Sunday, April 3, 2011
REAL LATIN MUSIC: Robbie Busch wrote these great liner notes for the amazing Tito Ramos record Where My Head Is At - CLICK THE PIC FOR THE FANIA LINK!
Big T hopped off the Six train at 103rd Street. He grinned as the young chica on the corner waved. He was the Latino superdude who could jive with all the sisters while lending a helping hand to all the brothers. Boricua power pulsed through him. The conga that floated through El Barrio was a constant heartbeat. It always beaconed him home.
It was 1972. A year that seemed to expand the mind with a deep breath of new possibilities for our man Tito “Big T” Ramos. He was coming off a highly productive period in his musical life, but as he says, “We were kind of crazy, messing around with LSD and partying day and night.” Big T saw himself reflected in a world that was consuming its own tail. A year earlier, Marvin Gaye had asked, What’s Going On? Now, there was something swelling in Harlem—Spanish or otherwise. Eddie Kendricks had a date with the rain while super fly Curtis Mayfield delivered the bad news about Freddie, prompting Marvel Comics to give birth to the ghetto superhero Luke Cage.
From war to Watergate, society was crumbling around Big T. He knew it was time for change, but his head was still fuzzy after burning too long in the heat of the TnT explosion. As Big T’s alter ego, Tito Ramos, while not mild mannered, was a gentle soul who had been tossed around by the music industry for the better part of a decade. His sidekick through most of his adventures had been Tony Rojas, the other half of the salsa and boogaloo outfit TnT Band. But Big T knew his last outing was to be a solo mission.
Soon he would sing, “Heaven is not for everyone.” But standing alone for the first time as an artist opened him up to new revelations. “If you listen to the songs [on the album] Where My Head Is At, the lyrics are kind of strange,” Tito recalls. “You could tell from within the songs that I was moving in a direction that had a spiritual connotation to it. I think that’s what motivated me to do that album.”
Tito still had one year left on his recording contract. He says, “Jerry Masucci had bought the contract [from Cotique Records] and knew that I was supposed to do an album. I said, ‘Well, I want to do an all-English album.’” Masucci didn’t seem to care and teamed him up with producer Larry Harlow, whose forward-thinking arrangements had birthed some of the funkiest Latin music to come out of New York.
Tito Ramos had been a staple on the Latin scene since the late ’60s when he joined the band of his Commerce High School friend, Johnny Colón. Producer George Goldner came to hear them at a rehearsal and asked if they could work something up over the vamp from an old Cuban standard. Tito leaped at the opportunity to write the lyrics for the new song. At the next rehearsal, Johnny started doing the vamp, and Tito launched into the vocals: “LSD has a hold on me.” It was a little too far out there for the clean-cut bandleader. Johnny said, “I don’t know about that chorus.” But Tito convinced him, responding, “No, listen, it has a double meaning: L stands for Love, S stands for Strong, and D is for Dynamic.” Johnny was sold, and “Boogaloo Blues” was born. Production partners George Goldner and Stanley Lewis knew they had a hit on their hands and whisked the band into the studio to record it right away.
They were a bunch of young guys who were doing it for the love of the music. They didn’t really understand the business, and when it came time to sign papers, Tito was given credit for one of his songs, “Judy Part II,” but when he asked about the other songs he’d written, he was told it didn’t really matter. “I didn’t know, man. I was ignorant and went along with it,” Tito says. “The next thing you know, ‘Boogaloo Blues’ was a big smash!”
Tito got fed up with not getting the credit he felt he deserved. “If you listen to the Boogaloo Blues album and Boogaloo ’67, all the songs that I did vocals on, I did lyrics on.” He told George Goldner he was leaving the band, and Goldner immediately offered him a contract to do a solo record. But before this could happen, Tito’s old friend from the neighborhood, Joe Bataan, asked him to fill in as singer when Joe Pagan passed away suddenly. Tito went on to do the album Subway Joe with Bataan, singing the Spanish vocals, but again not receiving writing credit.
Tito had gotten his best friend Tony Rojas a job singing backup for the Johnny Colón Orchestra. The two charismatic singers were in the front of the public’s perception of the band, and they were christened the “TnT Boys” by the fans. After Tito left the band, Tony soon found himself without a job. So Big T decided to use his contract with George Goldner to form the TnT Band, cutting Tony in as an equal partner. The boys would go on to record some of the most beloved Latin soul and salsa songs of all time, like “The Meditation” and “Sabré Olvidar.”
An excess of partying and drugs was putting a strain on the TnT Boys. Tito needed a break from it all to see what direction he wanted to go in. “I must have spent six months in my house every day just writing the songs and living them. [This record] was really a part of me.” He knew that love would save the day, but this time the love was different. Deeper. He was caught in a spiritual awakening. It was both empowering and confusing. His mind strained to put disparate thoughts together as he let the process take a hold of him.
Spiritually, Tito was on a love kick, while musically, he drew on everything from his early days singing on street corners in Spanish Harlem to contemporary “modern soul” and freaked-out acid funk. “Motown was big at the time, so there was a lot of influence,” he remembers. “There was a lot of doo-wop mixed with Motown. See, I always say that the type of music that I do is Latin-soul-jazz. It’s a fusion, because we used a lot of jazz riffs with the horns and then we [put in] the R&B with the Latin rhythm.”
He recalls working with Larry Harlow in the studio: “Oh man! We came in and did it in one or two sessions at the most. There was no time! If you screwed something up... most of the time it was like, ‘Hey, that’s fine! Let it go.’” But between Tito’s inner journey and Harlow’s studio expertise, the process won out, resulting in an album that sounded like the lost soundtrack to a Latinosploitation film that existed only in the mind’s eye of its hero—Big T.
The drugs and haze that had been constant companions had opened him up to a new world. But now Big T saw the bigger picture. He was about to hip you to a little something and tell you where his head was at. As he looked out over El Barrio with pride, he preached that most basic and beautiful idea, “Love is something that we all need.”
Liner notes by Robbie Busch
Tito Ramos Where My Head Is At (Cotique 1069)
Originally released in 1972
Produced by Larry Harlow Arranged by Larry Harlow and Marty Sheller Recorded and mixed at Good Vibrations Sound Studios, NYC Engineered by Alan Manger
Remastered by Wax Poetics Mastering Original design and illustration by Ray Mulett