Biography

The Ramones

Members: Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Tommy Ramone

Active: 1974 - 1996

HISTORY

The Ramones were a hugely influential punk rock band, formed in Forest Hills, Queens, New York in January 1974, and recorded 14 studio albums and toured intensively before they split up in 1996. They led the New York punk movement and are often credited with forming the musical foundation of punk. The original band members all adopted Ramone as a surname although they were not actually brothers, later band members also adopted the name.

1974-1975

The band was initially formed with Jeffrey Hyman on drums, John Cummings on guitar, and Douglas Colvin on bass and vocals. Colvin suggested the band take the name "The Ramones," inspired by the fact that Paul McCartney used to call himself Paul Ramone (although some accounts say Paul Ramon) when he was in the Silver Beatles. The other members agreed, and all adopted new stage names using Ramone as a surname; Hyman became Joey Ramone, Cummings became Johnny Ramone, and Colvin became Dee Dee Ramone.

Soon after the band was formed, Dee Dee decided that he would prefer to concentrate on playing the bass rather than singing. Joey took his place as vocalist, which left the drummer position vacant. The band auditioned new drummers at Performance Studio, where they rehearsed. Tom Erdelyi, an employee of the studio, would often take the drummer seat in order to demonstrate to the auditioners how to play the songs. While he himself never actually auditioned, he joined the band as drummer Tommy Ramone.

They played their first concert at the Performance Studio in New York on March 30, 1974. Their early songs were very fast and very short, most clocked in at about two minutes. In the early '70s, many New York bands started to play in rock clubs such as the famous Max's Kansas City and CBGB (which stands for "country, bluegrass and blues" and was not originally intended to be a rock club) in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Other bands from this period include the New York Dolls, Tom Verlaine's Television, Blondie, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Patti Smith Band, Suicide, and the Talking Heads. These bands formed a musical scene of people who played very different styles of music that later were collectively called punk rock, perhaps due in part to a fanzine called Punk Magazine. Ramones concerts at CBGB's became legendary, due in part to their brevity: most concerts were twenty to thirty minutes long, much shorter than their contemporaries', and are often described by their witnesses as extremely fast, crude, energetic and desperate. There are some super-8 movies of these shows, present in a couple of the band's videos.

According to a bio by Australian Musicologist/Guru Glenn A. Baker, they did play longer shows by simply playing their entire set and then repeating it. Apparently they used to be booed off stage when they played outside New York City. One reviewer (unknown) described them as taking "three chord rock back to its one and a half chord basics". A non-fan friend-of-a-friend who went to a concert commented later that she "couldn't understand why they kept calling out 1-2-3-4 in the middle of the songs"!

1975-1979 FIRST ALBUMS

After playing for several nights at CBGB, they were signed by Sire Records in autumn 1975 and recorded their debut album Ramones for about $6000.

They appeared at The Roundhouse in London, England, on July 4, 1976, second billed to the Beatlesque Flamin' Groovies. Their appearance galvanized the UK punk rock scene, inspiring future punk stars including members of The Clash and The Damned. It was later revealed that Joe Strummer, Johnny Rotten along with other members of The Clash and the Sex Pistols, attended the gig and went to a backstage window in order to get in and meet the Ramones. They finally got in and later on, Joe Strummer revealed that that was a huge moment in punk-rock history.

Another Ramones gig in England became their first live album, It's Alive, considered by most critics one of the best live albums ever.

After two years on the road and the Top 50 hit album Rocket to Russia, an exhausted Tommy Ramone was replaced on drums by Marc Bell, who became Marky Ramone. Tommy left the band to go back to his studio work, which he preferred to the hard life of touring. In an interview from "End Of The Century", a documentary on The Ramones, Tommy said that he felt like the band wasn't accepting him as a friend. In the same movie, other band members were interviewed said that they were surprised, or dumbfounded in Dee Dee's case, by Tommy being so well adjusted. Dee Dee recites how (paraphrased) "Tommy would buy some hamburger and potatoes and... cook dinner. While we'd sit around, eat some dope and potato chips".

Suffice it to say, Tommy knew his place in the band was behind the mixing desk and not in the touring van. Tommy worked with Marky to ensure that his drumming was appropriate for the Ramones style; he also produced the Ramones fourth studio album Road to Ruin and their eighth Too Tough To Die. It was the lineup with Marky which played a central role in the 1979 film Rock 'n' Roll High School, a film that Roger Corman originally called Disco High until writer/director Allan Arkush heard the Ramones.

1980'S

After Rock 'n' Roll High School, legendary producer Phil Spector became interested in the band and produced End of the Century. During the recording sessions for End of the Century, Spector reportedly pulled a gun on Dee Dee Ramone. The band would later consider this one of the 'not-so-great' albums they had distributed, crediting tensions between the producer and the artists. Johnny recalls that he was disappointed with the outcome of End of the Century.

Marky Ramone was fired because of his alcoholism and eventually replaced by Richard Beau (under the name Richie Ramone). They recorded several albums with Richie Ramone, who left in 1987. He was then replaced by Clem Burke (a.k.a. Elvis Ramone) from Blondie. Burke lasted two concerts in the band before Marky came back.

Dee Dee Ramone left after 1989's Brain Drain, and was replaced by Christopher John Ward (C.J. Ramone), a Ramones fan that gave a younger rock feeling to the Ramones' work. However, Dee Dee did continue contributing to the music of The Ramones by lending his lyrics for use in later songs. Dee Dee left to pursue a solo career as a rapper, adopting the name Dee Dee King.

RAMONES BREAK UP

After a spot in the 1996 Lollapalooza festival, The Ramones disbanded, reportedly due to ongoing personality clashes and frustration at not achieving success commensurate with their influence. Joey was also reported to have drug problems, and later admitted drinking heavily for much of the '80s. In his last years he became an avid follower of Wall Street.

Their last show was recorded, and later released on video and CD as We're Outta Here. The show featured several special guests such as Lemmy Kilmister from Mot?rhead and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen of Rancid, Chris Cornell (then in Soundgarden).

In 2002, the band was introduced to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, Johnny, Tommy, Marky and Dee Dee spoke on behalf of the band. Johnny blessed George Bush and its Presidency. Dee Dee congratulated and thanked himself. He died two months later of a heroin overdose. In the summer of 2004, the Ramones documentary End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones was released in theaters. Its release was treated as an event by Ramones fans and former members, and it received rave reviews. Coincidentally, however, Johnny Ramone--who had been privately battling prostate cancer--died almost exactly as the film was released, on September 15, 2004.

DEATHS

Joey Ramone died of lymphoma on April 15, 2001 in New York. The last song he heard was U2's "In A Little While". (At a June 2001 concert in Boston, Bono remarked that the song was originally about a hangover, but Joey turned it into a gospel song.)
Dee Dee Ramone was found dead at his Hollywood home on June 5, 2002 following a heroin overdose, only 2 months after The Ramones were inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.
Johnny Ramone died of prostate cancer on September 15, 2004 in Los Angeles, California.


MUSICAL STYLE AND INRFLUECE

The Ramones pioneered a straightforward, stripped-down sound that was a far cry from the virtuosic musicianship and complex instrumentation that 1970s rock music had become known for. It heralded a raw, loud, fast and direct sound often reminiscent of 1950s-early 1960s rock and roll or bubblegum pop. Joey Ramone has stated the Ramones were rather taken with the Bay City Rollers' hit song "Saturday Night," and set out to imitate its catchy, sing-a-long quality.

The Ramones have proven hugely influential, mostly on later musicians. While the origins of punk rock are the subject of debate, The Ramones are widely credited with popularizing the form. Several people often state that, when they first heard the Ramones, they felt that they could do the same, deciding to play instruments and form their own groups. The Ramones' first British concerts on July 4 and 5, 1976, are widely credited with inspiring the first wave of English punk groups: The Buzzcocks (first concert July 20, 1976), The Damned (first concert July 6, 1976), The Clash (first concert July 10, 1976) and others. Conincidentally, all of these bands played these shows supporting the Sex Pistols.

Some bands are so taken by The Ramones as a whole that a subgenre dubbed "Ramones-punk" has appeared. These bands often dress up like the Ramones, and play instruments like theirs. The music is generally a little faster and heavier on the guitars with (often) tongue in cheek lyrics about girls and similar fare. Notable bands include Screeching Weasel and The Queers, both of whom recorded entire Ramones cover albums.

Longtime Ramones fan Henry Rollins appeared at a Ramones Thirtieth Anniversary Tribute concert September 12, 2004. The event was at Los Angeles' Avalon and hosted by Rob Zombie. The performers demonstrate the breadth of the Ramones' influence: The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dickies and X played great sets and then CJ Ramone, Marky Ramone and long time producer Daniel Ray took the stage and played while different guitar and vocal teams came out and did Ramones songs.

INTRA-BAND TENSION

The Ramones always had a certain amount of tension, mainly between Joey and Johnny. Johnny never thought Joey was a good singer, and resented the decision to let him take over lead vocals from Dee Dee. The relationship between the two got considerably worse when Johnny "stole" Joey's girlfriend Linda (whom he later married), they didn't speak to each other for years afterwards. The pair also did not see eye to eye politically; Joey being a left-wing liberal and Johnny a Nixon, Reagan, and Bush-voting conservative. Joey wrote the lyrics to the anti-Reagan Ramones track "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg". Once Johnny discovered what the lyrics were about, he refused to play it live. The lyrics to "The KKK Took My Baby Away", also written by Joey, are believed to be an attack on Johnny as both love rival and political foe. The pair never made up, and took their rivalry to the grave.

Joey's obsessive compulsive disorder was another source of friction, particularly on tour, as Joey often had difficulty doing even simple things.

IMAGE

The band had a very distinctive image, wearing leather jackets, ripped jeans and all sporting long dark hair. Johnny was particularly keen on the band preserving this distinct marketable image. Ramones fans often try to look like their idols, in the 'uniform' of a Perfecto leather jacket, ripped jeans, and Converse sneakers.

STUDIO ALBUMS:

1976 - Ramones
1977 - Leave Home
1977 - Rocket to Russia
1978 - Road to Ruin
1980 - End of the Century
1981 - Pleasant Dreams
1983 - Subterranean Jungle
1984 - Too Tough to Die
1986 - Animal Boy ? May
1987 - alfway to Sanity
1989 - Brain Drain
1992 - Mondo Bizarro
1993 - Acid Eaters
1995 - Adios Amigos

COMPILATIONS:

1988 - Ramones Mania
1990 - All The Stuff Volume 1
1990 - All The Stuff Volume 2
1999 - Hey Ho! Let's Go: The Anthology
2001 - Ramones Maniacs
2002 - Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits
2003 - We're A Happy Family
2005 - Weird Tales of the Ramones

LIVE ALBUMS:

It's Alive, April 1979 - Recorded on December 31, 1977, at the Rainbow Theatre in London.

Loco Live, March 1992 - Recorded in March 1991 in Barcelona, Spain.

Greatest Hits Live, June 1996

We're Outta Here, November 1997 - Recorded on August 6, 1996, the Ramones 2,263rd and final concert.

Ramones NYC 1978, 2003 - Recorded on January 7, 1978, at the Palladium in New York City.

Follow Muzikum