Blues

How Eric Ramsey Went From Being an Electrician to an Award-Winning Phoenix Bluesman

Eric Ramsey and his Resonator guitar.
Eric Ramsey and his Resonator guitar. Eric Ramsey

Eric Ramsey is a musician. That might be an obvious statement for those who know him, but for those who don’t, it might be a good time to look him up. If you do, you’ll find a man who appreciates music, his accolades, and most of all, his family.

Ramsey is originally from Wichita, Kansas, and after its beautiful Midwest charm and relatively (to here) mild summers, moving to Phoenix was quite a climate change, not to mention a cultural one. He left his home state to attend ASU.

“It was quite a transition for sure,” he says. “I'd never seen a palm tree before, you know, so it was quite a change in a lot of ways.”

“I've been here since 1976,” Ramsey adds. “So, I consider myself a full-on Arizonan.”

The singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist has a deep voice, one that’s perfect for performing live because it resonates throughout the venue. You could call his music anything from country to rock to folk and you would be partially right, but it’s more than that. And even though his songs traverse the range of anything genre-specific, he’s recently been named the 2022 International Blues Challenge winner in the solo/duo category for his guitar performance.

The journey to this win was a long time in the making. But Ramsey’s story might be a little different than you’re used to. He wasn’t a protégé, a graduate of a fancy performing arts school, or a contestant on American Idol. He was an electrician. And up until 2014, that was the source of his bread and butter. Thankfully, his wife, Scarlet, saw a spark in him greater than those produced by his trade. She took on the financial responsibilities and let Ramsey explore his artistic talent.

“That's the sole and entire reason I was able to do it because years before — a lot of years before — I was a very part-time musician and I had a pretty demanding day job and was raising kids,” Ramsey says.

But destiny wasn’t giving up on him; it was just waiting for the right opportunity.

“So, the time in our lives came that [Scarlet] felt like she could take care of the family financially because, you know, I knew I wasn't going to make any money at it, and she gave me the opportunity to do so. So, I'm tremendously fortunate in that regard because there are countless people with more talent and more upside than I will ever have that will never have an opportunity to do what I've been able to do,” he says. “So, any success that I've been able to have on whatever level, is directly due to the fact that my wife and family support me.”

With five albums under his belt — one of them recorded live — Ramsey has made a name for himself. At a time when the world of pop music is angling toward the manufactured beats in hip-hop and electronica, stringed instrumentals aren’t exactly forceful tributaries into the mainstream. Not only has the musical landscape changed over the past two decades, so have interpersonal relationships, something songwriters are keen to write about. As a songwriter, what does Ramsey think has changed in the last 20 years?

“That's a really good question,” he says. “What I noticed most is we seem to have become, on the surface, a meaner and more self-absorbed society.”

He admits that’s a generalization, because he feels there are plenty of good people out there. “But I think the rise of social media has given people courage — I suppose, for lack of a better word — or a feeling of entitlement that they can say whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it, regardless of whatever outcome or whatever interpretation might be there."

"You don't get any context sometimes from emails or from posts on social media. You don't get a facial expression. You don't get a tone of voice. You don't get a response. You're not sitting across from someone. So you can say the most vile, horrid things to someone on social media that you would never say to them in person. So, I mean that's just an example. But that's kind of what I think. You know, technology has done wonderful things for us, but it's also made us, I think, more self-absorbed. And, in some ways isolated.”

There might not be a better way to express one’s isolation than through singing the blues, which Ramsey was recently in Memphis Tennessee to do. Although he doesn’t like to say it was a competition, the International Blues Challenge is an event with contenders from all over the world.

“I won the local qualifier here,” he says. “This is the third time I've won it, and so I then got to go to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge, and the rest is history. Yeah, I won the thing! You know, this was my third time being able to go. The first time, I didn't get out of the quarterfinal round. The second time I got to the semi-finals, and so I had set a goal for myself that if I ever got to go back, I wanted to at least get to the final round, which is down to eight acts. So that was the goal that I had in mind when we decided to go to try it one more time. I was fortunate enough to win the local qualifier and then got to go to Memphis. And then I was fortunate enough to get through the finals and very fortunate enough to win.”

Ramsey isn’t taking anything for granted. He is fully aware that his family is the reason he’s able to explore his dreams. And thankfully, he’s got enough talent to prove them right. For every victory, whether it be a People’s Choice Award or an international honor, it’s got to feel good to bring these back to his family as proof of his appreciation.

Currently, he’s working on a new record and performing in venues wherever he can.

“It's my work,” he said. “So, it doesn't matter whether it's a local gig at the coffee house or playing the Musical Instrument Museum or playing at a festival in the Midwest or playing in Memphis. It doesn't matter. It's all the job, it's part of the work. And so, I'm trying to keep busy and, and stay current and keep working hard with this opportunity that I've been given.”
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Timothy Rawles