There's a line that goes something like "the best laid plans of mice and men..." which roughly translates into things not always going according to plan. The plan for "Greasy Kid Stuff," the latest Kid Ramos CD, was to step away from the horn-based, West Coast Blues he's parlayed on his last two Evidence discs. This time, Kid wanted to rear back to the rougher days of Memphis grease and Chicago grit with harp players James Harman, Rod Piazza, Charlie Musselwhite, Johnny Dyer, Lynwood Slim, Paul deLay, and Rick Estrin all taking part. This might have been a harp shootout to end all, but instead winds up a winner for its honesty, effort, and great variation of blues styles. But fear not as there's plenty of harp present and lots of the stripped-down efforts Ramos was looking for. Kid Ramos has got enough background to fill a crater, added to that, his licks, tone, and chops wouldn't fit in a canyon, and he has a heart for blues wider than California's faultline.
"Greasy Kid Stuff" may well have gone off-course but it still works incredibly well considering how far removed it is from the original blueprint. Ramos takes equal blame for the failure to stay on track from the opening title cut through the final notes. "Greasy Kid Stuff" is a shuffling and nasty, guitar-laced instrumental with potent horn charts filling in the voids. Jeff Turmes, present on James Harman and Kid Ramos releases, handles the bass duties and happens to be a wizard at honkin' sax parts as well, something else there's plenty of. As one of the most mature blues guitarists around, Kid will suck you in from the outset with incredible taste, yet never pull out all the stops until he's sure you're hooked. Ramos does just that and then spins you around until you can't tell up from down with Clarence Samuels' old Excello gem, "Chicken Hearted Woman," with James Harman providing the dirtroad vocals as Kid's guitar cocks back and forth like a rooster exiting the henhouse. "Charlie's Old Highway 51 Blues" sports Musselwhite on vocals and Chicago-tough harp and Paul deLay steps up on the New Orleans' flavored "Say What You Mean, Baby" with more great horns, while Lynwood Slim takes the fore on Willie Dixon's rustling" I Don't Care Who Knows." Rick Estrin shows up for a comic twist on "It's Hot In Here," with Ramos recalling Willie Johnson's crackling sounds, and Estrin's harp sounding much like Howlin' Wolf played, sparse and full of gravel. Rod Piazza jumps in with "Devil's Foot," a swinging instrumental that seems to come right out of the big band era, minus the honking brass section. Harman returns on his "Low Down Woman" with lyrics of a woman who would rather drink Pine-Sol, acetone, or MEK instead of normal imbibing products. Ramos takes the spotlight on Deadric Malone's "Hold Me Tenderly," showing his improvements in the vocal department, and that is certainly something to keep an eye on.
Rick Estrin delivers a superb "Marion's Mood," a Little Walter-like slow blues instrumental which captures the essence of Jacobs' dynamic abilities, and Musselwhite drops back in on "Rich Man's Woman (On A Poor Man's Pay)" sounding as solid as ever while Ramos serves up some tastefully oiled slide guitar. "Gratitude Is Riches (And Complaint Is Poverty)" comes from Harman's stellar pen and finds Kid issuing notice that Elmore James' secrets to tone have been uncovered once again. Paul deLay comes back for "Ain't Gonna Holler," a righteously sloppy Memphis walk, with Ramos' guitar reminding one of Joe Hill Louis. Piazza enters once more with the near-pop of "That's What She Hollered," and the master-of-ceremonies takes the vocal spot again for the rollicking, horn-laced "Country Woman." Johnny Dyer, a West Coast elder-statesman of solid harp abilities stands mighty tall with Lightnin' Slim's "Mean Ol' Lonesome Train," while Musselwhite and Estrin team up for the closer, "Harmonica Hangover," discussing a passed-out James Harman lying on the floor at the Ramos home.
While Kid Ramos may have had a focused idea of what he wanted "Greasy Kid Stuff" to sound like, the finished product still shines like a gold tooth no matter how distant it stands from what was planned. Ramos mentions in the liner notes that with the wealth of material provided by his guests, and great originals at that, he wasn't about to stop the proceedings with statements of purpose. One of the many better ideas in this sidetracked CD is having Ramos handle all the guitar chores, unlike his gripping "West Coast House Party," which featured Duke Robillard and others. With Ramos as the lone-wrangler, it's completely centered, and shows his amazing talents as not only a player, but one who readily understands that a key to this sort of magic is in variation of tones and grooves. He takes the spotlight when he feels it's time to, and leaves showboating by the wayside, favoring instead, the 'less-is-more-than-you-think' school. With a stellar cast along for the ride, the 60 minutes of deftly delivered blues styles here are as powerful as they are fun. "Greasy Kid Stuff" is highly recommended, but keep the disc away from your stash of Wildroot and Blue Magic pomade.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.