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.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rosemary Murphy R.I.P.

Rosemary Murphy, who played Maudie Atkinson in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and appeared frequently on television and on Broadway, died 5 July 2014 at the age 89. The cause was cancer.

Rosemary Murphy was born in Munich, Germany on 13 January 1925. Her father worked for the U.S. Foreign Service. She spent her early years in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. With the onset of World War II in 1939 Miss Murphy was sent back to the Untied States. Miss Murphy made her film debut in the German film Der Ruf in 1949. She made her debut on Broadway in The Tower Beyond Tragedy in 1950.

In the Fifties Miss Murphy appeared in such television shows as Lux Video Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. She appeared in the film That Night! (1957). She appeared on Broadway in Look Homeward, Angel and Period of Adjustment.

In the Sixties Miss Murphy appeared in such films as The Young Doctors (1961), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and Any Wednesday (1966). She was a regular on the soap opera The Secret Storm and appeared on such TV shows as Way Out, Thriller, Naked City, The Virginian, Ben Casey, The Defenders, The Fugitive, and Run for Your Life. She appeared on Broadway in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Any Wednesday, A Delicate Balance, Weekend, and The Death of Bessie Smith / The American Dream.

In the Seventies Miss Murphy was a regular on the short lived show Lucas Tanner. She guest starred on such shows as Maude, The Streets of San Francisco, Columbo, Movin' On, Cannon, and Most Wanted. She appeared in the films Ben (1972), You'll Like My Mother (1972), Walking Tall (1973), Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (1973), 40 Carats (1973), Julia (1977), and The Attic (1980). She appeared on Broadway in Butterflies Are Free, Ladies at the Alamo, Cheaters, and John Gabriel Borkman.

In the Eighties Rosemary Murphy appeared on such TV shows as Magnum P.I., Trapper John M.D., Quincy M.E., Kate & Allie, and Murder She Wrote. She played Rose Kennedy in the mini-series A Woman Named Jackie. She appeared in the films The Hand (1981) and September (1987).  She appeared on Broadway in Coastal Disturbances and The Devil's Disciple.

From the Nineties into the Naughts Miss Murphy appeared in such films as For the Boys (1991), Twenty Bucks (1993), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Message in a Bottle (1999), Dust (2001), The Savages (2007), Synecdoche, New York (2008), After.Life (2009), and The Romantics (2010). She guest starred on such shows as Law & Order, Civil Wars, Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, In the Heat of the Night, and Fraiser. She appeared on Broadway in a revival of A Delicate Balance and Waiting in the Wings.

Rosemary Murphy was a talented actress with a capacity for playing a wide variety of roles. This can be seen in the difference between her two best known roles. Maudie, the Finch's neighbour in To Kill a Mockingbird, is very open and kind hearted, yet at the same time possesses a strong will and a sharp tongue.  Dorothy Cleves in Any Wednesday is bubbly and affable, but at the same time decidedly upper crust. Miss Murphy was capable of playing a wide array of characters, right down to the way they spoke. Indeed, she is one of the few American actors not from the South to successfully do a genuine sounding Southern accent; watching To Kill a Mockingbird it is hard to believe she was not from Alabama. She was certainly one of the great character actresses of the late 20th Century.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dick Jones Passes On

Actor Dick Jones (billed as "Dickie Jones" when he was younger), who appeared in a number of Westerns, "Our Gang" shorts, and provided the voice of the title character in the Disney classic Pinocchio (1940), died at the age of 87 on 7 July 2014.

Richard Jones was born on 25 February 1927 in Snyder, Texas. He took to riding horses while very young and at age four was billed in Texas as “the world’s youngest trick rider and trick roper". This drew the attention of cowboy star Hoot Gibson, who featured him in a rodeo he owned and later convinced Mr. Jones's parents that the child had a future in acting. Dick Jones made his film debut in the serial Burn 'Em Up Barnes in 1934. He would appear in several serials in the Thirties, including The Call of the Savage (1935), The Adventures of Frank Merriwell (1936), and Blake of Scotland Yard (1937).  Starting with "Washee Ironee", Dick Jones would appear in roles of varying importance in several "Our Gang" shorts throughout the Thirties. As was to be expected of a child with his skills, Dick Jones appeared in several B Westerns throughout the Thirties. He also appeared in several major feature films. Throughout the decade he appeared in such films as Kid Millions (1934), Babes in Toyland (1934), Little Men (1934) , Queen of the Jungle (1935), The Pecos Kid (1935), Westward Ho (1935), Moonlight on the Prairie (1935), Daniel Boone (1936), Black Legion (1937), Stella Dallas (1937), Renfrew of the Royal Mounted (1937), The Frontiersmen (1938), Nancy Drew... Reporter (1939), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), Virginia City (1940), and Brigham Young (1940). In 1940 came what may be his most famous role, the voice of Pinocchio in the animated classic of the same name.

During the Forties Dick Jones appeared in such films as Adventure in Washington (1941), The Vanishing Virginian (1942), Mountain Rhythm (1943), The Outlaw (1943), Heaven Can Wait (1943), The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944), Angel on the Amazon (1948), Battleground (1949), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Sons of New Mexico (1949), Redwood Forest Trail (1950), and Rocky Mountain (1950). From 1943 to 1944 he was the voice of Henry Aldrich on the radio show The Aldrich Family. He made his television debut in 1949 in an episode of The Lone Ranger. Towards the end of World War II he served in the United States Army. He was stationed in Alaska.

In the Fifties Dick Jones played the title role on the TV show Buffalo Bill, Jr.  He also played The Range Rider's sidekick Dick West on The Range Rider. He made several guest appearances on The Gene Autry Show and Annie Oakley, as well as guest appearances on the shows Chevron Theatre, Mr. & Mr. North, Navy Log, The Gray Ghost, Flight, Pony Express, and The Blue Angels. He appeared in the films Fort Worth (1951), The Old West (1952), Wagon Team (1952), Last of the Pony Riders (1953), Attila (1954), The Bamboo Prison (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Wild Dakotas (1956), The Cool and the Crazy (1958), and Shadow of the Boomerang (1960).

In the Sixties Dick Jones guest starred on the TV show Wagon Train and appeared in the films The Devil's Bedroom (1964) and Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965). Afterwards he retired from acting Mr. Jones worked in real estate for several years.

Although he is not often recognised as such, Dick Jones was one of the better child actors of the Thirties. While other child actors in the Thirties and Forties often tended to be either sickly sweet (and annoying) or bratty (and annoying), Dick Jones's characters were more naturalistic. His characters seemed much more like real boys, although ones who could ride and rope better than most adults. As a voice actor he was perfect for the role of Pinocchio. In fact, Disney's animators would often use young Dick Jones's actual expressions as models for the animated character. As an adult he did quite well in the juvenile Western TV shows in which he appeared. Between his skills as a horseman and roper and his earnest performances he could be quite convincing as Dick West or Buffalo Bill, Jr. Dick Jones was certainly an actor who born to act in Westerns.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Meshach Taylor R.I.P.

Meshach Taylor, who may have been most famous for his role on the TV show Designing Women, died on 28 June 2014 at the age of 67. The cause was colorectal cancer.

Meschach Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 11 April 1947. His family later moved to New Orleans, where he spent much of his childhood, and then to Indianapolis, He studied drama at Wilmington College in Ohio and then at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. He left Florida A&M without graduating, although he would complete his degree there in 1993. He worked as a reporter for radio station WIFE (now WTLC AM) in Indianapolis and hosted a community affairs programme on TV station WLWI (now WTHR), also in Indianapolis.

Meschach Taylor began his acting career with a national tour of Hair and then acted as a member of both the Goodman Theatre and the Organic Theatre Company in Chicago. He made his film debut in Damien: Omen II in 1978. He made his television debut the same year in an episode of Barnaby Jones. The rest of the Seventies he guest starred on such shows as The Incredible Hulk, The White Shadow, and Lou Grant. He appeared in the film Stony Island (1970).

In 1983 Meschach Taylor played the regular role of Tony on the short lived television series Buffalo Bill. He was part of the original cast of the series Designing Women, which debuted in 1986, playing the role of Anthony Bouvier. He remained with the show for its entire run, until it went off the air in 1993. In the Eighties he guest starred on such shows as M*A*S*H, Barney Miler, Cagney & Lacey, The Golden Girls, and Hill Street Blues. He appeared in the films The Howling (1981), The Haircut (1982), The Beast Within (1982), Explorers (1985), Warning Sign (1985), One More Saturday Night (1986), Inside Out (1986), Mannequin (1987), The Allnighter (1987), and House of Games (1987).

In the Nineties Mr. Taylor was a regular on the TV show Dave's World. He guest starred on such shows as In the Heat of the Night, Burke's Law, and Women of the House (where he reprised his role as Anthony Bouvier), and Caroline in the City. He appeared in the films Mannequin: On the Move (1991), Class Act (1992), and Jacks or Better (2000). In the Naughts he was a regular on the TV show Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. From the Naughts into the Teens he guest starred on such shows as The Drew Carey Show, All of Us, The Unit, Hannah Montana, Jessie, and Criminal Minds. He appeared in such films as Friends and Family (2001), Tranced (2010), Photo Finish (2011), He Knows My Heart (2012), and Silencio (2013).

If Anthony on Deigning Women remains a memorable character, it is perhaps because Meshach Taylor was a very talented actor. He was capable of creating three dimensional characters that were both unforgettable and lovable. Anthony on Designing Women, plastic surgeon Shel Baylor on Dave's World, and Hollywood in Mannequin were easily the most memorable characters in their respective TV shows and film. And while Mr Taylor was best known for his work in comedies, he was capable of playing in dramas as well. His last role was that of former Marine sergeant Harrison Scott in two episodes of Criminal Minds. He was quite convincing in the role. Meshach Taylor was a talented actor who died much too soon.