By Claire Harlin
One of Roman “Rome” Ramirez’s most fond memories of visiting his family in San Diego during his childhood summers was when he was shopping for CDs with his uncle and heard Sublime for the first time. The band’s reggae-influenced tunes not only became an obsession for Ramirez, but they inspired him to get a guitar and start playing himself. Never did the Bay-area native think that a little over a decade later, he’d actually become a star in the band — filling the shoes of the late lead singer Bradley Nowell, a well-known music legend and Ramirez’s biggest idol.
“For people to even debate whether I’m as good as Bradley is insane,” said Ramirez. “It’s like, if you listen to the Rolling Stones, saying ‘That guy compared to Mick Jagger.’ It’s an accomplishment just to be in the same vein, in the same sentence. It’s the ultimate form of flattery, even if they’re saying I’m no Bradley.”
At 24, Ramirez has his hands full playing with the band, now called “Sublime With Rome.” But he’s also embarking on a solo musical endeavor as “Rome,” and his first show — to take place Nov. 2 at the Belly Up in Solana Beach — will be a homecoming event of sorts.
“This is my first time playing my music and it will be in my home,” said Ramirez who said he spent every holiday and summer in San Diego, in addition to annual trips to the Del Mar Fair. “All my family is going to be there. It’s going to be a very memorable one for me.”
Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh, who became famous with Nowell as Sublime in the 1990s, didn’t actually seek out a new singer to replace Nowell after he died. The band’s many hits hadn’t — and still haven’t — died. It was somewhat coincidental how things fell into place for Ramirez.
The connection was made in 2008 when Ramirez, then 20 years old and homeless, went to the recording studio where a girl he was dating worked at.
“One day Eric Wilson pulled up in the parking lot. He was driving a [Mercedes Benz G-Class] wagon with 24-inch rims, listening to Biggie Smalls with a cigarette and a big Rottweiler,” said Ramirez. “He was the coolest guy I had ever seen and someone introduced me.”
Ramirez became friends with Wilson and the two started playing together for fun.
“He’d pick up a bass and I’d pick up a guitar and we’d just make stuff up and jam,” he said, adding that he wasn’t at that time trying hard to get into the music scene as a career.
“I was living in my van and sleeping on couches and writing songs,” he said. “I really didn’t care about anything as long as I could play music. I’ve always been a really happy guy and money doesn’t mean anything to me.”
At one point Ramirez got a job as a video game tester — “the best job in the world,” he said — but he quit because he didn’t have time to play guitar.
“My mom always told me just to be happy and everything would work itself out,” said Ramirez.
Things started to change about six months after meeting Gibson, who got to know Ramirez as a musician and was ready for the next phase of Sublime. After that, Rome had a claim-to-fame moment when he wrote and sang the recognizable vocals on popular 2010 single “Lay Me Down” by The Dirty Heads.
Ramirez’s solo work is a departure from the music he’s known for doing with Sublime With Rome, he said.
“There are so many elements that influenced the songs, from being flat broke in a van to sitting at Eric Wilson’s house jamming with him,” said Ramirez of his solo album, which he will perform at the upcoming Belly Up show.
“It’s like a ‘90s record,” he said. “So many elements, stages, styles and inspirations. It’s going to sound like, ‘This dude has been everywhere listening to all sorts of stuff.’”
Ramirez is by no means neglecting Sublime by going on a solo tour. The day after his tour as Rome ends, he heads to Hawaii and Brazil to play with Wilson and Gaugh.
“I’m going to play in Sublime until the day I die hopefully,” said Ramirez. “It’s just so fun.”
For more information about Rome’s upcoming show and to buy tickets, call the Belly Up at (858) 481-8140 or visit www.bellyup.com/event/rome/. For more information on Rome, visit www.romemusica.com.