Friday, May 30, 2014

Q&A - Ruben Ramos

Ruben Ramos and his Grammy.
Two time Grammy award-winning Ruben Ramos returns to the Rio Grande Valley for two events this weekend. "El Gato Negro" talked to me about his beginnings, singing in different languages, his thoughts on the Valley, changes in Tejano music he doesn't care for, and his new CD.

Festiva: When you first started performing in the 1960's, with your brother's group Alfonso Ramos Orchestra, did you identify as a Tejano musician at that time?

Ruben Ramos:  We were more Chicano. Chicano music was the term then. During my Alfonso Ramos tenure, which was about eleven years, the Spanish singer (would do) boleros, rancheras, polkas, and everything. I was still in high school and I wanted my friends to come and see us play. We played in Austin. My friends would tell me that, "No, we don't want to go, your brother only sings in Spanish."

Fats Domino came in with "Blueberry Hill". Kind of slow, and I started practicing it with my drums. (I thought,) "I could play this, and sing this song." It was my first song as far as singing on stage, and I was still playing drums. So consequently, I went on and learned more English songs, so I was the English singer with the band.

After that, when I went on my own, my repertorio was mostly English. I had to re-learn Spanish. So when I started with my band, I would play a lot of English, and the people would say, "Please play Chicano music!" I was singing too much English. So I went along and learned more Spanish.

Festiva: When you started Mexican Revolution, did you intend to sing in Spanish before the people asked you to, or was it that demand that moved you?

Ramos: No it was intentional.

I picked up songs that were popular, like "La Del Moño Colorado". That was a real popular song. I was not singing it right. It's about a beautiful lady with a bow on her hair, right? I was singing it like "La Demonio..." (The Demon), which changes the whole song (laughs) but I didn't know. My father said, "No mijo." So anyway, I kind of murdered some songs along the way. Then as I went along, I researched, I picked it up so I knew what I was relating to the people.

Festiva: When you were growing up, did you speak any Spanish?

Ramos: My dad was from San Luis Potosi and we were migrants. Of course, my dad and my mom talked Spanish. We talked Spanish until we started to go to school, which was in Sugarland. We started to learn the English language. By the time I was 9 years old, I moved to Austin from Sugarland. That's when we all started speaking nothing but English. Everything.

Unless we were home with dad and mom, for the most part, it was English.

Festiva: What are some of your thoughts on the Valley's music?

Ramos: A lot of la musica viene de Mexico. We kind of come and pick up some of the songs. We do it our own way. Some songs they come out of Mexico as a balada and we would come and maybe turn it into a polka. A different beat.

A lot of music comes from Mexico, and it comes through the Valley. That's where a lot of the music comes from. The Valley first, then Texas, then the rest of the United States. There are a lot of good musicians there (in the Valley).

Festiva: What are some changes you have seen in your long career?

Ramos: A big change is a lot of groups, they do a lot of pre-recordings. In other words, como dice, they may record a song, put congas but they don't have a conga player. They sing that particular song, press a button, the congas and everything start playing.

In the old days we used to record with the real horn. Nowadays a lot of people are recording with synthesizers. That's a big change. But I still have a band, and I still record with real horns.

Festiva: Do you think it takes some of the soul away to do that?

Ramos: Yes it does because it's not performed live. (They are) picking it from somebody that pre-recorded all these musical instruments. It changes texture, it changes the sound. That's a big change.

Festiva: Can you tell us about your new CD?

Ramos: It's going to be hot. Up-tempo. It's a real good CD. I'm taking the picture this coming Friday morning for the CD. I really look forward to the CD. It has some good horn players.

It's going to be called El Idolo. It should be out by the third week in June, god willing.

Festiva: How do you feel about coming to the Valley this weekend?

Ramos: The Valley people, they are beautiful people. They really show the love for the music. I'm really excited about going over there. I got some friends over there.

Festiva: Thank you for the interview.

Ramos: You're welcome Eduardo.

Who: Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution
Time: 8:00 PM
Date: 5/31
Cost: $15.00
Phone Number: 956-650-8022
Location: The Donna VFW Post 10802, in Donna.

Who: Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution
Time: 6:00 PM
Date: 6/1
Cost: $15.00
Phone Number: 956-867-8783
Location: La Lomita Park, in McAllen.

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