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Valens tribute a family affair

Posted: Thursday, Feb 4th, 2010

Irma Norton (from left), Mario Ramirez and Connie Lemos, siblings of famed 1950s rock singer Ritchie Valens, pose with a Ritchie Valens signature Harmony Stratotone electric guitar Wednesday in Watsonville. They are preparing for the Tribute to Ritchie Valens Winter Dance Party Saturday at the Mello Center.

Wednesday was the 51st anniversary of Ritchie Valens’ death, and many of his family members were gathered at his sister Irma Norton’s house in Watsonville to make final plans for Saturday’s tribute concert to Valens, the Winter Dance Party.

“Ritchie was 17 and only popular eight months, but everybody knows who he was and they are still selling his music, still playing the movie — that’s the phenomenon of Ritchie Valens,” said Valens’ younger brother Mario Ramirez.

The family moved to Watsonville in 1964 and it will be the fifth concert the family has put together at the Mello Center. After concerts in 2005, ’06, ’07 and ’08, the family took ’09 off, instead attending a 50th anniversary celebration of the deaths of Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, all of whom died in a plane crash. The event was held at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where the three had their final show.

Valens’ sister Connie Lemos said the year off was not only a wonderful time for the family, but they also met Tommy Allsup, who played lead guitar for Holly. Allsup performed in Clear Lake and he will be in Watsonville on Saturday.

“This will be pretty special,” Lemos said. “Tickets are selling really well and the concert will sell out.”

In addition to Allsup, John Mueller will perform as Holly, JP Richardson will do a tribute to his father, The Big Bopper, the Backyard Blues Band with Ramirez will play and, of course, Ray Anthony will pay tribute to Ritchie Valens.

Irma Norton said her favorite part is hearing her brother, Ramirez, and his band play.

“He is sooo good it makes us cry,” she said.

Lemos said she saw grown men cry when Valens’ old girlfriend Donna Fox first came to the tribute in its second year.

“When Ray came up, he started playing ‘Donna’ and he came up and said ‘Donna, are you here?’ And when she answered, the audience was awestruck and he came down the stairs and serenaded her. That was a pretty awesome moment,” she said.


Tickets start at $20 and are available online at www.santacruztickets.com. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Guitars Not Guns, and there will be a special drawing for a guitar signed by the family and the artists. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show will start at 7:30 p.m.

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