Interview with the Italian Southern Rock band of Ramrod - more than just a music, a way of life

"Southern Rock, Rock and Roll, Hard Rock and almost all the music genres are the sons of the modern Blues"
Ramrod: The Legion of Southern Rock

The Ramrod is an Italian Southern Rock tribute band. In January 2013 Michelle (Martina Picaro, voice), Captain Morgan (Christopher Noè, guitar) and Mark Redwood (Marco Picaro, guitar) decided to realize their biggest dream: create a Southern Rock Tribute Band.

After putting the rhythm section together, with Madgun (Emanuele Elia) on bass and Andy Cardsharper (Andrea sartirani) on drums, they started looking for a third guitarist to have that real and traditional southern sound. That place was soon taken by Smokey Caesar (Cesare De Bernardi). Not too long after the first few shows, Adriano Roll Nolli (keyboards) joined the band, completing the official line-up. The Ramrod Band was born…

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Southern Rock culture and what does the Dixie Rock mean to you?

Mark: Above all I have learned the value of music. From a young age my father raised me listening to the best rock of 70's, and it was Lynyrd Skynyrd that struck me the most and made me want to play the guitar. Today listening to southern rock, for me, is a return to my musical routes and to a style of life that will always be in my heart. From this music I have learned to understand, love, and play all the other types of music from the south and from the USA, from which it was formed.

Capt Morgan: For me Southern Rock has become a style of life and not just music. As a biker I have found inspiration and a sweet home there. What music has the ability to make you think of freedom and a long open road more than this? Is life so full of obstacles and a wonder for living? This is what I personally like to call life, it has taught me that become comfortable with yourself is difficult but when we travel side by side and in the same direction as the sounds that we make, life is clear and transparent as water, yet as strong as moonshine.

Why did you think that Southern Rock continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?

Michelle: If I speak about Southern Rock I think about the USA, the Southern Lands with their people, their landscape, their habits and their history! I close my eyes, I wonder about those places, and I feel free. I happily think that this music give us the chance to live a little bit of the southern spirit with its sometimes powerful and sometimes moving notes, its lyrics that can tell us the stories of men and women like us or express feelings and thoughts. That’s why Europe needs Southern Rock, We need it to dream and to live a world that can be far and close at the same time.

Mark: I think that Southern Rock, although it is American, has become the genre of music listened to most worldwide. Its European success can’t be compared to the American success, but in this time of sleepy culture, I can see something waking up. My biggest goal is to bring my passion for this music everywhere and to everyone, in a way that helps people to discover the atmosphere and emotion of this genre, even to those who have never heard it before.

Capt Morgan: I think it has had good success and will continue to do so, in the European blues rock scene, until each has his own little “American dream” because 90% of the people are raised with this idea in their heads and there for those who can hear and understand do, even if they don't know the genre fully, they are curious and find a piece of themselves in the sounds and in the music.

How do you describe Ramrod sound and what characterize band’s philosophy?

Mark: Ramrod is the musical project I have always dreamed of, and now finally we have been able to make it come true, a great band made up of members full of positive energy and a desire to work hard for the greater goal. Many times we lose ourselves during jam sessions, maybe too long, but this too helps us to make something new. The thing I like the most about this group is that we live the music like an adventure and like something constructive for ourselves and others. Every concert, from the most to the least important, I have always looked at with emotion first, to share notes, joy, and whiskey with the people and my band mates.

Capt Morgan: When we formed Ramrod our philosophy was to have as much fun as possible; we have done this till now and I think we will continue to do so, but as time goes on we have recommitted ourselves spread the music. We do not think we are the messiah, at all. But it was interesting to change the sounds that you can here in the area, to put together a special mixture, harmonization, getting our inspiration from names like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many others. Paying tribute to the last on this list who are the true fathers of southern rock. Thanks to them we developed a sound that I will call accurate but spontaneous, curious and captivating, but separating from the great 70's, because we prefer it like that. Naked and raw, without filters, even when we record we don't use tricks just pure, true sounds, true and powerful, from all members at the same moments and not on separate tracks. Like it or not, we play like that.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

Michelle: It’s hard to find and answer, but digging through the memories, I remember a crowded and lighted stage at the end of a concert, the people was waiting impatiently for one more song, with their eyes fixed on us. When my keyboard player Adriano began to play the first notes of that song, there was an explosion of joy and emotion. The Magic of Free Bird had united all, and we played it for them, living every single note together…and this is an emotion that I can’t forget. Nothing is better than sharing my love for Southern with the public and receive their gratitude for having lived such a great musical experience.

Mark: As I said before, I have good memories of every performance of Ramrod, but I like most to remember the nights when the audience was really alive and passionate about our music. When people go home with a smile and the satisfaction of spending a beautiful night gives me great joy. The memory that makes me smile the most is when I first appeared in public in April of 2007. I was 11 years old and play a medley of riffs from Jimi Hendrix, on a huge stage set up in a park in a northern Italian city. Due to the agitation and the tension of my first exhibition I had mistaken connecting the cable to the amplifier, starting my career with a mistake. A few months later I founded my first group and started to go around living beautiful moments, between small pubs, large locations, and international festivals.

Capt Morgan: We try to make every performances unforgettable, but my best memory is when, during a performance in Milan, in the first row there was a child about 9 or 10 with his dad who sang along to each song and looked at his dad with love and adoration, in that very moment my heart full to see such a scene; I looked at Mark Redwood, and then all the others and we had him come up on the stage to introduce him to the people and for him to receive applause.

What do you miss most nowadays from the Southern Rock of 70s?

Michelle: I miss the spontaneity of the songs and the originality of the sound of the southern bands of the '70s.

Listening to the Bands of the time I realize the oneness that characterizes them and makes them recognizable compared to other genres. Nowadays everything is contaminated by the influence of the music industry, which makes the new creations in the southern rock sphere so sadly commercial.

Mark: I miss all that the bands and musicians have not seen and can never understand. When I listen to music from the 60's or 70's I feel that there is something in the air that fills them all, and that sadly we can’t understand or live fully. Society today has killed every form of art and style, turning it all into the same stuff.

Capt Morgan: What we are missing most from the 70's is the pure sound and freedom of musicians. Each had a personal character, while nowadays everything follows the masses and trends of the moments. The sound is mostly cold and the same from one group to another. If you focus too much on technique you lose passion. There must be always the right balance between passion and knowledge. They had a great mix plus they knew how to right things about everyday life in an interesting key, maybe because they lived in more interesting and innovative years, from that point of view. Music from today is not satisfying to me, rock and blues are not dead, they are always there but must be rediscovered, they will always remain beautiful powerful.

Their common bond is their will to express our themselves, and they are linked together as they evolved. I think that it is simply music with light and dark, and it is up to all of us to interpret it and live it, this is surely the final and most important result. What you write is the mirror of your soul.

What are the lines that connect the Blues with Soul and continue to Southern Rock and Honky Tonk music?

Michelle: I can only say that Southern Rock, Rock and Roll, Hard Rock and almost all the music genres are the sons of the modern Blues. Some more and some less, but everyone has within itself something that binds them to the blues, it's like a tree that has a thousand branches, but the same strong roots.  Surely in the Southern Rock this link is obvious and indisputable, and is one of the features of the genre that make it special.

Mark: What can I say about that? I think that blues was the start of it all and that it gave life to rock and the things that followed. Blues represents suffering and I believe that it is a fundamental ingredient in the story of rock and many musical genres. Human beings are made up 60-70% water, but when we look in the mirror we don't see this. Our lives are born in water and we need water to move on and to live. In my opinion blues is the water of modern music. And southern rock? It is the goodness distilled in the south of the States.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Rock?

Michelle: Beautiful question that is not easy to answer. The position of a woman in the rock world is complicated, as in many other fields.  A woman is aware of the fact that, once on stage, not many people are interested in her talent, but in her physical appearance, and this is not always pleasant, especially if you're the front man (or should I say front woman?) of the band.

Being a Man in a "man's world" is certainly easier, you are considered for what you are and for what you're worth.  The Southern Rock world, which is often connected with the world of motorcycling, beer and whiskey, is dominated by men, you know, where women can’t be the protagonists. The women have to struggle to transform themselves from being a "background" to being the leader of a band, recognized for they talent and personality. But they must want it, they have to show the grit and show that there is nothing that a woman is not able to do in the world of Music.

Make an account of the case of Rock & Blues in Italy. What mistakes in local scene would you wish to correct?

Michelle: To be sincere, there is a huge number of mistakes in the Italian scene, too many to be summarized. I simply think there's not enough space for rock, less space for blues and almost no space for southern rock.

I know from experience that if you want to achieve success (here in Italy), you have to bend to the will of producers and record labels who want to change your sound to make it appropriate to the music scene of the moment. For them Southern and Blues are old and outdated music genres and long hair are out of fashion.  Hard Times for the good music.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from local Rock & Blues scene?

Michelle: I don’t know what touched me emotionally from my local Rock Blues scene because of what I’ve said in the previous question, I just can say that there is a Rock Blues scene in Italy, but it is less important than the others! I personally know lots of great musicians in this music sphere condemned to be unknown just because they play this fantastic kind of music, there are many pubs, festivals and events linked to the Rock n' Blues music, but they sadly end there, with no possibility of advancement! Something sure is that those musicians surely play for passion and not just for glory!

Mark: Due to the fact that blues is not Italian music, you can’t be sad for the lack of blues in Italy. In my area there are many musicians, music lovers, and festivals where you can see performances by groups from all over the world. One very beautiful festival is Ameno Blues Festival between Lago Maggiore and Lago D'Orta in Piemonte, where I was able to participate in a Hendrix tribute in 2009.

Capt Morgan: Unfortunately the rock blues scene is very weak here, to be honest, there are many who call themselves musicians, but it isn’t enough to have a musical instrument and a group of friends who call you good. First of all you must humble, self-critical, and objective, and remember holding the hand of someone who is better than you is not a dishonor, on the contrary, I do that always, but here that’s not how it works usually.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Michelle: If I could go back in time for a whole day, musically speaking, I would use this opportunity to be in the middle of the crowd at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert before the tragic incident of the 77 ...

It may sound Trivial, but to see the original lineup playing some of the songs that have marked my life would be the realization of one of my dreams!

Mark: If I had a time machine there would be so many places and great things to see that I would probably go crazy. I would surely start in Florida in the beginning of the 70's, having said this southern rock lovers understand everything.

Capt Morgan: I would love to be deck of a vessel drinking very good old rum. They way those pirates lived, and their honor code has always fascinated me.

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