I was born in Tucson, Arizona on February 15, 1953, and Tucson is still home.
In what ways does your environment influence your music?
The Southwest desert has definitely played a part in creation and sound of my music. I imagine my music would sound very different if I had been born anywhere else. Like most young musicians, I learned to sneak away and find a semi-solitary place to work on music. My favorite places back then, were under the shade of mesquite trees or by an arroyo. Today the well-tended Mexican garden is a good place to find a new melody or study an old one. The environment can serve as a muse, if controlled, but this is not always possible. I have learned to write and work on music anywhere. All I need is a good frame of mind, a scrap of paper and a pencil.
What is the best part about being a singer/songwriter/musician?
Being a performer, by definition grants you a certain amount of extra-time to express personal perceptions, and when you do, people evaluate and compare their own with yours. I enjoy this process – sharing ideas is a big deal to me – it helps keep the train on track…
What is the worst ? The worst is – being unable to express musically all I desire to play – knowing full well the capacity to do so is just a matter of more practice and dedication. This is a never ending process… I reach a goal and immediately set a new one…
top black&white photo of Teodoro Ted Ramirez by Bob Levline ~ above photo of Baboquivari Peak* by Edward Blue
Early in your career, before you had any real success, what fed your determination to keep trying?
Success is a complicated word, but I feel I am a successful musician and maybe because all I wanted to do was be me. I had a strong desire to speak in my own voice and to express my ideas with love and appropriate authority. I still feel this way.
What would you tell the younger you, just starting to write and perform?
I would say: follow all good instincts immediately, and try to ignore bad ones as soon as possible….
Are there some rituals you follow in your creative process or special things you do before performing in front of an audience?
I try to be well prepared, I eat light or not at all, I drink plenty of water and most important – try to keep my head on straight…
How closely do you follow your original idea in the process of writing a new song?
I stick close to the original idea, but when another theme presents itself – I write it down as another song – maybe in multiple versions – I look for a feel as well as a sound.
Photo of Teodoro Ted Ramirez by Michael Hyatt
Tell me about the Santa Cruz River Band, who is in it and how did you get together?
The Santa Cruz River Band was an idea I came up with when trying to blend Tucson musicians with varying musical backgrounds into a cohesive “Southwestern/Mexican” musical framework. My first attempt was around 1985’s or so, and the idea stayed active through 2010. In the 25 years SCRB performed we went through numerous personnel changes, but most people know the Santa Cruz River Band as the touring lineup which included: Arthur Miscione (bass) Gilbert Brown (guitar) Michael J. Ronstadt (guitar) and myself on guitar.Note from Irene: I was very excited to hear the Santa Cruz River Band performing live in Sisters, Oregon a few years ago. The songs took me back to my childhood on the border of Texas and Mexico. I love the lyrics, the voices and the emotional intensity – I often listen to this music when I’m painting ; these are three of my favorites:
La Dona Del Pueblo:
Santa Cruz River Band was a great idea and I did fairly well with it, but by 2010 the band had been through a lot and we were all road weary. There had been many highlights, but there had also been tragedy and hard-times. Arthur had passed away from cancer, Gilbert quit the band for personal reasons, Mike was showing interest in working with his sons, and the economy was in deep recession. I was feeling weary of the responsibilities associated with keeping the band booked and finding replacements that fit well into the band’s concept.
It was then when I decided to retire the band from touring and recording and proceed with my musical life in another way.
Tell me about your desire to keep the traditional Mexican songs vibrant and alive.
This is a tough question to answer in just a few sentences. When I started out – the basic idea was to share connections I felt to the songs. I feel there is a bond between people of Mexican descent that stems from our love of music, dance and literature, and I wanted to associate myself to this way of life. Now, many years later, I still have the same desires and nothing brings more pleasure than seeing the same appreciation when someone recognizes an old song.
Do you perform solo as well?
Yes, that is how I started and what I do now. The solo format is, in many ways, my favorite way to perform. When performing solo you are able to evolve and grow your musical style in elaborate ways. This can be difficult to do in a group setting. When you play as a band your focus is often on technical stability and good form – when playing solo the challenge is to create a full sound by finding ways to produce harmony all by myself. Looking at my solo performance style in this way pushed me to develop guitar strums and a picking style that I feel is unique and very effective. I am sure – I would not have developed my current style of playing if I had played only in groups.
Barrel cactus in bloom, fruit-bearing nopal cactus in background. Photo: Edward Blue
Would you tell us about balancing being a songwriter/musician with romantic relationships/family?
If you are lucky enough to have love and family in your life, you should try to hold to it – for me, music is my work and although I am very diligent – I work for my family and not for my music.
How do you get through writer’s blocks or do you ever struggle while writing songs?
First thing, I try to get out of my comfort zone – I believe writer’s block is a self-imposed condition, and a little dose of reality can help ground you.
How do you deal with the disappointment/despair when your work isn’t getting the attention you desire? How do find the strength to continue?
Truthfully… depression can become an issue if I let it, but I have come to terms with that type of thing. I stay busy and work on what I like – there is always something worthwhile to do.
What are your vices?
Oh man… nothing exciting… coffee??? I do not drink or smoke – I do not have time for the hangovers and the stuff that comes along with that type of vice. I like feeling good and that is hard enough…
What kind of pets do you have?
No pets – I work 16 hours a day – 7 days a week, so pets are out of the question for me.
What is the last wild animal you saw?
A red-tailed hawk sitting on a pole… no joke…Please write about the inspiration behind Rogaciano el Huapangero and La Dona del Pueblo.
Rogaciano I first heard as a child – it was sung by the great Miguel Aceves Mejia. I’ve kept the song in my repertoire since then – I love the song. There are many bootlegs and private recordings of me singing this song, all in various arrangements, but they are hard to find.
“La Dona Del Pueblo” is a song I wrote many years ago to celebrate the Tucson tradition of picking a woman to be “La Dona De Tucson”. The yearly tradition celebrates a deserving community matriarch, and also represents the City’s official appreciation for Tucson’s Mexican culture and heritage. I am very fond of the song and what it represents – it reminds me of all the beautiful and powerful women who are considered “Donas” by their communities – both in the U.S. and Mexico. They are the heart and soul of what it truly means to be Mexican or Mexican/American, and to be good.
My music has one goal – to reflect what you find in hearts and minds of the good people of the Southwest.
Palo verde ** photo by Edward Blue
Songs from Teodoro Ted’s Cavatina series:
Northern Star Cavatinas Vol 1:
Angel Song Cavatinas Vol 1:
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Teodoro Ted is the Artist-in-Residence at the Tubac Presidio Park in Tubac, Arizona where he has a concert series from December to April every year. http://azstateparks.com/Parks/TUPR/
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He will also be participating in Common Ground on the Hill “On the Border” in Sahuarita, Arizona on March 13, 14 and 15th. Common Ground on the Hill is a unique three day experience where the deep artistic and cultural roots of the Borderlands are lifted up and conversation is created. There are classes in art, music and a variety of lectures. http://www.commongroundonthehill.org/cgotb-about.html
*Baboquivari Peak rises sharply to dominate the scenic desert terrain of the east side of the Baboquivari Range, near the Mexican border. On the western side of the range lies the Tohono O’odham Nation. Vegetation in the higher country includes oak, walnut, and piñon; chaparral grace the lower elevations.
*The palo verde is a very important tree in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The black-tailed gnatcatchers use the palo verde as nesting sites, and the Gambell’s quail use them as roosts. White-throated wood rats (packrats!) also use them for shelter. Mule deer, jackrabbits, bighorn sheep and other animals browse on its leaves. Javelinas eat the seed pods. The canopy cover reduces the temperature below the palo verde which is very important for the germination of other desert plants.
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