Piper leads neighborhood kid to rock ‘n’ roll stardom
It wasn’t very long ago when Rome, the new 23-year-old front man for Sublime, was a neighborhood kid on Piper Street in Fremont, Calif.
How did Roman Ramirez become Rome the rock star who performs at sold-out arenas throughout the nation?
“I just played music and hoped something would happen,” he said. “In a way it kind of did. But it took my friends and family to push me in the right direction. And then everything took its course from there.”
That’s the short answer. Let’s visit Piper Street and take a closer look.
Rome and his brother, Andreas, and Leo and Chachi Herrera were tight, along with a girl across the street, Kate Kimmel, whose mother discussed the day they discovered music.
“They were always looking for the next best thrill, whether it was jumping off roofs, doing insane things on a skateboard or just testing their parents’ nerves in any way they could,” Terri Kimmel said. “Just your typical boy stuff.”
Father Wayne Kimmel, a music dilettante with a Gibson electric guitar, likes to walk around the kitchen wearing headphones and playing his instrument.
“One day he decided to unleash his amp, and plugged it in while the kids were running around the neighborhood,” Terri Kimmel said. “He cranked up the volume, and the next time the kids ran through the house, they heard it and were mesmerized. Anything that loud just had to be cool.
“So they would come over at night or on weekends and beg Wayne to let them monkey around with the guitar and amp. It became a routine. I think that’s when they all got bitten by the bug.”
One by one, each of the boys saved enough money to buy his own guitar. Each recalled how quickly Rome learned.
“I remember he was always playing Sublime in the eighth grade,” Leo Herrera said. “He’s always been really good. I remember him singing around the time he was a sophomore. He jammed with Tom (Norman).”
Norman was one grade ahead of Rome at Kennedy High School. When they bought electric instruments, Rome played guitar and Norman bass.
“I lived around the block,” Norman said. “He taught me.”
The boys frequented the Kimmel house “whenever I broke my string on my guitar, any of us actually, any of the homies,” Rome said. “They are like eight bucks a pack and we were broke kids. We would just go over to Wayne’s because he had packs of strings. He used to teach us Rage Against The Machine riffs.”
“I always had strings,” Wayne Kimmel said. “They came over, I’d change them, tune them, teach them some chords and whatnot. They were 12-13-14 years old. I taught some Nirvana songs, “Come As You Are,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” standard stuff. Mostly, Andreas, Leo and Roman did it on their own. All I did was teach them some chords.”
Leo’s older brother Chachi, with whom he shared a bedroom, said he couldn’t sleep until the music ended.
“I used to tell him to keep it down,” Chachi Herrera said. “He grew up listening to Sublime. That was our favorite band. Brad (Nowell, the lead singer who died in 1996) was his idol.”
The boys practiced in the Herreras’ garage.
“It used to be funny,” Terri Kimmel said. “We could always count on a serenade from across the street on the weekends while we were mowing the lawn. They really went at it hard.”
“They were all troublemakers,” Wayne Kimmel said. “On field trips the whole school would go, and either Terri or I would get stuck with Kate and 10 boys because she was the only one who could control them. They were all crazy boys.”
The Piper Street kids and the Kimmels also took a nonschool-related field trip in 2007 to see the Rage Against the Machine at the Cochella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
“Roman went to L.A. and came back and he was really good,” Wayne Kimmel said. “You could see an exponential jump in him, and Andreas and Leo just started jamming together. We’d come home at night and we’d hear them in the garage just as plain as day. After that it was pretty much, ‘Yeah, he’s pretty good.’ “
“All those people kept telling me I need to go and do something with my skills,” Rome said. “I love to play music always but I figured I’d just keep playing and eventually I’d land in the right spot. In the beginning I wasn’t too keen about the business side. I didn’t know what it took to be a successful artist.”
Rome’s open mic appearances led to friendships, connections and a meeting with Sublime’s bassist Eric Wilson.
“The manager thought it’d be great to get the band together,” Rome said “We went to see Bud (Gaugh, Sublime’s drummer), and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m down.’ So we took it from there.”
The band called itself Sublime with Rome, last year recorded an album, “Yours Truly,” and went on tour with 311. The original Sublime sold more than 17 million albums and is generally credited as the pioneer of California reggae, which is a musical blend of ska, punk and hip-hop.
Last summer Wayne Kimmel received a text message from Andreas Ramirez asking if he wanted a backstage pass to an Aug. 23 concert at the Mountain View Shoreline Amphitheater.
“It’s very surreal,” Kimmel said. “I was standing closer to the band than a lot of the roadies were. I was looking from behind Roman and basically seeing what he was seeing in the stands. It was nuts. People were just going crazy.”
Chachi Herrera, who is a finish carpenter and purchased the house next door to the Kimmels, agreed seeing his friend as a rock star is unusual.
“It’s kind of crazy but we knew he had talent,” he said. “He stuck with it and never quit. I get chills down my arms and my whole body. It’s unreal he made it that far. Everybody wants to meet him and they ask me to get his autograph.”
Stepping into the role of a generation’s musical icon is heady stuff. While the new band’s success proves many love the notion of Sublime continuing without Nowell, others disapprove.
“If there’s a heaven and Brad’s in it, I’m sure he would be happy,” Norman said. “I would love to have a song I wrote be played after I was dead. Haters will always hate. But lots of bands have replaced their singers. Journey did it. AC/DC did it. Alice and Chains. I’m sure they all had haters.”
Rome is circumspect.
“Some people love the idea and some people don’t,” he said. “It’s kind hard to find any one thing in life that everyone agrees on. But just to have people care about it and to have people sell out the seats to our show, I’m stoked to see the reaction. Kids are having a great time. It’s definitely crazy to think about it. Just to sing a song that Brad did and do it justice, that’s a crazy thought. I’m more of a fan.”
He’s also effusive when he talks about his childhood friends and even described Wayne Kimmel as a “hero.”
“I do have that stature, I guess – just kidding,” Kimmel said. “I pulled him out of a couple of tight ones at times. His home life wasn’t all that great but they are none the worse for wear. The boys are doing quite well.”
Indeed, and the Piper Street kid who moved to L.A. has serious responsibilities as a young adult continuing Sublime’s music.
“I am the one that they have entrusted to carry on the message,” Rome said. “It’s dope, man.”
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