Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Guru Of Good Times

Taco Land-lord

By Gilbert Garcia

At the June 24 wake for Taco Land owner Ram Ayala, Juan Miguel Ramos looked around at the hundreds of people who'd gathered in the club's patio to remember one of the local music scene's defining characters. It occurred to Ramos, drummer for Sexto Sol and a longtime Taco Land regular, that this might be the last time he saw many of these familiar faces.


"There were a lot of people that I don't know if I'll see, or if we'll all ever be in the same place again," Ramos says. "It really is kind of an end."

Creating a sense of community was Ayala's great art, and the power of his scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold personality forged unlikely bonds between bikers, punks, homeless people, and college students eager for a taste of gritty authenticity. That community was shattered on Friday, June 24 at 1:30 a.m., when a Taco Land patron allegedly approached the 72-year-old Ayala at the bar and, after an apparent verbal altercation, fatally shot him in the stomach and wounded two club employees. The gunman and an accomplice fled the bar, leaving money from the register strewn about the floor. At press time, the San Antonio Police Department continued to investigate the case, with the suspects not yet identified or apprehended.


Ayala liked to say that it wasn't the place but the people that made Taco Land special, and he was the ultimate illustration of that point. Certainly, the North Side bar - with its gallery of glossy band pictures and a vintage jukebox loaded with records that hadn't changed in decades - had character, but nothing that particularly set it apart from hundreds of other dives around the country. As for the music, Taco Land hosted some noteworthy bands over the years, such as the Minutemen, the Cramps, Gwar, and the Dead Milkmen (who went on to immortalize Taco Land and Ayala in song). But tons of other clubs could claim a more impressive roster.


Ultimately, what set Taco Land apart was neither its decor nor its music, but Ayala himself. No matter how bad the band might be on a given night, no matter how thin the turnout, you knew things would get entertaining if Ayala was around, guzzling fire-hazard tequila from a Sprite bottle and spreading the good word for his congregation of proud outcasts.


"Sometimes I preferred it when it was a slow night," Ramos recalls. "Sometimes I'd just sit at the bar. Ram knew I wasn't a very talkative person, so he'd just be doing his thing, talking to his buddies. And I'd be sitting there, listening in and just getting a great big kick out of it."


Ayala opened Taco Land in 1965, selling tacos at 10 cents apiece (beer went two for a quarter) to employees of the nearby soft-drink bottling plants. In 1969, he bought the property for $21,000, and eventually transformed Taco Land into a bar catering to a heavy biker constituency. In the early '80s, San Antonio's long-suffering punk scene, which had vainly searched for suitable venues, came calling. At the urging of Hickoids bassist Richard Hays, Ayala allowed Taco Land to become a home for an underground music community that had been homeless up to that point. In doing so, he unwittingly adopted a generation of local punk kids.


Jeff Smith, a musician who played and booked countless shows at Taco Land, met Ayala in 1982, while Smith was playing in the group Bang Gang. Ayala dubbed him "The Original Punk Rocker."


"Our drummer Arthur knew some drug dealers in the neighborhood," Smith recalls, with a laugh. "We had been playing shows at various one-off bars that ended up in some sort of fist fight between a bunch of flyboys, the owners, and the bands. Every club lasted about one-and-a-half shows at that time. So Arthur said, 'Let's go play at this place called Taco Land.' We asked, 'We're going to play at a Mexican restaurant?'"


Bang Gang played at Taco Land's first punk show, along with Millions of Dead Cops (MDC, for the squeamish), Offenders, Marching Plague, Billy Bob Faggots, and special guests the Butthole Surfers. According to legend, Ayala sold plenty of beer that night, so he had no objection to the noisy, anarchistic invasion of his club.


His connection to the punk scene, however, went much deeper than dollars and cents. The young punks were provocateurs, and Ayala intuitively understood that because he liked to provoke people too. His provocations surfaced whenever things got too slow, whenever spirits flagged a bit, whenever he sensed that things needed to get stirred up.


Ramos recalls the soundcheck for a Taco Land gig by Austin's ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead in which Conrad Keely, armed with a monstrous stack of amplifiers, cranked his guitar up to ear-bleeding decibel levels. "It was ridiculous, it was so loud," he says. "I remember they had played at the North St. Mary's Brewing Company and they got the cops called on them for playing too loud and a mini-riot almost broke out. But at Taco Land, Conrad's checking his guitar, it's ridiculously loud, and Ram yells out, 'Is it on?'"


"Is it on?" was part of Ram-speak, a shorthand language built on idiosyncratic phrases that alternately served as warnings, warm greetings, and sarcastic rejoinders. His most famous expression, "Don't Be a Pussy," had many interpretations, but at heart it was as much a punk mantra as "Kick out the jams" or "Never mind the bollocks." It goaded you into dropping your inhibitions, not for a political agenda, but for the sake of pure fun. That's why a Taco Land patron once described Ayala as "the guru of good times."


Ramos first played at Taco Land in the early '90s with the punk band Glorium. The group's members were all in their teens. No one knew who they were. They had not yet written any original material, so they played nothing but covers that night. Ayala showed his support at the end of the night by handing them a 12-pack of beer.


When Ramos and his wife Rosemary married in 2002, they headed straight to Taco Land after their wedding reception, where Ayala showed both his gruffly humorous exterior and carefully concealed soft streak. "She still had her wedding dress on," Ramos recalls. "She told him that we were married, and Ram asked her, 'Why'd you marry him? He's ugly.'


"We didn't know he was doing it, but he passed around a collection jar, so he surprised us with this money when we were leaving. So we went to Taco Cabana and paid for all our friends to eat with the money he collected."


Smith says in his two decades of hanging out at the club, he never saw Ayala face a threat like the one that ended his life. "I've seen a lot of people back down from him - a lot of pretty imposing people," he says. "Once somebody succeeded in making him mad, they'd normally get the impression that he wasn't messing around. I guess in retrospect, he could have used some more backup, but the clientele was his backup, in a lot of ways."


Because Ayala was so inextricable from Taco Land's ambience, and because ownership of the bar made a financial sense to him that it probably wouldn't make to someone trying to buy the bar now, it's hard to imagine the club carrying on without him.


"Ram was in complete control of the aesthetic of the whole place and his personality dominated the vibe of the place," Ramos says. "You could keep the place open as a business. You could sell beer and book bands, but in a way, it's like, what's the point? It's just going to be any other bar without him."


In a 1999 documentary by Laura Escamilla, Ayala encapsulated Taco Land's appeal for two generations of San Antonio bands: "You might not make no money, but you'll have a good time. You can't buy a good time. And a good time is here."

Benefit Shows

Musicians honor memory of Ram Ayala

By Jim Beal
San Antonio Express-News

It's July in South Texas. Sunshine and blues skies are plentiful. But these are dark days on the live-music front.

Last Friday, in an apparent robbery attempt, Taco Land owner Ram Ayala was shot and killed. Two employees, bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger and doorman "Gypsy" Doug Morgan, remain hospitalized with gunshot wounds.

At last report from the Ayala family there will be no public memorial service. Manuel Ayala, speaking for his sisters and brothers, said there was a private service for the immediate family and Ram's remains will be cremated.

"I'd like for the public to understand that we understand their grief," Ayala said. "We want the people who hung out at Taco Land, who lived at Taco Land, who slept at Taco Land to know that we know what our dad meant to people. We understand the sorrow, confusion and anger. For us, it's surreal right now. We feel the same sorrow, confusion and anger. I know everybody is going to be upset about a viewing but this is what my dad wanted."

Ayala said the family is unsure at this point what will happen to Taco Land.

"No one could ever run Taco Land like my dad," Manuel Ayala added. "For me it left with my dad."

What won't be ending any time soon are Ram Ayala tributes coupled with benefits for Sunshine and Gypsy Doug. And that's in the best spirit of Taco Land. In more than three decades of featuring music that ran the gamut from West Side R&B to raw punk, Ram never failed to throw his doors and his patio open for benefits and fundraisers. And he always did so with a wide-open heart.

In keeping with that spirit, it's benefit time.


Sanctuary for Sunshine & Doug

The Sanctuary, 1818 N. Main Ave., will be the setting Sunday for a marathon tribute to Ayala and a benefit for Sunshine and Doug .

Doors are set to open at 3 p.m. with music starting at 4. At last report, bands include S.C. Dreamgirls, The Hickoids, Vatos Locos, Flamin' Hellcats, Pat Todd of Lazy Cowgirls, Los Mescaleros, Stevie Tombstone & the Tombstones, Snowbyrd, Oklahomos, Suzy Bravo & Hammered, Rice & Beans, The Martyrs, Yoshimoto, The Bent Gents and Total 13. It's a safe bet there'll be more.

Music will be presented on two stages. Filmmaker Laura Escamilla-Fouratt's 1999 Taco Land documentary will be screened hourly.

The Dreamgirls' Phillip Luna and his family have set up benefit bank accounts and PayPal accounts for Koger and Morgan. All the information is available at www.phillipluna.com/help.htm.

Word is there'll also be Sunshine and Doug benefits Friday night and July 8 at the Wiggle Room. Casbeers on July 8 will stage a Ram tribute and Sunshine and Doug benefit with music from The Swindles, the Infidels, True Stories, Claude "Butch" Morgan & H!x and, no doubt, others.

"Gypsy" Doug Morgan has been a fixture on the San Antonio music scene for decades. A fan and character who knows a lot about a lot of different kinds of music, Morgan battled more than his fair share of medical problems before being shot. He's never let go of his love for music.

Koger, like most people who spent lots of time working at Taco Land, earned her own fan base. It's a cinch there'll be lots more benefits and lots more tributes for Ram.

Meet Tiny

True Stories From Taco Land

By The Yawn Blog

Place: Tacoland
When: Late 90's
Who's Playing: Unknown
Ram Factor: Be Cafeful Pussy

Last Stop on the Barhop.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Tacoland was always the last stop because by that time of night I was too drunk to see. Who else would put up with somebody that borracho in public besides the Tacoland employees and regulars?

In typical Friday night fashion, my friend Tito (from those legends of rock known as The Harlots) and I stumbled in after an afternoon of barhopping. We’d usually start over in the Medical area and work our way in from

Tra’s

to

He's Not Here

to

I Don’t Know Yet

to

Patsy’s

to

San Antonio Homebrew Supply

to

Tacoland.

Sometimes that homebrew would lead to a certain type of diarrhea that gave your anal sphincter a workout at Tacoland, because fucking Jesus, you never want to bare anus there. You didn’t want to bare dick there, lest a short man named Tiny peep through the crack in the door, lick his lips, and calmly let you know he loves to look at guys’ cocks. As awkward as it was, it was fun, funny, and funtastic.

That was Tacoland.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Void At The Center Of The Music Scene

Ayala left mark on local music scene

By Jim Beal, San Antonio Express-News

The gunshot slaying of Ram Ayala at his fabled Taco Land early last Friday and the shooting of bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger and "Gypsy" Doug Morgan have cast a pall over most of the live music scene, a pall that won't be lifted for a long, long time, if ever.

Ayala was a real-deal, unvarnished character with a heart of gold, the patriarch of his own family, kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. Ram also was the patriarch of an extended family that includes the most motley of motley crews, fresh-faced teen musicians and grizzled music vets whose own families think they're nuts to still be playing rock 'n' roll in bars; generations of college students, each of whom believes he was the first to discover the bar at the corner of Grayson and Elmira streets; and homeless people who seek refuge under the ancient oak tree on the patio; the walking wounded, the childhood friends, the curious, the committed, the artists, the fans.

Ram Ayala also was a music fan who supported myriad musicians and other venue owners, even those who could be viewed as direct competitors. His personal tastes ran the gamut from big band jazz to West Side R&B, from conjunto to raw punk, from the experimental to the established. Music will go on. The rock won't stop. People will gravitate elsewhere. And there'll always be a void at the center of the music scene. The small, immediate blessing is there won't be three.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Vantastic Show

True Stories From Taco Land

By Burnin' Mike Vernon
Guitarist for 3 Balls Of Fire

Place: Tacoland
When: mid-90's
Who's Playing: Two Hoots and a Holler + 3 Balls of Fire
Ram Factor: Kiss The Baby

Back in the mid-90's, I played at Taco Land in Rick Broussard's Two Hoots and a Holler. We got so loaded with Ram that no one could make the drive back to Austin so we slept outside the club in the van. Also played there a couple of times at surf night with 3 Balls of Fire...had a blast everytime i was there.

The River's Edge

Misfits, miscreants, and music in the Land of the Taco

By Anjali Gupta for the San Antonio Current

Place: Tacoland
When: July 6th, 2002
Who's Playing: Stinky del Negro
Ram Factor: It's On.


San Antonio's infamous rock 'n' roll mecca, Taco Land, is rapidly approaching an impressive 40-year watermark — just long enough for most of us to take it for granted. Thankfully, the venue and its 70-plus-year-old owner/operator Ram Ayala are still going strong. For generations of musicians, gigging at Taco Land has become a sort of unwritten rite of passage, which in turn makes Ayala the most unlikely of gurus: half burly biker, half benevolent benefactor, and undisputed grandfather of the San Antonio music scene. Every musician and aficionado in San Antonio (and perhaps Texas) has a favorite Taco Land story, and all revolve around Ram in some way, shape, or form. He is, by deliberate understatement, quite a character.

Ram's living room-sized bar is perennially surreal — an experiment in chaos theory gone affably awry, teetering precariously between an endless loop of Repo Man and Up in Smoke, with the intermittent but choice frame from Taxi Driver spliced in for good measure. On a slow night, you can all but hear fish breathing in the San Antonio River below, but on a Big Drag, Murder City Devils, or Belrays kind of occasion, you'll need a well-angled crowbar to venture five feet past the front door.


To the virgin eye, a onceover of Taco Land by day is more likely to spark a change of plans than a ballad, though the Dead Milkmen (among others) managed to pull one off. The venue is flanked by an automotive shop and a large patio, liberally sprayed with graffiti and inhabited by the sprawling remains of a decrepit barbeque pit. But as the harsh light of day ebbs, such relics are washed in a blanket of softening darkness, and the venue begins to exude an odd yet undeniable allure that falls somewhere between an impromptu soup kitchen and a backstage gathering at CBGBs.


The bar is unapologetically understated — rectangular, with a service area and pool table at one end, and an elementary alcove that functions as a stage at the other. The interior's diminutive size and shotgun shack simplicity do have the advantage of successfully blurring the line between performer and audience, a boon that keeps bands who could easily pack larger venues coming back year after year.


Taco Land is a recognizably level playing field, completely stripped of any saccharine trappings of cool. It is unpretentious, gritty, and quintessentially San Antonio. Big shows take on the feel of punk rock homecomings rather then staged events of the sort prevalent at Sixth Street vomitoriums and less- seasoned local alternative venues.


Perhaps it is the low-key nature of the setting, but both the place and owner seem to abet acts of harmless absurdity including a highly contagious and situationally induced form of Tourette's Syndrome. Yet things rarely get out of control. Ram is a patriarch who rules his domain with a velvet fist cast in iron — and the occasional well-aimed cue ball. For the most part, indigents and '09ers mix with relative ease in Taco Land's sub-zero succor.


Neither owner nor regular clientele suffer fools lightly. Bands who overstep their boundaries via crappy attitudes, complicated setups, multiple roadies, large guest lists, and/or other irritating demands are turned out on their not-so-proverbial asses faster then Ram can rattle off his beer menu. Taco Land is a music venue, plain and simple — a worthy pit stop on the road less traveled.


Despite his advanced years and rather flamboyant façade, Ram is a walking anthology of Texas music trivia. Every inch of his bar is covered with flyers of years past. His office is a veritable shrine to musicians past and present, but it may take years for you to work yourself into that inner cavern of confidence. But once you are in the circle, you are always in the circle. Like many of his generation, all his relationships — with performers and patronage alike — are built on mutual respect and a genuine love of music.


Taco Land is not for the weak of will or the thin-skinned. Ram is more likely to taunt you relentlessly than kiss your ass for a tip. But remember — just smile and take it — that usually means he likes you. The proper yet nonsensical response to "Hey, pussy," is "Is it on?" And please, for the love of god, do not ask the man for a glass of water.

You Can Help Doug Morgan & Denise Koger

Two accounts have been set up on behalf of Doug Morgan and Denise Koger, our friends who were seriously injured in Thursday night’s shooting at Tacoland. Denise and Doug are still in intensive care and need all of our prayers, good wishes,and help.

These accounts are set up at Wells Fargo bank. You may deposit CASH ONLY at any Wells Fargo branch OR we have also set up PayPal accounts that transfer funds directly to their accounts. PayPal will accept your credit card or transfer money from your account directly into theirs.

Please call Phillip or Blanca Luna at 210-532-9107 or 210-789-6000 for account information.

Go to www.paypal.com and use your PayPal account or set up a free Personal Account for yourself and then enter either Doug or Denise’s emails and the amount you wish to donate. Here are their emails where they will also be notified of your donation.

doug@phillipluna.com

denise@phillipluna.com

The funds collected will be used to cover Doug and Denise’s living expenses during their recovery. There are several fundraisers scheduled to raise more money for our dear friends, please stay posted and do what you can to help. Fundraiser organizers are also welcome to use these accounts to deposit the proceeds you collect.

There has been no new information about Thusday night’s shooting. If you have any information that you think may be helpful, please contact S.A.P.D. Det. John Slaughter at 207-7635.

Please forward this message to your e-mail lists.

Thank You and God Bless You,

Phillip and Blanca Luna

Sonny, Noah and Violet

Thanks to Night Rocker.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Church

True Stories From Taco Land

by Stinky del Negro

Place: Tacoland
When: One Sunday Night
Who's Playing: Stinky del Negro
Ram Factor: The Gospel According To Ram


Stinky del Negro played there a couple of times. One Sunday we drove down and played a set dressed as priests. Someone in the band asked the audience, "who went to church today?" and Ram retorted from behind the bar, "You're at church, motherfucker!!"

Amen.

Better Than Winning A Grammy

True Stories From Taco Land

by greg

Place: Tacoland
When: Sometime, 1993 & 1994
Who's Playing: Noodle + Gut + Boxcar Satan
Ram Factor: Papa Ram

I only played at Taco Land a few times, but two of those times included memorable Ram encounters. The first was in 1993 at a Noodle gig with Gut and Boxcar Satan. I'd broken up with my girlfriend of two years earlier that day and was lucky to have even completed the 78-mile trek to San Antonio on account of a rapidly dying car battery. I couldn't wait to get inside the bar and pop a cold Pearl to calm my nerves before the show. Unfortunately, I'd left my driver's license in Austin and my youthful appearance made it difficult to even get into Taco Land, let alone drink.

"If I catch you drinking," Ram warned, "I'll have your motherfuckin' ass thrown in jail!"

Needless to say, I was one sober 24-year-old that night.

About a year or so later, Noodle was back at Taco Land and I had my I.D. firmly in hand this time. We were right in the middle of a particularly sweaty set and I was bowled over in some ridiculous spastic contortion with my eyes closed. Then I felt something ice cold press against my forehead. I looked up and was pleasantly surprised to see Ram trying to hand me a Pearl for my efforts.

I remember thinking that was about as close to winning a Grammy as I'll ever get.

Dead Kennedys - Still Dead 20 Years Later

True Stories From Taco Land

By Yawn Blog

Place: Tacoland
When: mid-90's
Who's Playing: The Needles
Ram Factor: It Ain't That Kind Of Club

Alcohol tends to blur circumstances, and I have professed to excess that pilgrimages to Tacoland were the results of binges, rather than the facilitator. Thus most of my memories take place under the floodlight out on the patio and aren’t too clear.

2:30 a.m. we’re in a West Side Tejano bar featuring the marginalized of the local marginalized. I am with a couple of friends who are tripping on mushrooms and drinking beer. Nobody talks to us because we’re white. A man with a missing arm comes by and rubs his stump on one of their legs. Suddenly San Antonio is a very scary place.

Flashback 1 hour.

We’re getting kicked out of Salute over on N. St. Marys. I’m about to kick out their window with my cowboy boots because one of my friends is screwing around in there and we want to get him out and leave. She threatens to call the cops so I dare her to and I tell her to tell them my name. Somehow after 1:51 I still had the sense to give her a fake name.

10 minutes later we’re at Tacoland trying to get in. Some kid (a band member) is wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt and insisting that we pay him $3 each to come in and drink beer even though it’s almost closing time. I’m with Eric and Brian from the Austin supergroup My Education. Now here’s where my memory gets blurry. Brian had words with the guy. Dammit, there was no way in hell we were paying $3 to drink $1.50 beers at 1:45 a.m.!

The conversation ended up something to the effect of Brian saying “Piss off you little punk and take your fucking Dead Kennedys reprint shirt with you!”

Cad Trippin


Cad Trippin
Cad Trippin, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.
I found this Googling Taco Land. It's by Joe Annabi @ www.sparklingseahorse.com

The caption is "Other than that, I'm actually posting a drawing today. Shocking, I know. This is one I drew at TacoLand in San Antonio while waiting for Jester and Lucil to start their show. For the uninitiated, his name is Cadwallader, and he is a Cacomistle."

Two Nights

Ty Gavin

Friday night.

It was a sad occasion. Once in awhile it was hard not to get
choked up and there were plaenty of tears but it was good and important to be there and except for Ram dying and Doug and Denise getting shot it was a great great party just like what Ram would have liked to have seen.

Just about everybody was there and just about everybody had a story to tell about how Ram helped them or someone they knew. All four corners of the intersection had a group of people. Plenty of news people there and a few detectives still investigating the inside of the bar.

The street, sidewalk and patio were packed. All the great freaks, musicians, artists, lots of beautiful girls (Ram would have liked that) and S.A. characters, young and old, that you saw there on any given night was there.

The shrine covered the whole front of the building, there were photos, paintings, sunglasses, liquor, flowers, candles, messages, art, jewelry incense, cigars, beer and more. Some bands played and it ended at midnight with a prayer for Ram. I saw a lot of people that I haven't seen in years.

Saturday night.

Fundraiser for Doug and Denise. Another great celebration of the life of Ram. More great music, people and tribute. Doug needs blood (0+).

These were two nights at TacoLand that I wouldn't have missed for anything and two nights that I wish didn't have to be.

Last Night at Tacoland June 26, 2005


Last Night at Tacoland, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

For many, myself included, last night was truly my last night at Taco Land.

No Ram. No Taco Land.

I think Gov. Perry put it best: "Adios Mofo"

06/27/2005 Report

Taco Land and slain owner get mournful goodbye

Web Posted: 06/27/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Karisa King
Express-News Staff Writer

Grieving musicians and patrons loyal to the legendary San Antonio bar Taco Land gathered Sunday night for a concert tribute to the club's slain owner, Ramiro "Ram" Ayala, and bid farewell to one of the longest standing underground music venues in Texas.

The epic history of the club, which started in 1969 and came to represent a segment of San Antonio culture in its rawest form, abruptly ended early Friday when Ayala was shot to death during what police say was an apparent robbery attempt. Now, those closest to Ayala say the bar will close for good.

"Now that Ram is passed and gone, there is no more Taco Land," said Robert Tatum, a close friend of Ayala's who helped organize the show. "It's over. None of us are even thinking twice about continuing to run it."

A long lineup of bands, most of them Taco Land standards, played into the night on the club's cracked front patio, just beyond the locked front door at the corner of Grayson and Elmira streets. It was both a mournful homage and a rowdy bash that held true to the irreverent approach Ayala took to running the club.

At dusk, Taco Land regulars swilled beer from their own coolers, shared barbecue and danced on tables to songs from Yoshimoto. Several other bands were expected to play, including the Sons of Hercules, Pit Bull Daycare, Boxcar Satan, Los Mescaleros, the Swindles, the Alcoholic Helltones, and Los #3 Dinners.

Donations raised at the door will go to help the two surviving employees, bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger, 41, and doorman Douglas Morgan, 53, who were shot alongside Ayala and remain at University Hospital in stable condition.

After an outpouring of grief and condolences, Ayala's family recognized the need for a collective farewell and agreed to host the fundraiser.

"They just wanted to give the public one last night," said Roland Fuentes, a former Taco Land employee who helped to organize the show.

Ayala opened Taco Land in 1965, selling tacos and enchilada plates to workers from soda bottling plants that once operated nearby. After the plants shut down, he turned the business into a bar in 1969.

Since then, an eclectic parade of obscure bands from around the country has performed at the low-frills bar. They included the Dead Milkmen, GWAR, the Poster Children, the Fleshtones and Yo La Tengo.

Over the years, the place held onto its blue-collar roots, but evolved into a unique cultural force that sometimes made for a weird juxtaposition of people ˜ well-groomed college students in the same mash pit with middle-aged rockers and silver-studded punks.

Band members and customers cherished the bar for its gritty authenticity and an atmosphere that remained free of the sneering pretension of other alternative venues.

Police on Sunday continued the hunt for two Hispanic men in their early 20s who sped away from the shooting in a silver, two-door sports car.

Police spokesman Joe Rios said no arrests have been made Sunday and detectives continued speaking with witnesses.

"We're still investigating, trying to figure out who the people in the club before the shooting were," Rios said.

A Taco Land bartender who was not there at the time of the shooting stood off to one side, leaning against the car and looking devastated. Jay Bermea, who lives in the neighborhood, does not feel lucky that the shooter didn't get him, too.

"I wish they had," he said grimly.

Bermea had worked for Ram for about three years.

"He was just a tough old Billy goat. Hard-headed. Stubborn," he said.

"But he was a good man. A good father to everybody," Bermea said.

Some Taco Land regulars already had been preparing for the day Ram wouldn't be there, especially after the bar owner had heart problems some time ago.

"Most of us were already thinking that something so good couldn't be so good," said Timothy Phillips, who had been coming to the bar nearly a decade.

"Good things come to an end. I felt it coming. I really did."


Express News Staff Writers Vincent T. Davis, Sheila Hotchkin and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Zen Master

True Stories From Taco Land

by el Bart c/s

Place: Tacoland
When: Late March Early April, 2005
Who's Playing: Los #3 Dinners
Ram Factor: Not In The House of Ram


This happened a few months ago, March or April, 2005. I didn't witness the incident, but my buddy Frank told me about it. We, los #3 Dinners, were playing Tacoland, having a good time playing for Ram and his friends. This one chick was too drunk (not a problem with Ram), but out of control and acting like, well, a pussy (a big problem with Ram). She received a few warnings about her behavior, yet she persisted to fuck up.

Let me digress for a moment. Ram had a sixth sense about drunks. He knew when they were 30 seconds from exploding into a difficult to control monster. He was skilled at intervening at the exact moment when the drunk had reached that delicate balance between being a happy Tacoland drunk and an out of control pussy. The point where the drunk was most vulnerable and could be thrown out on their ass with minimal effort, just before a critical mass of drunkeness was reached and the situation would become expotentially more difficult to control. It was a Zen Master-like ability to know when just one utterance of "GET THE FUCK OUT OUTA HERE!" would communicate directly with the drunk's last functioning brain cell and defuse the situation. If you ever saw it in action, you were awestruck . . . that's if you weren't too drunk to notice.

Anyway, this drunk chick had hit that point and she was being evicted from the House of Ram. She pleaded for mercy. "Ram, I love you! Don't throw me out! I'll give you a blow job, ANYTHING, if I can stay."

Ram's perfect response was, "I'd rather have a blow job from your boyfriend. Now, GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!

No Arrests Made In Taco Land Slaying

June 26th, 2005
San Antonio Express-News

Two Taco Land employees injured in a shooting that killed the North Side bar's owner remained at University Hospital on Saturday afternoon.

Bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger, 41, was in serious but stable condition; doorman Douglas Morgan, 53, was upgraded from critical to stable condition.

Police, meanwhile, hadn't made any arrests Saturday in the killing of 72-year-old Ramiro "Ram" Ayala in an apparent robbery early Friday.

Witnesses told police a man who had been drinking beer and shooting pool at the nearly empty bar shot Ayala in the gut at about 1:30 a.m. The shooter left the bar with another man, and they drove off in a silver sports car.

Police don't know much about the pair, but patrons said the shooter had identified himself as "Rick" while playing pool.

Police speculated that the motive for the shooting might have been a robbery because the cash register was knocked over and there were a few dollar bills on the floor.

Headshot


Headshot, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

We all handle bad news in our own special way... the headline reads: "This is Ram's Slayer"

Ram Wall Painting


Ram Wall Painting, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

This original stencilled image was created by Mike "Mig" Kokinda (I don't know from who's photo it was adapted), and the artist pictured here painting the mural is Joe Ramirez (known in Taco Land circles as "Joe Who"). This was taken Saturday evening, June 25, 2005

Ram Shrine


Ram Shrine, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

Just a small sample of the love.

Steele Reserve

True Stories From Taco Land

By Yawn Blog

Place: Tacoland
When: mid-90's
Who's Playing: The Needles
Ram Factor: It Ain't That Kind Of Club

Steele Reserve Fucking Tacoland.

It was always like that. Sometimes it was homeless 50-year old hookers telling you their sob stories about their gay children getting AIDS from fucking each other, other times it was sleazy sonofabitches trying to pass off Tylenols as Vicodin and getting pissed when you told them to shove it up their asshole.

Other times, it was making your way through a minefield of used points and shooting up in a house across 281 with a rig you had to wash out with Listerine because the resident junkie didn’t have any bleach. Yet other times it was hearing draft stories from guys who came back from Vietnam completely different- 30 years before. But I will always associate Tacoland with Steele Reserve.

The first time I ever drank Steele Reserve I was trying to drink off the effects of some illegal medication I took in Las Vegas. I had completely forgotten about that stuff- actually I think it used to be illegal in Texas because it had something like 8% alcohol. Nevertheless, you could get a 24 oz. can for something like $1.59 at the crackhead convenience store on 281.

Steele Reserve was the beer of choice at Tacoland, even though Ram didn’t sell it. Once he came out and chased away some homeless folks with a broom. The impression I was left with was that they were bringing in their own Steele Reserve instead of buying his $1.50 longnecks. I don’t know why I have that impression - maybe he said something about it, maybe that’s all I could figure out from what I saw. Within minutes, a few were back on the patio drinking Steele Reserve.

Thats Tacoland.

Bill Who?

True Stories From Tacoland

From The Low Budgets' 2004 Southern Tour Diary

By Joe:

Place: Tacoland
When: May 4th, 2004
Who's Playing: Rice & Beans + some other band
Who's Not Playing: The Low Budgets
Ram Factor: That's Taco Land


According to Joe:

There was a flyer posted to the door of Tacoland about the show tonight. Rice & Beans were playing along with another band. We were not listed. I got a very bad feeling in my stomach. Apparently there was some misunderstaning in the booking of the show. I had communicated via e-mail and phone messages (left messages on machine) with a person (named Bill) who did not actually book the Tacoland. I got the guy's e-mail address from a post on the Dead Milkmen site.

Chris got some money from the band fund and got himself a room in a nearby motel. He told us we could do whatever we wanted. Some folks in a band who were rehearsing next door to Tacoland told us that Ram, the owner, usually did not open up the place until 9. They suggested we drive downtown and walk around, which is what we did. We saw the Alamo. (Brian told us the story of Ozzy Osbourne pissing on the side of it in his wife's dress, but we did not see any plaques to commemorate this historic event.)   

It did not take long for us to be bored so we drove back to Tacoland and it was open. We played a couple games of pool. I asked around for someone named Bill but no one by that name was there. Even worse, no one knew anyone named Bill. Do you mean Phil? No, Bill. Eventually a band showed up to load up their gear. We told them our story and they asked Ram, the owner, if anyone booked the Low Budgets. No! At this point Ram got upset. Bands in the past have tried to weasel their way onto shows in this manner and he wasn't having it. He told us that he is the only person who books Tacoland and he only books on weekends. The weeknight shows, like this one, are booked by the bands themselves by signing a schedule in a notebook. The only way an out-of-town band to have a show on a weeknight is if a local band signs them up, and we were not signed up. So much for my contact named Bill!

I felt really stupid and went into the van to finish my work for the day. When I was done my work I went back into Tacoland. Steve bought be a beer. They were talking to Ram who was tending the bar. Everything was straightened out - we could play the show. They all decided that a Dead Milkmen fan had played a practical joke on me, but the other bands would let us share the bill. It was alright with Ram. The Milkmen played Tacoland back in 1986 (Ram remembered, and showed me a DM sticker that was on the fridge behind the bar). We wrote a song about it which Ram said a lot of other bands mention when they come to play.

Still, we did not play. Chris was not in the mood. I had a good time anyway hanging out with the locals and getting drunk on cheap Lone Star beer. Tacoland is still the coolest bar in the world!

After the Rice and Beans last set (or Jason's last solo set) we drove to the apartment of one of the locals and watched a Ween video - he fed us some good Korean food while his roomates "boozed us up and got us high" then I passed out on a couch.

6/26/2005 Update

S.A. Mourns the Passing of Legendary Taco Land Owner

Posted By: Mandi Bishop
WOAI

Friends, family, and music fans are mourning the death of a San Antonio icon. Ramiro “Ram” Ayala ran Taco Land, a bar known for helping develop and showcase countless musicians. He was shot to death Thursday night during a robbery.

“It's a sad day in the music business,” explains booking agent Roland Fuentes. “Tacoland was Ram. His attitude. His style.”

Taco Land is known worldwide; legendary for live music and it's unusual owner. If you listen to San Antonio music, you know about the small bar with character on W. Grayson Street just north of downtown. Patrons knew Ayala, 72, as a gruff curmudgeon of a bartender – with a heart of gold. He opened his one of kind bar to everyone from the homeless to rich college kids. Everyone was welcome.

“He lived hard and he loved hard,” said Fuentes.

Hundreds gathered at Taco Land Friday night to memorialize the San Antonio music institution.

“I'm still in shock right now,” said Ayala's son, Mark Cruz. He can't believe his dad is gone. “My dad was kind, big-hearted. Anything that anyone needed, he would give if it would help.”

Friends describe Ram as a man who spent his entire life helping others. He gave many upstart bands their first shot on stage, and bands from across the country looked forward to the chance to play the famed Taco Land.

“Ram cared about all of his bands like they were his sons,” said Fuentes.

In 1969 when the nearby bottling plant shut down, Ram turned his taco joint into a world-renowned live music hotspot.

Jeff Smith played Taco Land in the early 90's. “Ram was a great guy,” said Smith. “He was an unusual individual. He had pretty salty language.”

“He expressed himself a lot with cuss words. I mean, he would cuss everybody out – but in a nice way,” said Frank Rodarte with a grin.

We interviewed Ram in 1999. “To me, it wasn't music at all. It was just a bunch of racket. That was the 'in' thing then,” Ram told WOAI about some of the famed punk bands that had played his bar.

In 1999 Ram was featured in a documentary by Laura Escamilla-Fouratt about Taco Land. “Not everybody can say that they had a movie about a bar - my bar - or a business they have,” Ram said proudly.

Police say Thursday night two newcomers to the bar decided to rob the place. Then shot Ram and two of his employees. Doorman Douglas Morgan, 53, and bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger, 41, were injured in the shooting — Morgan critically.

“He was a person who helped others,” mourner Tony Sanchez told WOAI. “I don't know how anyone could do this. There's no reason for it.”

“It's very tragic,” said Cruz. “I can't believe someone could do this to him.”

Police describe the suspects as short Latin men in their 20'S; one skinny and the other a bit bulkier. They fled in a silver sports car.

Without Ram “Tacoland is over,” said Fuentes. Ram's funeral is set for early next week

Saturday, June 25, 2005

An American-Statesman Report

Taco Land owner shot to death

San Antonio venue was haven for up-and-coming bands from Austin and elsewhere.

By Michael Corcoran
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, June 25, 2005

Ram Ayala, always wearing sunglasses in his dark nightclub, was a legend among not only Austin and San Antonio musicians, but also indie rock touring acts such as Yo La Tengo and L7, who made sure to stop in at his gloriously seedy biker bar whenever they passed through San Antonio.

Philadelphia's Dead Milkmen even recorded a song about their unscheduled 1986 appearance at the 150-capacity cinder block venue: "I wish my band would always play; Tacoland, I want to stay."

Ramiro Albert Ayala, 72, was fatally shot in the torso at Taco Land at 103 W. Grayson St. at 1:21 a.m. Friday, according to the San Antonio Police Department. Police said two people fled with money taken from the cash register after shooting two others at the bar — a 41-year-old woman shot in the abdomen and a 53-year-old man shot in the side.

Both were taken to University Hospital and are in critical condition, according to police, and no suspects had been arrested as of Friday evening.

"Simple words cannot properly express the sadness and disgust I'm feeling," former Hickoids singer Jeff Smith wrote in an e-mail early Friday morning that launched an Internet wildfire of similar reactions. Smith, who lives in San Antonio, described the injured victims as the club's bouncer and bartender.

"I never even saw a fight at Taco Land," said Eric Makowski, whose early '90s band the Showoffs regularly played at the club, which opened as a taco stand in 1965 but hasn't served food in decades. "The place looked pretty scary, but everyone was so nice."

The crowd was a reflection of the club's owner, who greeted everyone with a gruff expletive, yet was known for his generosity toward up-and-coming bands.

"One time we were sitting around talking about how broke and hungry we were, and a couple bags of tacos and burritos magically appeared at our table," recalled Makowski, currently a member of Bloody Tears.

Ayala liked to send bands home with a case of beer at the end of the night, especially if nobody showed up to see them. But he was more notorious for an unmarked bottle of hooch he carried around. The bottle was filled with liquor left over by customers who had brought their own to the beer and wine joint. Bikers would often prove their mettle by taking swigs from the bottle that mixed several types of liquor.

"If Ram liked the band, he'd make them each drink a shot of that stuff," Makowski said. "It tasted awful, but it felt like a honor."

Tears In Our Eyes

True Stories From Tacoland

Railrod Jerk Tour Journal Excerpt

by Marcellus Hall

Place: Tacoland
When: Late April, 1993
Who's Playing: Railroad Jerk + Splinter + Boxcar Satan
Ram Factor: Shit Happens

We woke the next day at 3 pm and went with Brent of the Cherubs to meet Tanya and Debbie. We all ate at a Mexican restaurant and then got on the road to San Antonio. It was an exciting 1 1/2 hour drive what with the van so crowded and all of us talking at the same time. We listened to the Fall's Grotesque album and Can.

We finally arrived at Tacoland, the club in San Antonio. A small place that we had heard many good things about. Outside stood the members of the opening bands: Splinter and Boxcar Satan. We introduced ourselves and they told us the bad news: Tacoland is locked and no one knows where the owner is. They assured us that it was some sort of emergency as this was not the usual custom. We bought beer and stood around. The night was clear and warm. Some fans showed up, but no owner. It began to look bleak. Then, as it became apparent that there would not be a show, the crowd took up a small collection and handed us $50 for gas. This gesture had us overwhelmed with gratitude and we drove away with tears in our eyes (and $50 in our pockets).

Viva Taco Land!


Viva Tacoland!, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

If you've ever been to, played at or had the honor of being served an ice cold beer by Ram at Taco Land then you've got a story to tell - please share it by clicking the comment button and we'll post it here and on the official site coming at the end of July, 2005. Thanks and Viva Ram!

Game Over: RAM MVP

Owner of Famed Taco Land Is Slain

By John Tedesco, Jim Beal and Mary Moreno
Express-News Staff Writers
Web Posted: 06/25/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Ramiro "Ram" Ayala, whose iconic bar Taco Land became an institution for underground music for more than three decades, was shot to death early Friday in a possible robbery attempt, police said.

Two employees at the near North Side bar, doorman Douglas Morgan, 53, and bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger, 41, were injured in the shooting — Morgan critically.

At 72, Ayala was known to patrons as the gruff bartender with a sweet spot, a gray-haired curmudgeon who opened his dive bar to everyone, from upstart bands with no experience to street people.

With his trademark sunglasses and black rocker T-shirts, Ayala was as offbeat as the bands he booked.

"Ram's everybody's dad," Mitch Webb, lead singer of the local country rock band The Swindles. "He adopted all the homeless people in the area and countless musicians."

Bands across the country wanted to play gigs at the squat brick building at Grayson and Elmira streets. The Dead Milkmen named a song after Taco Land, and the bar cropped up in lyrics by local groups such as Los #3 Dinners.

"Without Ram there, it will never, ever, ever be the same," said Los #3 Dinners lead singer Eric Friedland. "That was why you went to Taco Land, because of him."

Witnesses told police two men in their early 20s had been playing pool and drinking beer at Taco Land early Friday, as the city celebrated the San Antonio Spurs' victory over the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Championship.

Robert Flores, a homeless man who did odd jobs at Taco Land, said two bands scheduled to perform had canceled, so few people were lingering in the bar at 1 a.m.

One of the pool players stood out to Flores because he'd never seen him at Taco Land before.

The man was leaning against the jukebox drinking beer shortly before he walked over to the bar and struck up a conversation with Ayala, Flores said.

Flores didn't hear what was said, but he saw the man stick a gun in Ayala's gut and fire a shot. Flores said he ran out of the bar and didn't see what happened next.

"I can't believe this man went off like that," Flores said.

The two men fled in a silver sports car. They were described as short Hispanic men, one with a light build, the other a little heavier. One of them went by the first name "Rick," or that's what they told other patrons.

The slim man wore a red or burgundy polo shirt and blue jeans, had a crew cut, and spoke Spanish and English.

The second man had a white San Antonio Spurs T-shirt, tattoos on both arms, and light or hazel eyes.

Police found a cash register knocked over with a few dollar bills strewn across the floor.

Investigators said they had no leads.

Although the club seemed like a reliable safe haven to regulars, Taco Land had its rough side. Police knew the spot well, and in recent years had responded to an increasing number of emergency calls.

In 2000, Ayala said in an interview he first opened Taco Land in 1965, selling tacos and enchilada plates to workers from soda pop bottling plants that once operated nearby. After the plants shut down, he turned the business into a bar in 1969.

Taco Land became a draw for an eclectic crowd that on any given night had homeless people drinking beer with uppercrust college students.

"He touched people from every walk of life, from kids (in) Alamo Heights, to kids from Trinity to kids from the West Side," said Laura Escamilla-Fouratt, who worked on a documentary about Taco Land in 1999.

"I think that's kind of what everyone liked about Taco Land," she said. "It was interesting for everyone."

If he liked you, Ayala would offer a sip from "baby," the bottle he kept in a paper bag. You were expected to take a swig of what could be good tequila, cheap Scotch or a more ambiguous mix of fiery liquid.

His affection came out in other ways, too.

"Ram would only heckle bands he liked," said Sanford Nowlin, lead singer for the band Boxcar Satan and a business writer for the San Antonio Express-News.

Roland de la Cruz, guitarist with Los Mescaleros, said, "He could be a tough guy but he was a sweet man. When it came to the club, it didn't matter who you are, you could play there."

There are Ram stories Escamilla-Fouratt has never been able to confirm — that he was a projectionist in old movie houses and that he was a Korean War vet — but his work ethic and devotion to his bar always held true.

"He was really, really proud of Taco Land," she said.

Ayala suffered a heart attack in May 2003 and in recent months spent less time behind the bar, instead holding court from a stool beside the pay phone. The phone would ring periodically throughout shows, and Ram would answer it, barking "What?"

"I love the people that come here. All of them," Ayala said in 2000. "I've got good people and bad people that come here, but 99 percent of the people are good."

To pay homage to a man so many considered a patron saint to the music scene, Friday night's gig became a makeshift memorial with bands More Fire from Austin, Los De Verdad from Houston and local bands Valley of the Kings and Total 13. A crowd of about 400 to 500 people had gathered by 9 p.m.

Mark Cruz, Ayala's son, said he knew there was trouble when he saw the club on television after the Spurs coverage.

He rushed to the scene, and then to Brooke Army Medical Center, where he learned his father had been pronounced dead.

Earlier Friday, shocked patrons gathered outside Taco Land and left a shrine of flowers, candelarias and tributes along an outside wall.

Eddie Cruz, Ayala's youngest son, said he didn't know what would happen to the bar. But he hinted that without Ram, there is no Taco Land.

Express News Staff Writers Vianna Davila, Karisa King, Sheila Hotchkin, Hector Saldaña and Michelle Mondo contributed to this report.

When The Sun Goes Down

By Ty Gavin

TacoLand, San Antonio's landmark on the San Antonio River. Parallel to CBGB's, RAUL's, The RAT, The Masque, etc. was launched into history last night with the murder of RAM, owner of the nationally known club. This is a devastating loss to San Antonio on many levels, culture, music and art. It was a living work of art, culture and San Antonio music history.

Taco Land was a "must play" stop on countless numbers of tour schedules for hundreds of bands. People knew they were touching history and wanted bragging rights of saying, "I played at TacoLand", "....and my sticker's on the wall".

Ram wasn't the "president" or "mayor" of TacoLand, he was "THE MAN" of
TacoLand and there was no a no bullshit policy that he controlled and
enforced efortlessly. He ruled over the chaos without disturbing it.

It was a unique underground community that covered the full spectrum of humanity, everyone, from the homeless to the millionaires, criminals to cops, musicians, music lovers, artists, freaks, outcasts, innocents, guilty, handicapped, brilliant, stupid, beautiful, all colors and races and ages.

He took care of the people in many personal ways. If you really needed a beer he'd give you a can of Lone
Star, if you needed your ass kicked he wouldn't hesitate to give you that too. He gave so many bands a chance to perform sometimes when no one else would.

He was cut from the same cloth as Roy, Joseph and Bobby, real life. I think Ram never took a day for granted and lived life like there might not be a tomorrow. He is history. Ram will be a lasting history, he will be sung about, stories will be told and handed down about this true folk hero legend and
hero and leader.

He will be remembered and the San Antonio River will be flooded with tears tonight.


WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN

It won't be 'til the sun goes down
And the spotlight there waits for you
What do we do now in the city of sound
Now that we must face the truth

When the sun goes down,
when the sun goes down...

Guns and Pussies Suck.


Front Page, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

The Taco Land Shuffle


Ram Jam!, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

Go Ram!

Friday, June 24, 2005

First Report 2

Taco Land Shooting Leaves Owner Dead, 2 Others Injured

POSTED: 7:54 am CDT June 24, 2005
UPDATED: 8:00 am CDT June 24, 2005

SAN ANTONIO -- The owner of Taco Land, a San Antonio bar, was killed and two other people were critically injured in a shooting early Friday morning at the bar.



Ramiro Ayala, 72, identified as the bar’s owner, died at Brooke Army Medical Center.


A 40-year-old woman and a 54-year-old man also suffered gunshot wounds. They were both listed in critical condition Friday morning at University Hospital.

The shooting happened about 1:30 a.m. at Taco Land, in the 100 block of West Grayson.

San Antonio Police Department Sgt. Matthew Podwika said that police believe the shooting occurred after two men tried to rob the bar.

“From what I understand, they were already in the bar and they walked up to the counter. At that point, they possibly tried to rob it. We don't know exactly what was said between the owner and the suspects,” Podwika said.

Podwika said the two men fled the scene, possibly driving a silver Cadillac.

Copyright 2005 by KSAT.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sue me.

Taco Land Is Dead


Taco Land Is Dead, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

It'll never be the same without Ram behind the bar.

First Reports 1

woai.com

Overnight Shootings; Taco Land Owner Murdered in Robbery

Police officers trying to break up a fight end up caught in the
middle of a shooting on the west side. Only minutes later near
downtown, three people are shot outside a popular cantina. One of
them later died.

On West Grayson, three people were gunned down by robbers at Taco
Land. Authorities tell News 4 one of those victims is the owner of
the business, Ramiro Ayala. He died a few hours later.

Police say two men started arguing with Ayala just after 1 a.m.
Witnesses say one of those men pulled a gun, and shot Ayala and three
other who were there.

Police are now searching for the two suspects in that shooting. They
took off with some cash. No word right now on the conditions of the
other two victims.

KSAT Screen


Ram Shot, originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

What the fuck?