Kid Ramos ‘Old School’ Album Review

David “Kid” Ramos makes his return to recording with Old School on Rip Cat Records after a long sabbatical to care for his family, and then later to combat a very frightening life or death bout with cancer. The album was crafted in just two days at Big Jon Atkinson’s home studio using all analog equipment, vintage microphones, and old school values and attitude. This deep commitment to authenticity comes through loud and clear on every track. The warmth, presence and fullness evoked from pre-digital musical recordings is brandished magnificently.

Kid Ramos was born with music in his blood instigated from his professional opera singing parents. His father quit music to lay down roots in Anaheim, buying a gas station. He bought a guitar and amplifier from a customer and presented them to young David, who self-taught himself utilizing tons of practice playing along with his sprouting record collection. He subsequently spent the majority of the 1980s playing in James Harman’s Band and later joined Kim Wilson for a seven year tenure with The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

“Kid Ramos has been honoring his gift of guitar all his life.” ~ James Harman

Kid opens Old School with a bluesy original instrumental titled “Kid’s Jump (Tribute to B.B.) that shows Ramos has the jump blues skills of some of his principal influences (B.B. King, latter day Grant Green, and T-Bone Walker). Kid produces single string guitar tones to please as he demonstrates the importance of playing “in the pocket” and scrupulously grooving with your licks. Marty Dodson adds some very retro trash-can lid drum work and Kendar Roy’s bass guitar steps in 4-string excellence on a melody that recalls “Lonely Avenue.”  A shake, rattle, and roll richness is accentuated with Bob Welsh executing some fine piano boogie fills.

The second song is a cover of a 1957 Magic Sam composition titled “All Your Love.” The song was recently covered by The Rolling Stones on their excellent back to the blues album Blue And Lonesome. Kid’s seventeen year old son Johnny Ramos may not be a match for Mick Jagger or Magic Sam, but he does a credible job handling the bluesy lead vocal. The focal point though is squarely on Kid Ramos’s inimitably muscular guitar play.

“Magic Sam had a different guitar sound. Most of the guys were playing the straight 12-bar blues thing, but the harmonies that he carried with the chords was a different thing altogether. This tune “All Your Love”, he expressed with such an inspirational feeling with his high voice. You could always tell him, even from his introduction to the music.” ~ Willie Dixon

Three of the newly penned originals are co-writes with singer Johnny Tucker. All three of these songs feature Tucker on pleading lead vocal showing off his blues growl reminiscent of some of the old-time legendary masters.  The first comes with “Tell Me What Ya Want.” It’s a nice blues shuffle with Welsh supplying Hammond B-3 organ swells coolly complementing Kid’s guitar.

Kid Ramos hearkens back to the days of yore with his instrumental throwback entitled “Mashed Potatoes And Chili.” The lineup for this one consists of Kid on guitar, Bob Welsh on organ, Kedar Roy on bass guitar, and Marty Dodson on the drum kit. The tune is well layered, and integrates the ingredients into a most appetizing melody. The chemistry between these four musicians arrives fresh and unforced.

Kid Ramos firmly grabs ahold of the lead vocal on Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and pays tribute to the man who has influenced countless artists in the wake of his brief career. His cover is faithful to the original, providing just over two minutes of late-50’s musical genius. The song is pleasingly performed in a simple three piece structure with Kid on perkily forceful guitar, Kedar Roy manning the bass, and Mary Dodson sitting behind the drum kit.

The second Tucker/Ramos original comes with “You Never Call My Name.” The straightforward combination of Tucker on vocal and Ramos on guitar spotlights the pair’s talents and sense of style. The usual four piece lineup of Ramos, Welsh, Roy, and Dodson escort Johnny Tucker’s very soulful vocals on “I Can’t Wait Baby,” a fine representation of slow West Coast Blues that appears later and showcases Kid Ramos . This third Tucker/Ramos original recounts the tale of a man whose lady has deeply cut him to the marrow, and though he laments the time wasted, still yearns to somehow win her love.

“Anna (Go To Him)” was written and recorded by Arthur Alexander, but most people my age will best remember it as one of the songs in the early Beatles repertoire. Alexander’s version was more piano dominated, but here Kid leans more towards the Beatles guitar governed interpretation. Johnny Ramos doesn’t possess the rich melodious nightingale vocalese of John Lennon, but he is capable, to say the very least, and his vocal treatment contains a sense of longing that works well.

An instrumental tribute to the late, great Indianapolis-born Wes Montgomery is smooth as silk as it stretches out with a jazz-tinged flair that hits my sweet spot head-on. Growing up in Indy, I was blessed to be introduced to the major home-grown artists Wes Montgomery and Freddie Hubbard on the late-night jazz station. “Wes Side (Bumpin’)” captures that dark “after hours” atmosphere very nicely and is a completely endearing track. Bob Welsh on breathy B-3 organ, Kedar Roy on bass guitar and Marty Dodson on drums fill out the talented roster on this one. The instrumental format itself is something of a throwback to earlier times, and was very prevalent in the fifties and early sixties. This brand of musical presentation fits Kid Ramos like a well-tailored suit, enhancing the spotlight on his guitar brilliance.

“Regardless of what you play, the biggest thing is keeping the feel going.” ~ Wes Montgomery

A very lovely reinvention of “Mona Lisa” follows. It is sparse, but upbeat, when compared to the Nelson Riddle string-laden lush arrangement with vocals by Nat King Cole back in 1950. Kid’s guitar is crisp as iceberg lettuce and sunny as an August afternoon. His vocal is poised and fits like a favorite pair of aged blue jeans. Danny Michel adds rhythm guitar as Roy and Dodson steady the rhythm section.

The traditional gospel “Jesus Come By Here” fits squarely into Johnny Tucker’s vocal wheelhouse and he hits it out of the park. His earnest raspy delivery rivals the work of the great Taj Mahal. The placement of this song grants even more variety to Old School. The undaunted and enduring Christian spirit and the unshakeable belief of the enslaved African Americans is convincingly conveyed in this humble hymn. 

My favorite cut on the release is a Jon Atkinson composition entitled “Weight On My Shoulders.” Big Jon takes the lead vocal and sings the tale of a man who realizes his cheating woman has been “stepping out on me.” This song is a wonderful example of slow blues and the magic properties it can call forth. The guitar intro is a bit like the guitar noodling that Jimi Hendrix exhibited on “Hey Gypsy Boy” and “Villanova Junction Blues.” Bob Welsh provides nice piano and the guitar work and solo by Kid Ramos is simply sublime as it tastefully caresses the listener’s soul. 

“To me, being a guitar player. . .  Kid Ramos is a guitar hero.” ~ Johnny Main (The 44’s)

Old friend Kim Wilson makes a vocal appearance of the final cut, a remake of T-Bone Walker’s 1952 classic “High Society.” A small taste of Wilson’s masterful harmonica would have been nice, but that is a very minor quibble. This re-make is yet another very fine specimen of old school blues performed by passionate musicians.      

Throughout Old School there is a raw looseness that is contagious and never feels sloppy. Kid Ramos’ guitar formula is honest as the day is long. He summons enduring guitar lines that are spare, tasty, and waste no notes whatsoever. His tone is usually sweet as molasses, but he can also apply a sharp sting at will.

Old School is an enduring, fresh, fun flash back that captures the essence of the almost lost art form of music recordings since the advent of modern technology. All of the variables that make up a successful recording are met. The right atmosphere, the right musicians, and foremost the immaculate taste and tone of Kid Ramos and his guitar. Even the album photos and corresponding art work are exactly appropriate. Please feel free to call me old school; to me this album is uplifting and kicks ass.