If you don't own any Ramones albums, you've made a terrible, terrible mistake. For the record, Tommy played drums on Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket To Russia and It's Alive, as well as producing Road To Ruin and Too Tough To Die. I should add that most people consider these records to be *THE* Ramones records to own. Who would've guessed that a drummer could have so much influence on a band's sound? Well, for starters, Tommy wasn't a drummer - he was a guitarist, a recording engineer and the Ramones' first manager. He only agreed to drum for them because they couldn't find a drummer who could keep the simple, steady, uptempo beat they needed. The rest of the history can be found in a million other places. So let's get to the interview! My questions are in bold; Tom's answers are in plain text.
Can I speak to Tom?
Oh hey! This is Mark Prindle calling from Citizine.
Hi, how are you?
Good, good. You have time now?
What are you up to these days?
Let's see, what am I doing. I'm playing a lot of old-time bluegrass music. Putting together something that'll be ready for next year. That and modern alternative music. Sort of acoustic type of music.
Oh, you're playing and writing?
What do you play in the bluegrass? What instrument?
I play mandolin, banjo and guitar.
Oh wow! How long have you been into that kind of music?
Actually most of my life, but seriously about ten years.
Have you been playing in bands doing that kind of thing?
No. Basically I just - I have a partner and we work together. And like I said, we're going to have something ready by next year. We're kind of excited about that.
Are you doing any production work?
I've done some, yeah. Recently I've worked with some young bands, but I've been concentrating on this.
Do you still enjoy talking about the Ramones? Or are you tired of being associated with them for so long?
Well, I feel like it's mostly an opportunity to let the world know about the band. I feel that it's important to communicate what we were about and all that.
The Ramones have been my favorite band for the last fifteen years, so it's exciting for me to get a chance to talk to you. I just finished Monte Melnick's book (On the Road with the Ramones) last night. So it sounds like when you formed the band, you kind of based it on the personalities of Johnny and Dee Dee?
Yes, and Joey too. And there was also another person who didn't quite make the band - Richie Stern, who was also a very interesting, colorful individual. Yeah, I wanted to put a band together with quirky, interesting personalities - some people who were intense and talented and slightly different. I just thought they would be perfect for a rock band.
Did you have any idea that they were that creative when you -
No, I didn't actually! No. Initially it was just going to be like basically like - at the time, it was like the glam/glitter kinda scene, right? So basically, initially it was just to be part of that scene. I thought that they would make an interesting scene. But as soon as I started working with them, it became fairly evident early on that they were coming up with very interesting songs like I've never heard before. And so we tried to channel that into something creative. So that was a huge plus - the fact that they were so creative at writing songs.
You had played with John in an earlier band though, right?
Yeah. Yes, I was in a band called Tangerine Puppets with him. He was on bass at that time though. I was the guitar player.
And what was he like when he was that young?
Oh, he was amazing! Because he was playing bass, he was free to really move around. He held his bass really high up like a machine gun, and he would use it like a machine gun. He'd go all over the stage aiming it at people. He put on a very exciting show.
The way that his personality was presented in the Ramones - was he actually always like that?
No. That book isn't very good at actually portraying him. He's got multiple personalities, depending on what mood he's in. He's a person filled with a lot of energy. A lot of energy, maybe a little anger. He wanted to be a baseball player. A pitcher, you know? And whenever he played, he'd throw a lot of fastballs, you know what I mean? But he's a complex character. That's the best way I can describe it. Do you have any specific questions about any particular thing in the book?
Just basically the way it sounds like he was sort of unpleasant all the time. A lot of people make it sound like he was always complaining and trying to be like the head guy. Not the racist stuff - I understood that he was just joking about that stuff. But hitting his girlfriend and all that stuff. And also the way he refused to let anyone dress differently or any of that stuff.
Basically he had his ideas of what the group should be, okay? But as far as I know, he didn't hold the band hostage on anything, and everybody was pretty much - if they followed his advice, it was because they wanted to. Alright? But he had his say. He had his ideas, which wasn't necessarily the idea of every person in the band.
Was he as bad-tempered as they make him out to be in the book?
He could be, yeah. It's pretty clear in the book that that's part of his personality.
But you also say that he's a really nice guy.
Yeah, that's part of his personality too. He could be a very genuinely nice guy, and kind of generous, and other times he could be different. So it depends what mood you'd catch him in actually.
I guess that was the same way with Dee Dee, since he actually did have some kind of bipolar thing?
Well, the whole group came with - that was part of the band's structure, was the fact that they came with a lot of baggage from their past, whatever that might have been. It fueled the intensity of the band, I think.
Did you have any of that kind of stuff going on?
What do you mean?
In your background? Well, I was surprised in the book to read that you kinda felt like you were having a breakdown, `cuz I thought you just left -
Oh, no no! Yeah, yeah. That was caused by the band. They did it to me. Ha!
Oh wow. What were they doing?
If you're cooped up in a van with the Ramones, it can eventually get to you. I was fairly normal before I got into the band! I don't recommend joining that ship for too long a period.
They somehow stuck it out for a long time.
Oh yeah, yeah. They themselves were more or less comfortable. It's just that my way of thinking and their way of thinking sometimes kind of - trying to figure it out, reality was slowly slipping away. That's what the Ramones'll do to you, you know what I mean?
I guess I can understand that.
I don't think you can actually. Their world is pretty - what happens is, like even if, this has nothing to do with the Ramones, but it's like when a person joins some kind of cult. There's constant brainwashing going on of sorts. Which, either somebody leaves the cult or stays and loves it and blah blah blah. It could get to be like that. There's sort of like a way of thinking or indoctrination, things like that. And one either takes to it and becomes part of the cult or says, "Well look, I'd rather have my own way of thinking, you know? Thank you." So it's a groupthink type of thing that can just be very restrictive.
Oh, another thing - it's always been sort of a myth or whatever that what the Ramones were your street clothes. Was that actually the case, or was it designed as a uniform?
Oh, what happened was that we took the stuff from - we wore different things from our teens. We knew each other growing up for a period of years, when we were teens ourselves. So we sort of took what was the best individual stuff that we wore over the years that would fit the music. And we did wear all those things. Not necessarily at the same time, but we put `em together in a way that was comfortable, suited the music and that's what it was. It wasn't an overnight thing. It sort of evolved over a short period. But it evolved, and it just worked the best.
What songs did you write for the band? A lot of people don't realize that you actually did - you wrote "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," right?
Yeah, I wrote "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" for our first album.
Aw man, you wrote "Blitzkrieg Bop"?
That's like the best song ever!
Well, thank you!
Wow, okay! Anything off the others or did you guys start -
For the second and third album, a lot of the songs were co-written by everybody. The Road to Ruin album I contributed a lot to what you can hear through all the arrangements. I helped them work together the arrangements. A lot of the stuff that you hear on that record that sounds a little, you know, more, let's say uh.."progressive". that's pretty much me.
Okay. Were you surprised when - I read in the book last night that Johnny ended up telling you at the last minute that you weren't gonna get publishing or whatever (for Road To Ruin)?
How did you react? I mean, why did he do that?
Well, I think he was pressured by the others. I don't know. I can just guess that that was what happened. I think they were under the illusion that I was gonna be getting a lot of money or something? I don't think they entirely understood how.. I don't know. It didn't really make sense actually.
Were you at that point not getting along? Was it that kind of thing?
No, I assume that they probably resented me leaving the band. But I'm not sure. I think there might have been some greed involved too. I never really asked them the question why. I didn't put up a big, you know.
Between Road to Ruin and Too Tough to Die, did you continue following their music?
Yeah, I would go to every show that they'd play in New York, and I tried to stay in touch with them as much as I could.
What did you think about when they tried to take that kind of poppier direction before Too Tough to Die?
Well, they started on the Road to Ruin album. Basically, here we were making all these great albums that weren't going anywhere. And I thought from the second album on, especially Rocket to Russia, that they'd be a natural fit - that nationally the albums would be accepted. Certainly Rocket to Russia's not, you know.. So I guess they figured that they had to turn into some kind of a commercial band. They were always going for something that would give them a hit or whatever, so they were on that road and they pretty much stayed on that road on and off for the rest of their career.
Do you like those records at all?
They're very talented songwriters.
Yeah, I know.
So there are a lot of good songs on those records. Some of them, the production doesn't suit them.
Yeah, I do really agree with that.
But they never lost their songwriting talent, and some of those records are really good. Especially the later records - you know, the records near the end. It's amazing that a group that had been together for that long under such trying circumstances and so much pressure could put out records that still sound good and generate good reviews and everything. They sound great.
I really love the ones with Richie on them. I know a lot of people like Too Tough to Die but not the two after it, but I do! I think they sound really good.
Yeah, he's a talented drummer.
Did you like him? You liked his style?
He's good! He's very good.
When they came back to work with you again on Too Tough to Die, had they changed as people at all?
Yeah. They didn't communicate with each other anymore. When I left, things were still pretty much the way they were, but when I came back, they had formed camps and stuff.
That was after the whole - and another thing I didn't know before I read the book - the whole Linda thing with Joey? (Johnny stole Joey's girlfriend, and Joey never forgave him)
I don't know the chronology as far as Linda is concerned. I imagine that had already happened, but I'm not sure.
When they came to you, did they say, "We want a harder sound than the last few records"? Or was that something that you suggested?
I don't think it needed to be said. It might have been said, but it wasn't, you know - I mean, obviously they came to me because of whatever I could contribute.
Did you help out with the songwriting and arrangements on that one as well?
Yeah. I worked with them for a few months. One huge difference is that when I work with them, I care. It's not a gig for me. Other producers just don't care. They look at it as just another gig. Do it and get paid, you know what I mean? But to me, it's like, you know, it's my baby.
Do you have any idea why they didn't work with you after Too Tough to Die?
I do, but I'd rather not talk about it.
But I have an idea, yeah.
Oh, is it a personal thing?
Well, yeah, to me it is! But I don't wanna talk about it.
Okay, that's fine. As they continued on, was there ever a point when you thought, "Boy, they're like 45 now and they're still dressing like we were when we were 20"? Or did you think that it was pretty cool that they were continuing the same image?
No, I think if I would have stayed in the band, I would have slowly evolved it into something to keep the band fresh and modern. At least I would have liked to. I'm not sure. It's hard to say. But one of the reasons they always stayed looking the same was that one of my advices was for them to do that. Because I noticed with other bands that what would happen is they'd dress a certain way, and then fans would show up at a concert dressed like that, and then the band would look different. And I said, "Well, that's like an insult to the fans." Because the fans show up and there you are on stage looking different, like you're saying, "Ha ha, we fooled you." When someone's a fan, they take the image of you as very important. And so I said that it's important to the fans that you not always change.
After Too Tough to Die, did you continue staying in touch with any of them?
Like I said, I would go to the shows. I was going to every show.
What did you think of the shows with Marky or with Richie, in terms of I know they started speeding up their songs so they could fit a lot more in.
They always put on a good show. Sometimes it seemed mechanical, but most of the shows were great. They were never bad. They always tried their best. And I've seen a lot of Ramones shows. It was always very important to them to be good every night.
Did you ever wish you were up there with them again?
I really enjoyed watching them.
It's one thing to read about these guys with their crazy problems, and I know it must have been something else entirely to have to -
I was with the Ramones for a long time. It doesn't seem like a long time - it was three or four years. But we played a lot of gigs. To me, I was with them a long time. I did a lot of shows. How they themselves were able to go on for so long, to me is incomprehensible. But I was so happy that they were able to do that. I thought it was wonderful that so many people got a chance to see them. They were great. I wish they could still be doing that.
Yeah. I guess I was kinda surprised also that Dee Dee was in their final show and - were you at the final show?
Was there any invitation offered or were you not talking to them much at that point?
My mailbox was empty. No invitation. I have no idea why.
Considering how little radio play they got over the years, what did you think when you were elected to the Hall of Fame?
First of all, it was wonderful. It proved that we were special. Some people get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame based on the fact that they sell a lot of records. So obviously for a group like the Ramones to get in, it has to be special. So I think that meant probably more to us than it might have meant to some other artists who got in. As far as whether I felt it would be possible for us to get in? Well, call me deluded or whatever, but I always felt that if anybody belonged in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it was the Ramones. Was I surprised that we got in on the first ballot and all that? Oh yeah. The chances of that I think were remote. That was really mind-boggling.
What was that reunion like for you? Had it been a while since you'd seen them?
It was bizarre. The thing with the Ramones, especially near the end, was any kind of interaction was just so strange. They just kept getting stranger and stranger, I guess, at the end.
Because they wouldn't even talk to each other?
Partially. Yeah, that had a lot to do with it actually. That's about the main thing, you're right. That was the cause of it. Because when people don't communicate, they form different camps. Then when it comes to situations like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it causes a disadvantage. And actually this didn't only happen with the Ramones. The Talking Heads weren't talking to each other either. It happens in most bands actually. Touring is not a positive thing for future friendships. It puts a lot of strain on best friends. In most groups - well, look what just happened with Mick and Keith. Mick's knighted or whatever, and Keith is talking like it's nothing - that's understandable. But yeah, it puts a lot of strain on friends, and they often go their own way.
I've read I think four books on the Ramones; pretty much any one that comes out, I buy and read. And they always seem to be trashing each other, but I don't think I can remember anyone saying anything bad about you. Am I forgetting something? All I remember from this book is Johnny saying that when you left, they lost some intelligence. They lost an intelligent guy. And he said he was surprised that you left. I don't think anyone said anything bad.
They might have said something in the past, but I don't remember. Basically they try not to mention me too much.
They really don't mention Richie Ramone. They try to pretend he didn't exist.
So you worked with the Replacements on two of their best albums too, right?
No, I did the Tim album.
Oh, you did the Tim album?
I produced the Tim album.
Okay, was that the first - oh damn, I'm forgetting. So that was the first one without Bob Stinson?
No, that was the last one with him.
Could you tell he was falling apart at the time?
No. He was really bizarre, but I was very used to working with bizarre people. My cup of tea, you know? And it was great! I loved working with Bob. He was only able to be at the studio like - he was there maybe two days. And then he was gone. But those two days, we tried to get as much out of him as possible. Maybe it was one day. It might have been just one day.
Really? Why? What was he doing?
I don't know. I think he was a cook in a restaurant or something. Don't ask. He was a strange person. In a good way! For me, I mean. I didn't know him.
How was he strange? I don't really know much about him, except that I know how he ended up, I guess.
I wish I could tell you, because I had such little experience with him. I'd have to sit him down and communicate with him on certain things, and then he got up there and did it. And then he was gone.
Had you been a fan of that band before?
Yeah! As soon as I heard about them. There was a buzz about them, and I thought I should check `em out. Then when they came to New York, I went to see their show.
And you worked on Rattled too? The Rattlers album?
Yeah, I worked on the Rattlers album. I didn't do the album; I did maybe five songs. And I did Redd Kross - the Neurotica album.
Oh alright. Did you stay friends with Mickey Leigh over the years? Or was that just a one-off thing?
No, I've known Mickey Leigh since he was twelve years old. I'm sort of like an uncle to him.
And then that was another thing, I guess. At the end, Johnny forming a camp against them or something.
Yeah, yeah. But it's a very incestuous relationship really. You know, Mickey is married to John's first girlfriend.
Wow! What did you think when you first heard that Dee Dee had left the band? Did you think they were gonna break up? Were you surprised that they kept going?
I knew that they put a lot of pressure on him, so maybe he got tired of it, I guess. But the interesting thing was that when I went to see them, I didn't know what to expect. They'd replaced him and I wondered, "What am I gonna see here?" And C. Jay was doing Dee Dee! But a young Dee Dee. I actually got a kick out of it. It was kinda interesting to see, because actually he made the band younger. He took ten years off of them, just by his energy. He was just so excited to be in the band. So I was very pleasantly surprised. It gave it an interesting effect. I was like, "Wow. This is better than I thought it was gonna be." So they lucked out with C. Jay.
I especially really like Mondo Bizarro at the end there. So you didn't feel like by doing that they were starting to become nothing but a nostalgia act, like some people accused them of?
To me, it was very important that younger audiences get to check out the Ramones, and C. Jay allowed the opportunity to see at least a facsimile of the Ramones, which was better than no Ramones. And they put on a great show. I mean, it wasn't Dee Dee, but he respected Dee Dee tremendously, and tried to basically still give them as much Dee Dee as he could do. So under the circumstances, it turned out real good for especially young fans who'd never seen them. And Dee Dee was off doing five different things by then. He was burnt out as a Ramone.
The first time I saw the Ramones - you know, I hadn't heard them until 15 years ago. I'm 30, so when I turned 15, I got into `em. The first time I saw them was when they were touring Brain Drain (note: this isn't true, and I don't know why I made this mistake. I saw them on the Ramones Mania tour, several months before the release of Brain Drain), and Dee Dee looked so bored. So miserable.
That's what I've heard. Yeah.
So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when he left the band.
If anybody felt strongly strait-jacketed by wanting to move on to different things, it was Dee Dee. He was into all kinds of music, so I can understand that Dee Dee felt it was time to move on.
I know we already kind of discussed this with Johnny, but Dee Dee seems to have been just like all over the place personality-wise.
Yeah. Yeah, he was. He was also a major drug abuser, and I guess drugs had an effect on him sometimes, depending on what he was on.
Oh okay. Did that change him over the years, over the long term as well?
Oh, he deteriorated over the years. Then he would clean up for a while and become nice and friendly. I'd seen him like that, even more recently. And then he would fall off the wagon and become disturbed. But the thing is he would change anyway. Supposedly, somebody said he was bipolar, I don't know. But he was a very complex, troubled person.
And what about Joey with - that's another thing that was obviously never publicized over the years, was Joey's compulsive -
Yeah, he was obsessive-compulsive. He was also quiet - in the beginning, he was real quiet and shy, and kind of like that. Then slowly he sort of came out of his shell after a while. But his main problem was the OCD.
And that was always really plain? He was always doing things like that?
Yeah. It was inconvenient because he would always be straggling behind because he had to do certain repetitive things. So it was very inconvenient actually. It was time- consuming to have to deal with it.
But you didn't really know what it was?
Oh, we didn't know. We just thought he was neurotic actually.
Did you know Joey was sick before he passed away?
I had found out like a year before that, but he was fine until he broke his hip. And then I guess to do the operation, they had to take him off the medication for a couple months. And then it came on, you know? And then boom. It just happened like that.
Were you communicating with him?
Yes. When he was in the hospital, I called him and we had a long talk. I guess he was ver - you know, we had a good talk then, but before that, I guess he was always very competitive with me. I never understood why he was so unfriendly to me. Now actually after reading Monte's book, it's clear that basically he felt competitive with me because I was the spokesperson for the band when I was in the band, and he thought that as the lead singer, he should have been or whatever. And I guess he just - I assume, I have to assume because he didn't actually tell me this - that he felt he had to be competitive with me.
So being in the band kind of ruined your friendship with all three of them?
Not really. We split up on good terms. So I left in a way. except at the end when they took away the publishing of that album. I didn't make a big stink about it at the time to preserve the friendship. In other words, on the surface, I always was on good terms with them. There was no rage displayed or anything like that.
And then were you surprised by Dee Dee, or had you been expecting that to happen at some point because of his lifestyle?
Yes! Because he's like Keith Richards, you know what I mean? Like once they get to that certain point, you think they're gonna live on forever, so yeah I was surprised.
You are probably the only person to have ever been in that band who can walk down the street without being recognized, because you left so young and you changed your look so drastically sort of. Well, not drastically but you don't walk around looking like Joey Ramone did, in other words. Or Johnny with his bowl cut. Do people still recognize you? Or when they find out who you are, are they just blown away?
Well, I sort of planned it that way. I enjoy being Tommy Ramone when I want to be Tommy Ramone, and I'm perfectly fine with being like Clark Kent, you know what I mean? I'd hate to be constantly stared at.
In the bluegrass band, do you guys play live ever?
No, not yet, but eventually. It's called Uncle Monk.
Uncle, and then M-O-N-K?
Had you been playing any other kind of music over the years? Or did you stay out of music for a while aside from the production side?
I'd been writing songs, but no. I had a band about 10-12 years ago that we played a couple shows at CBGB, maybe three of `em. Just like a pop rock band. But the scene was very bad then.
Are you listening to any newer bands?
I keep my ear tuned to what's out there.
Anybody impressing you?
The White Stripes and The Strokes are pretty good. Every now and then I see a good band. There have been a lot over the years.
Who would you say is your all-time favorite artist?
My all-time favorite artists in rock would be The Beatles. But I have favorites in other genres too, like Hank Williams, Beethoven, Flatt & Scruggs.
This is one I meant to ask at the beginning. I somehow skipped right over it in my list here. Before you started drumming for them, what did the music sound like? When you heard what they were doing, was it like, "This is metal"? Or "this is -
No. When Joey was playing drums, it sounded very disjointed. Kinda very disjarring and choppy. When I started playing drums, I gave it kind of its smoothness. Metal. Nah, it wasn't metal at all. It was never metal.
Could the Ramones have created the sound and the songs with - it almost sounds like it required all four members to come up with it and refine it. Like Johnny wanted to be the fastest guitar player in the world he says, and Dee Dee was writing the crazy lyrics and a lot of - the point is - I'm trying to get to the point! Do you think it could have worked with any one of those people not being there? Like if Richie Stern had stayed?
The Ramones were one of the few bands that was an equal part of four. Most bands usually have one or two people directing them, but the Ramones were actually four people each contributing a fairly large percentage - like a sum of its parts. And we were unique that way, I felt. Maybe there's one or two other bands like that, but we were definitely unique in that way. So no, if anything is removed, it becomes something else.
Like it was possible to replace you after three albums, but had the band started with Marky, that sound wouldn't have -
Well, there's more to it than that. I wasn't really replaced. I stayed with them. In other words, I was there for the transition, bringing Marky in. I had to work with Marky.
Oh, you taught him how to play in that -
Yeah. So I never really left. If I wasn't there in person, certainly my ideas and contributions were there.
Were all four of you happy with the way the music developed into what it was? Or was someone saying, "Oh, we should -." I mean, that first album - at the time, I guess, a lot of people just thought of it as noise, right?
Yeah, a lot of people didn't get it at first.
Did all four of the band members get it and really like it at the same time? Or did it take some time to -
I don't know. We never really sat down and talked about it. All I can say is my opinion, which is that I thought it was what it was. Basically an original artifact that was cool! I thought so, and I think Johnny might have felt that way.
Do you have a favorite Ramones record?
Yes, Rocket to Russia.
That's a lot of people's favorite Ramones record. Okay, I guess I will let you go since I've already taken 45 minutes of your time. But it was great to talk to you. Is there anything else you wanna talk about?
No, no. I think we covered quite a lot.
Again, thank you so much for taking the time.
Okay, thank you.
i'm from slovenia, big big ramones fan for 8 years now. i'm 22 yrs old and i really enjoyed reading this interview.
mmmm, i know i'm asking for impossible but do you think there is a possibility for me to get e-mail address of tommy ramone or any other.
thank you for great interview
There`s no band in the world that gets more respect from fellow artists/musicians than the Ramones.
I like the Stones, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols and lots and lots more, but no-one is as great as the Ramones.
It`s obvious that every Ramone is a human being, no stars in the Ramones.
Great interview, RAMONES FOR EVER & fryslan boppe!
I'm the drummer for the Ramonettes, a 'Classic period' Ramones tribute band from Adelaide, Australia, so Tommy is really important to us, and me in particular. (We're a three-piece with girls on guitar and bass. We just toured Europe.)
Next time you talk to him (!), ask what size sticks he used and what guitar rhythms he played himself on the first three albums. Thanks.
ps. A word to your hilarious correspondent 'humankind4321', You can't count!
the itnerview as coool and i was very surprised to read Erdelyi, see that is Hungarian and i had no idea he was of Hungarian decent... any idea if he speaks Hugnarain?
tok jo lenne amugy!
The article was very interesting.
P.S. great job Tommy!
If you liked this interview with Tommy Ramone, you'll LOVE my Andrew Dice Clay reviews!!!!