Reflections: Johnny Ramey on Detroit ′67

Johnny Ramey, playing “Lank” in McCarter’s production of Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67, recently sat down with us to talk about the production, Miles Davis, and much more.

I think the heart and soul of Detroit ’67 is love, in all aspects. Love of family, the love of strangers, the pursuit of a better tomorrow through love.

I've been a fan of Dominique Morisseau’s work for a few years now. I really appreciate the magnitude of the miniscule moments that erupt and shake at the core of our lives. There’s a simplicity to it; but within the simplicity of a look, or a glance, or a “hey how are you?” is this layering of history, of emotion, and of beauty. Once you really get going into this script it just takes off. It’s like Shakespeare, or Sam Shepherd, or August Wilson, in that you find this extra gear which takes it to another level.

I’m a big fan of hip hop, jazz, blues, ‘60s rock (all day/every day)…give me some Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin all day and I’ll crush it…Muddy Waters…these artists are my lifeblood. I love these types of music, especially jazz and ‘60s rock, because there’s a structure, but there’s also an improvisational quality within the structure that I really lean into.

As far as jazz is concerned, Miles Davis is definitely my “home”. If I could come back to this life for a second time I would come back as Miles. I love that guy. A Kind of Blue really got me involved and interested in the art form. Anything Miles did, or John Coltrane, really got me going and resonates with me to this day.

My favorite musical moment in the show has got to be when Myxy Tyler, who plays my sister Chelle in the show, puts on “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by The Four Tops. It’s a song about mending a broken heart, and about love. For her to put on that song amid all of the chaos and destruction happening outside on the street really shows the power of music, and how it can help to mend a broken heart.

Six days a week I get to build this story. I get to tell the story of the beautiful, passionate, soulful spirits of the people who lived and died during the summer of 1967 in Detroit. This opportunity is a gift. I have Dominique Morisseau to thank for that.

-Johnny Ramey