Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ramatam - Selftitled (1972)

(U.S 1972-73)
Ramatam was a sort of mini-supergroup, formed in the early 70's by Mike Pinera, from the Blues Image, Iron Butterfly and Mitch Mitchell, former drummer for Jimi Hendrix. They also had one other distinction, a female lead guitarist, April Lawton, a rare thing in those days. On the surface Ramatam had an impressive musical heritage which should have seen them become a major act, however, the band only stayed together for two years (releasing 2 albums) and then disbanded due to lack of popularity.
Signed by Atlantic, the band debuted with 1972's cleverly-titled "Ramatam".  Produced by Tom Dowd, the album had it's moments, but ultimately was too diverse to make much of an impression.  With stabs at blues, country-rock,  hard rock, and jazz it was simply impossible to figure out who these guys were.  Adding to the problems, horn arrangements sank several tracks, while Dowd gave the album a weird muddy sound.
The band toured all across the U.S during 1972, supporting ELP, Humble Pie and playing shows of their own.
Recalls Bob O´Neal, Ramatam´s roadie:
"I can't pinpoint the exact dates. I don't have any photos but I can definitely remember some of the cities where we did shows and who was headlining on those shows(...) I was living in Memphis, Tennessee with my friend, Steve Dabbs. We were working for a concert promoter in Memphis named Bob Kelley. His company was Mid-South Concerts(...) Ramatam was the support act on a Humble Pie show at the North Hall of Ellis Auditorium. Ramatam's tour manager was Paco Zimmer. This show was one of the first after the band formed. The band was Mitch Mitchell on drums, April Lawton on guitar, Mike Panera on guitar and Carlos Garcia on bass. I can't recall who else may have been in the band.Anyway, Steve and I knew Paco from when he had been in Memphis the year before with Cactus. He offered us jobs as roadies for the band. We accepted the offer and left with the band going to the next show, which was playing in New Orleans at a venue called The Warehouse with Humble Pie. 
From there we continued doing shows all over the country for the rest of that summer.We played shows with Humble Pie, Edgar Winter and ZZ Top. I can remember playing Akron, Ohio at a stadium show at the Rubber Bowl with five acts on the show. We also played on a multi-day festival in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania. Between tour segments, the band and the crew lived in a large mansion in Huntington Harbor out on Long Island. It was a really big house with about six bedrooms. We didn't actually spend very much time there but that's where Mitch's wife, Lynn and young daughter lived(...) The band was on Atlantic Records and they were created to be a "super group" made up of stars from previously successful groups with the unique innovation of a "chick" lead guitarist. It was a flop. They didn't sell many records and the whole project dissolved rather quickly after the first few months of playing shows.
Steve and I together set up all of the band equipment. We both handled everything when loading and unloading but then he set up guitars and amps and I set up the drums and we attended to those players during the shows. I would have to say that my relationship with Mitch was a working relationship rather than a social relationship. Like everyone else in the early 70s, I had been a HUGE Jimi Hendrix Experience fan and could occasionally get Mitch to relate some stories of their touring days. I can't say that I recall any particular tales though."
[extract from Mitch Mitchell's website]

.Album Review
Tom Dowd produced 1972's self-titled debut from Ramatam, a poor-man's Blind Faith featuring co-author of The Blues Image hit "Ride Captain Ride Mike Pinera on guitar and vocals, and Mitch Mitchell on drums. The "star" of this group was alleged to be April Lawton, a chick who had the Hendrix riffs down, to be sure, but not as creative as Robin Trower and all those other gents who carried Jimi's sound and stylings into the seventies.
An appearance by the group in Boston at the old Music Hall was pure white noise and not very memorable outside of that. The album is a bit more refined, but ultimately fails to deliver the goods.
"Whiskey Place" opens the record sounding like a brazen blend of Ten Wheel Drive meets The Jimi Hendrix Experience without a Genya Ravan or a Jimi to save the day. The horns actually clash with the guitar while the bass has a mind of its own. The production work by Dowd on the first track is totally uninspired and it certainly feels like the act was left to its own devices.
Mike Pinera and Les Sampson's "Heart Song" works much better, a jazzy vision of Traffic's brand of Brit rock meeting that of the West Coast's /Quicksilver Messenger Service.
But it's not enough - Rare Earth type macho vocals do much to implode the disc's potential totally sinking Pinera's "Ask Brother Ask".
Mitchell's great drum work is wasted on the monotony of the hook, and the musicianship gets so fragmented it sounds like Eno's Portsmouth Sinfonia without the humor. The Tommy Sullivan / April Lawton composition "What I Dream I Am", on the other hand, almost gets it done - it's pretty tune with flutes, acoustic guitar work and simple percussion from Mitch.
It fails because of vocals which just can't cut it, painful singing obliterating the disc's best chance for recognition. Was Tom Dowd out having coffee or just not interested in this whatsoever?
America could've used an answer to Steve Winwood's poppy jazz, and a Genya Ravan would have brought this experiment out of the quagmire it finds itself in with her voice and production intuition.
The blues here undefined and the tape mix far from cohesive on the other band collaboration,"Wayso". Ramatam, diffused and confused, is a tragic statement of record labels trying to make a talent rather than finding one. "Changing Days" is another decent Sullivan / Lawton easy feeling co-write with horrible vocals eradicating the core goodness of the songwriting. Mike Pinera's "Strange Place" takes the Kiss riff, from "Shout It Out Loud" and puts it in a jazz setting with vocals that sound like they are auditioning for Savoy Brown...and failing to get the gig.

If that sounds awful just be thankful you're reading about it without having to hear this mess. By 1973 the group would be pared down to a power trio of Lawton, Sullivan and Jimmy Walker on drums.
Perhaps bassist Russ Smith, ex-Iron Butterfly Pinera and Mitch Mitchell saw the writing on the wall, but how they couldn't come up with something much, much better than this is the mystery.
There's enough combined talent here to have delivered a real gem. With this album Ramatam have re-written Euclid's axiom and turned it on its head: here the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The final track, "Can't Sit Still", sounds like producer Dowd looped his old Ornette Coleman and Allman Brothers tapes with his Black Oak Arkansas projects. And if Ramatam hadn't toured, people might've thought that's exactly what this was [Review by Joe Viglione]
Although my initial interest in this band and album was the connection with the Jimi hendrix Experience via drummer 'Mitch Mitchell', the similarity with Grand Funk (particularly the vocals) and the complex guitar work of April Lawton makes this album a worthy inclusion on my blog. Although the album cover is nothing to write home about, the music on this album is very colourful and diverse. It is a shame however that the the brass sections on this album are so badly produced, and somewhat stifle the brilliant guitar work of  Lawton on many of the tracks.
This post consists of a MP3 rip  (320kps) taken from my almost virgin vinyl and includes artwork for both CD and LP.  If you haven't heard this band before, then you should give it a listen.
Track Listing
01 - Whiskey Place 3:23
02 - Heart Song 4:50
03 - Ask Brother Ask 5:00

04 - What I Dream I Am 4:00
05 - Wayso 3:23
06 - Changing Days 3:31
07 - Strange Place 6:00
08 - Wild Like Wine 3:51
09 - Can't Sit Still 6:00

Ramatam were:
April Lawton (lead guitar)
Mitch Mitchell (drums)
Mike Pinera (guitar)
Russ Smith (bass, vocals)

Tommy Sullivan (keyboards, reeds, vocals)
Ramatam Link (95Mb)

1 comment:

  1. There was a horrible rumour going around that guitarist April Lawton was infact a man. Or at least a transexual. I think this came from the fact that a lot of people thought that there was no way a woman could play guitar like her. Several band members insist she was infact all woman. Although Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister claims she was a man when he was in a band with her. But Dee Synder would say that because he is a twat.
    From Grego in Oz.