In 1978 The Ramones and The Sex Pistols toured America. The Ramones play 150 shows. The Sex Pistols play 7. The Ramones get a new drummer and record another classic album, still hoping for the illusive radio hit. Sid Vicious gives punk music a bad name.
In 1977 The Ramones released two of their best albums, Leave Home and Rocket To Russia. The Sex Pistol released their record Never Mind the Bullocks. It went to #1 in England but only 106 in America. They were the most controversial and outrageous band England had ever seen, but in America it was little more than a sideshow. In 1978, The Ramones and the Sex Pistols would tour America. The Sex Pistols would crash and burn, and with them many considered punk over. The Ramones would see some big changes, and make a new album, again with the hope of finally breaking through and having a hit song.
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 5 - Road To Ruin
Both the Ramones and the Sex Pistols started 1978 on tour in America. The Ramones played around 150 shows in that year. The Sex Pistols played exactly 7. But the media circus surrounding the Sex Pistols was insane. Punk was coming from England to America. It was filthy and threatening and making the nightly news. When The Sex Pistols got off their airplane and landed in the US, journalists were expecting the pistols to physically attack them on sight. Thats how ridiculous the media hype was. And they were being followed by police and the vice squad.
Sex Pistols manager, Malcolm McLaren, insisted the Pistols play real America, not Los Angeles or New York. The 7 show tour that they booked was logistically ridiculous. They were zigg zagging around in gruelingly long drives. Atlanta, to Memphis, to San Antonio, to Baton Rouge, to Dallas, to Tulsa and finally to San Fransisco. At the San Antonio show, the crowd was wild and full of hostile good ol’ boys wearing cowboy hats. They were pelting the Pistols with beer and pop corn. Bass player Sid Vicious responded by calling the crowd “faggots”. Someone in the audience didn’t like that, and tried to get on stage to attack Sid, but Sid swung his bass over his head and smashed the guy. The Sex Pistols were getting a lot press, and news coverage in the US but they were looked at as a novelty. The music industry and record buying public didn’t take them seriously like they had been taken in England. Furthermore, The band was in shambles. They hated each other. After the last show in SF, The Sex Pistols broke up. That was January 18th 1978.
The American media associated punk with the Sex Pistols, and England. As far the mainstream was concerned, when the Sex Pistols ended, so did punk. Manager Malcolm McLauren put out the word “The management is bored with managing a successful rock n roll band. The group is bored with being a successful rock n roll band. Burning venues and destroying record companies is more creative than making it”. The Sex Pistols had their 15 minutes of fame. They had become the number 1 band in England, but in America they were just an oddity.
The Ramones were pissed. Guitar player Johnny Ramone drove it home “When punk started getting a bad reputation we started getting lumped in with the stuff, and being excluded ya know. ’we’re not going to play punk of the radio.’ Now we are being included, where other times we weren’t being included. There’d be an article on punk in a magazine, and they’d exclude the Ramones and make it all about the British bands. We got shafted both ways by punk.”
Singer Joey Ramone had a more general observation “When we came along there was Foreigner, Boston and Toto and all that shit. And then there was disco. It was us and them. It was like the big corporations, the big machine didn’t want us to succeed. We were shaking things up, and they fought against us, as far as not being able to get radio play, throwing any obstacle they could in our path. We were like aliens.”
With or without the media, the Ramones touring machine continued. They started 1978 with an extensive 4 month US tour. Playing the East coast, the Mid-West, the West Coast, the South and back through the Mid-West again and then the East Coast again, the Mid West again and finally ending with a benefit show at CBGB’s to cover the medical bills of their friend Johnny Blitz, drummer of the Dead boys, who had been stabbed recently. It was also the last time The Ramones ever played CBGB’s. Even without major commercial success, the band had outgrown the small 300 person capacity venue.
Opening most the shows on that tour was a band called the Runaways. The Runaways were in some ways Los Angeles’s equivalent of the Ramones. In that they were different. They were playing new original sounding rock music in clubs, in the era of cover bands, and were inspiring others to do the same. But unlike the Ramones, they were 5 teenaged girls. They had been assembled by the infamous and shady music biz Svengali Kim Fowley but the Runaways were no joke, they took it seriously and they were good. Here is you drive me wild by the Runaways<>
But like everyone who heard the Ramones, The Runaways started taking after them. Especially the guitar player Joan Jett, who started to dressing like a Ramone. Jeans, t shirt and leather jacket. No more glam jumpsuits for Joan.
Things changed in Ramones land after that 4 month tour. For one, bass player Dee Dee Ramone married his girlfriend, Vera and they moved to the suburb of White Stone, Queens. Vera was a source of stability, unlike Dee Dee earlier girlfriend Connie, who we discussed in episode 3. White Stone, Queens was far enough out that Deedee couldn’t take the subway to Manhattan to cop dope or get into trouble. He stopped using heroin and started smoking weed. Massive amounts of weed. An ounce a day. He also got diagnosed as bipolar and started taking medication. Lots of medication. Buspar, Tofranil, Stelazine, Antabuse, thorazine. Gabba Gabba Hey. But Dee Dee was still Dee Dee. He said “I was spending thousands and thousands a week on jewelry and guns.”
The other, even bigger change, was with drummer Tommy Ramone. Tommy was the catalyst for the band starting. It was his idea. He was also their first manager before they hired Danny Fields and Linda Stein. And he produced all of their record up to this point. But The Ramones were not a happy family after a few years of being on the road, and Tommy was often the punching bag. When you’re stuck with the same people all day long for months on tour, it’s difficult to get along. When you’re stuck with the Ramones, it’s even harder. Joey with his OCD constantly tapping on things, and repeatedly walking in and out of doors everywhere they went - was difficult. Deedee with his drug use and bipolar mood swings was difficult. Johnny the strict disciplinarian who liked rules and order, not socializing and niceties was difficult. This was getting to be all too much for Tommy.
Tommy said “I went from being in charge and on top to constantly being mentally abused. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and they thought it was hilarious”.
Johnny Ramone agreed “He came and told us he was having a mental breakdown and we all laughed”.
Tommy told them he was leaving the band, but he would still work with them as a producer and work on their records. He would also help train his replacement. Not a bad deal.
Dee Dee was hanging out at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas city since the Ramones, were back in New York and looking for a drummer. Mac Bell was a drummer, that hung out at those same bars. Dee Dee would tell Marc he should join the Ramones but Marc didn’t take it seriously since Deedee was always saying crazy stuff. But when Johnny asked him if he wanted to audition, now what was serious.
Before they even did the audition, Johnny sat Marc down to go over “the rules”. The rules were: Don’t get high before playing. Dress both on and off stage in a leather jacket, jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. Dee Dee counts off the songs. And Everyone travels together.
Marc was a serious musician and he had already played in a punk band. He nailed the audition.
And just like that Marc Bell became Marky Ramone. Marc Bell grew up in Brooklyn and had the accent to prove it “ya know what I mean”? Like Joey and millions of others, Marc got into rock n roll by listening to the Murray the K radio program as a kid. In 1964, when 12 year old Marc saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, he decided he was going to be a drummer. His parents got him a cheep Zim-Gar brand drum kit. So Marc put a Ludwig sticker over the logo. Ludwig was drum brand his new hero Ringo Star played. When My Generation by the Who came out in 1966, Marc had a new hero in their drummer Keith Moon. Moon added showmanship, stye and technical prowess to rock n roll drumming that hadn’t existed before. Marc continued taking in the styles of the great rock drummers as they were coming out. Ginger Baker from Cream. Mitch Mitchel from the Jimmy Hendrix experience. Hal Blaine, the great studio drummer who played on countless pop hits as an anonymous session player. But Marc was a fan and could always recognize Blaines distinctive style.
Marc played in a few minor bands though out high school but the local band getting everyones attention was Dust. Dust was unique because they played original music with an emphasis on being heavy and they had a manager. Word got out that Dust was looking for a new drummer, one that had chops like Kieth Moon and Ginger Baker. Marc was guy for the job and they hired him. They started playing the once folk, music now rock clubs in Greenwich village. They were good, and they were very heavy. Their manager got them a record deal with Kama Sutra records, and they cut their first album in 1971. Marc was 17 years old. Here’s a snippet of Dust’s 10 minute power jam From a Dry Camel. <> Heavy.
To promote their album, the went on tour and opened shows for Alice Cooper who had just broken out as a major artist with his hit song 18. They were playing to thousands of people every night. They came back from tour and recorded their second album. It came out and it flopped. They got dropped from their label and the band fizzled out.
But Marc was still a serious musician, and was looking for a new gig. He auditioned for the New York Dolls when their original drummer overdosed in England. Marc was a hot shot drummer and he threw in every fancy drum trick he could at the audition. The drummer that auditioned after him, Jerry Nolan played everything totally straight and got the job. Lesson learned. Play what suits the music, not what technically impressive.
Marc got a well paying job in a band called Estus that wanted to be the next Eagles. The Eagles were the biggest band in the world and every label wanted to have their own Eagles. Columbia records signed Estus. They did an album and it flopped. Marc was again out of a job again.
He got a studio gig playing on an album with blues guitar player Johnny Shines. Shrines was famous because he learned to play guitar from Robert Johnson. Robert Johnson is the guy who purportedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar mastery at the crossroad in Clarksdale Mississippi back in the 1930’s. Johnson died mysteriously in 1938 as a totally obscure musician, but his legend and influence grew as time went on. Especially when people like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones started covering his songs. Since Johnny Shrines learned from, and pal’ed around with Robert Johnson, Shrines was also a bit of a legend. Here is Robert Johnson in 1936. Here is Johnny Shrines in 1974. Now here is Johnny Shrines with Marky Ramone er Mark Bell on drums also in 1974 on the album Johnny Shines and Co.
After recording with Shines, Marc got a gig with the drag queen, rock singer Wayne County. Wayne was a staple of Maxes Kansas City and was the person who played Marc the Ramones for the first time. Marc recalled thinking “what the fuck is this. I’d never heard anything like it. I was doing all this technical stuff. triplets, double strokes, diff times signatures, and I hear this, and I knew at this moment it was going to change things”.
Wayne moved to England and Marc joined one of the new punk bands playing CBGB’s, Richard Hell and The Voidoids. Thats the same Richard Hell who wore spiky hair and torn clothes who look Malcom Mclauren became obsessed with.
Anyway, Richard Hell had quit the band Television and started his own group. Marc was the drummer. Richard Hell and the Voidoids got signed to Sire records, same label as the Ramones, and recorded the punk classic, Blank Generation. You can here how it has the same spirit as the Ramones but is coming from a little more of an artistic background <>
To promote the album The Voidoids went to England and toured with the Clash. The shows were great, and England loved Richard Hell almost as much as it loved the Ramones. But Richard Hell was a junkie and he hated being on tour because it was hard to get a fix. They went back to NY, and when Marc was hanging out at CBGB’s he ran into Dee Dee Ramone. And that was that.
Now that Marc Bell was Marky Ramone, he had a lot of work to do. They were recording the 4th Ramones album in less than three Weeks, and then they had tours booked immediately after that. He had 12 songs to learn for the album, and 24 to learn for the tour. Thats not a lot of time to get down 36 songs, but Marky had been a professional since he was 17 and he was up for the task.
For the new album, the Ramones had a bigger budget than ever before and more time to work on the album. They kept Tommy Erdelyi aka Tommy Ramone on as the producer and Ed Stasium as the engineer. Stasium had engineered the last two albums, and Tommy had done them all. In 1978 new wave groups like the Police and The Cars were having huge radio hits in America. This proved that it was possible to get on the radio in America without being soft rock or disco. The Ramones thought if they spent a lot of time on their new album, and made it sound more polished and more commercial, they too could finally have a hit.
Dee Dee was a little more cynical “Everybody was saying “oh you know it usually takes a band three albums to make it. But I just felt like they were making excuses. It was hard having all our friends trying to figure out why the Ramones weren’t more successful.”
In any case they spent 3 months making the album, thats a long way from the 2 weeks they spend doing the 1st one. The resulting, Road to Ruin, is another great album. It’s got punk songs, ballads and pop songs. The cover is cartoon of the 4 Ramones drawn by their friend John Holmstrom from Punk Magazine. Three singles were released from the album, two of them were ballads, Don’t Come Close and a cover of a Sonny Bono Song from the 60’s Needles and Pins. The 3rd single was a punk song She’s the One but it’s B-side definitely should have been the single. I Wanna Be Sedated. It had everything that was great about the Ramones, punk edge, weird lyrics, great hooks and melodies. <> The album would once again flop. It went to 103 on the billboard charts and none of the singles did much better. Still it’s a classic album, and I Wanna Be Sedated is one of the Ramones most remembered songs
The Ramones had a new drummer and a new album so it was time to hit the road. The first run was 25 shows on the East Coast and into the Mid-West. Marky, the newest Ramone, noticed some strange things about the band was right away. For one, they were constantly bickering. Which at first, was kind of funny but when your life becomes sitting in a van night after night with 4 bickering adults, it not so funny. The band would also go out it’s way to save money whenever possible. For example, they toured in a van, not a bus. And If possible, they would drive back to NY after a show instead of getting hotel rooms. Why pay for a hotel when you could drive 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours, 5, hours back to NY and sleep in your own bed. That makes sense, sort of. They also had assigned seating in the van. Johnny Ramone, having gotten divorced, would be in the first row with his girlfriend Roxy, Marky was assigned the 2nd row of seats and could bring his girlfriend. Dee and his wife Vera had the 3rd row and Joey and his girlfriend were in the back.
Marky also learned when leaving for tour, Monte Melnic, the tour manager, would arrive at Joeys house at least an hour early, to allow for Joey opening and closing his front door, over and over and then walking up and down his stairs repeatedly. When it wasn’t possible to drive back to NY, and the Ramones had to get a hotel, Joey would get a room on a different floor, so the rest of band didn’t have to hear him opening and closing his door all night. Dee Dee was also strange, he was smoking insane amounts of weed, and obsessed with being clean. He would take 4 or 5 baths every day.
Still, the Ramones were an incredible band with an incredible work ethic, and Marky fit in. Marky would take bets from the band and crew that he could eat any bug they could find, and when enough money was in the pot, Marky would eat the bug. Yeah Marky was a Ramone.
The first tour went really well. A guy named Bruce Springsteen showed up at their show in Ashbury Park, New Jersey. Bruce had written a song for Patti Smith, so Joey suggested he write a song for the Ramones. Springsteen agreed and wrote Hungry Heart. But when Springsteen’s manager heard the song, he wouldn’t let him give it to the Ramones. It became the 1st #1 hit single… for Bruce Springsteen.
While the Ramones were on tour, their managers, Danny and Linda, had been approached by the film producer Roger Corman about making a movie. So management stuck the Ramones on a last minute gig at a new wave dance club, with for Klaus Nomi also on the bill, so the director could see them play as an audition. The Ramones were great and after the show the Ramones, management, and film director all got dinner Italian. The Ramones were upset because this was supposed to be Italian food but there wasn’t any pizza. The films director, Allan Arkush, thought that hilarious. The Ramones got the part, and Arkush would work a pizza gag into the movie based the dinner they had together.
With a movie deal in the works, The Ramones flew to Europe for 20 shows. The first show was in Finland and new drummer Marky noticed the Ramones were bigger and more respected over seas. Fans were waiting at the hotel wanting to get autographs, and meet the Ramones. The Finnish punks thanked them for still being a punk band. Many of the other original punk bands had already broken up, or worse they had gone new wave, goth or disco. The Ramones were still the leather jacket wearing punks form their first album. They got the same praise and respect the whole trip. Europe loved the Ramones.
They flew back to NY and were ready to head to Hollywood and make their movie. But this was the Ramones, they weren’t going to waste money and fly to LA. They booked a tour on the way to California so they could play shows and make money as they traveled. They also booked another tour on the way back after the filming.
A few days before the tour to Hollywood started, the gift that kept on giving, The Sex Pistols were in the news again. Bass player Sid Vicious had moved into the Chelsea Hotel in NY with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. He had first hooked up with Nancy in London, when she fallowed Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers there from New York. Nancy introduced Sid to the New York junkie lifestyle, so when the Sex Pistols broke up, he and Nancy moved to New York. On October 12th 1978, In a drug fueled stupor, Sid had stabbed Nancy to death. She was 20 years old. When asked why he did it he responded ”because I’m a dirty dog”. RIP Nancy. It was front page news “Punk rock star murders girlfriend”.
The Ramones felt like they kept getting screwed over. They were putting out great album, after great album, and tour relentlessly. Then someone in the Sex Pistols does something stupid, like murders their girlfriend, and it’s all over the news. Because The Ramones are punk, and the Sex Pistols are punk, the Ramones get blackballed for the Sex Pistols behavior. Time and time again. Punk magazine founder John Holmstrom commented, “You think the Ramones took a bad hit from punk rock. You have no idea what it was like to put out a magazine called Punk. That magazine about stabbing your girlfriend.”
With punk and murder in the news, the Ramones were on tour heading to California. One interesting show they played was an arena in Atlanta, Georgia with Van Halen and Black Sabbath. Or as Marky put it ”Van Halen was opening for Black Sabbath, and the Ramones were opening for Van Halen.” The promoter had the brilliant idea to promote the show as Punk Vs. Metal. Great idea. All that most people knew about punk was Sid Vicious stabbing his girlfriend. About 7 songs into the Ramones set, the metal fans started throwing things at the band, and chanting “Ozzy Ozzy Ozzy” after Ozzy Osbourne, the lead singer of Black Sabbath. The Ramones knew exactly what to do. They flipped off the crowd and walked off stage. Johnny recalled, “We had to come off looking good somehow”. Unfortunately, there were 4 more shows booked with Black Sabbath before the filming. And there was another one opening for Foreigner. The Ramones persisted and made it to California in December of 1978 to Film Rock N Roll High school.
In the next episode, End of the 70’s, the Ramones film cult classic Rock N Roll High School and finally work with legendary producer Phil Spector. See you then, rock on.