He's up for the concert on Saturday, he thinks. Kid Ramos has felt up and down for the last year and a half, but his energy has surged back of late — as has his hair. The latter will soon fall out again as he enters chemo. Hopefully, his passion for playing won't follow.
If circumstances permit, Ramos will stop by the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa this weekend as more than 30 musicians gather to raise money for his treatment. The 54-year-old singer and guitarist was diagnosed with cancer in September, and fans and peers have already held more than half a dozen benefits for him in the U.S. and abroad.
For the next fundraiser, some of Ramos' oldest friends will gather at a venue where he's regaled Orange County many times over the years. And if he attends Saturday, the guitar is coming with him. The donations have helped Ramos stay afloat so far, and to tweak a line from Jim Croce, he'd be happy to say "thank you" in a song.
"It depends on who's playing when I get there," Ramos said Wednesday in his front courtyard in Anaheim, where he's lived for 22 years. "There's different bands all day. I would say I can't hang out all day, but I'll go there and sit in and see if they want me to [play]. See what happens."
At least, he was up for playing Wednesday afternoon. Taking his acoustic guitar for a moment as a photographer snapped away, Ramos let his fingers sprint across the frets, improvising riffs that sounded effortless and may have been after decades of practice. This was the music the Anaheim native fell in love with listening to the radio as a teenager, and though he's quick to acknowledge that the blues isn't a best-selling genre, he'll take his passion over a multiplatinum hit.
If Ramos ends up taking the stage Saturday, it won't be the first time he's appeared at a charity show. Over the years, he's seen other musicians in the spot where he is now, and he's never turned down an invitation to help. It's so easy, he notes, to imagine that the recipient will always be someone else.
But this time, Ramos' number has gotten called, and his comrades — as well as the OC Fair & Event Center — are more than eager to help.
James Intveld still vividly remembers the night he met Ramos in 1981.
The young musician attended a show at the White House in Laguna Beach and found himself transfixed watching a member of the James Harman Band. The guitarist, who was roughly his age, played a gold Gibson model — the same kind Scotty Moore played on Elvis Presley's early recordings.
That player was Ramos, who quickly befriended Intveld when they got to talking during a break. Apart from their musical tastes, they shared a love of motorcycles and began hanging out at the same neighborhood record store. Over the years, they went on to share bills and guest on each other's albums.
When Intveld heard about Ramos' illness, he set about arranging a benefit — and intentionally scheduled it a few months after the earlier ones. He guessed that Ramos would need more money when the funds from the earlier shows ran out, and that turned out to be the case.
"In my mind, if I could raise $20,000, I would feel pretty good about it," Intveld said by phone from North Carolina earlier this week. "I don't know what this benefit will raise, honestly. I don't know because of the fact that it's going to be at the OC fairgrounds and it's an outside show, and all they can do is put a fence around the area where we're playing. It's not like a club where you have to pay to get into the club."
Still, Intveld presumes that at least a few people will pay to support Ramos. For what it's worth, the organizers are asking for a $25 donation at the gate.
It may not just be close friends who are willing to shell out. Over the years, Ramos has appeared at the fairgrounds' Orange County Market Place in the Spring Concert Series, the West Coast Rockabilly Showdown competition and even the Orange County Accordion Festival, where he played with the accordion-based band Los Fabulocos. The benefit show Saturday will prelude this year's Spring Concert Series.
In booking the show, Intveld had an ally: Mark Liddell, a longtime member of the roots band the Rockin' Rebels and the entertainment coordinator for the Market Place. Liddell, whose band has rarely played in recent years, will reunite the Rebels on Saturday; others slated to perform include Intveld, Harman, the Memphis Kings and Whiteboy James & The Blues Express, among others.
Like Intveld, Liddell often found himself on the same bill with Ramos in the 1980s. The scene has changed over the decades; members have come and gone, started families, gotten day jobs to make ends meet. Still, many of the old bonds survive.
"It's great that everyone's good friends," Liddell said. "Here we are, 30 years later."
Ramos likes to keep busy, and his front yard demonstrates that.
A massive stone fireplace and chimney, which he built from scratch over a recent summer, looms in the back; assorted antiques, including a 1950s Coke machine and old Texaco pump, point to years spent perusing swap meets. A truck in the driveway sports a replica on its door of Ramos' grandfather's business card, which advertises an auto-painting shop in Anaheim.
It may not be a rock star's mansion, but Ramos is fine with that. A stint for a few years in the Fabulous Thunderbirds aside, he's been independent throughout his career; until last fall, he worked full-time as an account manager for his cousin's landscaping company to help pay the bills.
The reason for that was simple: He wanted to see his family grow up. While on tour, he missed the birth of his first child, and he's grown to appreciate how quickly childhood passes. (Ramos and his wife now have two sons, 19 and 13.)
Still, he has fit in music when he can, releasing four solo albums and flying to festivals on the weekends. He counts among his most treasured memories a time when Carlos Santana hugged him and praised his guitar playing at a gig. The Allmusic.com review of his 2000 album "West Coast House Party," which features appearances by more than one participant on Saturday's bill, calls him "the obviously well-connected Kid Ramos."
"I've done pretty well," Ramos said. "I've raised a family, bought a house. We live a good lifestyle. We're not destitute or anything like that. Everybody's eating three meals a day. It just depends on what your version of success is."
Right now, success — at least in part — means making ends meet. Ramos has lived on disability since stepping down at the landscaping company, and every dollar raised at a benefit show helps.
So even if he doesn't end up playing Saturday, he hopes to be there just to show his gratitude.
"I don't know what I would do without it, to be honest," he said. "I'd be selling stuff out of the house, taking things down off the walls."
If You Go
What: Kid Ramos Benefit Concert
Where: Orange County Market Place, OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $25 requested donation