I've played the AC30s and really like them - with a Fender reverb tank but that's it basically.
CSL: If you could pick one guest musician - living or dead - to play on your next album, who would it be?

Ramos: Ha, well that's at tough one... Y'know, I really love Lightnin' Hopkins but he couldn't play on anybody else's records, and I don't reckon T-Bone Walker would play on anyone else's records... Maybe Magic Sam? There's so many - it depends what mood you're in. You want steak for dinner or you want baked chicken?

CSL: Do you have a strong sense of being part of 'West Coast blues'? Is there such a thing and if so what - besides the obvious geography - would you say was its most defining characteristic?

Ramos: It's really a new thing - really in the last ten, twenty years the West Coast blues sound is... Well the sound that a lot of the guys are emulating is the guys from Texas: T-Bone Walker, y'know? Jump blues seems to be what they're talking about when the say 'West Coast blues'. Hollywood Fats dug T-Bone Walker, even though he never played like that. I didn't play like that either but I liked that sound because its got horns in it and an upright bass and piano; so I think that's what they mean when they say West Coat blues. I dunno if I'm considered one of those guys but if I am then great - thanks!
CSL: How did you manage to get all those well-known people together for you records? Rick the editor of Bluesinlondon says he likes to imagine you all sat round comparing tattoos, tinkering with motorcycles and playing music!

Ramos: Well that's stuff I like to do but don't know about other people [laughs]! The main thing is that when I made those records for Evidence I tried to recreate the feel of when you'd go see your friends on the road or run into people and everyone gets up on stage and they're jamming, y'know.

I just got lucky; people were available and said yes when I asked them to do it. I think House Party is my favourite one for that because it has Clarence Gatemouth Brown on there... The Thunderbirds had just finished a seven week tour with Gatemouth and C J Chenier and at the end of the night we all get on there and do Honky Tonk. Gatemouth would lead it off and we'd all play together, so I'd get to play with him every night and hang out with him. He didn't like too many people but I got along with him pretty good. He'd call my house... He was trip, a one of a kind, for sure. I just asked him to play on my record and he said yes.
Then I had guys like Little Charlie, Junior Watson, Rick Holstrom, Rusty Zinn - guys who I really dig - and we just had a really good time making those records. A lot of fun.

CSL: What do you think is tha state of Blues music right now?

Ramos: Pitiful! [Laughs] I dunno, it's hard to say without incriminating myself... I think there's still people out there doing it but the scene has become quite difficult. There's no more clubs really; too many are closing. There's maybe one or two good one's here and there in every place but not enough to string together a tour like there used to be. You couldn't do maybe one or two nights a week and it make sense finacially.

We're all doing the festivals now because they pay good enough - flying in, doing them and going home works for my schedule now anyways - but its getting tougher and tougher, man. I dunno if there's that many younger players that understand it and have done the homework. You don't have to sound like the old records but you gotta at least have the foundation, I think - sound like you know about them at least.
There's not much I've heard that really excites me but I might not know - I don't listen to the radio much - I kinda inhabit my own world...
CSL: That's a key thing from my perspective, that if you want to be involved in the blues scene you have to be involved with people who are more like the Hendrix types - because that's a big part of the core fans, that's what they wanna hear...

Ramos: Stevie Ray Vaughn in a 'Fist Full of Dollars' hat... yeah, there's a whole bunch of those out there. There's a place for that but it's not the same thing. I like the horns and upright bass and all that but it is just a different thing. Then there's Chicago blues too with the harmonica, and I dig that, but there's so many different tastes and varieties... But I don't really know what's out there anymore. I guess there's the same bunch of guys that we know that have been around for a long time, and then there are the old guys who are pretty much dyin' off and going away. Heh, who knows where we're gonna be? We're like the dinosaurs now, gonna be extinct pretty soon. It doesn't seem like there's the fan base to support it - it's not like there used to be.
CSL: Do you have a favourite lyric, line or quote from the Blues?

Ramos: I guess Buddy Guy's "Damn right, I got the blues!" is pretty good! That's a bumper sticker right there...
CSL: What is the most important lesson the Blues has taught you then?

Ramos: Jeez, man. If anything that I should have gone back to school got a degree and a job and... [Laughs] I'm not selling out, I'm buying in! It has given me a good life and a lot of great experiences that I never would have had - I've great friends and a good life. There are no, like, major assholes that I can think of... Most of the guys who can really play are good guys, y'know, and it's good to see them. I've been fortunate in that way.
CSL: What are your memories of visiting London?

Ramos: I had a great time and wish there was more of a scene there. I don't know if there is now though? I can remember the first time I went there and I was all 'Wow! This is it, this is England'. I remember the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show - their record were always playing in our house all the time - that whole England thing was really interesting to an American. So when I was over there - the history and architecture - I really dug the country, I really did.
CSL: Any plans for a vist? Rick says there are a good few people who'd love to see you?

Ramos: Set it up! Make it happen - I'll be there!
CSL: Last one then: The house is on fire and you've only time to grab five albums, which ones are they gonna be?

Ramos: Five and that's it?! Hm, Live At the Regal - that was one of the first I bought when I was a teenager and it really turned me on to BB king. Maxwell Davis' band was such a great band - the horn arrangements, the gooves were so cool and BB's tone, y'know? Probably the Imperial recordings of T-Bone and maybe the Herald recordings of Lightnin Hopkins, then some operas: Pucini & Tosca, I like that, man. La Boheme is great...


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