[Harp-L] Pat Ramsey on "White, hot and blue"
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- Subject: [Harp-L] Pat Ramsey on "White, hot and blue"
- From: martin oldsberg <martinoldsberg@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2008 16:53:42 -0800 (PST)
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Yesterday as I was slouching here at my desk, pretending to work while listening to Staggerin Jim´s online harmonica show, Johnny Winter´s take on “Last night” from the “White hot and blue” album came on. It made me straighten up, hadn´t listened to that one in a long long time, and in conjunction with the sad news of Pat Ramsey´s death I suddenly flashed back three decades:
It was in the winter of 78/79 and we were sitting a few guys on a lazy afternoon having a beer and a chat at the place were I lived. One of the fellows, who I didn´t know, noticed the harmonicas here and there in the room and wondered if I was the one who played. So did he, it turned out, he had just started, and after we´d talked a little bit about this I said:
-- I just the other day bought this new Johnny Winter album, with an absolutely faantaastic harmonica player on it, name of Pat Ramsey. Have you heard him.
Nope, he had not, and I said that I´ll put it on, if he´s interested.
-- Yeah, please do.
At that point we were interrupted by someone who was passing round a local variety of dried vegetables that you were supposed to smoke (not uncommon in those days) and, being the sybaritic bastard that I am, I of course had me a hefty puff. When the smoke cleared I proceeded a bit shakily to the turntable and begged the other guys indulgence for a concentrated harmonica interlude.
I found “White, hot and blue”, turned the volume up to 11, dropped the needle on “Last night” and as the familiar intro came round I sat back in the sofa with a happy demented smile. After a couple of choruses of Pat Ramsey´s stupendous solo I looked at my fellow harmonica player and shouted:
-- Great playing, innit!?
He looked slightly confounded, and shouted back:
-- Yeah … but when´s the harmonica coming in …?!
-- This IS the harmonica!
-- Naw, lay off, this ain´t no harmonica …
-- Sure is!
But as he appeared genuinely disbelieving I went and got the record cover and pointed: “Harmonica: Pat Ramsey.” He still didn´t look convinced that what had been going on then was a harmonica, so with Neanderthal pedagogy I played the thing over again, carefully indicating when Johnny W:s guitar solo started. And another time again. I even got out my Bb harp and tried to play along for a bar or two. We were pretty stoned, but in a benign way and after a while his entire demeanour seemed to change, his face took on a sort of blank clarity, and I realised that I was witnessing a man who was having a Revelation. A harmonica could sound like that.
Later he thanked me profusely, and with an urgent look went out in the wintry Swedish dusk in search of a record store that carried “White, hot and blue”. He found himself with a mission.
Now, maybe this fellow was a wee bit thick, or we were drinking TNT and smoking dynamite, but I understood him: Up to that point I´d never heard anyone playing the harmonica like that. There was an edge and fluency in it that was very untypical for what was expected of the harmonica, and I think that what this other guy found hard to accept in the hazy shades of perceptual alteration was that he was not hearing a guitar.
For several years afterwards I was hunting for records were Pat Ramsey was featured, but never found anything. (This sort of thing was considerably more difficult then.) Later on I stopped playing (took it up again after a ten year hiatus) and stopped looking for stuff with Pat Ramsey, having arrived at the conclusion that he was an unsung hero of the blues harp. Contact with Harp-l corrected this, and I´m glad to see that there are several of you out there who felt the impact of this record.
Of course nowadays it´s not at all uncommon to hear that kind of playing, stylistically, but 30 years ago, truly, a window opened up for me: “This is how I should play!” And it still sounded great yesterday.
Sorry for this personal rambling down Memory Lane but just meant to take my hat off to Pat Ramsey.
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