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Dee Dee Ramone

By the time the “Ramones” started practicing Tommy and a partner (Monte Melnick) had a studio called “Performance Studios” where he allowed the young “Ramones” to come and rehearse. In those days Joey played the drums and Dee Dee sang lead but as Tommy’s involvement with the band increased he soon realized Joey’s potential as a front man, and when they could not find anybody to replace Joey on the drums Tommy became the Ramones drummer.

“Before that I’d never been behind a drum set in my life”, said Tommy, who now was managing the band and was also a member.

As their career got on the fast track Tommy put on another hat and started to produce their recordings and was the associate producer for their first album “Ramones” and shared the producer’s title with Tony Bongiovi on the followers “Leave Home” and “Rocket to Russia”.

This is how during his stay with the “Ramones” Tommy was a force on both management and creative aspects of the band’s all-important Classic Period From 1974 to 1977 that includes the first three albums containing some of the best and most often performed songs on the band’s live concerts.

When Tommy decided to return to “civilian life” his choice of course was music production. The artists he has worked with include “The Replacements”, “Redd Kross”, “The Rattlers” and “The Talking Heads”. In 1984 he produced one more album for the “Ramones” “Too Tough To Die” a fitting title to a reunion of old friends.

At last — a few words with original band member Tommy, whose activities andwhereabouts have been such a mystery to “Ramones” fans for so long. As promised, Tommy has been tracked down. Thanks to Joey Ramone and Larry (the dog’s bollocks) Wallach at Overland, your ever-persistent Fan Club President has achieved one of her long-standing ambitions — to have a chat, on your behalf, with the elusive Tommy Ramone. And, as you will see, it was well worth the wait.

On 27th March 1997 I placed a call to Tommy Ramone, original (and some might say, best) drummer with the “Ramones”. It was a treat to speak to Tommy, who turned out to be articulate, well-informed, and refreshingly grudge-free, with an interesting perspective on the “Ramones” and on life in general...

— How are you and what are you doing these days?
Oh, I’m very well and I’m working on a project of my own right now. I’ve been doing that for a while and it should be finished in a couple of months.

— A musical project?

Yes.

— Can I ask you about your background in music? You started out as a guitar player didn’t you?
Yes, I did. I was a guitar player. I used to have a High School band with Johnny (Ramone) called “The Tangerine Puppets”. I played guitar for many years, up until the couple of years when I played drums with the “Ramones”, and then I went back to the guitar (laughs).

— So when you were in your teens, growing up, what kind of music did you listen to, which bands did you like?
I was listening to all kinds of music really. There was a very exciting scene going on when I was growing up, it was the 60’s, and all those groups... there were a lot of great groups, both English and American. I listened to all kinds of music.

— So tell me how you first met up with the other “Ramones”.
I met John in the High School cafeteria, somebody introduced me to him. And he charmed me, he’s a very charismatic fellow. We were in several bands together in High School, the most famous of which was “The Tangerine Puppets”. Then, after High School, we kind of drifted apart and went our separate ways. But he would call me up every now and then on the phone to see what was going on, and I would always ask him what he was doing, whether he was playing, and he said he wasn’t playing. And I said “Why don't you play? You should be in a band”, because I always thought he had the right kind of personality and charm to be in a rock band. So one day he calls me up and he tells me he’d bought a guitar. I said “Great, fabulous”. He told me he was playing with Dee Dee and I said “Great. This is just what I’ve been waiting for”, because I always thought that these colourful people from Forest Hills would make an exciting unit. So I told him “Let’s get together”. We got together at John’s house, with Joey, Dee Dee, myself, and a guy named Richie Stern, who was the famous first Richie Ramone...

— Some critics say that your drum sound gave the band that classic punk feel which they never quite had again after you left. Would you agree with that?
I don’t know. I just tried to give them the sound I heard in my head. I heard what they should sound like, and I was just doing my best to try to do that. I can’t speak for anything else really. All the drummers that the “Ramones” have had have been excellent, I think.

— When you left, Marky came in. What would you say was the main difference he brought to the band?
Well, he had a much more powerful sound. He hits much harder than I hit. I have more of a jazzy feel, more of a flowing kind of propulsive feel, whereas his style is more of an impact style. But he did it in a way where he combined my style with his style and came up with something very versatile, where they were able to get certain sounds that were very different to what I was doing. So he combined the two. But he had the more heavy-hitting sound.

— So, to get to the other question people always ask about you, and that’s It’s Alive, which is often cited as one of the best-ever live albums. Tell me about working on that album.
Well, we just recorded the show on New Year’s Eve, and as it happens it turned out really great. We mixed it in probably two or three days, and I think it turned out really great. There’s not much else to say about it, unless you ask me a specific question!

— Well, it’s just that it is seen as almost like the blueprint for a live album, and a pinnacle of the “Ramones” career, and I wondered if you agree?
Well, it’s interesting, because I had not heard the album in a very long time, and when it came out on CD here in the United States, I picked one up and I played it and I was surprised how good it was. I didn’t remember it being that good, I did not remember, because I had not heard it for many years. Yes, the record gets better and better as it goes along, and by the time you get to the end you are almost like in a trance! It really sweeps you away. Very exciting.

— Yes, and I think it is unusual in terms of live albums, which are quite often a mish-mash of various shows, whereas with “It’s Alive”, those feelings that you have just described are what you get when you actually see the band live. That’s how I feel about that album anyway.
Yes, you’re right. And the album was not available in the United States until recently, so I hope people discover it, because, yes, it’s great.

— So, do you think the “Ramones”
quit at the right time?
No, I think they could go on. I don’t think they should have done that. A lot of people think that this is the right time, because they are getting tired, or whatever, but I don’t agree with that and I’ll tell you why. A lot of young people haven’t even seen them yet and I think what they should do is take a long rest and then go back on the road. I think they would be good. There is only one “Ramones” and they had a good show, right up until the very end. I felt they could have kept going, but that’s my personal opinion.

— So what are you listening to nowadays, what sort of contemporary music do you like?
Well, I’ve always had very eclectic taste. Mostly I listen to old-time music, bluegrass, Hank Williams, jazz, all kinds of things. And of course everything that’s on what they call the “alternative scene” right now. I listen to everything, really. But my tastes have always been very broad, which might be surprising to a lot of people. I don’t know.

— Well, it might be, but it’s the best way to be, isnt it? Some people only listen to one sort of music.
Well, people have whatever taste they have, you know. Some people like just one type of music, other people like a variety. And there’s not much you can do about it. (laughs) That’s right.

— Do you want to say anything more about what you are working on now, or is it a secret?
Well, just that hopefully it will be finished soon, and when it is available I hope that people go and check it out, and that they like it. It’s different. It’s not punk, or anything like that. It’s based on my eclectic taste (laughs). So people might be surprised. I hope it comes out good. I’m working very hard on it.

— I wish you all the best with it.

Thanks.

— And it’s been great talking to you.
Ok, thanks.

Thanks, Tommy — It’s true to say that you are my personal favourite “Ramones” drummer, and not only for that unique percussion sound! And I look forward to your mysterious new project!


Veronica Kofman, www.officialramones.com

 

 
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