Fernie “El Pelon” Ramirez released his first commercial track, “No Digan Nada De Mi” (Do Not Say Anything About Me). (Although Ramirez was initially signed to Erre Entertainment, the new music company launched by Jenni Rivera‘s ex-manager Pete Salgado and music executive Oscar Rivas, he has parted ways with them since this article was first published in February).
But Ramirez, a regional Mexican singer, is also aware that beyond music, people also want to know about Jenni Rivera.
In an exclusive interview with Billboard, Ramirez, 38, is finally speaking publicly about his relationship with Rivera, which lasted about a decade up until her death six years ago. It was an on-again, off-again romantic relationship, he says, and definitely off when she was married. Ultimately, it was a friendship that evolved through the years from the moment they met when he was working at a radio station in Los Angeles. He was 23; she was about 10 years older. Their chemistry was undeniable.
Together they shared a love for music, from country to regional Mexican, and life experiences. Rivera grew up in Long Beach, Calif., her father owned a record label and her siblings would also go into the entertainment business. The matriarch in Ramirez’s home was a single mother raising two children, and for years, like clockwork, she took several buses into the San Fernando Valley where she worked in a warehouse.
“Mom had two jobs,” Ramirez recalls. “My brother graduated from UCLA in political science, but we took different routes [in] life.”
Part of that journey, the singer says, was being in juvenile detention. It was Rivera, whom he met a few years later, who understood his journey and his desire to become a recording artist.
“She was everything,” Ramirez said. “She was my soul mate. She was my best friend. That’s what it was and I miss her a lot.”
Rivera died on Dec. 9, 2012, with six others when their small plane crashed near Monterrey, Mexico, after an arena performance for about 16,000 fans. The celebratory spirit of that night was short-lived as news spread that the plane went down and Rivera was among the dead.
Ramirez lost both someone he loved and a person who was a major motivator in his life. These days he’s still hesitant about saying too much about Rivera, even as he releases music. He wonders what her fans and others will say when word gets out that he’s launching a career in regional Mexican music and embracing banda music — similar to Rivera.
He wonders if he should not say anything about her or say just enough. Nearby is a publicist who is ready to offer support in case he falters, but Ramirez doesn’t and instead lights up when he recalls how he and Rivera spent time together after her concerts or when she would go to his former job at a restaurant to say hello, screaming his name as she approached the building.
In his teens, Ramirez spent time in juvenile detention and that’s when he realized that the acoustics inside were perfect for vocalizing. In fact, he says, his cellmates often asked if he could sing in exchange for perks like food, a big deal to someone who’s locked up. He sang mostly classic pop songs.
Later in life he worked at FM radio station KBUE (Que Buena) Los Angeles, where he learned about the music business with mentors like radio personality Pepe Garza. It was also the place where he met Rivera.
As her spotlight in the music business grew, Ramirez generally avoided press, he says. He wanted to maintain his privacy as much as possible, even though it was generally known by inner circles that they were an item. He preferred to stay in the shadows, but was always in contact with Rivera.
He supported Rivera on her albums and wrote his own music. Even though he had a variety of jobs through the years, music was calling him and he knew that he had to take a leap.
Ramirez initially released his music with Pete Salgado, Rivera’s longtime manager. The two are no longer working together. Salgado and music executive Oscar Rivas launched Erre Entertainment, Inc., with a focus on live entertainment/concerts, publishing and sports. After less than two months, Erre parted ways with Ramirez.
“I learned so much from Jenni about the music business,” Ramirez said. “It was my first serious relationship. It was about patience. It was tough at times … being with someone so well-known.”
“My music will have a Chicano twist,” Ramirez said. “We grew up in L.A. listening to banda music, and no one is bringing it out in a new way, but I want to change that. I’m going to write in a bilingual way, but still have traditional elements. I am going to do it. I hope they like my music.”
Note: Since this story was first published in February, Ramirez and Salgado have parted ways. Ramirez’s music is no longer out on Erre Entertainment. This story has been updated to reflect that.