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Who Is Ralph?

Who Is Ralph?

Who Is Ralph?

Who Is Ralph?

Who Is Ralph?
"...a perfect blend of pop, rock, jazz and poetry. This CD is truly an aural calling card of warmth that doesn't cut back on smarts or passion."
— from the CD liner notes by ROSS PORTER
host of CBC After Hours

"Ralph...takes his inspiration from 50s jazz and beat poetry, 60s garage bands, 70s punk energy and do-it-yourself ethos, 80s dysfunctional relationships and 90s stand-up comedy."
— Stu Cousins, Soundscape Magazine

The current 2003 RALPH line-up is: Ralph Alfonso (vocals), guitarist/co-writer Michael Rummen (Evil Twang, Four Horsemen), Graham Howell (Lee Aaron, Skaboom, Powder Blues) on sax/flute, Ron Stelting (exotic percussion), & Pete Schmitt (Broken Crow Quartet) on bass.

The RALPH group began as an extension of the RALPH zine, itself a labour of love created (and printed on an old mimeograph machine) by Ralph Alfonso, the Vancouver (by way of Montreal and Toronto) poet/graphic designer who's hovered under Canada's pop-culture radar screen since the late 60s (more than likely there is a CD or LP or something in your house with his name on it somewhere). This Is For The Night People is the fourth RALPH CD — a late night downtempo jazz flavour; like Serge Gainsbourg having drinks with Rod McKuen in the back of a stretch limo at 3 in the morning. At once nostalgic and romantic, Night People is an intelligent work that will only grow stronger with time.

"It's the soundtrack to driving in the rain late at night by yourself," says Ralph. "The thoughts that run through your head — maybe a past you're leaving behind, or forward into the unknown." Ralph understands the concept of uncertain future very well. In 1991, he quit his Toronto music industry executive job at EMI Canada (Marketing Manager for their Canadian artists, having been head-hunted from a similar post at Warner Canada), to pursue a long-distance romance in Vancouver.

"Within months, everything went sour. I watched all the furniture get taken away — so I was sleeping on the carpet in this empty apartment thinking, what the hell am I going to do now?" In 1992, he started publishing a small monthly pop/poetry zine (RALPH: Coffee, Jazz and Poetry) as part of a healing process and a way to rejuvenate his creativity. With a part-time job in the Nettwerk art dept, Ralph scrambled to make ends meet as prolific freelance CD cover designer. His zine slowly garnered a loyal underground following as its free distribution began to encompass all of Canada and various US/European locations. It would have remained that way had it not been for two radio interviews that were to alter the course of Ralph's life.

In 1993, Ralph guests on his friend Tom Harrison's radio show to talk about his days in the record industry (the years as head of Press and Promotion for indie Attic Records; winning the Canadian Promotion Director Of The Year award from THE RECORD, 1985) and his zine. On the show, Ralph & Tom (who is the rock critic at The Vancouver Province & should have known better) improvise on a spoken word piece (Tom on percussion; backing scat vocals). Little did they know what would happen next. In 1994, Ralph is asked to appear on CBC MORNINGSIDE (hosted by Peter Gzowski, it had a listener-ship in the millions). After hearing a copy of the Tom show, they flip on the improv bit and demand Ralph & Tom do the same for them. Joined by guitarist Michael Rummen, they're on MORNINGSIDE for 30 mins! Next day, Ralph gets the first of 300 letters wanting more! What is interesting to note here is that prior to this, Ralph had never performed publicly.

Based on this response (d-uh!), the boys enlist Ron Stelting on percussion to perform live (Tom, Ron & Mike were already in a band called Little Games — previously known as Bruno Gerussi's Medallion). Keyboardist Tracy Marks is recruited at a party (he was the caterer) and a CD is recorded shortly thereafter. Coffee, Jazz and Poetry is taped completely live in front of a drunken studio audience ("We wanted that 60s Ramsey Lewis Trio live club sound."), and surprised a lot of people (most of all, Ralph himself!) — TOP 10 at many college stations (TOP 50 on the CHART Canadian college chart); #1 at CKUL Lethbridge for something like 10 weeks in a row!! A 1995 Vancouver to Winnipeg tour is met with fantastic write ups and enthusiastic response.

Summer 1996, RALPH releases the Olympia 66 EP (a loving homage to 60s garage rock), touring on a co-bill with New York's Agnelli/Rave as THE BEATNIK FOLK POP EXPLOSION (including a gig at CBGB'S Gallery, New York). Agnelli/Rave are Lauren Agnelli (Washington Squares) and Dave Rave (Teenage Head). Dave and Ralph are old friends from the 1977 Toronto punk scene (Ralph managed The Diodes and the legendary Crash'n'Burn punk club). "We took a lot of the beat energy we grew up with and made it come alive on stage every night. Sometimes you need some old-time showmanship to get the party going." 1996 is notable also for bringing Graham Howell (sax/flute) into the fold. Graham jumped on stage during an afternoon musician's jam and hasn't jumped off since.

Sophisticated Boom Boom is released in 1997, (#17, Exclaim college chart and #23 on THE CHART Campus Top 50). The animated video "Venus In Violets" gets rotation on MUCH MUSIC and BRAVO. A subsequent tour (Beatnik Folk Rock Explosion 97) "was a real Beat Crusade," recalls Ralph, "with some incredible live shows that almost killed me." Highlights include a studio session in Winnipeg for CBC AFTER HOURS (two tracks, "John Coltrane New York City" and "Why Does My Paul Desmond Record Start Skipping When I try To Kiss You?" are included on the Night People CD). It's this 1997 tour that also brings Ralph's crazed bongo playing to the fore (one word — duck!).

"A RALPH show is a fun evening of spoken word, Beat sensibility, cool jazz, and my belief that poetry can be presented as part of a popular culture mix that is positive and universal. The original notion of what Kerouac called 'Beatitude' was a celebration of life, discovery, experience and goodness in your heart. It's a very key ingredient that's been overlooked by popular stereotyping." The western swing of that tour included Chris Hooper (film-maker and ex-Grapes Of Wrath) on drums. Fall 1997 sees the publication of Ralph's first book, Coffee, Jazz and Poetry (collecting the first 25 issues of his zine) by American beat specialist publisher, Water Row Books.

In 1998, as an outgrowth of touring together, Ralph collaborates on a jazz noir movie, "Vie de Nuit", directed by Chris Hooper. The RALPH combo performs the soundtrack music live as the movie plays behind them and Ralph provides the spoken narration. The 25 minute film premiered Nov 22, 1988 at the Vancouver Underground Film Festival. There are plans to take this presentation on tour in 2001 through repertory cinemas and art galleries.

Also in 1998, Ralph performs solo spoken word in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. This Is For The Night People is produced by RALPH keyboardist/co-writer Tracy Marks (his production resume includes work with both legendary UK "easy" producer John Schroeder of Sounds Orchestral and DOA, The Subhumans and other Vancouver punk notables. Tracy quit a promising production career in the 80s to concentrate on his love of cooking. He currently teaches, and RALPH is his only musical endeavour). Calgary-born, jazz-trained Michael Rummen is the group's major musical co-writer. Night People is the perfect showcase for his sophisticated, sensitive guitar work and sure to raise his profile in the jazz community as a writer/arranger to keep an eye on.

"I think this CD will shine the spotlight on the really great musicians in the band, all playing from the heart. They rose to the challenge of going in new directions within classic forms and traditions." The CD's late night atmosphere owes much to being mixed at Black Apple Studios, Hamilton.

"It was very cool to mix in the middle of a dark Ontario winter in a studio that used to be an Anglican church, surrounded by candles, stained glass, the hum of old analog tubes and 24-track machines." As usual, special guest vocalists add an extra level of emotion. Ralph first met Lee Aaron when she was 17 and just signed to Attic Records (he was head of promo). They kept in touch and when Lee re-located to Vancouver, Ralph provided help and encouragement with her jazz/blues endeavours.

"Lee recorded Blue April prior to cutting her own jazz album. Having her in the studio meant a lot to me because it brought our friendship full circle. Lauren Agnelli (ex-Washington Squares) was RALPH bassist on two tours. I've always loved Mario Lanza and we had to wait for an album it could fit into." Dave Rave produced two tracks ("Goodbye Jack. Kerouac.", "That's What Lonely People Do") in addition to organizing the Hamilton mixing sessions. The Kerouac track was recorded at Blair Packham's home studio during one of Ralph's business trips to Toronto.

"I got a some friends of mine who didn't really know each other to meet at a session and learn and arrange a song on the spot. I was still writing the words as we went along. We nailed it in six takes and then went for beers." The song features Blair Packham (The Jitters) bass, Dave Rave (guitar), John Hamilton (Diodes) on snare, Gerry Duligal on sax, and Kevin Quain on wurlitzer piano.

"Nostalgia For Nowhere" was commissioned from composer Andy Creeggan (ex-Barenaked Ladies keyboardist, Creeggan Brothers) after Ralph designed his solo cd, Andiwork. During the course of making this CD, several life changes have occurred. Ralph wed his long-time love Alison Rogers on April 8, 2000. Ron Stelting welcomed a baby daughter into the world. Tom Harrison suffered a stroke and the Vancouver music community rallied to offer support. Tom is progressing very well and joins the band live on special occasions.

Simultaneous with this CD, there is the publication by Madrigal Press (marketed and distributed by Raincoast Books) of Ralph's second book, This Is For The Night People (#26-50 of the Ralph zine).

"This CD was scraped together with a lot of sacrifice, luck, expired credit cards, friction, drama and everything else that goes into creating something you love. Where it fits into the grand scheme of things, I have no idea. We've done our best. Hopefully, it'll all turn out ok."


Since then, the CD has been released in the UK via Nettwerk/Pinnacle, and in the USA via BDC Burnside Distribution. Japan & France are next!!

The CD has been #5 on the Canadian Campus Jazz Chart and Top 30 on the Canadian Campus Radio Chart. The video for "Goodbye Jack. Kerouac" made #6 on the Canadian BRAVO! arts channel and was then joined in the Top Ten by the video for "Last Year's Valentine" (both clips directed by Chris Hooper).

Ralph's "Night People" book has sold out its first printing. His first book "Coffee Jazz and Poetry" is now no longer available in bookstores. There are only 200 left and have been purchased by Ralph for exclusive sale via this website & live shows.

The "Night People" CD is available on all internet music retail sites such as HMV.com, Amazon.com, CDNow.com and others. Audio samples are available at most of these sites.

The RALPH group has toured across Canada April 2001 on a double bill with LEE AARON to phenomenal response. Ralph solo has toured 2002 with The Storytellers Cabaret (Paul Hyde, Tom Wilson, Dave Rave, Kathleen Edwards).

On a very personal note, Ralph's mom passed away Aug 7. Ralph & his wife Alison were at her side along with the family and are grateful God gave them the gift of letting them be there as she passed on and to witness a small miracle at her side as well.

The Patrick Jenkins directed documentary, "RALPH:Coffee Jazz and Poetry" is screening at the Montreal Film Festival and has appeared twice nationally on CBC TV.

The group recently completed two months of a Wednesday residency at Vancouver's Montmarte Cafe, workshopping & writing material for the next RALPH cd. Expect a funkier, rootsier sound.

One of the highlights of the new batch of songs is "Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker", premiered at both this year's Word On The Street concert and at the Videopoem Festival. Continuing in the vein of previous tributes to Chet Baker and John Coltrane, this is sure to be a live favourite.

A big surprise has been the expansion of the Bongo Beat label itself, as Ralph continous to push the boundaries of a Do It Yourself esthetic by working with musical friends and distribution partners who value music first. "Hey, in 1977, nobody wanted the punk music I was championing... so I learned early on, if you want something to happen, you gotta do it yourself. Everybody else will jump on as soon as the train leaves the station. Now, 30 years later, nothing's changed that much.... I'm still pushing music nobody wants, but I don't care. The people that say no will go away and I'll still be at it long after they're gone. You don't have much of an interesting life if all you say is no."

2003 promises to be full of interesting ideas: a UK tour of the BongoBeat Revue, a new RALPH cd, the re-activation of the RALPH zine, and lots more.
Ralph Alfonso
Bongo Beat Records
2049 Melrose Ave.
Montreal, Quebec
H4A 2R6