Michael Ramos: A Sideman Breaks Out Michael Ramos was the ideal sideman, recording with John Mellencamp, the BoDeans and The Rembrandts. Now, with his own group, Charanga Cakewalk, he returns to his Tex-Mex roots.

Michael Ramos: A Sideman Breaks Out

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/4763457/4764900" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Michael Ramos grew up in a small Texas town listening to the loping cumbia music with his parents and Bad Company with his friends. He learned to play synthesizer, percussion and trumpet. He mastered the sound-bending techniques of electronica. For years, he tried to be the ideal sideman. Then he started his own group called Charanga Cakewalk and Ramos recorded with the likes of John Mellencamp, The Bodeans and The Rembrandts. But the instrument that got him his biggest breaks was also the one that brought him back to his roots. As part of the series, Musicians In Their Own Words, Michael Ramos describes how that happened.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MICHAEL RAMOS (Musician): You know the accordion. It's one of those things, you know, I love it and I hate it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: Growing up, it was one of those things. It was, like, man, it wasn't an electric guitar. It wasn't an electric base. It wasn't a drum set or a synthesizer, you know. And whenever I was a kid, we'd go to these Mexican dancers or whatever and you'd have one band sitting there playing really cool Carlos Santana stuff. And the next band, we'd see some old guy dragging out the accordion. And we're, like, `OK, let's go get a Coke.'

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: I've been a sideman my entire career, and because of the accordion, you know, I've gotten to work with guys like Paul Simon or The Rembrandts and, you know, I play with Patty Griffin and I ease it in Patty's group. There was a Spanish tune that I recorded at my house for her. It's called "Mil Besos."

(Soundbite of "Mil Besos")

Ms. PATTY GRIFFIN: (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. RAMOS: And seeing the response that it got from people made me think, `OK, you know what? Maybe I can pull it off and do it for myself.'

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: Cumbia, anybody can reach out, regardless of what kind of music you're in to.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: I'm Mexican and I'm from Texas, and it's sort of like the national group of Mexico and Texas. The thing that I always like to focus on is the guiro, you know, it's like the chi chi-cha chi-cha-chich, you know, like the little wood block. And they call that gavaito(ph), which means little horse. So if you can imagine, like, a little horse, you know, like prancing along.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: Every once in a while, I'll hear a song and it will just take me someplace. And it's like a small, like--it's like a little deja vu.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: I was envisioning myself, like, walking down a dirt road somewhere in a jungle, you know. Everything's wet.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: The name of that tune's "Belleza." Of course, I also use the trumpets. I won't say I was trying to give it a bull fight flare, but it was sort of that bravado, you know, that mariachi kind of thing. But at the same time, I tried to make it sort of other worldly, almost like an imaginary beer joint somewhere.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: You know, I lost my dad about four years ago, and he was just a phenomenal dancer. And he and my mom together, they just glided across the dance floor. We didn't even have to be anywhere. It could be on a Sunday afternoon and some song comes on TV or something and there they are wisping around. I can still see my mom's skirt flowing around in the kitchen. That song, "Romanticos Desperados," hopeless romantics, I really tried to close my eyes and just imagine them spinning around to that one.

(Soundbite of "Romanticos Desperados")

Mr. RAMOS: To me, it's all connected, the old with the new. All the new stuff comes from the old stuff. And you use it all together and keep mixing it up and that's how things evolve.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAMOS: When you see, like, modern Mexican artists, even in their most ala gard(ph) work, you still see the same things, the same colors, the same ideas and the same passion in all that. And I kind of like to think that maybe at some point, my work would be interpreted that way.

MONTAGNE: Michael Ramos and the sounds of Charanga Cakewalk. We heard from him as part of the series Musicians In Their Own Words, produced by David Schulman and NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr. The first CD from Ramos and Charanga Cakewalk is called "Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge." The title reflects his desire to create something that's part electronic, part organic and that also owes something to the spirit of Mexican bingo.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep will be back on Monday. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER (host): And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.