Get into a serious Blues conversation with the guys over a few cold ones and mention the name Kid. Chances are everybody in the room will know exactly who you’re talking about.
David “Kid” Ramos was born in Fullerton, Cal. in 1959. His mother and step-father were both professional opera singers who met while moonlighting as restaurant entertainers. There was also plenty of music in their home.
My “stepdad toured with the Metropolitan Opera so there was no shortage of music around the house,” Kid recalls. “My folks used to throw these all-night parties and all kinds of show-biz people would be there. There were musicians in the house all the time. Sometimes I would walk downstairs in the morning and find guests from the night before still asleep under the piano.”
Eventually Kid’s folks got tired of the road and his step dad bought a gas station in Anaheim. One day, a customer came in with an electric guitar and amplifier for sale, and Kid had his first guitar by age 8. From there Kid decided he wanted to become a professional guitarist, and started practicing in earnest when he was 14.
“There were a bunch of neighborhood guys who I idolized who had a garage band,” Kid says. “I really wanted to join them, but I wasn’t good enough. I rehearsed every day until I felt I could hold my own. At the time we were listening to Hendrix, The Allman Brothers. I was always curious so I found out “Stormy Monday” is a T-bone Walker song. Then I wanted to know who T-bone Walker was. That’s just the way it has been. One thing leads to another.”
A year later, Kid broke out his axe and proceeded to blow them the neighborhood guys away. This opened the door to paying gigs and parties all over OrangeCounty. In 1977 Kid played his first gig at a nightclub, and was writing and performing original material. He was barely 18 years old.
“At the time there was no real Blues in OrangeCounty,” Kid says. “I was pretty much by myself. There used to be this club in Huntington Beach called The Golden Bear. Everybody played there. And I mean anybody who was anybody in those days. We went there and hung out every chance we got.”
Kid considers himself lucky to have had his parents’ support coming up.
“They were very supportive,” Kid said. “They didn’t care what kind of music I was playing as long as I didn’t end up in jail or anything like that. One of the first albums that I remember really making an impression on me is BB (King’s) “Live at The Regal.” I loved it after I started digging into it. It was kind of like an archeological find. It really stirred something in me.”
“I always loved the vinyl records,” Kid says. “The art work. The liner notes. You don’t get that stuff today. And being able to stand there and watch that thing go round and round was fascinating. I was pretty much self-taught. I would hear something I liked and would play it over and over until I got it right. Nobody really understood what I was into. They were all listening to Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. It took a while to find guys who wanted to play the Blues like I do.”
Kid continued playing local gigs in and around Anaheim until he went to see local harmonica ace James Harman’s band in 1980.
“That was the turning point for me,” Kid says. “I used to hang around this guitar store and one day the guy there told me ‘You gotta go see this band.’ It was everything he said and more. Here were these guys in sharkskin suits and slicked-back hair. I started stalking them. It took several months before James called me up. Turns out they were looking for a guitar player and it wasn’t long after that before I was in the band.”
“That’s where I got my education,” Kid says. “We were up and down the coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara seven nights a week, four sets a night. We didn’t turn anything down. We were the blues guys in the sharkskin suits. I learned almost everything I know playing with James. I stayed with him for seven years.”
“There was one night,” Kid wrote in the liner notes of his debut CD “Two Hands One Heart” on Black Magic Records, “at the Roxy in Hollywood when one guy kept hurling stuff at us. I finally told him, ‘Buddy, you’re mine as soon as this show is over.’ I was ready to throttle him. He kept it up, so I whacked him in the forehead with the head of my guitar, and he seemed to like it, so I kept whacking him while I played the song. James came over, grabbed him, and swung the guy by his hair while we dodged beer bottles. It was just nuts sometimes.”
In 1983, Harman recruited the legendary Hollywood Fats to join the band. Fats had played with J.B. Hutto, Muddy Waters, Albert King and had led his own band.
“Fats was a kind of misfit, a rich kid who only wanted to play guitar,” Kid recalls. “And he could really do it all. He could play all night and give everyone the ultimate lesson in the Blues. He played in every style while always making it his own. I had two choices, either shrink into a corner, or try to come up with something of my own. It was never a competition. We got along just fine. Fats was a friend, a mentor, a big brother to me. He never tried to intimidate me or look down his nose. When I soloed, he’d play back-up. In hindsight, he may have been my biggest influence.”
The two-guitar lineup in Harman’s band finally allowed Kid Ramos to make his name known.
Like his stepfather before him, Kid was growing weary of the road and wanted to stay at home and raise his family. He had a cup of coffee with Roomful of Blues but declined an invitation to join permanently after the departure of Ronnie Earl.
“I was just burned out from the road,” Kid said. “I hadn’t really made much money and I wanted to get married and start a family. I spent the next seven years hauling bottled water (around LA).”
Like all good Bluesmen, playing in front of a crowd was the siren song that enticed Kid back to the stage. He was watching his friends signing lucrative contracts with big labels and going places.
“Laying out helped keep my personal life in check but it wasn’t helping my career,” Kid says. “I liked being able to go home every night but otherwise I was starting to feel like I was losing out.”
Opportunity came knocking in the form of the Fabulous Thunderbirds front man, Kim Wilson.
“I met Kim back in the ‘80s,” Kid said. “We had played at different events and knew each other’s work. I’d been off the road and gotten married and have been playing around town. Then he called me and said he was looking for a guitar player. Was I interested?”
“I first saw the T-birds in DC in ’78,” Kid recalls. “They were a great band. Jimmie (Vaughan) was older than me and he set the standard for how Blues guys are supposed to act. He had the hair, the look and he played a Stratocaster. I’ve always been a huge Jimmie Vaughan fan. So, sure I was intimidated. Anybody would be. I just made up my mind that I was going to make the music my own. I’ll always be thankful to Kim for giving me the opportunity. I stayed with the T-birds for seven years. It finally ran its course. I guess seven is my lucky number.”
Until being sidelined undergoing chemotherapy and all of the awful things that go with cancer treatment, Kid had a full plate and the sky was the limit. His work with the T-birds elevated him in status among knowledgeable Blues pickers.
“East LA is such a melting pot,” Kid says of the variety of bands and music.” It’s like it’s in its own time zone. It’s a pretty cool place to be from and for making music. Things are not the same anymore in there is not as much intensity as say, the early ‘90s. There were lots of clubs offering Blues every night. It’s not like that anymore. They’ll throw your ass in jail for having too much fun. The demographics have changed. So far I’ve managed to be in the right places at the right time. I came up in a great time to be making music.”
Kid Ramos has had plenty of positive things happen to him during his trip down the Blues highway. Some of them stand out.
“Being asked to join James Harman’s band was definitely a high point,” Kid says. “Another time when I was with the T-birds we opened a show for Carlos Santana. I looked over at one point in our set and he watching me from the wings. Then it was his turn and I watched him. At one point his keyboard player had a solo and Carlos came over to me and hugged me and told me ‘I like the way you play. You play from the heart.’ He doesn’t say that to everybody. I’ll never forget it.”
It was announced recently at a 44s show in Phoenix that “Kid Ramos is now cancer free.” Much to the relief of fans everywhere. He’s spent a grueling year undergoing all kinds of hard-to-pronounce and harder-to-explain treatments to reach the point he has.
“I sure have a different outlook on life,” Kid says. “I’ve found out you don’t take anything for granted because you never know what’s going to be around the corner. I’m trying to get my life back in order. I’m just now starting to feel like a human being again so I’m going to pick up where I left off.”
Currently Kid has dates planned with The Mannish Boys and his project band, Los Fabulocos.
“We’re looking forward to going on the Blues Cruise with the Mannish Boys this summer,” he said. “For now I’m going to take it as it comes.””
Photo by Marilyn Stringer