Me: And I was reading through some interviews with you earlier today. I didn't realize that C. Jay - you said C. Jay was kind of a bigot?
Marky: Yeah. I mean, it's nothing new. "Anybody who's a Democrat's queer and gay," you know? That I didn't like. I mean, I don't even wanna talk about that guy.
CJ only requested the opportunity to respond to Marky's statement, but I of course got super-excited and asked him if he'd be willing to submit to a full interview. He agreed, and we spoke for a full ninety minutes one pleasant May morning. As always, my questions are in bold, his answers are in plain:
Hey, how's it going?
Alright, so what's this problem Marky Ramone has with you?
Ha! I don't know, but it seems to have developed immediately after the Ramones retired.
Yeah. As soon as the Ramones retired, he mentioned a bunch of stuff in the press that was really odd. He got negative on me immediately. It seemed like him and Joey had a big fight on Howard Stern and all that stuff. I'm not really sure exactly what happened. And I've ignored everything; I never say anything. In fact, any time I've ever done an interview, I've always said the same thing about my feelings for Mark within the band. Me and Mark got along really well on the road. He was the guy who kinda made touring fun, constantly joking around and cracking jokes. And he didn't mind everyone breaking his chops and stuff all the time about some of the things he would do. And I've always said that he's the guy that probably made the road the most livable, because he never lost his sense of humor. He never lost it. That's my experience with the guy, and I really don't have anything bad to say about him. But when I saw in the interview that you'd done with him that he said I was racist -- I mean I can let anything go but that's just a personal attack on a different level, so I just want to make sure that it gets out there that I am not in any way, shape or form a racist.
Okay. Yeah, because I'd seen in another interview that he used the word "bigot" and I thought, "Really?!"
You know what's funny -- he knows about my history, you know what I mean? He knows about my history, he knows where I'm from. To me, it's obvious that he's just trying to hurt my reputation and create a negative picture of me. I've never, ever spoken up about anything he's said about me in an interview before, and he's said some pretty nasty stuff. But this racist thing is taking it too far, and I just wanted the chance to say that it's not true and give my version of it. And as to the Democrats' sexual preference, I used to rib Mark all the time about his political opinions. He was so serious about politics, which was really out of character for Mark. He made fun of everything conservative and traditional, and I made fun of everything political, both conservative and liberal. After all, politics are a joke. My language wasn't always politically correct, but I don't ever recall using those words.
Okay. On Wikipedia, it says that you were married to his niece. Is that true?
Yeah. I was married to his niece, and we did get divorced. But even after I divorced his niece, I still had contact with him a couple of times, and we joked around and there didn't seem to be any bad feelings. And this is after he'd already said some bad things about me in the press. He started saying bad things about me before his niece and I were divorced. He started before that.
But what other stuff did he say?
Just like pointed remarks. To tell you the truth, I can't remember anything in particular and like I said, it's because I just ignored it. I just figured, "Hey, he's just trying to create controversy and get some attention for himself." I can't think of anything in particular, but you know, like pointed remarks and stuff. Meanwhile, I was doing interviews after the band retired and every time, like I said before, I would talk about how funny he was and how much easier he made the road, especially given the situation between Johnny and Joey - how they didn't speak to each other. So things could get kind of tense, especially in the van. And he just made it more livable.
When you joined, did you know that there was that tension between Johnny and Joey?
I had no idea. I had no clue at all. I was such a big fan for so long, you know what I mean? I didn't realize any of that stuff. To me, the Ramones always seemed like a gang.
Yeah! It seems like all that stuff didn't come out until much later. I didn't know about any of it.
Yeah. And in fact I did not find out about it until I got into the van one day in front of Joey's apartment as we were about to leave on a tour. Joey and Mark and John were already in the van, and I jumped in the back seat and I said "Hi" to everybody and I said to John, "How's Linda?" And he didn't say anything. He didn't look at me, he didn't say anything. I thought he didn't hear me, so I asked again. And then all of a sudden I realized, "Something's not right." And then later on Monte pulled me aside, and he's the one who told me, "Don't bring it up." That's when I first found out about it. And here I am just purely innocent, you know what I mean? But I could tell Johnny wanted to explode. He never said anything to me about it, but I could tell.
How did he expect you to know?
Yeah. It was just an awkward situation. But I kinda found myself in those situations a bunch of times, because if I hung out with Joey a lot, then John wouldn't be happy with me. And then if me and Johnny would be talking about something, you know -- because politically I'm very moderate. I'm basically an Independent. So I would talk to Joey about some things when I would have kind of a left-leaning opinion on it, and Johnny would get pissed off at me for it. Then me and Johnny would be talking about something else where I was a bit more right-leaning about it, and Joey would get disgusted by it. I found myself in those awkward situations more than once. But my opinion's my opinion, and thank God we live in a country where you don't have to be either extreme left or extreme right. Right? You can be in the middle. In my opinion, the truth usually is somewhere between the two.
That's a lot of peoples' dream, you know - to play with the Ramones. Was it more a dream or a nightmare? Or a little of each?
It was just a typical real-life experience. The only difference is that the highs were really high and the lows were ultra-low. It was amazing to like stand onstage and look across the stage and see Johnny and Joey. I mean, up until the last show, there were points when I'd look over and be like, "How the hell did I get here!?" You know? How did I go from being in front of the band to being up onstage playing? But the lows were, there were times when I got into situations where we were fighting. Not fistfighting, but arguing. Or having Johnny scream at me because I made a mistake. In fact, Joey took a swing at me once, between the set and the first encore. I knew that it was strictly because he'd had a rough night, and I was always the go-between guy between Johnny and Joey. Johnny had asked me to go over and tell Joey what songs we were gonna be doing for an encore, and Joey took a swing at me.
Just out of frustration?
Yeah, he was just really frustrated. So there were situations that made it kinda hellish. And then the typical road stuff - not sleeping enough and surviving some really tough situations on the road as far as travelling, like getting stuck in the airport for two days when we were snowed in in Japan. Stuff like that, you know? It could be hellish, but the thing that made it seem hellish I think is that the highs were so high. Whenever you hit those real highs, what used to feel like a moderately uncomfortable situation -- once you've been up that high, those moderately uncomfortable situations start to feel like the ultimate low. And I think that's where the whole "spoiled rock star" thing comes from. It's opposite ends of the spectrum, so the tolerance for discomfort really - it becomes a different thing. It's funny, but when you're used to being treated really well, when you're on the road and you're onstage and there are thousands of people cheering for you and stuff, your tolerance for discomfort diminishes.
Ahhh. That's interesting!
So not being able to get a decent meal really gets aggravating and frustrating. Thankfully, I have to say that I think because I got into the band after I had been in the Marine Corps and working a multitude of shitty jobs and having a true appreciation of what a miserable life can be, I tended to take less for granted when I got into the band. And that's not to say I didn't have my "rock star" moments; I'm sure I did. Not sleeping for seven or eight days in a row and being on a flight a day and everything, I'm sure there were times when I snapped or something. But I think anybody in the same situation probably would've done the same thing.
What was your experience in the studio? How were you treated in that situation? Did they turn to you for song ideas?
I didn't really write anything until the last record. I had attempted to write some stuff early on, but nothing that I ever really liked. After I got into the band, preparing for records the way it went pretty much is that Dee Dee would submit his songs, Joey would submit his, later on Marky would submit his, and even for the Acid Eaters record, all the songs would come to me. And it would be my responsibility to learn the songs and then kinda teach them to Johnny at rehearsals. I had to learn all the vocal lines because Joey didn't come to rehearsals, so I'd have to sing all the songs.
Why didn't Joey come to rehearsals?
I got into the band when they were together for 15 years, and I think at that point they'd been doing almost the same set list for seven years. Plus the friction between Johnny and Joey was just uncomfortable. And I mean, to sing for 22 years and to sing the way that Joey sang, with that tour schedule and all that, is a feat in itself.
So we would learn the songs, Daniel Rey would come in and tighten it up, and then we'd go into the studio. And of course the first thing that would get done is the drum tracks. Johnny would usually come in for the first week or so, but Mark was a real perfectionist when it came to his drum lines, and it tended to take a while to get a drum track. Johnny would inevitably lose his patience and walk out. But I have to admit that there were some times when we'd do like 30 takes of a song before Mark got down a drum part that he liked. And that's not to say that Mark ain't a great drummer; it's just that he was a perfectionist. He really liked to have it down tight exactly how he wanted it. And then when we worked with Ed Stasium on Mondo Bizarro, it kinda went a step further because Ed was even more of a perfectionist than Mark was. So that record in particular was brutal, especially because it would come time for me to do my bass lines and I could knock it off in one or two takes. And I'm not saying in any way am I a better musician or anything like that. It's just that I think I probably practiced the songs three times as much as Johnny or Marky, so when it came time to go in.... And the bass lines of course are not unbelievably difficult, so when it came time to go in, generally I would get through my bass lines without a problem. So the studio was always a challenge, definitely. Patience-wise, it was a challenge. But generally we worked with people - producers and engineers - who knew how to maintain a calm atmosphere. And thankfully we never had any serious problems, other than having to play multiple takes of stuff.
Were you still able to enjoy the songs after playing them so many times?
Playing the songs was a job. That's really what it was. Playing the songs was a job. But for me, being onstage was more about the energy release. It was more just like a release. And it was kind of a trade-off of energy between the crowd and the band. It was more about the emotions and the energy transfer than the songs themselves, although playing songs that you grew up listening to -- that you stood in front of the mirror and played air guitar to -- being at a concert and doing them, to me really never got.... Well, I can't say I never got tired of it. I mean, some nights playing the songs wasn't that great, but that energy transfer always was. I mean, it's hard to go to a Ramones show and not get caught up in the energy, and that's why most people who went to a Ramones show, whether or not they knew the band before, became a fan.
I saw one of the shows on the last tour they did with Dee Dee. That was the first time I saw the Ramones, and he looked so bored.
And it was so weird, because I was like, "These songs are so exciting and fast!" and he looked so bored. And then you came in, and you didn't look bored!
After I got into the band and I met Dee Dee, and I played with him for a while in the Ramainz, I could understand why Dee Dee got that way. You know, why he kinda became indifferent. He had been in the band a long time and wrote most of their songs. I think Dee Dee at heart really was an artist. His creativity was still kinda growing beyond, and the Ramones started feeling like a job to Dee Dee. He wanted to expand. And honestly I think he just got bored. I remember reading an interview where he said it felt like being in a revival band. And I'm sure that's exactly how it felt to him. But to me, even now as I'm preparing to go out for the first time in a very long time to do some shows and play Ramones music, I can't see it as a revival thing because, to me, the Ramones were so important to the history of music and to pop culture in general and American culture that I can't see allowing their music to just fade away. As long as I'm able to go out and play now - I mean, I took some time off, you know. I was gone from music for a long time. I completely put it to bed for a while.
Oh, I didn't realize that!
I had children, and my boy is autistic. My son Liam is autistic. I tried to go out on tour after he was first born, with my first solo band Los Gusanos, and after my daughter was born, I said to the guys in the band, "Listen, my family's gonna have to travel with us." And they didn't want to do that, so I realized that I was gonna have to stay at home and take care of my kids. Especially my son - he really needed me there. In fact, two times I was offered a spot with Metallica, and I turned it down because my son needed me there. Johnny's the one who called me up and said that Metallica was interested in meeting with me, and I said to John, "I can't do it. Everything I've learned about autism and everyone I've talked to has said the same thing - that my son needs a strict schedule and he needs to be in one place." And John was like, "You'd be making so much money, you could hire the best doctors" and this and that. And I said, "What am I gonna do - am I gonna take him out on the tour bus with me and hire a nanny to stay with him? And an educator? And a therapist? And every day, he'll be in a different spot when he's taken off the tour bus. And that'd be alright and pretty cool for an average kid, but it would be going against everything that we know he needs." And Johnny said, "Well alright, but I think you're crazy." But I made my decision, and thankfully now if you met my son, you probably wouldn't even know that he was autistic.
Yeah, and I'd like to think that part of that - not all of it, but part of that has to do with the fact that I stayed home with him and I took care of him, and I took him to all his therapy and tried to make sure that he had the best possible program that I could get for him.
Oh, that's great! How old is he?
Wow! Really? And the therapy worked? Everything is -
Yeah! Yeah, the funny thing is that when he was first diagnosed, he was really really autistic. He was pretty bad. But at this point now, he's in a class for learning disabled kids but not autistic kids. And we're hoping that some time in the next year or two, he's gonna transition into a class with average kids. At this point, we're pretty sure that he's gonna be able to live his own life -- live on his own, work a job and all that -- barring any kind of backsliding. He's really come a long way and, like I said, I like to think that part of the reason is because I did what the doctors and everybody told me needs to be done. That's why I've been away from music for so long, but now that -- I mean, even now that he's locked on and everything, the only times that I actually go on tour and play shows and stuff is when he goes to stay with his mother.
Oh, okay. Wow. That's great! On another topic, the Bad Chopper stuff definitely has a real sort of Dee Dee Ramone feel. Was that the kind of music you were writing before The Ramones? Or did being in the band so long kinda make it impossible for you to write any other way, after playing that stuff?
I think had I not been in the Ramones and I put that CD out, there would have been comparisons to the Ramones but I think they would've compared it more to the earlier punk stuff like the Stooges and even like the MC5.
Yeah, they would. You're right because - yeah, absolutely.
It's a little more rough edge Cro-Magnonish than the poppy, polished side of the Ramones. But there are songs on that disc that definitely have direct lineage, like "Do It To Me," which is very Ramones-sounding. There are definitely a couple of songs on there that share that direct lineage to the Ramones, but for the most part I think, like I said, it's more punk-ish than it is actual punk. It's more rock and roll with a punk attitude than it is punk rock or pop-punk.
That's true, yeah. Were these songs you just wrote within the past few years? Or are these ones you've been doing -
Those songs were written actually in late '90s and early part of the 20th century, and I just had a whole lotta chaos going on at that point. It was about the time when my marriage was coming apart, and I was working down at Ground Zero at the time. I worked down there for about a year.
Yeah. And I really had a lot of stuff going on internally. Thankfully, because I really wasn't performing all that much at that point, writing songs became my release. You know, a lot of people are like, "Wow, the lyrics are really heavy," but there are also some really funny tongue-in-cheek type songs. Lyrically, the record is very much in the spirit of the Ramones. Like I was saying before, songs like "Do It To Me" and "Good Enough For Me" - they sound, music and lyrics, kinda like the Ramones for sure. I agree that probably Dee Dee's lyrics have more of an influence on me than Joey's. Dee Dee's always had a lot of street tough. He always talked about stuff he went through and coming out on top. But I still have like the teenage love songs and stuff like that. I guess it really is more Ramones-sounding than I would like to admit! But see, so much of it is probably subliminal because realistically, when these songs were being written, I was really getting back into the Stooges and, like I said, the MC5 and even early Rolling Stones stuff and all that. I was really, really more back into that type of stuff. But I guess that Ramones influence is hard to deny.
It doesn't so much sound like the Ramones as it reminds me of maybe some of the stuff that Dee Dee did solo. It's that crunchy midtempo sound he did.
It's not like the fast Ramones stuff.
Early, early Ramones stuff. Yeah.
It's more the darker, heavier -- but then again, I probably wouldn't have made that connection at all had you not been in the Ramones.
Thanks. To me, that's a really big compliment, because to maintain part of your own creative identity is not an easy thing to do when you've played in a band like the Ramones, because everybody wants you to be a Ramone. They don't want you to be anything else. The fans don't want me to be CJ Ward; they want me to be CJ Ramone, you know? But the first thing I did, Los Gusanos - that was completely un-Ramoneslike. Completely un-Ramoneslike. It was not even minorly derivative of Ramones. But that's because when I started that band with a bunch of friends, I said, "Let's just each throw our own thing into the pot, and whatever comes out comes out." So while I was writing the guitar riffs and all that stuff, because I played guitar in that band -- and that's another reason why that came out so un-Ramoneslike, because I was playing guitar for the first time so I was still learning how to play the guitar. But that is completely, completely un-Ramoneslike. And it wasn't something I did on purpose. I didn't say, "Well, I'm gonna do something that's totally not like the Ramones." I just said, "I just wanna do something and be creative, and make music together with my friends." And the CD that we put out, I actually to this day still like it. And the second CD that we were going to put out, that whole batch of songs was ahh! It was so good. To this day, it haunts me that we never finished it and put it out. We could not hold onto a drummer in that band. We'd just burn through drummers; it was worse than Spinal Tap. We just burned through drummers like mad, and in the end, like I said, that band didn't want to tour with my wife and kids. And that's, like I said, when I made the decision to take a break from music to be a Dad.
Do you think you would've pursued music as a career had the Ramones thing not happened?
No, no. By the time I auditioned for the Ramones, I had kinda surrendered the whole music thing and I was in the Marine Corps.
Oh, okay. I remember reading about that, yeah. You had to leave the Marines because your father was sick.
I'd pretty much given up on music, because when I first started playing when I was younger, I always said, "If I'm not at least having some success or making some kind of money in music by the time I'm in my early '20s, I'm gonna pack it in." And when that time came, I stuck to my plan. And because the only really decent job I ever had after high school was I worked at a military aircraft factory out here on Long Island called Republic-Fairchild. We built the A-10, and we built a bunch of stuff for Boeing, like parts of the Space Shuttle. It was a really cool job. And it paid really well; I was making more money than some of my friends' Dads when I started working there. But it closed down, and job opportunities on Long Island back then were very limited. And all of the men on my Dad's side of the family had always been in the military, so I decided that's what I was gonna do. So music was already out of my life.
What was your impression of the Marine Corps?
Oh, I loved it.
Ha! Yeah. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was exactly what I needed at that time, that's why. Because I had been kinda living a meaningless existence at that point. I wasn't doing anything. I was working as a landscaper. I was partying way too much and generally not going anywhere. I had always said that I wanted to get off of Long Island. I always said I wanted to get out of here. That was the one thing I promised myself that I would do in my life is to get off of Long Island. That's why the Marine Corps just seemed the obvious choice. And that was my intention - "I'm gonna get the hell out of here." I didn't even travel around much, but realistically if I had not been in the Marines, I can honestly say that I probably would not have survived The Ramones for very long. If I had gone in in the state of mind that I had been in before I went into the Marines, I would have quickly fell into some of the traps of the rock and roll lifestyle, and I probably wouldn't have lasted very long. Because that was one of the things that Johnny really questioned me heavy on at the audition. You know, "Do you have any drug or alcohol problems?" Because they had just gone through that with Dee Dee. And chances are I would not have had the discipline on the road to have avoided all that. And that's not to say that I lived like a monk when I was on the road; I partied, I had a good time. I did my share of drinking and stuff on the road, but the only time it ever affected anything that I did with the Ramones was one time in Montreal. I could never drink vodka, and this one night I just overdid it on vodka and I got alcohol poisoning. And I threw up onstage for the next two nights. I mean, I was really sick. Had I been working a regular job, I would've called in sick for those two days. But there's no such thing as calling in sick with the Ramones. But that's the only time that it ever affected my performance. But like I said, I had the discipline from the Marine Corps and the self-restraint to know when to stop. I had some kind of judgement. Thank God I went into the Marine Corps. because that was definitely a great experience.
So when does the Bad Chopper tour start?
Right now, I think July I'm going to do East Coast, West Coast and a couple shows in Mexico. And then in August, I'm going to be in Europe playing on some festivals and doing some shows with a band called Die Toten Hosen.
They're still around!?
Yeah, they are. They play stadiums!
Wow! Holy cow.
We're playing stadiums. And they're great guys. They were friends with the Ramones for a long time.
When the Ramones ended, how were things financially? Were you able to make a lot of money in the Ramones? Or was it sort of -
I never really made a lot of money with the Ramones. You know what I mean? I never got paid a lot of money. And I'm not complaining or anything like that, but I think some people are under the impression that I made a million dollars. But luckily, I had Johnny to help coach me on what to do with my money. Basically what I did was when I was in the band, my paychecks went directly into my bank account, and I used to live on my per diem. So I was able to save a fair amount of money, plus Johnny taught me a bit about investing, and my lifestyle didn't change. I didn't go out and buy a big house or an apartment in Manhattan; I rented a cottage on Long Island. It was just me and my girlfriend. I never went out and bought a big fancy car; I bought a Harley-Davidson. I bought a Harley in '92, and I had a 1970 Nova I used to go hotrodding in, and that was the vehicles. And then eventually me and my ex-girlfriend at the time bought a Jeep Cherokee, which I gave to her the morning I left on Lollapalooza. We split up and I just signed the Cherokee over to her because I didn't think I'd ever be coming back. But I saved a bunch of money. But you know, afterwards, when I stopped touring and everything, I started to work for a little while but then when I first found out my son had autism, I stopped working and I started to stay home to take care of him. Then my ex-wife went to work for a little while when I quit, and then she stayed home and I went back to work. I worked at like Home Depot and, like I said, I worked down at Ground Zero for a year, and then I was working in Manhattan as an operating engineer for a while, and then I was even the doorman at what used to be called Limelight. I worked security at the door at Limelight for a while to make some money. I really was financially in straits for a long time, and I'm just starting to get back on my feet now. And now, like I said before, my son is kinda squared away and he's doing well, and I can go away in the summertime when my kids are with their mom. You know, I can get out there and try to make a couple of dollars. And my mission at this point is just to keep the Ramones spirit alive, just to keep it going. Because now there's a couple generations of young kids who never had the opportunity to see the Ramones. And just recently, I did a drug awareness concert at a local high school. We've had a rash of kids overdosing on heroin, and kids going into drug rehab -- and I'm talking about not teenagers that are out of high school, but high school-aged and junior high school-aged kids -- and there's been a rash of it on Long Island. In our town in particular, we've had a real problem. So I did a drug awareness concert, and it was just so cool to see these young kids who'd never seen the Ramones -- some of them had never even heard the Ramones outside of Guitar Hero and Rock Band -- get up and run out of their seats and come up to the front of the auditorium and start dancing in front of the stage. And it made me realize that's what I need to do. I need to get out there and get that spirit out there and make sure that I do my best to continue the legacy. So that's what I'm gonna try to do. I tried to contact Mark to do it, but he wasn't interested! So I'm gonna go out there; I've got Daniel Rey playing guitar for me, and Brant Bjork who played drums for Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss, and the rhythm guitarist from Bad Chopper, Brian Costanza. Brian and I have been playing together since high school, except for Los Gusanos. We're gonna go out and hit the road and try to get people back in the Ramones spirit. Hopefully, we'll re-inspire everyone to start playing in punk rock bands again. Real punk rock bands, not emo bands, not pop bands.
Yeah, emo's the worst.
I'm not even saying I don't like emo, because I do kinda like a lot of those emo bands. I think their songwriting chops are really good and stuff, but it's just not punk rock. It's not punk rock, you know what I mean? It's a totally different thing, but it seems these days if you dress up like a punk, you can play whatever kind of music you want and call it punk. I just wanna get out there and remind people that punk is punk, and everything else is everything else.
I thought that Ramainz thing was great.
I loved it.
I saw you guys at Coney Island High, I think it was?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Man, after the Ramones had made everything faster and faster and faster, to hear it all at the original speed again to me was as exciting as seeing the Ramones. I was like, "Wow!"
Yeah, that's kinda what me, Daniel, Brant and Brian have done now. We've slowed everything down and we're playing some songs that I never got to play with the Ramones that I've always wanted to play like "Sitting In My Room," "Endless Vacation," "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." You know, some of those songs that the Ramones never did that I felt were as classic as anything else they ever did. We're still gonna do a lot of the standards, but we're trying to craft the set to please people that like a couple of different eras of the Ramones, and not just the first 4-5 records.
And how is this tour gonna be promoted in terms of letting people know that it's Ramones-related?
For this first initial tour, we're just gonna out and it's just gonna be as "CJ Ramone." Because I found touring with Bad Chopper and even Los Gusanos that even when they tried to promote it as "CJ Ramone's Bad Chopper" or "CJ Ramone's Los Gusanos," some people still missed the fact that it was CJ Ramone playing in the band. But never before have I gone out and done a set where it's mostly Ramones music with just a couple of my own songs tossed in. Usually it's mostly Bad Chopper songs with a few Ramones songs. But last summer, I went to South America and we initially started out the trip doing mostly Bad Chopper with a couple of Ramones songs, and by the end of the tour we were opening with Ramones songs and then doing a couple of Bad Chopper songs, and to be completely honest, I think people liked it a hell of a lot more. So this time we're probably gonna do the same thing, just because I think it's easier for us to get the crowd going playing something they're familiar with, and then adding my stuff. Until people get familiar enough with the CJ Ramone stuff. Because I really think that some of the songs that are on that Bad Chopper CD, and in fact some of the songs that I have written now for the next CD I'm gonna put out, which is going to be a "CJ Ramone" CD -- strictly "CJ Ramone," but it's going to be my tribute record to Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. Kinda like in their memory. It's my tribute to them. The songs that I have written for that record, I think there are some.... I'm very proud of the record, and there are some really powerful songs. Proud of the songs, rather; it hasn't been recorded yet. I think some of the songs are true Ramones creations. I think I have achieved the level of songwriting at this point that I'd never achieved before, and I think it's because of what inspired me to write the songs. I think it's because of what I was trying to say, it all being very personal. And when that record comes out, I will have songs that will be comparable to some of the Ramones songs, and that's something that I'm really proud of. And the great thing is the songs came really easily to me, because it's all stuff that I would have liked to have said to those guys when they were alive. And that's not to say that I didn't express my appreciation, but it took a lot of years of looking back and understanding what I actually experienced before I could get to this point. I'm really looking forward to getting that CD out. Next to touring, it's my next most important mission, to get that out. Because like I said, that is my tribute to the Ramones.
When do you think you'll be able to record it?
I'm hoping to get that recorded some time this year, after we do this tour. I really felt like if we had a tour under our belt and we had an opportunity to really come together and gel and become a band -- I think once we do that, we should be able to go into the studio and really put something beautiful down. And heartfelt. Rather than getting together, doing a bunch of rehearsals, going into the studio, and playing the songs. Because I have a great relationship with Brant. Me and Brant have been, for the last couple years, we've actually tried to -- Brant was actually gonna play drums on Los Gusanos' second record, but our record company pulled our deal the day before we were supposed to go into the studio, and it all kinda fell apart from there. But we stayed in touch over the years and always promised each other that we'd get together and do something, and this is like the perfect opportunity. And of course me and Daniel have worked together and we know each other real well, and me and Brian have worked together for years and we know each other real well, but until we kind of all come together and play together and get to know each other -- I think at that point, when we do that and we're real tight, then we'll be ready to go into the studio.
Cool. Were you in touch with Joey and Johnny when they were sick?
Yeah. Joey was a little bit tough because only certain people were allowed to go up and see him in the hospital, but I spoke with him on the phone several times. Then I tried to get down to the hospital with Arturo Vega one day. I took a train into Manhattan and called Arturo when I got into the city, and he said, "You're not gonna be able to come today, because Joey just took a turn for the worse." It was just a little while later that he died, that same day. Arturo called me from the hospital; I'd gotten back on the train and been home for maybe two hours when Arturo called me and told me he had passed. And that had been my last opportunity to see him. And then Johnny of course -- you know, the show that Johnny had put together out in California where we had all the special guests coming up onstage? The day after the show, I went to Johnny's house. He really wasn't seeing too many people at that point. Me and Gene Frawley, who was Johnny's right-hand guy for years and did security for the band and everything -- he and I went up to Johnny's, and at that point Johnny was bed-ridden and he had a perforation and cancer was slowly toxifying his body. But we went in and talked to him about the show and how it went. And Johnny wasn't emotional; it really wasn't his style. But he said to me, "CJ, thanks for everything. You did a great job." And he looked at me, and immediately I could see that this was the last time I was gonna see him. And there was no emotion to it, he was very matter-of-fact, you know, "Thanks for everything." And he died just a couple days later. With Johnny it wasn't as bad, because I got to say goodbye. I got to see him. But it was kind of a whole different situation with Joey. I got to go to Joey's funeral, but I never really got an opportunity to say goodbye to Joey. And Dee Dee of course was a complete shock. The last time I saw Dee Dee, he was playing in Manhattan and he had me come up onstage and do a song with him. Then after the show backstage, he was like, "CJ, you were always good to me. You always treated me with respect. I'm glad that you're the guy who got the position." That's the conversation we had. And it kinda felt odd when I was talking to him, and later on I realized it almost sounded to me like he was saying goodbye.
Yeah, that is strange.
Yeah, it was really really strange. The whole thing about it that struck me as weird is that he was playing at like a corporate event and doing cover songs like "Mony Mony," which just struck me as odd. I was like, "Man, this guy's probably one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and here he is at a corporate event doing cover songs." It just seemed so out of character. And I think at that point he'd kinda reached a point where he didn't know where to go or what to do, because he didn't have anybody really looking out for him. He was a great artist and everything, but he always needed somebody looking out for him, and once he didn't have the whole Ramones organization looking out for him, he kinda just drifted from one project to another without any real direction. He never really had a band, and he just couldn't build up enough of a fan base to carry him. He just seemed lost to me, you know? And like I said, that night, the way he talked to me and the things he said.... We always got along good -- I mean he had threatened to punch me in the mouth and all this other crazy stuff over the years, but that was Dee Dee. We always got along, and that was so out of character for him to talk to me like that - to be so emotional. It kinda felt like a goodbye. I just kinda brushed it off, like "Ahh, maybe he's just getting older." But it wasn't long after that that he overdosed. And to me, it's just a really unbelievably odd situation to bury three of my heroes after being involved in these relationships with them. It's hard for me to even think of another situation to compare it to -- maybe three family members all contracting the same disease and dying within three years.
Even as a fan, it was unbelievable.
Very odd. It was very odd. And what complicates it even more than it being a friend or a family member -- on top of it, it's somebody you idolized. And you spent so many of your formative years -- you know, your earliest important memories are seeing them onstage or listening to their music or watching them on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, and through them getting the desire to play music. To have all of those different things plus a personal relationship, it all becomes a very difficult thing to explain. If I'm rambling, let me know.
No! I just don't know how to - I mean it's -
I haven't done an interview in so long, and because of that, even though the Ramones have been gone for a long time, I never stop thinking about them. And I've had so much time now to look back at everything and to understand -- you know, not just remember but to understand what actually happened and all the emotion and experiences that were part of that. And to think about it for so long and understand the truth behind everything, without having the immediate feeling and emotion attached. It's almost overwhelming to think back now, and at this point it's not just the memories, but what I've lost in terms of friends and experience. I always expected that at some point, Johnny would call me up and say, "Okay, we're gonna do a one-week reunion tour down in South America, and if it goes well, we're gonna do a...." I just expected to have that opportunity at some point, to get back together. I mean, probably a month after Joey died, I was feeling really overwhelmed and I called his phone and left a message on his answering machine. I have no idea why. I guess it goes back to what I was saying before; I never got a chance to say goodbye to him.
Whose decision was it to retire the band?
It was probably mutual. I think Joey really wanted it more than anybody. I think Joey got to the point that Dee Dee had reached, where he wanted to do a solo record. And I think he was tired. Realistically, Joey was sick long before we retired. I knew about it many years before. I think he'd been wanting to retire, but he and Johnny were kind of like gunfighters staring at each other, waiting to see who blinks first. They finally both said, "Hey, this is it." I thought it was a good decision. They deserved it, after all that time. My only regret about the timing of the retirement was I really was disappointed with Adios Amigos. I did not think it was a good record at all. In fact, after I had recorded the Bad Chopper record, I thought to myself, "This could've been the Ramones' retirement record." Some of the songs on that Bad Chopper record had Johnny's guitar sound and style and that straight-ahead machine-like drumming style. If you incorporated Joey's vocals, that would've made a hell of a lot better retirement record than Adios Amigos. But 22 years is a long time, you know what I mean? I think it was time.
Yeah. What did you think about Acid Eaters?
Acid Eaters should've been an EP. It should've been an EP, which it originally was intended to be.
Oh, I didn't know that.
It was originally intended to be an EP. But Johnny seemed to think that it made better sense to price it like a full CD. And, you know, finances were always a part of everything. So rather than it being six or seven pretty good songs, it turned into a whole lot of filler. And I don't think it was necessarily the choice of songs; it's just that not every song translates well to the Ramones style. Stuff like "Somebody To Love" by Jefferson Airplane and "When I Was Young," the Eric Burdon song. Some of them didn't translate too well. Thankfully, and not to pat myself on the back -
You got some of the best songs on there!
It had nothing to do with me. I didn't pick the songs. But I was picked to sing "My Back Pages," which is probably the best song on that album. The energy of it, it's got that real Ramones-style attack.
That's what struck me about Acid Eaters, is that it didn't really sound like the Ramones.
And I thought that was the whole point of doing the covers, was to make them sound like the Ramones.
It's funny. Somehow they didn't realize that the only songs that sounded good were the really uptempo ones, like "7 And 7 Is." But songs like "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" and....
"I Can't Control Myself"?
Yeah, yeah. Some of those songs really didn't come off.
Which was weird, because the Ramones had such a history of great driving cover tunes.
Even up through "Palisades Park."
Yeah. But the problem is that the time period that they were going for -- that late '60s acid-pop stuff -- that's an odd period to try to choose songs from for the Ramones. Some of them, like I said, really worked out well. But the slower, poppier ones just didn't come off. They didn't come off very well. When we sat down at the end of it to listen to the final mix, I was just like, "Oh my God, I can't believe this is gonna come out." I was actually dreading its release. And anybody I knew that was a Ramones fan, I told them beforehand, "Prepare to be disappointed."
Everyone was like, "What do you mean!?" I was like, "Easily half of the record should've been deleted."
Were they happy with it?
I don't think so. Realistically, like I said, it was supposed to be an EP and then it became the album. It just was a filler record. It was just to fill in that time period when we had to put something out. We had to put something out, and they wanted to put an EP out to kinda tide us over until the next record, and it didn't really work out that way. It should've been an EP.
So you're unhappy with two of the three albums you played on?
Oh, and I HATE Loco Live.
Yeah, that's - yeah.
Oh my goodness, it is absolutely the worst-sounding record they ever put out. Without a doubt.
Yeah, Marky said that too. It definitely doesn't compare with It's Alive.
Well, first off they used a producer that had never listened to the Ramones. From the get-go, that's a bad sign. He'd never listened to the Ramones. But to do the amount of overdubs that were done, including drums! I have never heard of anybody doing drum overdubs. Never heard of that! Overdubbing hi-hats, cymbals and snare - I had never heard of that before. And the record just sounded so unbelievably not live and oversaturated that it lost its entire live feel. It lost its entire live feel. It was such a bad idea.
What did the tapes sound like before they did the overdubs?
The live tracks themselves didn't sound -- it never really sounded like a super-exciting Ramones show. It just never sounded like a really, really exciting Ramones show. I think everyone was too conscious of the fact that we were being recorded, and it sounded a little bit on the stiff side from the get-go. Hwoever, it still sounded better with all the little fluffs and mistakes in it than the final product. So it's one of those things. And believe me, I used to hold my tongue. In the beginning, around that Loco Live thing, all I did was I would just be like, "Hey Johnny, do you think it's a good idea to let this guy produce the record if he's never listened to the Ramones?" And he'd go, "I see what you're saying, but Gary likes the guy so we're gonna go with him." And I would try to do it like that. But the one time when I just could not hold my tongue and I had to say something was when our record contract and our managerial contract were both coming to an end simultaneously. Brett Gurewitz of Epitaph Records was following us around, begging us to let him put out the next Ramones record. I mean, literally. In Amsterdam, he came to see us and literally was begging Johnny and Joey to let him do it. And then we had Stormy Shepherd, I can't remember the name of her company, but she was booking everybody. All those bands - Rancid, The Offspring. She had an unbelievable roster of bands that she was booking, and she was saying, "I'll put you on tour with these bands that are huge now. They're your fans; you can do whatever you want. You'll be playing in front of kids who like this style of music." So we basically had the new punk rock empire courting us. At the same time, Gary Kurfirst had just worked out a deal where he was gonna get his own record label. So I heard Johnny and Joey talking about, and they're talking about going with Gary. I lost my fuckin' mind. I was like, "Johnny, I cannot believe that you cannot see the conflict of interest. How can you have your manager owning your record company? In no business universe known to mankind would anybody ever submit themself to something like that. That is a major conflict of interest. And I can't believe that you've been in the business for this long and you don't see that. You've got an entire industry at this point built around punk rock that are begging you to give them a chance to deliver to you the commercial success and acknowledgement that you have strived for your entire career. We only have a couple years left. Why would you go with Gary Kurfirst and re-sign with the record company that you gave some of the greatest rock and roll ever recorded to, and they couldn't get you a gold record? Why would you continue to work with them? It goes against logic. I don't understand how you can even be considering it." And Johnny's answer to me was really short and to the point: "When you have as many years in the business as I do, then you can make the decisions." So at that point I realized it was completely pointless to try and discuss any business stuff with Johnny. So he signed with Gary Kurfirst, the record came out and sold about what Ramones records usually sold, and we went and toured the same shitty little clubs throughout the States that the Ramones did for most of their career, and they retired without ever getting what they strived through their careers to get. And it's sad too, because I think the last four years of their career could have been the best four years of their career, but instead they just rode the wave of mediocrity out. And granted they got put in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, which to me doesn't mean shit, but to be denied that final shot at true commercial stardom was just a shame. It was just a shame. It was just a shame, but I think there were all kinds of backroom deals and people making money at the back door and under the table and everything else that affects peoples' decisions. That's the other side that nobody really gets to see. But I really wanted to see them get a fucking gold record while I was in the band. I really wanted to see them do it. And not for me, because I could give a shit. I played with the Ramones and that's all I care about. I don't need the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to pat me on the back. I don't need anybody to tell me what my role was or how important I was. Johnny and Joey told me how important I was. Johnny and Joey told me what they thought of me, the fans told me through their reaction to me and how I'd been treated; that is my fucking badge of honor, and that's all I need. I don't need all the other stuff. Since the band split up, everybody has tried to minimize what I did in the Ramones. And like I told you before, I don't even respond. People say, "He was no Dee Dee" or -
Nobody could've been a Dee Dee though.
Yes. And that was always my point! I never, ever, ever claimed to be even half of what Dee Dee was. Dee Dee was the originator. There was no Dee Dee before there was Dee Dee. There was nobody before Dee Dee. Dee Dee is the Alpha. He's the Alpha. He is the beginning of punk rock. The whole persona, everything - it's all based on Dee Dee. It really is. The songwriting, everything. But everyone has tried to minimize what I did with the Ramones. People have tried to minimize my contribution and what I did with the Ramones, and it doesn't matter to me. I can say with all honesty that it does not matter to me, because I know -- I was told by Johnny and Joey, you know what I mean? And not just what they said to me, but what they said to other people and even what they said in interviews. And nobody can take away the memories that I have or the relationships that I had with those guys. That is all I care about. After the band split and I went through some hard times, I sold my MTV Award, the gold CDs and records we had gotten overseas; I sold all my musical equipment, I sold everything. Literally at this point, I have nothing left - not even the basses that I played while I was in the Ramones. I literally have nothing left from my years with the Ramones, except for some of the posters from overseas and stuff. While it killed me when I was getting rid of it to get rid of it, at this point I realize that none of it really means anything. I still have some things that I can pass on to my kids -- videos and DVDs that I played on -- but all that stuff is just that: stuff. I could care less. I could care less about it. And like I said, I know what my importance was and I know what my role was in the Ramones. I know I did my best always to keep the Ramones going, and now I'm going to make an effort to kinda replant that seed again with the young kids. And I'm gonna try to keep that legacy going for at least as long as I can.
I remember when Mondo Bizarro came out, I looked at the songwriting credits and was like, "How come this new guy isn't writing anything?" But it really sounds like you did everything that they would have allowed you to do.
And after talking to you, it sounds like they didn't take your advice on things anyway.
Yeah. They really didn't. And I'm sure they made their decisions based on information that I didn't have a lot of the time, but the one thing that I really wish they would've listened to me on, like I said before, was signing with Brett Gurewitz and Stormy Shepherd. I mean, that was an opportunity for them to make that leap up the ladder. It really would've taken them to where they had been attempting to get to. At that point, it was a generation of Ramones fans who were in some of the most powerful positions in the music industry. Finally the opportunity was there, and I really feel it was a missed one. But I think at that point Johnny had realized that they were gonna retire, didn't want their career to go on any longer than they had actually planned it going on for, and was comfortable with where he was.
Since we discussed your other four CDs with the band, would you mind giving me your quick thoughts about Greatest Hits Live and We're Outta Here?
Greatest Hits Live was pretty cool. It is a good snapshot of where the Ramones were performance-wise at the end. Overall I'd give it 4 of 5 stars. We're Outta Here came across as a cheap ploy to sell some videos. The Ramones did not need a bunch of special guests to make their final show important. While I really enjoyed getting to play with all those guys, as a fan I didn't like it. Historically, it does its job proving that The Ramones influenced several generations of great bands and will continue to do the same for many years to come.
Okay, it's now noon, so I'll get off the phone. I've got a good hour-and-a-half tape here with you.
I think you've got enough for a series of articles!
Yeah! Thanks so much. This was really, really interesting.
I appreciate the opportunity to give my response to the accusation out there too. Realistically I don't really care what people think of me one way or the other, but something like that is just not in any way, shape or form true, and I would not ever want anybody to think that about me.
No problem. Thanks!
Its interesting that CJ says there were no problems between the 2 before '96. I always thought it was funny that when CJ sang the Motorhead tune "Ramones" he changed "hear Marky kick some ass" to "Mark takes it up the ass"! I thought it was funny that Marky is sitting back there playing drums along to that lyric. And then, on We're Outta Here, Lemmy himself is harmonizing with CJ on the reworked lyric.
One of the many interesting things in your interview was learning there may have been a chance for CJ to try out for the Metallica job. I thought of that after Newstead left, the Ramones having been retired, and there being some kind of connection through Lolapolooza and Johnny's friendship with Kirk Hammett. On the Some Kinda Monster documentary, when all these bassists from established bands were trying out, I thought it would have been cool to see CJ, who is a good rock bassist and has been known to play Metallica's "seek and destroy" at his gigs, giving it a shot.
Great interview. God bless the Ramones.
CJ just proved that he was a good Ramone! The first time I interviewed him here in Brazil in 1994, by the time he was playing with The Ramones, I realize that!
I may be a little late, but having recieved "Weird Tales of the Ramones" for Christmas and seeing and hearing about CJ more than ever before through that box set, I did an internet search to find out more and ran across your interview.
I was only 3 years old in '76, but have been a Ramones fan for over 20 years, that's over half of my life. After being a fan for that long, while reading one part of your interview I had tears well up in my eyes. It is so sad to think that Johnny and Joey turned down the offer from Mr. Brett and Stormy Shepherd. That really blew my mind, an album on Epitath Records, produced by people who have been Ramones fans thier whole lives and would have treated the music with the upmost respect, and touring with the likes of Rancid and The Offspring, it would have been incredible to see and hear. As great and influential as the Ramones were, I shed a tear at the thought of how they could have ended thier career. It really is sad.
Thanks for the great interview.
Head on back to www.markprindle.com to enjoy interviews with Tommy Ramone, Marky Ramone, Mickey Leigh and lots of other non-Ramones-related people.