“Man, I was nervous,” Ramos, a two-time Grammy Award winner admits the next morning. “I had butterflies in my stomach; I’m not used to doing that anymore. But once we started performing, everything was alright.”
It’s been a long time since the superstar, whose career spans five decades, has performed in such an intimate setting. Most nights he’s surrounded by his band, The Mexican Revolution, which is often supplemented by additional guest musicians.
The three-person performance was an opportunity for Ramos, who performed in Oregon, Ohio on Friday Sept. 26, to get back to his “roots.” Or, as Ramos explains it, “I have to stay in touch with my people, my fans. If you don’t, someday they won’t have time for you.”
Ramos and The Mexican Revolution was joined by opening act, Jessy Serrata, a legendary Tejano superstar in his own right.
The concert, Tejano Legends Baile, was being promoted by Joe García’s IB Entertainment Inc. based in Chicago Heights. The company plans to return to the Toledo area next May with a Latin Music tour featuring several top performers, said García.
“We were excited about returning to Ohio,” Serrata said during a recent phone interview. “I lived in Detroit for about 3 ½ years and we played around Toledo all the time; it’s like a second home.”
El Gato Negro Returns
Ramos, one of the founders of Tejano music, or Chicano music, which is the term he prefers, is no stranger to Ohio and Michigan which have always had large populations of Mexcian-Americans, many who migrated from Texas, the home of Tejano.
His Ohio performance is an early kickoff for his upcoming new album, El Idolo de Texas, which will be released in three weeks.
“It’s one of the best CD’s I’ve made,” said Ramos, who by his own estimates has recorded more than 60 albums during his long career. “It’s constructed with real horns, the right keys; everything is right on time.”
The singer/songwriter relied mostly on other writers for the songs on this album, which includes a soulful cover of the Righteous Brothers classic, You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling, which Ramos sings in English.
The Beginning of The Revolution
Born Rubén Pérez Ramos in Sugarland, TX, the performer comes from a family whose music legacy stretches back to post-World War I. It was in Texas where his uncles began performing just after the war in 1919 as Juan Manuel Pérez and Los Serenateros. Between 1919 and 1941 the group would eventually include all nine of Rubén’s uncles.
At the start of World War II, five of the Pérez brothers went into the military. Rubén’s father, Alfonso Ramos Sr., remained behind working in the cotton fields and the railroads; he also played fiddle while his mother Elvira Pérez, played guitar during family gatherings.
At the end of the war, Rubén’s uncle Justin re-formed the band as Justin Pérez and His Ex-GIs. Despite their father’s reservations, Rubén’s sister Inez joined the band as singer in 1947, followed in the mid-1950s by their brother Alfonso who rechristened the group, the Alfonso Ramos Orchestra.
“I originally played drums for the group; I thought I was hot stuff,” said Rubén Ramos.
At the time, the band only performed songs in Spanish. But Rubén’s non-Latino friends kept encouraging him to tell his brother to sing songs in English so they could understand the songs.
“I went and told Alfonso this and my brother replied, “If you want songs in English, you sing them,” recalls Rubén, who put down the drum sticks to become the group’s lead singer. “But we were still performing for Mexican audiences and they kept yelling for us to sing in Spanish.”
The problem was that English was Rubén’s first language and he had to learn how to sing in Spanish.
“It was a tough transition going from English to Spanish,” Rubén Ramos admits.
There were many times he would pronounce a word or two incorrectly and inadvertently change the entire meaning of a song. For example, there was one number that was supposed to be a love song, but Rubén would mistakenly refer to the women in the song as La Demonia, or the demon woman.”
The band’s popularity began to grow in the late 1960s and Rubén, who was working full-time as a computer programmer, had to decide whether to stick with a stable, well-paying job, or swing for stardom
“I hated that job,” said Ramos, referring to the computer programming job. “People would call me at all times of the day and night and then I would still have to go back to work in the morning. It was too much stress.”
In 1969, Rubén and his brother Roy created the band, Rubén Ramos and the Mexican Revolution. The name Mexican Revolution was picked Rubén said, because of the emergence of the Chicano and civil rights movements.
The revolution almost ended in 1972, just as the band was peaking when Rubén collapsed on stage and almost died from three bleeding ulcers. Years of smoking 2 ½ packs of cigarettes and 8 cups of coffee per day, too much booze and bad eating habits would have to stop immediately, or he would soon be dead, Rubén’s doctor bluntly told him.
“I changed everything,” said Ramos. “I cut out red meat, Dr. Pepper; I eat lots of chicken, vegetables and fruits, and I walk three miles a day.”
For Ramos, there are no thoughts of retiring.
“No way; I enjoy what I do,” said Ramos. “Even when I’m onstage, tired as hell; I hear the people cheering and I see the people’s energy and it gives me the strength. “The way I see it, in life as long as you keep moving, the longer you’re going to last. Plus, I’ve gotta pay the bills.”
The Legend Continues
Serrata, 60, will celebrate 50 years as a performer next year. His most recent album, The Legend Continues, was released about 6 months ago.
His career highlights include a Grammy Award nomination for his 2004 hit album, Better than Ever and he was inducted into the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame in 2005.
His powerful voice – a literal force of nature - earned him the nick-name Mr. Iron Throat many years ago. His signature growl, “Awww Baby,” still makes women shriek enthusiastically during his concerts.
“When I was younger I heard Mick Jagger say it,” said Serrata. “I added a little inflection and it became mine.”
Serrata began performing with the family band when he was 10. The group, La Familia Serrata, included his father Matias on harmonica, his mother Agolita on guitar and Jessy on drums. Jessy’s 5 brothers also played various instruments and their four sisters sang harmonies.
“We were like the Chicano version of the Jackson Five,” Serrata says jokingly.
In addition to his albums with The New Wave Band, Serrata has recorded dozens of albums over the years, including six with his family bands Los Buenos and Los Hermanos Serrata. He’s recorded with other well-known artists like Steve Jordan, Sunny Ozuna and Conjunto Bernal, Little Joe Y La Familia, and Rubén Ramos.
His proudest recordings have been recently with his daughter Brandee, 25, who is following in her father’s footsteps. The father/daughter due recorded the album Recuerdo together three years ago and are working on Brandee’s next release, which will include some Hip Hop.
Although he’s rooting for his daughter’s success, Jessy isn’t worried about whether he’ll have another big hit again.
“I’ve already passed all those bridges,” he said. “I’m maintaining; still working the circuit. I’ve been over the mountain already, although I’d like to think I’m on my way back up again. I don’t worry about the competition; I’ve already been there.”