Your Big Sister’s (Record) Rack: “Ramatam”
Riffling through your big sister’s (or big brother’s) records, you often came to the conclusion that maybe he or she was cooler than you. Maybe not a lot cooler, maybe just a little. And you usually came to this conclusion by realizing that your elder sibling listened to music made by people you never heard of. So today we focus on Ramatam, the 1972 self-titled debut album of a band that had big aspirations.
Ramtatam has been described as a “poor man’s Blind Faith,” and I suppose that’s appropriate – the band included guitarist/vocalist Mike Pinera, best known for writing and singing “Ride Captain Ride” with the group Blues Image. He served some time as a member of Iron Butterfly before forming Ramatam. The band’s drummer was Mitch Mitchell, formerly of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the focus of the five-piece group was April Lawton, a chick who was hyped at the time as a guitarist as good as Hendrix himself.
So this group had a lot to live up to – Tom Dowd (Allman Brothers Band, Derek and the Dominos) produced the album but its combination of hard rock and jazz rhythms with totally incongruous horns kind of made it sound like a mess. “Heart Song,” written by Pinera with Les Sampson (also a drummer, he played with the Experience’s Noel Redding), takes the group into Traffic territory, while the harder rockin’ “Ask Brother Ask” sounds like Rare Earth or Jethro Tull with a sax instead of flute. Lawton does some nice shreddin’ lead guitar on “Ask,” and she contributes three songs co-written with Ramatam keyboardist Tom Sullivan. Probably the best of these is “Changing Days,” which sounds like a Crosby, Stills and Nash throwaway.
Then there’s “Wayso,” writing credited to the entire band, which sounds uncannily like Blood, Sweat and Tears invited Chicago’s Terry Kath to sit in but everyone got drunk so they threw away the tape. The band released another album without Mitchell and Pinera, presumably because they had a two-LP deal with Atlantic Records. April Lawton never did make it to the exalted ranks of guitarists like Clapton, Page or Hendrix – she played in some bands but left music to become a painter and graphic designer. She died in 2006. Mitchell was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Experience and died in 2008. Pinera played with the band New Cactus and toured as Alice Cooper’s guitarist in the 1980s and played on a number of Cooper’s albums, including last year’s Along Came A Spider.