It was the Sublime hit song "Wrong Way" that helped Rome Ramirez find his way in life.
The song, released after the band's original lead singer Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose in 1996, inspired Ramirez to pick up the guitar. At that point, Ramirez was 11 years old and living in the Bay Area. His uncle introduced him to the ska/reggae/punk band and when Ramirez heard "Wrong Way," his musical trigger tripped.
"That was the first song I ever wanted to learn," Ramirez said during a phone interview this week.
The now 24-year-old musician is in Vail today for the first time, playing a free show tonight with his band, Sublime with Rome.
"I've never even been to Vail so I think it'll be really fun," he said. "I'm excited to wake up early, do all the tourist stuff and then go out and jam."
If you're going to tonight's Spring Back to Vail concert, expect to hear all the classic Sublime songs - "Santeria," "What I Got," and "Wrong Way," the song that eventually led Ramirez to his place on stage tonight.
"We'll play of course all the classics, the favorites, but then we incorporate some of the new album, a lot of jams and some cool covers," Ramirez said. "We'll just go whereever the night takes us."
'Not something anyone can grasp over night'
Rome began singing and writing songs as a teenager and was playing solo gigs around the Bay Area when he met Sublime bass player Eric Wilson. (After Nowell's death, Wilson and Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh, childhood friends, formed the Long Beach Dub Allstars in 1997, which disbanded in 2002 and reformed a decade later.)
Wilson and Ramirez were recording at the same studio and bonded pretty much immediately, even though Ramirez is nearly two decades younger than Wilson. Ramirez was born the same year Sublime got its start: 1988.
But that didn't matter to Wilson, who said this about Ramirez: "This kid could play guitar like a mofo and he's got a platinum voice."
And that, in a nutshell, is how Ramirez ended up as the lead singer of Sublime with Rome.
"I was just talking to a friend about how, even four years later, it's still as much of a shock now," Ramirez said about his frontman status. "I still haven't gotten used to it, the fact that 'hey, this is my f---ing job, it's what I do in life.' It's not something anyone can grasp over night."
When the band first took the stage in 2009, Rome was just 20 years old and Gaugh was part of the group as well. At first the group billed itself as Sublime, but a Los Angeles judge put a stop to that after Nowell's family filed suit. Nowell had registered the band name under his own name before his death and because of that, the estate owned the rights. Thus the name Sublime with Rome was born.
Sublime with Rome released its debut album "Yours Truly" in 2011, which produced the hits "Panic" and "Take It or Leave It." Shortly after its release, Gaugh left the band but that didn't stop the momentum. As an aside session drummer Josh Freese (Devo, The Offspring, Weezer) will join Ramirez and Wilson on stage tonight. The group has toured extensively since and recently returned from performing shows in Brazil and Costa Rica in March.
"It was crazy," Ramirez said. "The fans there are very explosive and responsive to the music, even with the new music, which is pretty f---ing awesome. We did about 10 shows and were gone for around three weeks. I'm still recovering."
Sharing Sublime with the younger generation
In the four years that Sublime with Rome has been around, Ramirez said the band members have "proven ourselves."
"When you come to see us, you know it'll sound good," he said. "That's what people expect now, they expect us to sound awesome. We take pride in the fact that it's super true to the original sound of Sublime."
For Eagle resident David Dempsey, without Nowell at the helm, the band will never reach Sublime status. Dempsey responded to a Vail Daily Facebook post asking about the differences between the two bands.
"Love Sublime," he wrote. "No comparison to (the) original though. More like a good tribute band with some original members."
Either way, no one can argue that Ramirez is bringing Sublime songs to a new generation of fans.
"We have everyone in the audience - moms who are 45 with a daughter who is 21 who is holding her own kid ... I'm grateful I have the opportunity to be the face of the music for the younger generation," Ramirez said.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.