Al remembers musician, composer and arranger Louie Ramirez (1938-1993)
Profile: Louie Ramirez
by Al Santiago
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
— Henry David Thoreau
On Walden Pond 1854
It’s not that Louie did not keep pace with his companions, it’s that they did not keep pace with him. He set the pace and he did hear a different drummer.
Louie Ramirez not only followed a different drummer, but he was his own different drummer. While other arrangers were writing seventh chords, Louie was writing ninths and when they wrote ninths he was writing elevenths and when they wrote elevenths he was writing thirteenths and when they were writing thirteenths Louie reflected and said, “hey, unison isn’t demeaning, let’s alternate between the various type chords and unison.” Hip? You bet your ass.
His humor was only surpassed by his musical talents...and what talents! Musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, conductor, percussionist, pianist and record producer. He championed the vibes, he collaborated with Puente, Pacheco, Rodriguez, the Palmieris, Ruben Blades and many more.
Louie loved people and they loved him. At any hang out session, Louie was at the center, telling jokes, imitating people, making up and exaggerating stories... cracking everybody up. His imitation of Ray Barretto was a classic. His dual imitation, says Andy Gonzalez, of father Johnny Rodriguez Sr. and son Dandy was hilarious. Louie could have been a professional comedian but music was his thing.
In the fifties, he played with Joe Loco and in the sixties he would join Joe Cuba. He was a major contributor to Johnny Pacheco’s first charanga album in 1960 co-writing and arranging El Guiro de Macorina. Louie also was arranger and timbalero on Sabu’s classic Jazz Españole (also 1960).
Over the years he joined forces with Ozzie Torrens, Pete Bonet and in the last decade, Ray De La Paz. I think this was to share some of the responsibilities with a bandmember buddy promoted to co-leader, so he could have time for his many arrangements. He recorded many LP’s for various labels with different instrumentations from big band to conjunto to septet. He became a senior member of the Allegre All-Stars doing everything from clave to vibes to arranging to co-leader status with Charlie Palmieri, Kako and myself.
In ‘63 or ‘64 I produced Louie’s LP Vibes Galore for my Alegre label. Charlie Palmieri supervised one of the sessions. Johnny Rodriguez Sr. is very proud of his timbal solo on "El Titere," Louie of course was on vibes... and yes, "El Titere" is autobiographical. Louie wrote a very funny sidebar for the backliner of Vibes Galore in the form of a resume.
In the middle sixties, I was recording supervisor for Pete Bonet and Louie’s Beautiful People LP on Fania. Pacheco supervised the first session and gave in to Louie that I finish the LP and supervise the mixing. Pacheco was V.P. of the label and he could, and did, make that decision. Louie busted Johnny’s chops so much about this that Johnny finally said, “Well, let him do it — I’m outta here.” It was a big band session that included the Latin-Jazz instrumental "Joe Gaines Express." Louie’s arrangements were brilliant and Pete was in relatively top form. In the late sixties Louie, with Pete Bonet, formed a steady big band working as house band at the “Corso”. Eddie Martinez and Ray Maldonado were part of that band. Tito Puente was very pleased to have some competition again. (Tito Rodriguez had moved to Puerto Rico).
In the early seventies Louie co-lead and arranged an LP with Tito Rodriguez and got his picture on the cover with "The Rajah of the Mambo." I remember they kicked off the promotion of the album with an appearance at the Village Gate.
Louie was Staff Producer and arranger for the Fania family of labels and had the title of President of Allegre records in the seventies and eighties. I had sold Alegre to Tico in ‘66.
He arranged and produced countless LP’s for Fania, Vaya, Tico, Alegre and others. One year (late sixties?) Louie formed a big band and was musical director for the Latin New York (magazine) Music Awards. Pablo Yoruba Guzman, at the age of 25, was stage director. (By the way Yoruba, thanks for your tasty Channel 4 report.)
Louie and I go back to the sixties when I met him through his work with Pacheco’s Volume 1 and Sabu’s Jazz Españole LP. Our mothers became friends, our wives (of that time) became friends and my children used to baby sit Louie’s son “Wicho” who is now in his mid-30’s. I did not know Louie’s first wife Marian (a non-Latina), but I did know Margie (Wicho’s mom) and Myriam (Vol. 3) and attended his wedding to Millie along with Marty Sheller, Vitin Aviles, Dr. Ken Rosa and Irv Greenbaum (who audio engineered so many of Louie’s recording sessions). His last love, Gigi, I met at the wake. Louie’s marriage to Millie didn’t last too long and after it was over Louie complained that she kept his favorite cymbal.
In 1984 Louie recorded for Caiman Records with Ray De La Paz. In ‘93 at the time of his third heart attack and death they had been preparing their new LP for RMM Records.
One of my last conversations with Louie was at Roseland last year where I, for the first time, strained my 34 year old relationship with Louie. I stupidly told him, in front of Ray De La Paz and other band members, that the other bands that night — Tito Nieves, Pete El Conde and Willie Colon — were very exciting and compared to them, his band was bland. These were not altogether my true feelings but I wanted to challenge Louie’s arranging talents to the height of his ability...it boomeranged and offended Louie and he answered, “ I don’t care for your opinions”. This was not true, but I had embarrassed Louie and he had to retaliate. As soon as I got home I called him and apologized. Louie did value my opinions...we so often discussed instrumentation, repertoire, personnel, conducting styles, and tape mixing ideas. Louie and I were best of friends, his mother Doña Haydee can attest to that. We hung out, double dated, ate, drank, smoked and worked together. He was unusually intelligent and I’ll never forget him. Louie, say hello to Charlie, Macho, Maldonado, Barry, Cesar Concepcion, Mon Rivera, Noro, Loco and Arsenio for me. I’ll be seeing you... warm up the band... I love you.