Author: Warren, Cleve
Date published: April 1, 2010
Journal code: MDDR
Bobby Ramirez is a name that not many contemporary drummers recognize. But if you were playing in the early 1970s, you very well might remember him as an enormous talent whose life was cut short by a senseless and brutal act.
Ramirez was bom and raised in the tough oil-refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas. He came from a hardworking and hard-loving Mexican-American family who encouraged his prodigious natural ability. His uncle Roy, a local big-band drummer, gave him the only formal instruction he ever had. By the age of eleven, Bobby was playing with sixteen- to nineteen-year-old musicians in local rock bands. At fourteen, he was a professional, playing large clubs just across the state line in Louisiana. He dropped out of high school the summer before his senior year to go on the road with the regional legends the Boogie Kings. The road led to Las Vegas and eventually to gigs with Ike & Tina Turner and Dick Jensen, with whom Ramirez played The Ed Sullivan Show.
It was late in 1970 when two of Ramirez's old friends from southeast Texas, Edgar Winter and Jerry LaCroix, put a band together with the best musicians they could find. The first person they hired was Bobby. Upon assembling the rest of the group, which included guitarist Rick Derringer, they formed arguably the best "blue-eyed soul" band of all time-Edgar Winter's White Trash.
Ramirez recorded two brilliant albums with Winter, the studio LP White Trash and the live Roadwork. Both recordings provide significant evidence of the drummer's gifts. White Trash shows incredible discipline, taste, and rock-solid time, in different styles-high-energy rock and funk, slow 6/8 blues ballads, and big band. Check out Ramirez's precise accompaniment of the horn figures on the gospel rave-up "Save The Planet."
Roadwork is a live dramming masterpiece. Among the numerous highlights is Ramirez's amazing single-pedal work on "Turn On Your Love Light." The double album was recorded at two famed New York City theaters, the Apollo and the Fillmore East, and at the Whisky A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The gig at the Whiskey brought out some friends of the band's, including Marty Paich and Joe Porcaro. They in turn brought their kids David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, who were playing with Sonny & Cher at the time. Jeff went crazy over Ramirez's drumming, according to those who were there.
Edgar Winter's White Trash broke up shortly after Roadwork was released. The band re-formed around lead singer Jerry LaCroix and put out the album LaCroix, which shows where Ramirez was headed in his playing. A huge fan of Buddy Rich, Bernard Purdie, and all the great New Orleans drummers.
Bobby refines his combination of these influences on the recording, creating his own style in the process.
Just as Ramirez seemed on the brink of becoming a dramming household name, fate intervened. On July 24, 1972, LaCroix's band opened a concert for Uriah Heep in Chicago. The group was celebrating a birthday at a Rush Street nightclub, when Ramirez was beaten in the restroom by four thugs who considered his hair too long. The fight spilled out into the club. Ramirez, normally a kind and mild-mannered man, made the mistake of following the action onto the street, where he was attacked in an alley and beaten and kicked to death. The drummer was only twenty-four.
Jon Smith, sax player for White Trash and LaCroix, and later Toto and Boz Scaggs, says, "He just should have walked away-and normally he would have. But he didn't, and the music world is poorer for it."
Among those who loved Ramirez's playing, as well as his kind and gentle nature, is Bobby Grauso, who owned the Fibes Drum Company at the time of Bobby's death. Grauso gave Ramirez an endorsement, on the recommendation of the great drummer/educator Alan Dawson, and he remembers Ramirez as "a hell of a player, with a great feel and unlimited potential."
The drummer's best friend, Jerry LaCroix, says, "If you never saw Bobby play live, you never really heard Bobby." Rick Derringer, who launched a successful solo career after White Trash ended, says, "Bobby had the best groove of any drummer I've ever played with. When I hear the recordings of our rhythm section-Bobby, me, and bassist Randy Jo Hobbs-on Edgar's Roadwork album, it blows my mind how tight we are. I miss him even now. He was also a good human being. In the future, I know we'll be grooving together for the Lord in heaven."