Frank Ruffino, the guitarist for China White, is in serious trouble. Recently released from the hospital after months in intensive care, the Huntington Beach axeman braces for a miracle.
About four years ago, the 51-year-old was diagnosed with liver problems, a biproduct of years of hard drinking, drug abuse and harsh luck, despite his resolve to get clean and sober after the band's heyday. Battered by cirrhosis and liver cancer, several months ago, doctors told the guitarist and his wife, Ella, that his only shot at survival is a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where he can get on a shorter waiting list for a new organ.
This weekend, some major forces in OC punk–including the original members of China White–gather for a benefit show to raise funds for Ruffino's liver transplant. Nearly everyone who is in Ruffino's corner is doing their part to help to get them there, including an auction and fund-raising.
“One family I know of who isn't really in the music business wanted to help out and raise money just through a garage sale the other day,” says longtime promoter and auction organizer Chris Martin.
China White formed in 1978, and though they never had much in the way of a discography, the band cemented their status as punk gods with 1981's Dangerzone! EP and wild, pit-swirling live shows alongside such bands as the Crowd and the Outsiders.
Now, as it's clear Ruffino needs the funds to get a new liver, longtime friends such as Love Canal guitarist Eric Arab, the Crowd guitarist Jeff Milucky and Martin have stepped in.
Upon learning of Ruffino's dire situation, they hit up the Observatory to secure a date for a benefit show. To their surprise, the Observatory offered them the opportunity to throw the benefit free of charge, and 100 percent of the profits from the door will go to Ruffino.
As soon as they had a venue, Milucky went to work with Arab to book an eight-band lineup, including old-school legends such as the Stitches, Cadillac Tramps and the original members of China White, who have been rehearsing for a month in Milucky's garage. Longtime friend and former band mate Mike Drake will fill in on guitar for Ruffino.
“The ironic thing is in '78 and '79, when we were kids walking down the street, getting accosted by people because we had short, dyed hair and we were headed to a band rehearsal, people were so threatened by us,” says Milucky. “And now, we're able to go and do something the opposite of what was perceived to be the punk-rock stereotype. It's been pretty special.”
Meanwhile, Martin–a promoter and manager in the OC punk scene in the '80s–began securing funds, lodging and transportation for Ruffino's Florida trip through charity foundation MusiCares (of which he was on the board of directors). He also put together a silent auction with Kevin Lyman, founder of the Warped Tour, featuring some one-of-a-kind punk items donated by Epitaph Records, BYO Records and bands from all over the country. Though four of OC's biggest punk bands–Pennywise, TSOL, the Vandals and the Adolescents–were unable to play the benefit because of prior commitments, they did offer up support by signing guitars, donating items and offering funds to help Ruffino pay for his medical expenses. Among the items up for auction is a bass signed by Randy Bradbury from Pennywise, Steve Soto from the Adolescents, Mike Watt, Fat Mike from NOFX and more.
For Social Distortion guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham–who takes the stage this weekend with Cadillac Tramps–the ability to drum up support for a fallen fellow punk such as Ruffino was never in question.
“I'm hoping we can get our man taken care of, get him healthy,” Wickersham says. “There's so many people rallying around that I think it's going to be a success for sure.”
Frank Ruffino Benefit Concert featuring China White, Cadillac Tramps, the Stitches, the Crowd and more at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor, Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Sat., 7 p.m. $15. All ages.