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
“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
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
(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.
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
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.
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. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com