“In music, there is always room to improve in different ways. I love music, and it’s my dream to continue to wherever it might take me.” ~ Johnny Ramos
Johnny Ramos has recently released his solo debut EP titled Sun Kissed on the Doowopdeathboy Records label. Johnny is no stranger to the recording studio. At the tender age of seventeen he sang lead on a pair of songs on Old School, a release by his father David “Kid” Ramos. Then, he was the “Johnny” on the dazzling debut of Johnny and Jaalene : a release I seriously loved. Primarily on Johnny and Jaalene, Ramos confidently used his fine crooner vocalese to great advantage.
Johnny is a lifetime resident of plenteously sunny Orange County, California, and credits that West Coast California sound as the major inspiration for naming his EP Sun Kissed. His guitar playing also has a sun-kissed quality. He is aided on guitar by his famous father on three tracks, and a talented friend, Steven Taylor, on yet another.
“Sun Kissed has some of that familiar rootsy blues sentiment in it for sure. Good friends from the SoCal Americana scene participated.” ~ Johnny Ramos
“None of these songs are actually rockabilly or blues; the musicians had to find some crazy rock’n’roller ideas from within themselves to help mold my tunes.” ~ Johnny Ramos
The opening track “24 and 7 Days” shows off a bit of Johnny’s punk music influences, and reminds me a bit of early Clash guitars (Rock the Casbah). But Johnny modernizes it skillfully with contemporary touches. West Coast veteran doyen drummer Kip Dabbs and bassist John Dominguez are tight and a drone driving rhythm keeps it rooted. The lyrics are directly primal as he comes right out and declares “this song’s for all the ‘honeys’ out there.”
The second selection “Broke But Happy,” is a very pretty love song with a stylistic vocal by Johnny and a cool horn arrangement by Joe Mack that augments perfectly. As does Condren Hampton’s percussive efforts that help to bring to mind secluded beaches and tidal wave watching moments present in the mix. The melody is sweet in a way that suggests the “sophisti-rock” technique employed by The Style Council/Paul Weller some decades ago….. especially on the chorus. The Latin tinged acoustic guitar break at the 3 minute mark is sublime and eventually pairs gracefully with an electric guitar duet between father and son.
“I wrote Loteria as a fun dancable 90’s hip-hop sort of tune. I don’t speak Spanish hardly, and I’m not from Mexico. I do love my heritage as well as my being American.” ~ Johnny Ramos
The heritage of the lotería game dates from 1769 when it arrived to Mexico from Spain. It was published in 1887 with the images becoming iconic. The 54 cards have names, and verses that give the game its mysterious quaintly charm. For example, la Luna (the moon) is the streetlamp of lovers. Regardless of my poor explanation: as per Johnny’s above quote, here its presence is a fun song that is a sort of ’90s low-rider hip-hop danceable feel good treat. A slight taste of ska-punk? Simply kick back and listen; allowing your ears and body to fully absorb the heady ambiance.
“Expansion” follows and to me it has a stalking mid-tempo stance that grows more alluring with each listen. “Expansion” has a hypnotic effect, droning in both rhythm and lyric. “Everyday is the weekend” and “I love just everything” are pleasurable triggers. A very fine effort.
I believe it is sequenced magnificently to set up the song which follows. A strong lead-in track to the (IMHO) ‘Sun Kissed’ showcase song “Slasher Suzy.”
“Slasher Suzy” is slightly sinister in a J. Geils Band kind of way and a real standout track. Johnny’s regular touring musicians join him and together they possess a tremendous undeniable synergy. The tune has a retro late ’50s/early ’60s vibe except that the guitars are up-to-the moment current. Johnny croons mightily throughout. The rhythm section (Justice Guevara and Christian Healy) perform neat gear changes as guitarist Steven Taylor leads, solos and duels with Johnny’s challenges.
The Sun Kissed final song is the muy bonita “I Like You”. It begins at a snail’s pace as it creeps into your subconscious mind. This slow approach proves a winning strategy, much like the advice from an old Motown hit – you can’t hurry love. The come on lyrics are basic and to the point. I don’t speak Spanish, but I can easily grasp the romantic intent of his pleadings. He utilizes his voice like another instrument, near scat-like at times, to create an attractive feel of tension. The deliberate acoustic guitar break at the two minute mark serves the song wonderfully.
The professional photography of Astor Morgan, coupled with hip graphics and art design really pop out. It’s a retro-modern oxymoron. The pink exterior and orange interior colors are eye grabbers. Details like these pay huge dividends while sculpting a total package. Thus providing a project to forever be looked back on with total pride.
Johnny Ramos wears many hats on the release. Johnny and his father “Kid” Ramos co-produce with Johnny in charge of all song arrangements. Naturally, he handles all his singing chores with aplomb. He is a very versatile vocalist who handles any type of song with winning results. On Sun Kissed he blends a mulligan stew of influences to gain his own identity, bravely ignoring barriers of any genre. R&B Soul, 90’s Alt, Grunge, K-pop all blended and firmly tethered to Americana roots. He could have easily made it a full LP by adding some well planned cover tunes. But, this way it’s all original compositions. And I think that’s just what he wanted.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. Based in Nevada, he can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com