Jim Ramsey reflects on the passing of the Back Room
From 1986 to 1993, if you needed anything Back-Room-related, from tickets to a sold-out show or a gig for your brother-in-law's cock-rock band, booking agent Jim Ramsey was your man. With owner Ronnie Roark's blessing, Ramsey's calendars balanced some 15-20 road shows a month with an ever-rotating slate of developing local acts (often stacked six to a bill). Even a decade into a post-music life in advertising, he'll easily go down as the guy who reigned over the Back Room's glory days. Don't believe us? Just ask Jim Ramsey.
Austin Chronicle: A lot of folks identify the Back Room's glory days as your days.
Jim Ramsey: I think they were. Wayne Nagel introduced to me Ronnie Roark in late 1985. I needed a club for road shows. I'd put bands like the Fleshtones at Duke's Royal Coach Inn. And I'd done a lot of shows at Raul's and Club Foot. As a promoter, it would be frustrating to see these clubs come and go. Wayne suggested the Back Room. Before I knew it, I'd cut a deal to put all my road shows there. For a while there, when it came to road shows, there were two venues: wherever I was and Liberty Lunch. And when I left in the spring of 1993, you could take a knife and cut it. The golden age of the Back Room road show was over.
AC: What was your relationship with Ronnie Roark like?
JR: It was great. Somebody needs to stand up and say if it weren't for Roark, it never would have been there. He opened it up as a club and was dedicated to music all along. And had he not been willing to put up the money for road shows, they wouldn't have happened. As long as the music wasn't taking money away from the games and bar was breaking even, he didn't care. His gaming business was huge. He made a fortune out of games.
AC: Business aside, the Back Room always had a pretty heavy family angle.
JR: Sure. Just as there was a strong core following for the Armadillo or Liberty Lunch, there was a family aspect at the Back Room too. Absolutely. The thread was music. These were people that would see each other every night and then still want to spend their weekends going out and picnicking or joining a busload of people to float the river together. I remember bungee jumping over the San Saba River with a bunch of the bartenders and doormen three weeks in a row.
AC: Do you think part of the Back Room faithful's us-vs.-them mentality came from the club's location in a sketchy neighborhood?
JR: A little bit. But, remember, in the mid-Eighties, Riverside was still all college kids in condos. I was there the other day, and the neighborhood has certainly changed. It's not what it used to be. It was always kind of rough, but not this rough.
AC: Will you miss it?
JR: I'll miss the Back Room of my era. I had a great time there. But I know the best thing that could've happened to my internal organs was to move on. I suspect my liver is still out there in the parking lot.
AC: Maybe that's the smell McMaster talks about.
JR: Fried brain cells and Ramsey's rotting liver? Exactly.