Washington-based saxophonist Scott Ramminger talks about his experiences in music and New Orleans

"The blues evolved from field chants and very basic music. There is a real primitive element at its core. That give it a universal quality. I think the blues will always be around."

Scott Ramminger: Breathing of New Orleans

Washington-based singer/saxophonist Scott Ramminger  graduated from Huntsville High School in 1976. He played in the HHS marching and jazz bands, and did shows with his garage combo After Blue, which performed Southern rock tunes, by the likes of Marshall Tucker Band and Allman Brothers, as well as R&B grooves.

In addition to fronting Scott Ramminger & The CrawStickers on sax and vocals, Scott has appeared with a number of DC area blues, rock, and R&B bands and writes a few tunes as well. He has performed area at venues including the Bayou DC, Hill Country Barbecue, The Bullpen; Cajun Experience, The Hard Rock Cafe, Jammin' Java, the Harp & Fiddle, 219 / The Basin Street Lounge,  Blue Monday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, McGinty’s Pub, The Quarry House Tavern, Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, Dr. Dremos, Chick Hall’s Surf Club, The Austin Grill, Clydes, Bangkok Blues, The Old Bowie Town Grill, Dad's Pub, JVs, and at the Delaware Beaches at Bethany Blues, Rusty Rudder, the Chalkboard, and the Bethany Beach Bandstand, and many others. . .

Ramminger released this year his sophomore solo album "Advice From a Father to a Son," Several tracks were cut in New Orleans, at Fudge Recording Studio, with a quartet of sterling Crescent City musicians: bassist George Porter Jr. (The Meters), guitarist Shane Theriot (Neville Brothers, Boz Skaggs), drummer Johnny Vidacovich (Professor Longhair, James Booker, Tab Benoit) and keyboardist David Torkanowsky (Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins).

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from New Orleans culture and music, what does the blues mean to you?

The blues is at the root of most of the music that I like. And New Orleans is very special, because there is a coming together of all sorts of musical influences. There is a fusion of blues and jazz with Caribbean elements. There is a tradition of openness to a wide range of musical styles.

In what age did you play your first gig and how was it like (where, with whom etc.)?

I guess I was about 15. I had a band in Alabama where I grew up. We played some crazy gigs.  We would take any gig we were offered.  We once played a theater party where we had to let a fellow who played the bag pipes sit in with us. We played rock gigs, jazz gigs – whatever we could scrape up. It was great training.

"It (Blues) is really about feeling and emotion. And those things are timeless. So sure, I believe in real blues nowadays. Everyone gets the blues."

How do you describe Scott Ramminger sound and progress, what characterize CrawStickers philosophy?

The groove has to be there for me. I want something that makes me tap my foot or bob my head. But I also like songs that have something to say. I like variety. I like swing. I like funk. I like to mix up the instrumentation a bit. To me, if you can write a song that has a great groove AND has something to say, you have hit the jackpot.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music? What is the best advice ever given you?

I try to learn something from everyone I play with. I stopped playing, at least in public, for quite a while in my 20s and 30s. When I got back into music it was kind of like starting over. I played in other bands for a while. Then I started my own thing. When I did, I hired the best guys I could get. They would kick me around pretty hard musically. That was great for getting my thing together. The best advice I have gotten was probably from the horn players of Tower of Power. I went to a workshop they did. They basically said: Go out and play. Start something and get out there and work on your thing on the job. So that’s what I did.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Right now is probably the most interesting time. My record, “Advice From a Father to a Son,” has gotten some positive attention. It made it to number 4 on the Sirius/XM Bluesville  “Click to Pick” list. That was huge. Those guys have an audience worldwide of several million people. I have been playing some good gigs myself. I also put a band together to back up a very famous blues songwriter, Gary Nicholson, on some dates around in the Mid-Atlantic area of the U.S. I am working on two new projects, an EP of original holiday music, which is fun.  And I have another CD in the works. I went back to New Orleans last December and cut seven more songs, and I am planning to go back in July to cut some more tunes. I am also planning to record in Muscle Shoals this summer with some of the players who played on the great R&B music that came out of there in the 60s and 70s. I have a lot going on!  The worst moment. . . I don’t know. I played a gig once in an Army Rec center where they took away all of the pool cues and ping pong paddles from the guys and forced them to come listen to us. That was kind of uncomfortable. I tend to be a guy who sees the glass as half full, not half empty. Things are looking very positive right now. The digital revolution has its challenges in terms of having people steal your music illegally from various websites and things. But on the other hand, the whole digital thing has allowed me – and guys like me – to get my music out there all over the world.   It is the wild west out there. The days of big record labels controlling everything are over.

"New Orleans is one of the greatest musical cities in the world. It combines a deep history and tradition going back before the days of Louis Armstrong, with a willingness to embrace what is current. "

What do you miss nowadays from old days of New Orleans music? How has the music changed over the years?

I think that in the “old days” there was more emphasis on getting things right in the studio. There was no ProTools. It’s like the old joke:  What was there before ProTools. Answer: Pros. A lot of the old New Orleans R&B that I dig was cut using three microphones to capture the whole performance. There was more spontaneity. They turned on the tape and did a couple of takes. Then they picked the best one. The music recorded that way doesn’t sound perfect, but it sound real – and great.

Why did you think that New Orleans music and culture continues to generate such a devoted following? 

To me, New Orleans is one of the greatest musical cities in the world. It combines a deep history and tradition going back before the days of Louis Armstrong, with a willingness to embrace what is current. For instance, you have guys putting traditional brass bands together with hip hop. That is really pretty cool.

Are there any memories from George Porter Jr. and Johnny Vidacovich which you’d like to share with us?

All the New Orleans cats were really cool. I was honestly nervous going in. But they were just regular guys. Very cool. They liked my tunes. And they dug the fact that I was into just letting the tunes go down organically. I brought in some demos. But basically, I just said: “Let’s see what happens.” All the stuff I recorded there was done in two takes. We recorded seven tunes in five-and-a-half hours. David Torkanowsky, George Porter, and Johnny Vidacovich have known each other for years. So they were kidding around and having fun.  They had some great stories.

Which memory from recording and show time with the CrawStickers makes you smile?

Well, one thing is the recording of “This Town’s Seen the Last of Me.” I had this idea to start it with the drums just banging away out of time and gradually kind of funneling into the groove of the tune.  Johnny was into to it, so we did it that way. You can hear me laugh as he is doing it, and we decided to leave it in. At the end of the tune, David Torkanowsky said. “That into was F---- great! Man, that thing was fantasic.” I wanted to leave that on too. But I thought it would be too much.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I was on a cruise that Delbert McClinton does. I went into a jam. Delbert McClinton, Marcia Ball, Tab Benoit, Leroy Parnell, and several other heavy weight people were playing. I had my horn with me, but had no intention of playing. A guy who I thought was in charge told me I should go up and play. At first I said no. But he insisted. I thought he was some sort of official.  So eventually I went up and asked Delbert if I could play. He said okay. It was a blast.   Later I found out the guy was not an official. He was just a drunk audience member. But what the heck?  It worked out. I played very well that night.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

The blues evolved from field chants and very basic music. There is a real primitive element at its core. That give it a universal quality. I think the blues will always be around. I think one advantage of the digital age is that all kinds of music is instantly accessible to people. When I was growing up there was a lot of older music that was pretty hard to get your hands on. So I wish that more and more people will expose themselves to the wide ranges of blues and roots music that is out there. And I think that is happening more and more.

When we talk about blues usually refer moments of the past. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

It is really about feeling and emotion. And those things are timeless. So sure, I believe in real blues nowadays. Everyone gets the blues. Some woman (or man) has done you wrong. You lost something – a job, a girl, a friend, a car. It sometimes bugs me when I see someone singing blues that I think is inauthentic. But as long as there are people, the blues will be there.

"The best advice I have gotten was probably from the horn players of Tower of Power: Go out and play. Start something and get out there and work on your thing on the job."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues, to Stax/Motown, to Jazz, to Nashville Twang and beyond?

Well, the blues is really at the root of most of that stuff. And if you look at the musical structure of the songs, there is a lot of similarity – particularly, harmonically, between country songs and blues songs. I have a couple of songs I have written that really could have gone either way. The Stax/Motown stuff typically has a few different chords thrown in. And, jazz, of course, has its roots in the blues. I like all kinds of music – jazz, R&B, rock, country. The blues is a jumping off point for a great deal of modern popular music.

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?

Well I was talking to a musician friend of mine about that. One of the best paying gigs I have played to date was a deal where no one was paying much attention to what we were doing. We made good dough, but it wasn’t that much fun. My favorite gigs are ones where I feel a connection to the audience. I appreciate any compliments. But hearing that the music moved someone is the best compliment. I particularly enjoy that if it is a song that I wrote.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Listen to everything you can. Find out what the guys you like listened to. Practice. And get out there and play as many gigs as you can of all kinds. For me, the combination of practice and playing a lot in a variety of situations is what moves my thing forward.

"The Stax/Motown stuff typically has a few different chords thrown in. And, jazz, of course, has its roots in the blues. I like all kinds of music – jazz, R&B, rock, country. The blues is a jumping off point for a great deal of modern popular music."

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? 

Music is what I mostly do it my free time. Either practicing, writing, learning about other aspects. I have a home studio, and I am trying to learn more about recording. I am trying to learn some new software, Sibelius, a music scoring program. I enjoy reading biographies of great musicians. I just read biographies of Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine, two great drummers. I enjoy reading all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction. 

What is your music DREAM? Happiness is……

My music dream is to continue to advance my thing. I would love it if someone up the food chain that I admire would cut some of my songs.  I’d like to tour a bit more.  Get over to some other parts of the world and play. I would love to come for tour in Greece! I just want to continue to grow musically and get my music in front of as many people as possible.

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