by Monte Adkison aka “The Blues Stalker”
When I first interviewed Costa Rican guitarist Jose Ramirez about eighteen months ago, he was in the middle of a European tour. Since that time, his life has been a whirlwind of career changing events and accomplishments.
After moving from Florida to Washington, D.C., and forming his own band, they were sponsored by the D.C.Blues Society to compete in the 2020 International Blues Challenge and won second place and embarked on a heavy touring schedule in the United States. His long-standing desire to release a debut album of original music came to fruition with Here I Come recorded at Wire Studios in Austin, Texas and produced by Anson Funderburgh.
Jose recently relocated back to Florida and released Here I Come officially on May 29. The first week after release has seen his debut disc catapult to the top spots on major U.S. and Florida Blues music charts and recently also in the U.K. The viral pandemic postponed a third European and Canadian tour booked for the summer. Jose is rescheduling the tour to promote the new album. As the title song says, get ready because “Here I Come!”
International Blues Challenge
BS: Wowza! What a difference a year makes. Fresh off your second European tour in 2019, you moved to Washington, D.C., formed your own band and the D.C. Blues Society sponsored you in the 2020 International Blues Challenge. There in Memphis, you competed against 230 bands from all over the world and received second place. How did this validate your sacrifices to pursue your dream as a blues musician?
JR: Going to Memphis and competing against 230 of the best blues bands in the world really validates a long time of hard work and sacrifice. I had no expectations about the competition but once we got there and we figured out how rough the competition was, we just did our best and hoped for the best as well. It comes to show that the band had been working hard for quite some time.
Also, it really shows that it was a great band mixed with seasoned musicians and great people. We worked on my songs. We came to the competition with original music, my compositions, and that helped a lot. Things started to look up right after the competition and even though the pandemic has affected tours a lot the competition has given me a status it might have taken years for me to accomplish. Taking second place in this competition really helped to elevate my profile in the blues industry.
BS: How and where did you connect with Anson Funderburgh and make the decision for him to produce your debut album? Working with Anson, Jim Pugh (Robert Cray keyboardist) and the Texas Horns had to be an amazing experience.
JR: I met Anson the first time about 3 or 4 years ago, when I first came to America, when I met you and everybody here in Tampa. Anson was touring through the Tampa area because he was playing the Bradenton Blues Festival and he did a show at Aces, when Aces was still up and running, and I wanted to go and see him. It was my first time seeing him live but I already knew about him. He has always been one of my favorite guitar players ever. That night I got there, and I introduced myself and he and the guys decided they wanted to call me up on the stage and do a few songs with them and that is how the friendship started.
We stayed in touch all these years and last year we decided to sit down and have a formal meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. We met there around October of last year and we decided we wanted to work together. Anson seemed interested in my original songs and he thought it was a good choice to work together. So, we made it happen.
This past December, December 2019, I was still living in D.C., so I drove down to Austin and spent 10 days in the studio working in the studio with Anson as a producer. What an honor to have my favorite Texas guitar player producing my album and playing on a couple of tracks. It was great to have Jim Pugh with his experience with Robert Cray, and of course the Texas horns who had played with Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin at some point. It was special as well to have Nate Rowe on bass and Wes Starr on drums and to have Stuart Sullivan the sound engineer to do all the sound and the mixing. Stuart has Grammy Awards for work that he did for Jimmie Vaughan and Willie Nelson—so a Grammy Award engineer.
It was amazing to work with the crew that Anson put together for me for my original songs and it’s showing right now on charts all over the world. This album is a serious production and we are all excited and proud.
Deep Down in Florida
BS: After a successful time living in D.C. with a great band there, why was the decision made to relocate back to Florida?
JR: The pandemic influenced my decision to move back to Florida. My shows scheduled in D.C cancelled, and I do have some family and friends here in the Tampa Bay area. it just seemed right. I wanted to move closer to a place where I would know more people, given the actual circumstances of the pandemic. That was the main reason. I already knew a good number of musicians here and I do have a good following and fan base in Tampa Bay, so it seemed like a good decision and the right time to relocate to the Tampa Bay area.
Here I Come
BS: The official release of your debut disc Here I Come came on May 29 and has received excellent reviews from all over Florida, U.S., and the world. All but two cuts are original compositions. You managed to really capture a soulful side of the blues which is difficult for most artists. What was the inspiration behind Here I Come?
JR: It is just a large list of personal experiences that I have lived through since I was a kid basically. I have been writing all these songs for all this time and arranging them and rearranging them and fixing lyrics and stuff like this for all this time. It just felt like it was the right time to put them all together and have someone like Anson work on them and really shape them up and he took them to different level completely. The inspiration, it is just really the absorbing all those years of experiences and stories and it is just a very personal and intimate album.
BS: I have always been a fan of your guitar work but because of this new material I am impressed by your talent as a songwriter. As a very accomplished bilingual speaker, I have always been curious, do you think in Spanish and then translate to English or do the lyrics just come naturally for you in English?
JR: When I’m writing songs like blues songs I never think in Spanish because I’ve never really worked on blues in Spanish, not even in Costa Rica when I started when as a teenager I was writing songs and playing in my country. I never sing in Spanish, so it just comes to me naturally in English although English is not my first language. When I am writing a blues song, I just hear the rhymes that I hear when listening to songs by B.B. King or John Lee Hooker. My lyrics come naturally in English.
Join the Band
BS: Due to your move back to Florida, you had to find new bandmates. Please introduce us to your new band.
JR: The two guys on drums and keyboards—it is an interesting story because I met these two guys – they are brothers. I met them this past January at the IBC in Memphis while we were competing. They were representing the Kansas City Blues Society with their band, young guys but very soulful and experienced and we stayed in touch. We became friends while we were sharing the same quarter final venue and we started to talk.
When the pandemic hit and I started making plans to move down to Florida, they actually reached out and said “Jose, we actually have family in Florida so if you are moving to Florida we might be interested in relocating.” I said, “that’s awesome, we need a drummer and a keyboard player, and I’ve already seen you guys perform at the IBC.” Their names are Andre Reyes, Jr., and Antonio Reyes. I am currently talking to bass players to fill that position in the band as dates are rapidly filling up. (Note: after this interview Jose hired Kansas City bass player Kenny Watson, Jr).
BS: Talk about the blues…..just as you had booked a full summer and fall tour of Europe, Canada and the U.S. to promote your new release, the viral pandemic shut down venues and countries and resulted in cancellations and postponements. Are you currently rescheduling Europe and when can we expect touring to begin again to promote your new release?
JR: I now have a booking agency behind me after all these years booking myself. And this came because of winning second place in the IBC. It gave me a good amount of exposure and now I am working with Road Dog Booking Agency. We are working together to try and reschedule some of those dates, if possible, for the remainder of the 2020. We are also trying to reschedule the whole tour for 2021, the American tour and the European tour. It’s gonna take patience because the clubs don’t really know what’s going on and they don’t know when they are going to be able to reopen so it’s taken quite some time for me and my booking agent to really figure it out, but we are working really hard to make it happen.
Virtual CD Release Party
BS: You just had a virtual CD release party and performance on Can’t Stop the Blues Facebook page live. Care to give a shoutout to Karen Gottheimer and Crafton Barnes for providing a virtual “venue” for blues artists to perform and receive some compensation because of canceled concerts worldwide? It was an excellent performance by you.
JR: It was great being a part of Can’t Stop the Blues and I would like to thank Karen, Samantha, and Crafton for having me. We have been trying to put together a date for me since the pandemic hit almost two months ago but I was in the process of moving from D.C. down to Tampa so we could not make it work. It took some time, but I think that it was worth it. I had a great time recording the show for Can’t Stop the Blues and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. It was special.
Life’s Simple Treasures
BS: I have visited your native country many times and felt that it is truly paradise and love the Costa Rican pace of living and the philosophy of pura vida. Do you get homesick, especially now with the lockdowns in travel and current turmoil in the United States? Are you able to put those feelings into your music? I know that you have recently written a song about the pandemic, After All This Time. Can you tell us about that?
JR: That’s something that never goes away when your family is in our native country. It’s a feeling that you never lose, and, in some ways, I always want to be back. I always want to be in touch with my family and visit as much as possible, especially during times when a global pandemic hits and things get more sensitive. Now, with things going on with the racial situation here in the states, it makes me think a lot about back home. Because I come from a country where we do not have these kinds of issues. So, it is really complicated but I do talk to my family every day and I stay in touch with them. As soon as the pandemic is over, I plan on visiting, of course.
Yes, I recently wrote a song inspired by current events, talking about the pandemic and we have all learned in this time that we have no idea. We have been taking a lot of things for granted in our lives; seeing how the world is struggling and seeing all the suffering we are going through and just misery. I wanted to write a song that could bring some hope to blues fans all over the world. I hope to record After All This Time and hopefully it will be on my next EP or next album.
BS: Besides getting back out there with a new band and promoting your new release, what perhaps can we expect to see or hear in the future? Any projects in the works?
JR: It is difficult to say because we musicians depend on clubs and club owners and buyers. So, at this point my focus is to promote the release of my new album Here I Come as much as I can, via internet, social media, and my website, As soon as clubs start reopening, I will work very hard with my booking agent so we can start rescheduling the U.S. tour, the European tour, and hopefully our first tour to Canada as well. I keep constantly writing new songs, and I am excited to be putting together my new band as well.
Fans in Florida will want to mark their calendars for a Florida CD release party On October 3rd featuring special guest Anson Funderburgh at the Palladium Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Anson will also be joining me on October 10 at the King Biscuit Blues Festival on October 10. I will be performing at the Camping with the Blues Festival on October 17 in Brooksville, Florida,
BS: How can fans acquire your music and connect with you on social media? Website?
JR: My new album is on many digital platforms. But I want to direct everyone to my website because if they purchase the album straight from my website, they will be directly supporting me as an artist. If people purchase the album there, I will make sure they get an autographed copy and receive an 8-page booklet. These bonuses are not available if they buy online from another site. I also have a Facebook and Instagram page.
Welcome back Jose. You have arrived!
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Palladium Theatre St. Petersburg FL