[Harp-L] Pat Ramsey, RIP

To me, Pat WAS blues harmonica, period. I first saw him in 1987 opening for Johnny Winter in Fort Lauderdale,  FL. I was a high school kid and a big blues nut, but not yet fully into playing harp (though I dug Junior Wells and Sonny Boy II and Little Walter). Still, when that little unassuming dude with the big glasses stepped back from his vocal mic and starting blasting, everything else faded. "This guy is better than Little Walter!" I thought. Obviously, even Pat would disagree with that - but as a kid of 18 who was just starting to explore the blues and blues harp, I became a Pat disciple. After a song or two (I remember he dedicated "Crossroads" to Butterfield, who had just died), Pat said they were from Tallahassee -- where I was headed off to for college! I don't remember a thing about Johnny Winter's show that night .... after The Pat Ramsey Band, nothing else mattered.

Starting that fall when I arrived at FSU as a freshman, I must have seen Pat and his band dozens of times. It's funny, but for all the ferocious power that he brought to amplified harp, I have two very different memories, crystal recollections of Pat making gorgeous, pretty music that made the hair on my neck stand up. Once was at a jam session when he sang "People Get Ready" with Pam Laws, a gospel/jazz singer and Tallahassee legend. The other time was once when Steve Howell busted the head on his bass drum. While Steve was fixing it, Pat sang a blew some solo harp - I can't remember which song, but it was a Sonny Boy II tune and it was so perfect and in the pocket. Classic. During those years in Tallahassee, I got a few chances to speak to Pat, but honestly I was so star-struck I don't think I ever really got out more than, "Uhh, you're great, man." I later learned that, during that era, he probably didn't have much to say either, for reasons all his own.

Fastforward a decade or more and I'm sitting in a blues bar in West Palm Beach, FL waiting for an open mic jam to start. A bunch of us are at the bar talking about unsung harp players, guys more people should know. At the same time, me and some skinny kid next to me said "PAT RAMSEY!" That kid was Jason Ricci, who later went on to become my friend and teacher. Through Jason, I eventually met Pat and got to spend some time speaking with him. On my desk right now is the CD I had Pat autograph, plus my copy of "White, Hot & Blue." For more than 20 years now I don't think I've gone a week without thinking about Pat's music. As a harp player he's the guy I keep coming back to. I read once where baby zebras get the visual impression of their mother's stripes and they never forget that pattern, it's how they find home after they've wandered about in the herd. Well, Pat's blues - his blues with a feeling - is that ingrained in me, it's like those those zebra stripes.

Thanks for everything, Pat. Say hi to Duane and Jimi.


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