Quick history lesson: West Coast Blues was born out of jazz, blues and swing. Its sound was pioneered by against-the-odds badasses like Texans like T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, two who transplanted themselves to Los Angeles during the great migration in early 20th century. Twangy, single-note runs epitomize the West Coast school of blues guitar, and no one does it better than Kid Ramos, one of the greatest blues and roots guitarists alive today. Ramos and his protégé's, The 44's, take the stage at KXCI's 6th Annual House Rockin' Blues Review this Friday night.
"I'm from Anaheim, California," Ramos declares with pride. "The West Coast blues sound is something I have been associated with for some time now."
The 58-year-old Ramos is the son of professional opera singers. He was fed a steady diet of music early on and got his first electric guitar and amp at the tender age of eight. The music was in his blood, and the late, great B.B. King was the musical clarion call he couldn't ignore.
As much a musical storyteller as a guitarist, Ramos' playing is all finesse and feel. He avoids dweedley-dee grandstanding in favor of playing for the song, for the melody in the music and, for lack of a better word, the emotion. See, Ramos plays notes that say something. You can hear it on his solo albums, on the work he's done with others, such as blues harpist James "Icepick" Harman, or with Hollywood Fats (ex-Canned Heat) or the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He was in the Mannish Boys, that storied combo of all-star vets of the west coast scene. He was featured guest with the great Tex-Mex outfit Los Fabulocos. He's has guested with many other blues and roots artists. His CV is long, impressive.
"I've been playing guitar for over forty years," Ramos says. "I was a member of the The Fabulous Thunderbirds for seven years. I made two records with The T-Birds."
Ramos is excited too. It's obvious. It's the music in him. It's his future (he's lucky to be alive; more on that in a few). It's his fatherhood. It's heartening and surprising to hear, mostly because so many consider the blues to be a dead musical language, like jazz, or, now, rock 'n' roll. Ramos says he's working on a new project with The New Mannish Boys Review and "that is going to blow some minds."
Ramos has released four solo albums since 1995 on Black Top and Evidence Records, but, "The Tucson show will be me as a special guest with The 44's. We've played together all over the world. They play like their life depends on it. The fans can expect a hard-hitting blues show with some heavy guitar."
Drawing influence from legendary bluesmen—from Albert Collins to Howlin' Wolf—The 44's, (Johnny Main, Tex Nakamura, Mike Turturro and J. R. Lozano), are a Los Angeles based blues/roots/rock band who burn up stages across North America. Channeling a retro blues style, their 2010 debut album, Boogie Disease, is 39 minutes of full-bore, skirt-blowing blues, produced by Kid Ramos for all of $800. It hit No. 12 on Living Blues Radio Charts and No. 2 on B.B. King's Bluesville on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. Awards enused: Best Blues Band of 2011 from American Blues News and Best Debut Album from Blues Underground Network. They are as tight a band as any you'll likely ever hear.
Looking ahead, Ramos says he's "working on two solo projects that are some of the most exciting of my career. My youngest son, Johnny Ramos, is involved in one of the projects. I'm incredibly proud. He's a great singer, songwriter and guitar player. He's going to light up the world."
If Ramos sounds enthusiastic—like he's grateful to be alive—it's because he is. In 2012, he was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Dude survived, the cancer, the chemo, the surgery, the recovery, the whole bit.
Ramos holds the line. "My faith in God has sustained me through life's many trials and cancer was a tough one to be sure. I'm doing well and looking forward to many exciting things to come."
It ought to be noted here how the sixth annual House Rockin' Blues Review is a big source of annual fundraising for Tucson's mighty KXCI (91.3 FM), which has long brought beautifully curated music, personality and life to Tucson's airwaves, including Marty Kool, the dynamic host of KXCI's Blues Review. Tucson would be a different town without KXCI, to be sure.
KXCI Community Engagement Director, Amanda Shauger nails the spirit of the entire event: "You can talk about music, you can read about music, but the best way is to experience it, with live musicians and your friends and neighbors."
The concert also coincides with an exciting new album release. Arizona Blues Hall of Famer Mike Hebert is using the show as a CD release party for his delta-blues, honky-tonk project, Prison Band. Mike Hebert Prison Band is out on Plez Records this week.
Indeed, there'll be food, barbecue and the largest dance floor in the Southwest to help you do just that. This event is about community, it's about celebrating one person's triumph over cancer, it's about how music can change lives. So it's about being human. Which, if you get down to it, is what the blues is all about. That's what Ramos et al are playing, man.