There’s a place
In San Anton
Where I can go
And not feel alone!
— The Dead Milkmen
Nearly five years after he was murdered in cold blood, a man will be remembered for gathering drunks, punks, bikers and other assorted misfits hell-bent on loud music. On April 9 and 10, during the fifth annual music festival known as Ram Jam, Ramiro “Ram” Ayala will be memorialized as a savvy businessman, generous friend, and relentless booster of sagging spirits. But if he could be told today that he is still sorely missed, his response would undoubtedly be, “Don’t be a pussy.”
Taco Land came to be in 1965, selling tacos for a dime and slinging beer at a price sure to gain loyal customers. This first iteration of Taco Land was perhaps unremarkable in a city catering to a clientele seeking to sate a seemingly endless desire for beer and Mexican fare. But Taco Land became primarily a biker bar, then a venue for various musical acts. By the early ’80s, it had evolved into the unofficial headquarters of San Antonio punk.
“Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Ram welcomed the punk bands in when nobody else in town did,” remembers Jeff Smith, an underground music veteran who is co-organizing the event. “He had less in common with us than the other club owners, but none of the rock ’n’ roll assholes wanted anything to do with us.” Taco Land would famously take all comers. Ayala would toss his calendar on the bar and say, “Put your name on that, pussy.”
It was Ram’s nonjudgmental — though notoriously brash — personality that shaped the atmosphere of Taco Land. Promoter and Ram Jam co-producer Jerry Clayworth says beneath the bacchanalia ran an acceptance and conviviality that nurtured an almost familial bond. “A dysfunctional family, maybe, but it was a comfort zone with love. Good or bad, at least it was always honest. ”
Through the years, legendary acts such as Millions of Dead Cops, the Dead Milkmen, Butthole Surfers, and the Cramps passed through Taco Land, and the venue eventually became a legend in its own right. Following Ram’s death and the bar’s closure, both were commemorated in news features, web pages, and even a film documentary. To date, no other venue has quite been able to fill the void.
“This is the first time that the Ram Jam will be produced 100-percent by the people that knew Ram,” says Roland Fuentes, owner of Nightrocker Live, which is hosting this year’s event. Fuentes, a member of the original Taco Land crew, considered buying the bar when Ayala sought retirement. “We have the same vibe, and I’m booking the same Taco Land bands,” he says. “I’m honored to be able to carry the torch, but in all honesty I don’t think there’ll be another place like Taco Land and another person like Ram.”
“This year’s Fifth Annual Ram Jam holds some extra special significance for a few reasons,” reads the promotional press release. “It marks a half decade since the Taco Land doors were abruptly & unexpectedly closed, yet even after five years, the faithful have not let the memories fade! We’ve also put together what is arguably the best overall band/music lineup that we’ve had for the Ram Jam over its first five years.”
The lineup, like the Taco Land regulars, defy crisp categories such as “punk” or “pop.” All share a gritty sound and irreverent sense of humor — not unlike Ram. The first night of the doubleheader event features San Antonio music, including garage punk band the Sons of Hercules, country punks the Hickoids, and alternative rockers the Exploding Sex Kittens, as well as resurrected old-school drunk/punk trio Loco Gringos from Dallas and psychobilly act Billy Joe Winghead from Oklahoma City.
Saturday also features a mix of local and out-of-state bands, including psychedelic garage group Los # 3 Dinners and post-punk indie bands Snowbyrd and Big Drag from San Antonio. And thanks to Fuentes, perennial Taco Land band They Never Sleep will come down from Detroit to play.
Two nights of performances and the reunion of old friends barely scratch the surface of Ram’s legacy: a salve for the tattered, unifying outcasts through music and camaraderie. For a moment we all seek a night with loved ones — or failing that, with strangers who will quickly become friends. •