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Santa Cruz River Band
by Graham Lees


To give them their full title, Ronstadt, Ramírez & the Santa Cruz River Band completely thrilled the audience at the North Wales Country Music Festival in August 2005 where I caught up with them for a chat about their music. The band is made up of Michael J. Ronstadt (brother of Linda Ronstadt), Ted Ramírez, Gilbert Brown and Arthur Miscione. Mike Ronstadt and Ted Ramírez made their first Santa Cruz River Band backstage at North Wales Country Music Festivaltrip to Wales in August 2004. Mike remarks; "We toured around North Wales a bit and liked it so much that we decided to bring Gilbert and Arthur back with us this time and see what we could dig-up."

Ronstadt, Ramírez & the Santa Cruz River Band is quite a mouthful to remember and agreeing…Mike Ronstadt says "we've shortened that to The Santa Cruz River Band." Home for the band is Tucson, Arizona and are proud to preserve the culture and history of the American Southwest through their music. Ted Ramírez explains; "We call it Southwestern folk music….it's an acoustic style of music…music that's been played in the Southwest for quite a long time and actually spans the 500 year history of the Southwest from when the Spaniards came. It has indigenous roots as well as contemporary things that we've written. So it's a kind of cross section of the culture and heritage that is the Southwest. We think that it is an authentic reflection of it and that's why we call it folk music. It's music that was created specifically for the people who were going to listen to it. It has a strong communication between the artist and the audience!!!"

The music contains both classic and contemporary songs from both Mexican and American repertoires. Ted continues; "our own songs are experiences that we've personally had in the Southwest or stories that have been passed down to us. Michael and I are both from pioneering families in the Southwest. My family arrived in 1750. They came from Spain as interpreters between the Spanish government and the Indians. Luckily they preserved the family history and what turned out to be Southwestern history. We draw a lot from that and Michael sings songs that his grandfather sang…songs that he's written about icons from the Southwest like windmills and things like that. It's Mike Ronstadtvery descriptive, very powerful kind of lyrics. It's true the authentic Southwestern is not typically what people would think of as cowboy music or country music, it's more the essence of the people who have lived there with a contemporary feel to it!!"

Tex-Mex music has long been widely held with the likes of Flaco Jimenez working towards its popularisation. Ted defines; "That's a portion of Southwestern music! That's what makes Southwestern folk music or Southwestern music so interesting, because there's lots of different styles of music that come from that part of the world and Tex-Mex is definitely one of them!"

Back in the USA The Santa Cruz River Band can be found performing in a host of different venues from large theatres to coffeehouses and schools to nursing homes. The main thing with the performances is to create a positive environment for people to enjoy and experience this style of music. Ted states; "our audience is quite broad! We appeal to little kids and people in their nineties, so we play lots of different places because of that."

I remarked to Ted that it's great to hear that children are also taking an interest in this type of music, as we need children to continue the traditions of authentic styles of music. "Absolutely…yeh!!! That's the neat thing about what we do, because our foundation came from our grandparents…and their Ted Ramírezgrandparents even. So it's a tradition that we're trying carrying on, not only to our children, but also the rest of the community and try to let them know who we are."

Michael Ronstadt's family have always placed a high value on music and his sons are also highly skilled musicians. Mike expands on this; "my older son (Michael G) is a senior at the University of Arizona, majoring in cello performance. My next son (Petie) is thirteen months younger...he's guitar player, bass player and tuba. He has his own band and getting ready to go on the road. They both play on the Volume 1 and Volume 2 CDs that we have released. Occasionally Michael will come out and play music with us….when we are lucky enough to get him!!!"

Band member Gilbert Brown plays guitar and just about any hand held instrument with strings on. Before joining The Santa Cruz River Band Gilbert had been involved with a band playing Irish music and prior to that a Gospel group playing old timey and bluegrass style gospel music. Gilbert explains; " One of the guys who headed that up came from a long line of gospel groups, so we drew Gilbert Brownon his influences a lot." Gilbert met Ted around about 2002; "Through mutual acquaintances we got together…I brought my influences and he gave me some of his influences…so we're playing a mixture."

Bass player and native New Yorker Arthur Miscione also joined the band a couple of years ago and found himself being drawn to this style of music; "I've been a music lover all my life and what got me into this was…for the first time I was hearing music that was entirely different than anything I had ever heard. Not being a Spanish speaker, but hearing songs in Spanish made me realise that music in itself is a language and it conveys things…what happens in contemporary music, we get locked into listening to the words, but don't necessarily hear what the story says. What I found in this type of music is that without even understanding the words it gives you a feeling and gives you an emotion. It actually takes you somewhere through the use of the arrangement, the instrumentation, the melody the phrasing and the just beauty of the language itself, actually conveys you to another place. So what it did for me…even though I had a long history of listening to all kinds of things…for the first time I was Arthur Miscionehearing something that was entirely different that was moving me in an entirely different way and was something that I wanted to be part of!!!"

Arthur is right on the button…the beauty of music is that it is an international language that we can all take part in without having to understand the words to appreciate it. Though an added bonus is gained in understanding the language that the words are written in. He continues; "You know one of the beautiful things about people who play music…that is the way they communicate. So very rarely is there a miscommunication or misunderstanding, where sometimes between cultures there usually is, because when people speak different languages they don't quite understand each other. Musically, people understand that! What we have found…we come here and there are a lot of people who don't speak Spanish, but they are still moved by it. What happens for us is that the influence works both ways. What we have gotten to do is absorb a very small part of the Welsh culture and it's influenced us! And again…this has nothing to do with understanding of the language, it is all to do with the language of music!!!"

I couldn't let this interview go without asking Mike about his famous sister Linda Ronstadt. Linda has long been highly popular is both country and the pop fields of music. Linda along with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris released the album 'Trio' in 1987, critically acclaimed as one of the best Linda Ronstadtcountry albums. Dolly once stated "There are only three great female singers in country music…Emmylou Harris, K.T. Oslin and Linda Ronstadt. The rest of us are only playing at it!!!" Mike brings us up-to-date a little on what Linda is doing these days with her music. "She has just finished a jazz album called 'Hummin' To Myself' on Verve Records. It's all jazz standards and being true to form, she's exploring different types of music. That's one of the things that's kept her going. She has a tremendous love for music as all of us do. Not just one style of music, but all styles and so she got involved with the Mexican music. It was based on a book that my aunt had written that was dear to our Grandfather. So Linda took that concept and put out a couple of albums called 'Canciones De Mi Padre". That was music that my father played…when we were growing up as kids, that was what we were exposed to. Then she went on to the standards with Nelson Riddle….tried some light Opera with Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Pirates Of Penzance', she's done rock 'n' roll, country and she's playing around with some bluegrass right now…..a little different."

Plans are in the pipeline for The Santa Cruz Band to come over to the UK again in August 2006. The Band has a confirmed booking at the North Wales Country Festival August 6th Sunday at the Llandudno Theatre and they would like to do some more gigs from the Conway and North Wales area to South Wales and perhaps England. Keep an eye on the gig guides and tour listings, as The Santa Cruz Band is not a band to be missed!!!