*****Click Here for NEW POST for Thee Ram Jam’s Tribute Concert published DECEMBER 6th, 2011.********
Was Thee Ram the greatest bass player never known?
by Kitty Savage
The article below was published October 15th 3a.m., and last updated October 19th.
Funk Music News Update on October 18th 3pm- Suspect Released, New Suspect Booked
Closely following the midnight hour of October 15th, Bootsy Collins, original bassist of Parliament Funkadelic, signed on to Facebook to share sad news with the funk community. “My friend and fellow bass player “Thee-Ram”, got murdered last night. He was just bouncing back from his Mothers passing about 4 months ago.”
It has been a deep mystery as to who Thee Ram Jam truly is, as, since 2010, the mystery character appeared unrevealingly in ornate masks and capes. Bass forumers have argued for months that he may be Les Claypool, Victor Wooten or Bootsy himself. Actually, as Bootsy revealed “Send up your love and prayers for the Brison family,” the time to remove the mask had come, and too soon.
Bootsy explains the story of how they came to meet and work together, below:
Thee Ram is Theron Brison, and from all the research FMN has done, he appears to be a normal guy. Well, perhaps normal wouldn’t be the word to use. Exceptional fits better. Theron, who had previously battled addictions in his life, redirected his purpose to helping others who were bearing rehabilitation. He had a passion for his day job as program director and drug abuse councilor at MFI Recovery Center, offering involvement in his community theatre and Riverside church. Overall, Theron was an uplifting, open hearted person, yet maintained a discrete and abnormal double identity as a character built by himself and Bootsy Collins.
In fact, besides one uncloaked, unnoticed appearance at NAAM this year, playing his Watson Guitars’ custom bass, the secretive funk figure appeared as Thee Ram Jam publicly and in media as the stubbornly masked ram, slapping out the jamminest funk in the universe on an LED lit Watson bass, leaving listeners and viewers in stupor and awe.
Watson Guitars’ co-owner Tere Quevedo wrote to Funk News, sharing that Theron was “Articulate, intelligent, compassionate, kind, funny and enlightened, truly one of the brightest lights and kindest souls I’ve ever had the privilege to know. He gave us a tour of his facility in San Jacinto one day, when I went to show him progress on his bass. He was prideful of what he did, as he should have been. He was inspired and truly invested in his clients’ lives.”
Sadly, Funk Music News is the only news site covering this intriguing story about both sides of the man. Many reports in the artists’ area did not mention Brison as a musician, but details have been coming out as to the type of person the real man was.
Alicia Robinson of The Press Enterprise reported that “MFI Recovery Center Executive Director Craig Lambdin wrote in an e-mail that Brison was “a kind and good natured person. For the last 20 years he has devoted his life to help others turn their lives around. There are literally hundreds of people who would say that he was the instrumental force in changing their lives, some would save he saved their lives.” His friend Lynn adds, “He especially enjoyed the challenge of working with the teens.”
Lambdin was not embellishing. More and more, the story of this amazing man is emerging from his friends, coworkers, family, and those lives he touched deeply. Theron’s friend Natialie McDonald commented on The Press Enterprise’s local report that Theron “believed in “oneness” and in the unity of all people; he believed in kindness and the goodness in everyone–he believed in laughter, music, and Theron believed in love. And he practiced what he preached.” Other comments included “I’m not exagerating when I say that Theron saved my life. His words and manner literally grasped me from an uncontrolled plunge into the dark abyss of opiate addiction. That was 3 years ago, and I doubt I would be around today without Theron.” and “Theron changed my life, and gave me the coping skills I needed for motherhood.” Co-worker John Van Doren wrote “This is a major loss to the recovery community of the Inland Empire and to me personally. My condolences to all who loved and cherished him as the treasure he was.”
One special story Jason Miller shared on Theron’s new Facebook tribute page was “In 1999,the image of you leading a large group of us addicts, in outdoor aerobics session w/ your boombox, I remember thinking “Man, this guy is crazy.” But I soon recognized the method to your madness. You spent so much time there helping us, and your methods seemed unorthodox at times but you alway had a strong message to carry.When I returned ’04 it was no surprise to me that you were running the place. You were the first one there to greet me with open arms. You were there to care for me ever before I could care for myself, for that I am forever grateful to you. You may have been pleased to know I have choosen to pursue a carreer as a drug and alcohol counselor and am currently in school to do so. I had hoped I would one day be able to meet u again and thank you for helping to inspire me to change my life.”
According to non-profit community theatre group BNBI, in 2007, the mastermind musician was formerly known as Theron “Thumpin Theron” Brison, being dubbed for his talent thumping out “triplets, in the pocket, at the drop of a groove.” BNBI, or Bent Not Broken Inspired, a non-profit based in Atlanta and California, focuses their productions on difficult social issues impacting the community, and Brison was a member of the “community players” before signing with Bootsy’s production company in 2010.
Below, Thee Ram shares lessons on playing triplets on bass, through Bootsy’s Funk University.
While Brison was an obvious leader in his community, watching his videos, it is easy to see how the masked musician could pass for a worldwide legend when disguised. His fast-plunking style is mind-blowing. Watson Guitars’ says on their site, Thee Ram “is destined to become a powerful and funky force in the 2010 music scene.” Watson designed the extra-terrestrial ram’s dazzling bass, glittering his spacey playing with LED lights installed in the fretboard. You can scour the details of the instrument on the Watson Guitar site. Tere Quevedo of Watson Guitars remembers “We had the privilege of getting to know Theron as we constructed what he called his “dream” bass over a period of years. He would drive up to our shop in Idyllwild and hold his bass in his arms like the love of his life. ” His friend Lynn recalls “He described playing that bass like playing a lover. He was so in love with that guitar. ”
“Thee Ram” not only signed on Bootzilla Productions, but also appeared as a professor for Bootsy Collins’ Funk University, an online community for players of any level to learn the history and practice for the future in funk. Students enjoyed his Rama-Jam mythology and slowed down, close-up, inspired teaching styles on the university’s video lessons collection.
Thee Ram explained to earthlings on his homepage, “I came to this here “Big Blue Ball of Water” you all calls Earth ‘cause they say that aside from Rama-Jam this “Big Blue Ball of Water” is tha funkiest place in the Universe!” Lynn relayed that “Theron was excited with his future with Bootsie. He was especially thrilled with a magazine article in a magazine a few months ago and the opportunity he had to meet Snoop Dog not long ago.”
However, just as his global musical debut was being birthed, a coworker at the MFI Recovery Center allegedly cut his life short. (***Updates have shown that Zahir is not the culprit- read more here***)Photo of Alan Veniscofsky of Telefunken Elektroakustik, Frankie Kash Waddy (P-Funk drummer), bassist of The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown John Heintz, Bootsy Collins, and Thee Ram Jam at NAAM this year. Tere from Watson Guitars says, ” He spent hours a day in our NAMM booth, gracing us with his company, enjoying my home made brownies, playing his much loved custom Watson bass and just hanging out.”
The Sheriff of San Jacinto, California’s press release was posted on the morning of the 15th, and stated “During the course of the investigation, detectives and investigators arrested Zahid Sardar Masih for his involvement in the murder of Theron Brison. Masih is a 37-year-old resident of Hemet and also an employee of the same business.”
For now, the suspect is behind bars. CBS Los Angeles writes, “[The suspect] Masih was booked into the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning on suspicion of murder and was being held in lieu of $1 million bail, jail records show.” However, it is important to note that this nor any article besides this Funk Music News report identifies Theron as the masterful bassist associated with Wooten and Collins.
Why did Brison, an otherwise unknown talent, decide to enter the music business disguised? Why didn’t he share this secret with those close to him?
As of yet, Brison’s obituary has not been published, and details of the tragedy are scarce and do not link Theron with his alter-ego Thee Ram- except for this exclusive article.
Thee Ram left this planet too soon for the masses to know of his otherworldy expressions. It is up to us funkateers to preserve the legend that is Thee Ram aka “Thumpin Theron,” to share this story, inspiration and the music he left behind.
The man behind the mask: Theron Brison