The Ramones were nasty, ugly and played music so fast and simple it was borderline inane, but this band of creeps from Forest Hills in Queens, New York, would go on to have an influence on contemporary music matched only by The Velvet Underground.
A gang of local misfits and former army brats, originally they comprised Joey on drums, Johnny on guitar and Dee Dee on bass. Tommy – originally their manager – switched to drums when Joey took over on vocals.
The group earned a residency at New York’s CBGB‘s club (1974 – 1975) and quickly built up a cult following, with many fans adopting the torn blue jeans, sneakers and black leather jacket uniform which The Ramones stuck with for 20 years.
In 1975, The Ramones negotiated a deal with Seymour Stein’s Sire Records and began recording their first album on a shoestring budget of $6,500. The self-titled result (running time: 29 minutes) was released in April 1976, as America was luxuriating in the AOR double-whammy of Frampton Comes Alive and Wings At The Speed Of Sound.
Prior to recording this first album, The Ramones acquired a reputation for being a fairly amateurish and hilariously fast band in concert.
Once, in Seattle, the band played 17 songs, took a five-minute break, and came back and played another 14 songs and a couple of encores – and they still hadn’t been on stage for an hour.
Despite already being in their mid 20’s, they had picked up little expertise as musicians, concentrating instead on their few strengths: Joey and Dee Dee could write lyrics and melodies, Johnny could play barre chords, and drummer Tommy could keep time.
From 1976 to 1978, their first four albums established their simple chord progressions and guitar/bass/drums combination as the blueprint for thousands of bands over the last 20 years – many of whom were unaware that it was a blueprint pinched from early Rock & Roll, Phil Spector, Bubblegum and the Brill Building.
The Ramones, in turn, handed down the tradition to British and American punks, to indie bands, to hardcore rockers and to modern commercial chart acts such as Green Day, Ash and Feeder. The Clash‘s Joe Strummer once claimed there would have been no UK punk scene without The Ramones.
Tommy Ramone left the band in 1978 but continued to produce them under his real surname of Erdelyi. He was replaced by Marc Bell (Ex- Richard Hell and the Voidoids), who adopted the name Marky Ramone.
In the decade that followed, they were widely perceived as un-hip and they disbanded in 1996 – at least 14 years after everyone thought they had.
The Ramones played their final gig on 6 August 1996 at The Palace, Hollywood – with guest appearances from Eddie Vedder, Lemmy, and Dee Dee (who had left the band by then). It was a fitting close to their 22 years of service.
Joey Ramone passed away from lymphoma on 15 April 2001.
Bassist Dee Dee (born Douglas Colvin) was found dead of a heroin overdose at his Hollywood home on 5 June 2002. He was 49.
Johnny died of prostate cancer on 15 September 2004.
Dee Dee Ramone
C J Ramone