Johnny Ramos grew up in Benicia and Vallejo. While very young he listened to the big band music that his mother, Billy Lou, loved and sang with many of the local big bands. Spending weekends with his Mom and the rest of the time in a foster home, he listened a lot to everything on the radio. He spent time in record stores like Munsters Music, which used to be on the corner of Georgia and Sonoma until the late seventies.
By the time he went to Benicia Junior High School he was playing guitar and keyboards, in a band called JAM. He played saxophone and flute in the first chair of the concert band, and saxophone in the marching band. Lunch time was when he would go to the stage area to jam and read charts. Moving on to Benicia High School, “things started jumping.” There were “a bunch of local bands.” In his freshman year he joined a group called Southern Comfort. “They played big places, Air Force bases, the Presidio, private parties and high school proms.” His high school music teacher, Dalt Williams, “made sure they went to Reno every year for jazz competitions and smaller communities. ?We took lots of field trips. He got me into Wes Montgomery and cats like him.” All through high school he was playing professionally at “different clubs, venues and bars.” They played a lot of R&B and Funk intertwined with Jazz and Rock. “I used to hang out at the Melody, at Sonoma and Alabama in Vallejo. When they closed, it was converted into a studio by Confunkshun, and he jammed with them too. In the seventies and early eighties he played with different bands on the “Holiday Inn Circuit and a couple other hotel chains. There was the Coronado Inn where Highway 29 and 37 meet. Things started to decline toward the end of the eighties. Chris? Club is one of the last survivors.”
After attending a “little at Sonoma State College” Johnny “hit the road with a band called Trans Bay Central, traveling up and down the west coast and into Canada. He has continued to play a wide variety of musical styles, Rock and Roll, Jazz, R&B and gospel too “depending on the audience.” While some musicians might sound stiff, or unsure in at least one of those genres, Johnny seems to feel natural in any setting. He’s not faking it. It’s organic, something he has gained with years of listening, playing and living the music. “All music is intertwined. I don’t segregate. I get into that music, what it is. I like to relate to it all. That’s the philosophy of Johnny and the B Goods: enjoyment, stress reduction, the way we live. We like to have fun and we make a living at playing different music in different venues. I think it’s a square way of thinking, a sheltered way of thinking to stick to one thing. We meet all kinds of people. We travel the highways and the byways.”
Johnny and the B Goods have been collaborating with my husband Tony Mims and me on a project we call Poetic Symmetry, a Musical Poetic Journey. After two weeks of our five week run, I asked what he thought about playing music to poetry. “Poetry is music. Music is poetry. They’re rooted together. It’s not different. It’s the same. The Psalms are poetry, set to music. It’s been going on for centuries. We’re doing it in today’s style and music and language. A lot of good musicians I know have played in church or different environments where people are speaking. When I’m playing behind a poet I’m trying to emphasize what the poet is saying. The music is a reflection. I find it enjoyable to stretch out and use all my experiences to bring to the plate.”
Johnny will be joined by Anthony Atherton on the saxophone and a variety of his friends over the next few weeks on bass and drums.
Nov. 4, 11
Listen & Be Heard
818 Marin St.,