Kid Ramos – Old School | Album Review

Kid Ramos – Old School

Rip Cat Records

13 songs – 47 minutes

There are a lot of very good guitar players out there. There are very few however who belong in the category of Grade-A virtuosos, and Kid Ramos is one of them. One thing that distinguishes him from other members of that small but distinguished club, such as Jimmy Vaughan, Ronnie Earl or Anson Funderburgh, is that he has spent nearly all of his career as a sideman or band member, acting as an integral part of acts such as the James Harman Band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds or The Mannish Boys, rather than leading his own band. His ability to be a band-leader is not in doubt (just check out his performance as Musical Director of the all-star band that backed Floyd Dixon, Pinetop Perkins and Henry Gray on 2006’s Time Brings About A Change – A Floyd Dixon Celebration) but he appears to be happiest in a band setting.

Over the course of his career, Ramos has released five solo albums, each of which has demonstrated his ability to play every kind of blues in a variety of settings. His first two albums, 1995’s Two Hands One Heart and 1999’s Kid Ramos,  were predominantly celebrations of West Coast blues with nods to Kid’s primary influences (T-Bone Walker and BB King) as well as to a host of lesser-known artists. The first album featured vocals primarily from the much-missed Lynwood Slim (as an aside, the 2014 re-master and re-issue by Rip Cat Records improved the sound immeasurably) . The second album had vocal slots for ex-boss James Harman, then-current boss Kim Wilson as well as Cesar Rosas, Janiva Magness, Willie Chambers and Slim. Ramos also made his own vocal recording debut with a memorable version of Charles Sheffield’s swamp-pop mini-classic, “I Would Be A Sinner”. Both albums highlight Ramos as band-leader, selflessly supporting the singers while still flaying his guitar in his inimitably muscular way. With support from A-listers such as Richard Innes, Tyler Pedersen, Fred Kaplan, Gene Taylor, Willie J Campbell, Rob Rio, Jeff Turmes and Stephen Hodges (to name just a few), the music flows as irresistibly as the Sacramento River and Kid is not shy to share out the solo slots with the musicians whilst still laying down plentiful helpings of his reverb-drenched guitar.

In 2000, Ramos released West Coast House Party, a glorious carousal of infectious jump blues but this time with a new twist. Harman, Wilson and Slim all re-appear to handle the vocal chores together with James Intveld and Robert “Big Sandy” Williams but Ramos also invited a host of like-minded guitarists to guest on the album, with Little Charlie Baty, Gatemouth Brown, Rusty Zinn, Rick Holmstrom, Duke Robillard and Junior Watson all going head-to-head with Ramos in a superb collection of upbeat guitar-led dance tunes. 2001’s Greasy Kid Stuff saw Ramos shift focus to release a set of old school, greasy, harmonica blues. Guests included Rick Estrin, Paul de Lay, Lynwood Slim, Johnny Dyer, James Harman, Charlie Musselwhite and Rod Piazza. While still laying down a series of superb solos, Greasy Kid Stuff showed that Ramos was equally as effective at backing harp players as he was playing with horn sections.

Ramos’s new release, Old School is his first solo album in seventeen years. Much credit must go to Big Jon Atkinson for tempting Ramos back into the studio (as well as for providing his typically warm, vintage engineering skills). The resulting album, recorded live to tape on two tracks using only analogue equipment and vintage microphones, is a fine addition to Ramos’ oeuvre. As with his previous releases, Ramos has pulled together a top class band, with Bob Welsh on piano and organ; Kedar Roy on bass; Marty Dodson on drums; and Danny Michel on rhythm guitar for two songs. The vocalists include Ramos’ son, Johnny Ramos, Johnny Tucker, Kim Wilson and Big Jon Atkinson. Kid himself also makes a welcome return to the vocal mic for a couple of tunes. Like his previous albums, Kid has adroitly combined well-written original songs with a selection of well-chosen and not over-played covers.

The album opens with “Kid’s Jump”, an upbeat tribute to BB King (even opening with BB’s classic single note line from “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman”) and ends with T-Bone Walker’s “Society Woman”. In between, Ramos runs a gamut of blues styles, from an Albert King-styled slow blues (“I Can’t Wait Baby”), some Magic Sam (“All Your Love”), an old gospel tune (“Jesus Come By Here”), a lesser-known Nat King Cole song (“Mona Lisa”), and even some ’50s pop (Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat”), all tied together by Ramos’ guitar playing.

There are three instrumentals: the aforementioned “Kid’s Jump”, the smooth Wes Montgomery tribute “Wes Side” and the top-tapping 60s-esque “Mash Potatoes And Chilli”, each of which highlights Ramos’ immaculate taste and tone.

Each singer brings something different to the songs he sings. Johnny Ramos clearly has the talent to succeed in what his father describes in the liner notes as “the family business”, although he is still very much a work in progress at the moment. Atkinson and Wilson both excel on the slow blues of “Weight On My Shoulders” and “Society Woman” respectively. And Ramos himself sings in a warm and unaffected voice that works well with the chosen material. The most striking contributions however come from Johnny Tucker’s old-as-dirt croak, particularly on the old spiritual “Jesus Come By Here”, the upbeat shuffle Tucker co-wrote with Ramos, “Tell Me What You Need” and the haunting minor key “I Can’t Wait Baby”.

Recorded in just two days, this is timeless music, despite (or perhaps because of) the vintage approach taken in recording it. Rough, raw and unadulterated, it doesn’t get better than this.

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