Ramatam – Same (1972)

LPFrontCover1Ramatam was a 1970s rock band featuring Mike Pinera on guitar and vocals, April Lawton on lead guitar, and, for a short time, Mitch Mitchell on drums.

Ramatam was notable for having Lawton, a female lead guitarist. Tom Dowd produced their self-titled debut album in 1972. Pinera was known for his work with Blues Image (“Ride Captain Ride”) and later Iron Butterfly. Mitchell had been a member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The group also included some former members of Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company. Russ Smith was the Bass player and co-writer on some of the tunes.

Ramatam performed at Concert 10 in Long Pond, PA with Emerson Lake & Palmer, Edgar Winter, Three Dog Night, the Faces, and others in 1972.

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Mitchell’s departure came before the band released its second and final album, In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns (1973). Pinera left the band after claiming Lawton, who wanted both Pinera and Mitchell out, wanted to turn Ramatam into the “April Lawton Band.”[1] Pinera and Mitchell departed from the band at that point, leaving the focus entirely on Lawton. Jimmy Walker replaced Mitchell at that point and they recorded their second album “In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns” along with Tommy Sullivan on Bass. The band, shortly thereafter, fractured under the pressure of business and musical direction and broke up in 1974. (wikipedia)

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And here is their debut album:

Tom Dowd produced 1972’s self-titled debut from Ramatam, a poor man’s Blind Faith featuring Mike Pinera (co-author of the Blues Image hit “Ride Captain Ride”) on guitar and vocals and Mitch Mitchell on drums. The “star” of this group was alleged to be April Lawton, who had the Hendrix riffs down, to be sure, but not as creative as Robin Trower and all the gents who carried Jimi’s sound and stylings into the ’70s. An appearance by the group in Boston at the old Music Hall was pure white noise and not very memorable outside of that. The album is a bit more refined, but ultimately fails to deliver the goods. “Whiskey Place” opens the record sounding like a brazen blend of Ten Wheel Drive meets the Jimi Hendrix Experience without a Genya Ravan or a Jimi to save the day. The horns actually clash with the guitar while the bass has a mind of its own.

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The production work by Dowd on the first track is totally uninspired and it certainly feels like the act was left to its own devices. Mike Pinera and Les Sampson’s “Heart Song” works much better, a jazzy vision of Traffic’s brand of Brit rock meeting that of the West Coast’s Quicksilver Messenger Service. But it’s not enough — Rare Earth-type macho vocals do much to implode the disc’s potential, totally sinking Pinera’s “Ask Brother Ask.” Mitchell’s great drum work is wasted on the monotony of the hook, and the musicianship gets so fragmented it sounds like Eno’s Portsmouth Sinfonia without the humor. The Tommy Sullivan/April Lawton composition “What I Dream I Am,” on the other hand, almost gets it done — it’s a pretty tune with flutes, acoustic guitar work, and simple percussion from Mitch. It fails because of vocals that just can’t cut it, painful singing obliterating the disc’s best chance for recognition.

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Was Tom Dowd out having coffee or just not interested in this whatsoever? America could have used an answer to Steve Winwood’s poppy jazz, and a Genya Ravan would have brought this experiment out of the quagmire it finds itself in with her voice and production intuition. On the other band collaboration, “Wayso,” the blues are undefined and the tape mix far from cohesive. Diffused and confused, Ramatam is a tragic statement of record labels trying to make a talent rather than finding one. “Changing Days” is another decent Sullivan/Lawton easy feeling co-write with horrible vocals eradicating the core goodness of the songwriting. Pinera’s “Strange Place” takes the Kiss riff, from “Shout It Out Loud” and puts it in a jazz setting with vocals that sound like they are auditioning for Savoy Brown — and failing to get the gig.

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If that sounds awful, just be thankful you’re reading about it without having to hear this mess. By 1973 the group would be pared down to a power trio of Lawton, Sullivan, and Jimmy Walker on drums. Perhaps bassist Russ Smith, ex-Iron Butterfly Pinera, and Mitchell saw the writing on the wall, but how they couldn’t come up with something much, much better than this is the mystery. There’s enough combined talent here to have delivered a real gem. With this album, Ramatam have re-written Euclid’s axiom and turned it on its head: here the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The final track, “Can’t Sit Still,” sounds like producer Dowd looped his old Ornette Coleman and Allman Brothers tapes with his Black Oak Arkansas projects. And if Ramatam hadn’t toured, people might have thought that’s exactly what this was. (by Joe Viglione)

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Personnel:
April Lawton (guitar)
Mitch Mitchell (drums)
Mike Pinera (vocals, guitar)
Russ Smith (bass, vocals)
Tommy Sullivan (keyboards, vocals, saxophone, flute)

Booklet1Tracklist:
01. Whiskey Place (Lawton/Pinera/Mitchell/Smith/Sullivan) 3.21
02. Heart Song (Sampson/Pinera) 4.49
03. Ask Brother Ask (Pinera) 5.05
04. What I Dream I Am (Lawton/Sullivan) 3.59
05. Wayso (Lawton/Pinera/Mitchell/Smith/Sullivan) 3.22
06. Changing Days (Lawton/Sullivan) 3.30
07. Strange Place (Pinera) 6.01
08. Wild Like Wine (Smith) 3.50
09. Can’t Sit Still (Lawton/Sullivan) 6.03

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April Lawton (July 30, 1948 – November 23, 2006) was a guitarist and composer who rose to some prominence in the early to mid-1970s as a member of the band Ramatam, which also included at one time former Iron Butterfly guitarist Mike Pinera and the former Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell, as well as Russ Smith (bass, vocals), and Tommy Sullivan (keyboards, reeds, vocals). Her playing style was a mix of Jeff Beck, Hendrix, and Allan Holdsworth. Lawton gave no interviews, refused to discuss her past, and she was rumoured to be transgender—rumours confirmed by her friend, Fanny guitarist June Millington, in a 2010 interview for GuitarGearHeads. Singer Dee Snider claims Lawton was still male while in the band Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Mike Pinera, former bandmate, made a statement in Guitar Player magazine regarding Lawton’s gender: “I can attest to her being a woman,” declares Pinera. “When I asked her about the rumors, she took my hand and gave me a ‘first base’ account. I know they have technology for that now, but, back then, no way!”[3] Gender reassignment surgery has been practised since the 1930s, and available in the United States from 1965.[4] Social Security Administration Applications and Claims documents provided by Ancestry.com confirm that April Lawton was born Gregory R. Ferrara, male, on 30 July 1948 in Brooklyn, New York, and used this name for Social Security purposes through 1977. Subsequent Social Security records indicate a name change to April Trewhala, from 15 Feb 1978 through mid-2002. From 31 July 2002 through her death on 06 Dec 2006, Social Security records indicate she used the name April Lawton.

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Lawton stayed with Ramatam for two studio albums, their self-titled debut (1972, Atlantic) and In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns. The group was not commercially successful, and Lawton left after the second album, forming a short-lived solo project called the April Lawton Band, which dissolved in the late 1970s. Lawton then left the music scene to concentrate on painting and graphic design. Her personal life remained very private until her death from heart failure at her home on November 23, 2006, aged 58.

During the 1990s she recorded demos for a future album, and the material remains unreleased. Some brief excerpts are available at the April Lawton tribute website.

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Al Di Meola – Al Di Meola plays Piazzolla (1996)

FrontCover1An acclaimed fusion guitarist, Al Di Meola first rose to prominence in the 1970s as a fiery jazz-rock pioneer before embracing a globally expansive mix of sounds. A key member of Chick Corea’s landmark fusion band Return to Forever, Di Meola established his reputation on many of the group’s classic dates before coming into his own on albums like 1977’s Elegant Gypsy and 1980’s Splendido Hotel. Along with tours in his all-star guitar trio with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, Di Meola has collaborated on projects with luminaries like Stanley Clarke, Larry Coryell, Paul Simon, Luciano Pavarotti, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Charlie Haden, and others. He has continued to expand his sound on albums like 1990’s World Sinfonia, 2011’s Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody, and 2018’s Opus, balancing his fusion roots with forays into Argentinian tango and Spanish flamenco, as well as Middle Eastern, North African, and Afro-Cuban traditions. (by Matt Collar)

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Latin music has been a strong influence on Al Di Meola since his early years, and in the ’90s, he paid especially close attention to the music of Argentina. A welcome addition to his already impressive catalog, Di Meola Plays Piazzolla pays homage to the late Argentine tango master Astor Piazzolla (whose distinctive and very poetic brand of romanticism was considered quite daring and radical in Argentina). It would have been easy for an artist to allow his own personality to become obscured when saluting Piazzolla’s legacy, but the charismatic Di Meola is too great an improviser to let that happen. Though his reverence for Piazzolla comes through loud and clear on these haunting classics, there’s no mistaking the fact that this is very much an Al Di Meola project. (by Alex Henderson)

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Personnel:
Chris Carrington (guitar on 02., 03., 06. + 10.)
Al DiMeola (guitar)
Gumbi Ortiz (percussion on 03., 04. + 10.)
Spyros Poulos (programming on 05.
Hernan Romero (keyboards, vocals on 05.
Dino Saluzzi (bandoneon on 02., 03., 07. + 10.)
Arto Tunçboyaciyan (percussion, vocals on 03. 04., 06. + 10.)

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Tracklist:
01. Oblivion (Piazolla) 6.04
02. Café 1930 (Piazolla) 6.16
03. Tango Suite, Pt. 1 (Piazolla) 8.49
04. Tango Suite, Pt. 2 (Piazolla) 8.51
05. Verano Reflections (Di Meola/Piazolla) 4.13
06. Night Club 1960 (Piazolla) 5.50
07. Tango II (Piazolla) 5.36
08. Bordel 1900 (Piazolla) 4.33
09. Milonga Del Angel (Piazolla) 3.48
10, Last Tango For Astor (Di Meloa) 6.18

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