Saturday, July 12, 2014

Godspeed Tommy Ramone

Tommy Ramone, founding member, original drummer, and one-time manager of The Ramones, died yesterday, 11 July 2014, at the age of 65. The cause was bile duct cancer.

Tommy Ramone was born Tamas Erdelyi on 29 January 1949 in Budapest, Hungary. His family moved to the United States when he was four years old, and his name would be Anglicised to Thomas Erdelyi. He grew up in the Forest Hills in  Queens. With guitarist John Cummings (who would later become Johnny Ramone) he played in a garage band called The Tangerine Puppets. He was only 18 years old when he served as an assistant engineer on the Jimi Hendrix album Band of Gypsys.

It was round 1974 that The Ramones began to take shape as we know them. Thomas Erdelyi and John Cummings had become friends with Douglas Colvin (later to become known as Dee Dee Ramone). Douglas Colvin then began playing with John Cummings. Still later they befriended  Jeffrey Hyman (later to become known as Joey Ramone), who had been the lead singer for the glam rock band Sniper. John Cummings and Douglas Colvin invited Jeffrey Hyman to join their band. In the beginning Mr. Colvin was on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Mr. Cummings was on lead guitar, and Mr. Hyman was on drums. Eventually Douglas Colvin switched from rhythm guitar to bass. He also took the stage name "Dee Dee Ramone", inspired by Paul McCartney's short lived pseudonym "Paul Ramon" in the early Sixties. It was Dee Dee who convinced John Cummings and Jeffrey Hyman to call the band "The Ramones", with John Cummings becoming Johnny Ramone and Jeffrey Hyman becoming Joey Ramone.

Thomas Erdelyi was only going to be The Ramones' manager, but eventually The Ramones decided to revamp their line up. Dee Dee Ramone concluded that he could not play bass and sing lead vocals at the same time. Joey Ramone then became The Ramones' lead singer. Joey then decided that he could not be lead vocalist and the band's drummer. As a result Thomas Erdelyi became The Ramones' drummer as well as their manager. He took the name "Tommy Ramone".

The Ramones first played in front of an audience on 30 March 1974 at Performance Studios. They played at the legendary club CBGB for the first time on 16 August 1974. It was not long before they became a regular act at CBGB. It was in late 1975 that they signed a contract with Sire Records. The Ramones' first album, Ramones, was released on 23 April 1976. Tommy Ramone co-produced the album.  At the time the album received mixed reviews, although it is now considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time. While today regarded as a classic, Ramones did not sell well, reaching only 111 on the Billboard albums chart.

The Ramones' second album, Leave Home, was also co-produced by Tommy Ramone. The album was released on 10 January 1977. While the album received good reviews, it sold poorly in the United States. In the Untied Kingdom it performed somewhat better, debuting at #45 on the UK albums chart. The Ramones' third album, Rocket to Russia, was also co-produced by Tommy Ramone. It also became The Ramones' most successful album so far. Rocket to Russia reached #49 on the Billboard albums chart, and charted in other countries as well.

Unfortunately by the time of Rocket to Russia the stress of being a Ramone was seriously affecting Tommy. He was concerned about the band's lack of sales, and disliked touring. He also found himself increasingly in conflict with Johnny Ramone. Tommy Ramone then left the band and was replaced by Marky Ramone as their drummer. Tommy Ramone continued to manage the band. He also co-produced The Ramones' fourth album, Road to Ruin, as well as their live album It's Alive and the band's eight album Too Tough to Die. Tommy Ramone performed as a Ramone one last time at the  "Ramones Beat Down On Cancer" held on 8 October 2004.

After leaving The Ramones, Tommy Ramone continued to work as a music producer. He produced The Continentals' 1979 album Fizz Pop, The Dazzlers' 1979 album Feeling Free, The Replacements' 1985 album Tim, The Rattlers' 1985 album Rattled!, and Red Kross's 1987 album Neurotica. Tommy Ramone and Claudia Tienan later performed as the bluegrass duo Uncle Monk. They released a single eponymous album in 2006.

Tommy Ramone was the last of the original Ramones to die, and so his death truly marks the end of an era. There is probably no means to adequately measure the influence The Ramones had on rock music. It is widely accepted that The Ramones spurred the punk movement, and there can be no doubt that they had a huge impact on punk rock. Bands including Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, The Replacements, Social Distortion, and Bad Religion all show that they have been influenced by The Ramones.

Of course, The Ramones' influence would go well beyond punk rock. In fact, The Ramones nearly has as much impact on power pop as they did punk rock. Power pop bands including Red Kross, The Smithereens, Sloan, and Fountains of Wayne all show some influence from The Ramones. The Ramones would even have an impact on such diverse subgenres of rock music as heavy metal (Metallica, Anthrax) and grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam). The simple fact is that rock music would not be the same had The Ramones never existed.

The fact is that Tommy Ramone was responsible for much of The Ramones' lasting impact. While he was not meant to be the band's drummer, in the end he proved to be an ideal drummer for The Ramones. His drumming was the drive behind the band's stripped down, high energy music in its early days. While Tommy proved to be an excellent drummer for The Ramones, however, he was much more than that. While The Ramones' early songs were credited to the whole band, it was Tommy who was responsible for many of those songs, including "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and a good portion of "Blitzkrieg Bop". He also co-produced several of The Ramones' early albums. In addition, as the band's manager Tommy was largely responsible for promoting the band in their early days. In fact, he wrote The Ramones' original promotional bio. That promotion eventually paid off. By the time of Rocket to Russia The Ramones were not necessarily the most successful band in the world, but they were already recognised as the premiere American punk band. While the drummers who came after Tommy Ramone were skilled musicians, none of them could quite take his place in the band. Quite simply, Tommy Ramone wasn't just the drummer for The Ramones. He was their manager and one of their producers. In the end, The Ramones might not have been had it not been for Tommy Ramone.

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