|Musicians chime in for friend with benefit
When local musicians heard Ronnie Martin needed help with medical costs, the obvious thing to do was throw a benefit concert for him
All-day musical benefit shows have been a constant at the Tradewinds Bar in Cotati for 17 years. If someone close to the Tradewinds community is having financial difficulty because of medical issues, musicians and regular patrons of the bar volunteer their time and energy toward raising money to help defray costs.
No one has been more involved in these benefits than James “Ronnie” Martin, also known as “Woody” to a select few. Martin often is the man responsible for cooking the main food dish, which usually is smoked chicken, and a number of side dishes. On top of cooking, he also has booked bands, amassed prizes for raffles and, when necessary, donated his public address system to the cause.
“It’s just something I could do to help,” Martin said. “There are a lot of people who volunteer with the benefits. I’ve been involved with just about every one we’ve had, but so have other people…like Susan Perry. She’ll go and get people to donate for the raffles. She works her butt off.”
Martin’s turn for a benefit
On Sunday, July 29, a lot of people will be working their butts off at a benefit for Martin, who recently suffered a mild heart attack and is facing a mountain of medical costs.
“Hey man, a heart attack’s a heart attack…they don’t feel good at all,” he said.
Martin, 62, said he just received a bill of $78,000 for a six-day stay at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital following his heart attack. He said he’s hoping Medi-Cal will pay some of the costs.
“I’ve been in pretty good health, but I’ve been a little overweight,” Martin said. “About 70 percent of my heart’s working the way it’s supposed to, and it’s irreparable. I will be on medication the rest of my life. It was definitely a life-changing event.”
The nine-act lineup for Martin’s benefit features some of Sonoma County’s marquee musical talent, including A Case of the Willys, the Volker Strifler Band, the Detroit Disciples, Levi Lloyd and the 501 Band, the Bobby Young Project, the Blues Defenders, the Crossroad Drifters, BFFH and the Pulsators.
The man responsible for putting together this lineup was Johnny Campbell, the drummer and lead singer for the Pulsators.
Campbell feels a special connection with Martin because his wife, Mary Jane, was the first person for whom the Tradewinds put on a benefit in 1995. And Martin was one of the primary people who made it a success.
“He makes them special,” Campbell said. “He’s always offering to cook without any ulterior motives. He’s just a good guy helping people out.”
Reluctantly in spotlight
Martin also is a painfully shy person. As much as he appreciates people coming together for this benefit, he is reluctant about having it because it draws attention to him.
“He’s a behind the scenes guy,” said longtime friend and former Tradewinds bartender Kelly Smith. “He doesn’t really like the microphone. To be front and center will be a little odd for him. That’s how he rolls. He’ll cook and cut the chicken, but he doesn’t necessarily like to hang around and serve it.”
This time around, Martin will not be cooking. Those responsibilities belong to another longtime friend Dwight Jones, former owner of Rasta Dwight’s Barbeque.
Campbell said it took a bit of coaxing to get Martin to agree to a benefit. And even then, Martin wanted to keep it on a low scale. But that would have been impossible, according to Campbell.
“Woody originally wanted only four bands, but we ended up with nine bands because he’s so popular with people,” Campbell said. “Everyone feels duty to give something back to Woody.”
Can Martin relax?
The big challenge likely will be getting Martin to relax and enjoy the benefit rather than feeling he has to help in some way.
“I was thinking about going out of town, but I can’t do that,” Martin joked. “Seriously, no matter how much you try not to be not part of it, there are always questions or something that pops up,” Martin said.
Martin hails from Bay St. Louis, Miss., but left for Southern California when he was 16. One of his relatives was moving to Los Angeles, and Martin decided to drive out to help with the move. Once he landed in California, he knew he was not leaving.
“I just got there from Mississippi, and California is so much nicer, with the weather, mentality, no mosquitoes, no humidity…all of the above,” he said.
Liking the local vibe
Martin then relocated to Eureka but would visit San Francisco and swing through Cotati on a regular basis. That’s where he became immersed in the thriving local music scene.
“I liked the vibe here with the musicians, with it being a college town...everything,” Martin said.
He eventually moved to and bought a condo in Cotati in 1988.
“I was coming to the shows at the Inn of the Beginning and hanging out at the Tradewinds when it was located across the street (in Spancky’s current location),” Martin said. “I believe we have some of the best musicians in the world in this area.”
Benefits are held on Sundays because bands usually have moneymaking gigs on Fridays and Saturdays. But the Sunday benefits also give the musicians the rare chance to jam with members of other bands, and that’s when musical magic can happen.
The benefit for Martin begins at noon and is scheduled to end at 6 p.m.