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Rock goddess

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By Anita Mabante Leach

Sophia Ramos: “You have to deal with stereotypes, with people assuming that you’re a lot wilder than you really are, with men being intimidated by your power.” PHOTO: PER GUSTAFSON

Sophia Ramos never actually auditioned to land the part of the late Janis Joplin in the stage adaptation of the book, Love, Janis. Rather, the Puerto Rican beauty’s success story seems ripped from the pages of a Broadway script.

In July 2003 a tribute show to Joplin to mark her 60th birthday was organized at Central Park’s summer stage. A variety of singers were scheduled to perform Joplin’s music, including the original members of Big Brother and the Holding Co., the Full Tilt Boogie Band and the Cosmic Blues Band, all musicians for the late singer’s band. German rocker Nina Hagen was among those scheduled to sing, but had to drop out of the show.

The show’s promoter asked around for a replacement singer, getting Ramos’ name from three different people (singer Phoebe Snow was one).

Enter America’s last undiscovered Rock Goddess.

“He didn’t know me from a hole in a wall,” Ramos says. “He called me up and said, ‘What songs do you do?’

“I said, ‘All of them.’ ”

“He goes, ‘No, really, what songs do you do?’ ”

“I said, ‘No, really all of them. What do you need?’”

He scheduled her for rehearsal with Big Brother, where Ramos had to overcome the skepticism of a band that hadn’t performed with a singer of her strength in more than 30 years.

Sam Andrews, guitarist and founding member of Big Brother, initially had doubts Ramos could sing Joplin’s songs in the original key. Nevertheless, Ramos confidently launched into each song, erasing any qualms the band had about her ability.

“I’ve woodshed with her material for years, from about the time I was seven years old,” Ramos says. “I’d put on the record and try to mimic what she was doing.”

What was unnerving for Ramos was realizing she would be performing with Joplin’s original band members. Set to sing one song for the concert, she ended up singing three, catching the notice of the New York Times, although the publicity was lopsided.

“What was really funny was that no one from the New York Times asked who the hell I was!” she recalls. “They called me ‘the showstopper from the Bronx. ‘ I was like, ‘Gee, thanks,’ – I hadn’t lived in the Bronx for more than 10 years.”

After the event Andrews stayed in touch with Ramos, who had recorded Her Majesty and was busy promoting the CD. Although Andrews would sometimes ask her to tour or perform in Love, Janis, Ramos’s schedule would get in the way.

Eventually, she got the opportunity through Arizona Theatre Company and jumped at the chance to come to Tucson and Phoenix.

SHARING BACKGROUNDS

Ramos asserts that “it’s really not a far stretch for me to step in her shoes” when it comes to presenting Joplin’s extraordinary catalog of songs.

“The reality is my life is very similar to Janis’s life,” she admits. “So, minus the heroin addiction, I grew up in an environment where I was alone, misunderstood, teased.”

Ramos ran away from home when she was 16. She was living in Central Park.

“I hung out with junkies…. I did my share of too much marijuana, LSD and drinking, all in the name of rock ‘n’ roll because as far as I was concerned it was going to save my soul.”

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