The Ramones make it to the 1990’s, punk rock goes mainstreem and the band ends on a high note. Sort of...
In 1989 after 15 years, 11 albums and countless shows and 1 rap album, original Ramones bassist, and songwriter Dee Dee Ramone quit the band. But they kept on going. The Ramones would make it to the 1990’s.
My Name is Harley Isaac Rother, I’m a musician, rock n roller and now podcaster. Welcome to Guitars and Stolen Cars - Season 1 The Ramones Episode 9 - Adios Amigos
Johnnys attitude on Dee Dee leaving was ”There was no way I was going to let this defeat me in any way.”
Johnny felt the Ramones could find a new Dee Dee. One who was younger and that he could mold into the perfect Ramone.
They started auditioning bass players. Everyone who was anyone wanted the gig. At this point the Ramones were legends. Although, they still had no major hit songs and no big albums, they were already one of the most influential and respected bands of all time. But the Ramones didn’t want to go with someone who already had a career, they wanted someone fresh. They auditioned somewhere between 40 and 70 players. But the first guy they auditioned, Christopher Joseph Ward, stood out to Johnny. He was 23 years old, from Long Island, and in the marines. Marky didn’t see it, as he wasn’t the most proficient, or experienced guy they auditioned, but Johnny wanted him back. Joey wasn’t there. Christopher came back a second time and Johnny liked him even more. And then, he got arrested for being AWOL.
Christopher Joseph Ward. Grew up in Long Island, NY. He was into classic rock until in 1980, when a “crazy blonde girl” introduced him to smoking weed and punk rock. He became a fan of both. He was a reckless youth headed down the wrong path, on booze and drugs, so he decided to join the Marines when he was 18. By 1989 he was awaiting discharge, when he got the call that The Ramones were auditioning bass players. He got the call at 3pm and the audition was 6pm in Ny. It takes two hours to get from Long Island to at that time so he had 1 hour to learn some Ramones songs. He did what anyone in that position would do and, got high on angel dust. He thought it would be an awesome story to tell, how he auditioned for the Ramones, but he never thought they would seriously consider him. But they did. Or at least Johnny did. After the second audition, Johnnys mind was made up. But Christopher was in jail. He went AWOL while awaiting discharge from the marines, and had to do 30 days in the brig. Johnny called him in jail and told him when he got out he would have a job in The Ramones. And thus, Christopher Joseph Ward became CJ Ramone. He told everyone in jail that he was joining the Ramones, and of coarse nobody believed him.
When he got out, Johnny gave him the rundown play with a pick, Get you bass down below your waist. Play with your legs spread apart. Look forward. Play forward. Johnny hated it when bands looked at each other instead of the audience on stage. Walk forward when I walk forward and back when I walk back. The simple guitar, bass choreography was a Ramones staple.
CJ’s first gig with the Ramones was doing Jerry Lewis’s muscular dystrophy telethon. They were introduced by Sammy David Jr. Not Bad.
Deedee quit in July. And by September, the Ramones were back on tour with CJ. The first run was England, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. The first show went well, but during the encore CJ took his sweat drenched t-shirt off. Johnny chewed him out after the show, “Do you see any of us taking our shirts off?”. CJ would learn that being a Ramone had a lot of similarities with being a marine. Rules, order and synchronicity. But CJ had a good attitude and was grateful to be in the band.
In January 1990 Joey Ramone was attending a concert in NY, as he often did, and the band playing invited him onstage to sing a song with them. He had been drinking, and he fell off the stage and wound up in the hospital. Upcoming Ramones gigs had to be canceled. Joey decided he was done with alcohol, and quit cold turkey. While he was at the hospital, he was exposed to PETA pamphlets and decided to become a vegetarian. He started eating health food.
After Joey got out of the hospital, the Ramones were back on tour, the East Coast, The South and then off to Scandinavia. In July they embarked on an extensive North American Tour with the Tom Tom Club and Debby Harry. Members of the Tom Tom Club had been in the Talking Heads and Debby Harry was in Blondie so three of the original CBGB’s bands were represented. The tour was called escape form NY.
After that tour concluded the Ramones were off to Japan and then Europe again, where they played in Berlin right after the wall had come down.
While the Ramones touring machine continued, the former Ramones bass player Dee Dee was growing disillusioned with NY “All my friends had no career and were broke, homeless or hustling on the street for drugs.” So, he jumped at the opportunity when he was invited to go to Paris and live in a house and form a supergroup with his old friend, Stiv Bators, from The Dead Boys. Stiv also invited Johnny Thunders, who had been in the NY Dolls and had various influential solo projects. Unfortunately, these guys couldn’t get it together to do much other than party. Dee dee once said “What the fuck do you think knucklehead? Dee Dee Ramone is my name. Drugs, booze and broads are my game. I am down with cocaine, beer ,weed, wine and girls in miniskirts. Also dope, valium and quaaludes.” But the even partying wasn’t going so great. Dee Dee started to suspect Johnny Thunders was steeling his stuff. One day, when Thunders was gone Dee Dee looked in his bag and saw that Thunders had indeed been steeling his stuff. Dee Dee flipped out. He smashed Thunders guitar and poured bleach all over his clothes. And then caught a flight back to New York. The punk supergroup that could have been, never was to be. Shortly thereafter, Stiv Bators tragically died from getting hit by a car in Paris. His ashes were spread over Jim Morrison of the Doors grave, who had also died and been berried in Paris 20 years earlier. Less than a year after that, Johnny Thunders died under mysterious circumstances in a New Orleans hotel. RIP guys.
1991 saw The Ramones doing more touring. Australia, Japan, America, Canada, Europe. In Belgium, they headlined the Pukkelpop festival. Other bands on the bill included the new crop of alternative rock, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and added at the last minute, a new band, Nirvana.
The Ramones also did 3 shows in Buenos Aires, Argentina and 3 in Sao Paulo Brazil. This was the second time they had been to those South American cities, and the reaction was becoming something they had never experienced before. When they arrived at the airport, in Argentina, hundreds of fans were waiting for them holding signs and cheering. It was the same at their hotel. Fans camping outside wanting to get a glimpse of the Ramones. The shows were sold out, playing 3 nights in both cities to 5,000 fans each night. That was a bigger draw than the Ramones had anywhere else.
Motorhead, perhaps the most respected English metal band wrote, and recorded a tribute song called R.A.M.O.N.E.S. Stylistically the song combines the Motorhead sound with the Ramones sound in a fitting tribute <>
CJ, the new guy, inured his hand in a motorcycle accident in 1992 so the Ramones took 3 months off. That was the longest beak they would have for the rest of their career. They went back in the studio to work on their 12th album, Mondo Bizzaro. The Ramones contract with Sire was up, and their manager Gary Kurfirst had recently started his own record label, Radioactive records. The Ramones decided to sign with the new label. CJ objected “That was one of the few times I ever raised my voice. We had an opportunity to break commercially. We had an offer from Epitaph records and a major management company. Young hungry kids who wanted to work their asses off, and finally break the Ramones… Going with your managers label is such a conflict of interest… What made the Ramones great is also what killed them too. they never wanted to change anything” So be it. The final 3 Ramones albums would be on their managers label, Radioactive records.
Ed Stasium who had worked on and off with the Ramones since the 70’s, was brought in as the producer. Dee Dee had agreed to keep writing songs for the Ramones even though he wasn’t in the band anymore. At the time of the recording, Dee Dee had been arrested for the heinous crime of marijuana possession. He was in jail and needed money to make bail and hire a lawyer. He sold the Ramones 3 songs for a couple thousand dollars. Poor Dee Dee. The album features guest backup vocals from Flo and Eddie on a track, and a guitar solo fron Living Coulors Vernon Reid. They albums hi-lights are a cover of the Doors, Take it as it comes with a wild keyboard solo from Joe McGinty of the Psychedelic Furs. And a song called Censorshit. Here’s The Doors in 1967. Here;s the Ramones in 1992. Censorshit was a song Joey wrote taking aim at Tipper Gore and The PMRC’s campaign to put warning labels on CDs. Its a solid track and has a 90’s feel to it. <>
After the recording wrapped, the Ramones were back on tour Europe, North America and back to Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo but this time they added Santiago, Chile, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico City.
That same year, the Hair Metal band Skid Row covered the Ramones song Psycho Therapy as a B-side to a single that went gold. Finally the Ramones had a gold record. Too bad it was for Skid Row, but it was their first.
Also, “alternative rock” started to take over the mainstream. Hair metal had been the dominant rock music of late, and it owed quite a bit to the Ramones as evidenced by Skid Row covering Ramones songs, and Guns and Roses guitar singer Axel Rose regularly wearing a Ramones shirt. But in 1992 those bands were being supplanted by Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Soundgarden. These bands all came out of the underground punk scene that the Ramones had started, but added in some heavy metal and pop hooks. And they did what the Ramones had wanted to do since the 70’s. They took over the airwaves.
In 1993 the Ramones did their standard touring all over the world, and based on the positive reaction they had to their Doors cover on the last album, they made the regrettable decision to do a whole album of 60’s cover songs, Acid Eaters. The Ramones had been doing cover songs since their first album but the old formula had the Ramones making the song their own. Acid Eaters sounds like a cover album. Sure it has the Ramones sped up tempo’s and chainsaw guitars but it was the first thing the Ramones had done with no major redeeming qualities. Still, they got The Who’s Pete Townsend to sing on their cover of Substitute and their new friend Sebastian Bach from Skid Row sang some backups, as did the former adult actress Traci Lords, who had recently been in the John Waters film, Cry Baby.
The Ramones were also guest stars on the Simpsons that year, appearing at Mr. Burns Birthday party where they play a punk version of Happy Birthday, and tell Mr. Burns to “Go To Hell you old bastard”. Mr. Burn then orders his assistant to have the Rolling Stones killed. <>
In 1994 everyone wanted to play with the Ramones U2, The Smashing Pumpkins, White Zombie, and in Latin America, Sepultura. And something else happened that year, punk had gone mainstream. Not a punk influenced style like new wave, alternative, grunge, or hair metal but bands that unabashedly used the Ramones guitar sound, played at Ramones tempos and sounded punk. Greenday’s album Dookie went Multi-Platinum and had 3 number 1 singles. Smash by the Offspring was almost as big. The world had finally caught up with the Ramones, but it was 20 years too late.
But, the latest, non-cover Ramones album, Mondo Bizzaro went gold, not in the US but in Brazil. Still, that was the first gold record the Ramones got, not including the Skid Row cover. And then, Ramones Mania, a best of album that came out 6 years earlier, in 1988 went gold in America. It had sold 500,000 copies. They weren’t selling millions of albums like Greenday or Nirvana, but they were selling more than ever before.
But they were getting old, or at least they thought they were getting old. Johnny and Joey were in their 40’s and had been touring constantly for 20 years. They wanted to call it quits. They would do a last album, and then a last farewell tour playing all over the world to say good bye to their fans.
For the last album they brought in Daniel Ray to produce, who been working with them for years at this point. Deedee contributed 6 songs, Joey wrote two, CJ wrote two, and Marky wrote one. CJ sings 4 songs, which is a bit odd. Not that CJ is a bad singer but Joey is one of the greatest of all time. The album cover is a drawing of dinosaurs because the Ramones felt like Dinosaurs at that point. On the back of the album, The Ramones are lined up, facing a wall execution style, so you can’t see their faces. Johnny thought that they looked too old, and refused to have his face photographed. He told the management “Yeah i agreed to take a photo, but I didn’t agree to face the camera”. The album is solid, but the hi-lights are the two cover. I Love You, originally by the Late Johnny Thunders. And I Don’t Want to Grow up by Tom Waits of all people. Despite it not being it written by a Ramone, it fits in the great tradition the I Don’t Wanna songs. The Ramones still had it. Here’s Johnny Thunders in 1977. Here;s the Ramones in 1995 <>.
Tom waits version of I Don’t want to grow up is experimental. It’s an odd but brilliant song for the Ramones to pick. Here’s Tom Waits in 92. Heres the Ramones in 95. Both of these covers are the only time the Ramones did cover songs not from the 60’s.
In 1995 The Ramones did farewell shows all over North America, Europe, Japan and down to Buenos Aires. Then, they got offered a spot on the Lalapalooza tour for summer of 96. So they booked a second farewell tour in 96’ in North America, Europe, Brazil and Argentina. In South America something new happened, they were booked in arenas and they were the headlining band. They played to 52,000 Ramones fans at the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires. The reason the Ramones got so big in Brazil and Argentina is because the concert promoters had vertical monopolies. They also controlled Radio. And since they were bringing the Ramones to their countries, they made sure they also got played on the Radio. This proves what The Ramones knew, what Danny Fields knew, what Phil Spector knew, and what everyone surrounding them knew. If the Ramones could get on the Radio, they be huge. Sold out Arenas huge. But it didn’t work out like that.
The Ramones came home from South America, and played the touring Lallapalooza festival for a month. The Lineup was Rancid, one of the new crop of punk bands, and then the Ramones, then Soundgarden, then Metallica.
While they were doing the lollapalooza tour, a promoter came to them with a petition signed by thousands of fans demanding the Ramones come back to Latin America. They were being offered a million dollars for just one show. And they could do more than one show. Johnny wanted to do it. Joey wanted a break and then would do it after he was rested. But Johnny wanted to be done with it. If they went to Latin America after lallapalooza they wouldn’t have to rehearse and get together again. If they took a break, then they would. Joey said he would only do it but only after a few months off. So it never happened. The Ramones booked a final show. In Los Angeles, not New York which was weird, but Johnny had bought a house in LA and had planned to retire there, so he wanted to do the last show in LA. They played 32 songs that night and brought out guests throughout the evening, which was also not something the Ramones were known for, but hey last show. Dee Dee came out rejoined them to sing one song, Love Kills, but he messed up and forgot the lyrics on stage. Classic Deedee. Lemmy from Motorhead did R.a.m.o.n.e.s. with them. Tim and Lars from Rancid did 53rd and 3rd. Ben and Chris from Sound Garden did Chinese Rocks and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam came out, and ended the show with a Dave Clark 5 Cover. Thats right. the last song the Ramones ever played was a cover, and not one that they were even known for playing, and Eddie Vedder was sitting in. A strange way to end a strange band. And it get’s even stranger.
They didn’t even talk to each other after the show. CJ recalls “I didn’t even say goodbye to anyone”. Marky did the same “I Didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I left and got some ice cream” Johnny said “I never said good-bye to any of the Ramones individually, But I did say a general good-bye like “see you guys“ I don’t know if anyone responded. It didn’t matter”. We don’t have an account for Joey but it couldn’t have been much different. Johnny sold his guitar to Daniel Ray after the show. He had just retired. No need for his guitar anymore. That was it. August 6th, 1996 was the 2,263’d Ramones show, and it was the last. No more Ramones.
As I record this, in 2020 all 4 original Ramones have passed away. They achieved countless accolades, acknowledgements and awards… after breaking up. 2nd and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, is now Joey Ramone Place. They play Blitzkrieg Bop at NY Yankee Games. After Joey passes away The Ramones were inducted into in the rock n roll hall of fame. After Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee passed away the Ramones got the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. I could go on, but none of that stuff its very punk.
The real legacy of the Ramones is creating their own genre of music, one that is still played by new generation after new generation all over the world releasing 14 albums, most of which are great, and influencing anyone and everyone who picked up a guitar, bass or drum kit after them. As CJ Ramone put it “The Ramones changed mainstream music, and started an underground movement”.
I’m going to end with a quote from Van Halens’ David Lee Roth who said “what the Ramones represent to their fans is what church means to most folks. It’s well beyond the music”.