Ramones Biography

The Ramones, comprising Johnny Ramone (John Cummings, 8 October 1948, Long Island, New York, USA, d. 15 September 2004, Los Angeles, California, USA; guitar), Dee Dee Ramone (b. Douglas Colvin, 18 September 1952, Fort Lee, Virginia, USA, d. 5 June 2002, Hollywood, California, USA; bass/vocals) and Joey Ramone (b. Jeffrey Hyman, 19 May 1951, New York City, New York, USA, d. 15 April 2001, New York City, New York, USA; drums), made their debut at New York’s Performance Studio on 30 March 1974. Two months later manager Tommy Ramone (b. Thomas Erdelyi, 29 January 1952, Budapest, Hungary) replaced Joey on drums, who then switched to vocals. The quartet, named the Ramones from a misappropriation of Paul McCartney’s original stage name, Ramon, later secured a residency at the renowned CBGB’s club where they became one of the city’s leading proponents of punk rock.

Released in 1976, the fever-paced Ramones was a startling first album. Its high-octane assault drew from 50s kitsch and 60s garage bands, while leather jackets, tight T-shirts, ripped jeans and an affected dumbness enhanced their music’s cartoon-like quality (the image drew on Colvin’s experience as a teenage hustler). The band’s debut appearance in London in July 1976 influenced a generation of British punk musicians, while the following year’s Leave Home, which included ‘Suzy Is A Headbanger’ and ‘Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment’, confirmed the sonic attack of its predecessor. The latter drew on lead singer Joey Ramone’s time in mental institutions, a theme revisited on a number of the band’s most famous tracks, including ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ and ‘Cretin Hop’. Rocket To Russia, the Ramones’ second album of 1977, was marginally less frenetic as the band’s novelty appeal waned, although ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ gave them their first UK Top 30 hit.

In May 1978 Tommy Ramone left to pursue a career in production and former Richard Hell drummer Marc Bell (b. 15 July 1956, New York City, New York, USA), remodelled as Marky Ramone, replaced him for Road To Ruin, as the band sought to expand their appealing, but limited, style. The album was produced by Tommy Ramone (he would also oversee their 1984 release Too Tough To Die). The Ramones took a starring role in the trivial Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, a participation that led to their collaboration with producer Phil Spector. The resultant release, End Of The Century, was a curious hybrid, and while Johnny balked at Spector’s laborious recording technique, Joey, whose penchant for girl group material gave the Ramones their sense of melody, was less noticeably critical. The album contained a sympathetic version of the Ronettes’ ‘Baby, I Love You’, which became the band’s biggest UK hit single when it reached the Top 10.

The Ramones were by now looking increasingly anachronistic, unable or unwilling to change. 1981’s Pleasant Dreams, produced by Graham Gouldman, revealed an outfit now outshone by the emergent hardcore acts they had inspired. However, 1983’s Subterranean Jungle showed a renewed purpose that was maintained sporadically on the band’s mid-80s releases Too Tough To Die, Animal Boy and Halfway To Sanity, and the single ‘Bonzo Goes To Bitburg’, a hilarious riposte to Ronald Reagan’s ill-advised visit to a cemetery containing graves of Nazi SS personnel. Richie Ramone aka Richie Beau (b. Richie Reinhardt, 11 August 1957) occupied the drum stool from 1983 to 1987 before the return of Marky. Dee Dee, meanwhile, had adopted the name Dee Dee King and left the band after the release of 1989’s Brain Drain to pursue an ill-fated rap career.

Although increasingly confined to pop’s fringes, a revitalized line-up - Joey, Johnny, Marky and new bass player C.J. Ramone (b. Christopher John Ward, 8 October 1965) - undertook a successful 1990 US tour alongside fellow CBGB’s graduate Deborah Harry and Talking Heads offshoot Tom Tom Club. In 1992 they released Mondo Bizarro, from which ‘Censorshit’, an attack on Tipper Gore, head of the PMRC, was the most notable moment. By 1995 and ¡Adios Amigos!, rumours implied that the two-minute buzzsaw guitar trail may have finally run cold, with the impression of a epitaph exacerbated by the album’s title. As Johnny conceded: ‘I know that you have to deal with a life without applause, and I’m looking forward to trying it. A lot of musicians are addicted to it and won’t get out.’ The Ramones announced their final gig on 6 August 1996, a tearful event at The Palace club in Hollywood (captured on the 1997 live album).

Joey Ramone succumbed to lymphatic cancer in April 2001. The following year the Ramones were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Dee Dee was found dead of a drugs overdose in June 2002 and guitarist Johnny Ramone succumbed to prostate cancer two years later, leaving drummer Tommy the sole surviving original member. Whatever record sales they achieved, the Ramones’ contribution to popular music is considerable; history will show whether such fame was influential.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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