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On This Day In Music… April 15, 2001: Joey Ramone, Punk Icon and Inspiration to Generations, Dies

'He was a perfect instrument of those songs and that speed and that energy. He never screamed, never waved his arms around. He stood in one place and delivered.'

joey ramone
Source: mega

Joey Ramone was 'the guy on stage who you can't take your eyes off of.'

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When Joey Ramone died, on April 15, 2001, after a seven-year battle with lymphatic cancer, rock music lost one of its most influential, and iconic, figures.

The fact that only two of the Ramones’ 14 studio albums broke into the Billboard top 50 chart (with their most successful, 1980’s End of the Century peaking at No. 44 in the U.S. and No. 14 in the U.K.) and that only three of their singles made the Hot 100, is irrelevant. The Ramones remain one of the most important bands in the history of music – and Joey, as frontman, shaggy-haired, skinny as a snake, leather-jacketed, ripped-jeaned, sullen and sneering behind aviator shades, the very definition of the beautiful, wasted, rock ‘n’ roll star.

“Joey Ramone was a beautiful cat,” Steven Van Zandt, guitarist with the E. Street Band, told Variety. “Pure rock ‘n’ roll, like most of us freaks who seek greatness by being incapable of doing anything else. The Ramones were one the important bridges of the ‘70s, connecting the past with the future and will forever be an essential chapter in the history of rock.”

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ramones gig
Source: mega

Ramones gigs were as raucous and electric as the band itself.

The man who would all-but invent punk was born Jeffrey Ross Hyman in Queens, New York in May 1951, and initially harbored ambitions to be an artist, before taking up drumming, initially with the glam-rock band Sniper, who scored gigs supporting other early punk pioneers The New York Dolls and Suicide.

In 1974 he quit Sniper to form a new band with friends John Cummings and Douglas Colvin, with each of them adopting new monikers, apparently in honor of a musical alias of Paul McCartney’s. Guitarist Cummings became Johnny Ramone, bassist Colvin became Dee Dee Ramone, and Hyman took the name Joey Ramone.

Together the three friends developed a confrontational new sound – short, sharp, three-chord songs played at furious, breakneck speed, with nihilistic, attitude-heavy lyrics… and all delivered in a style that somehow encapsulated both manic energy and intense boredom.

The only issue was, as the songs became faster, Joey struggled to keep up on drums, and instead switched to singing, with Thomas Erdelyi, now known as Tommy Ramone, taking over drumming duties. With the line-up in place, the Ramones were booked into a residency at New York’s CBGB, where they quickly established an electric reputation – and a dedicated following.

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Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh, quoted in the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, remembered: “I was shocked when the band came out. Joey was the lead singer and I couldn’t believe how good he was. Because he’d been sitting in my house with my acoustic guitar, writing these songs like ‘I Don't Care’, f---ing up my guitar, and suddenly he’s this guy on stage who you can’t take your eyes off of.”

The journalist Legs McNeil later described seeing the Ramones’ first CBGB show: “They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song... and it was just this wall of noise... They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.”

The following year Seymour Stein signed the band to Sire Records, and in 1976 they released debut album Ramones, supported by the single “Blitzkreig Bop”. Although both failed to trouble the charts, the impact on street-level was immense.

Rolling Stone described Ramones as possessing “an exhilarating intensity rock & roll has not experienced since its earliest days” – and after a short visit to the U.K. the band’s performance at the Roundhouse in London in July 1976 lit a fire under the emerging British punk movement. Supported by the Stranglers, and with the Clash and the Sex Pistols in the crowd, it is now seen as a pivotal moment in the evolution of punk. And front and center, the “guy on stage who you can’t take your eyes off”, was Joey Ramone.

“All the other singers were copying David Johansen [of the New York Dolls], who was copying Mick Jagger,” Dee Dee Ramone later said. “But Joey was unique, totally unique."

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It would be in Britain that the Ramones enjoyed their most commercial success too, with 1977’s “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” peaking at No. 22 in the chart, and three years later, their cover of the Ronette’s “Baby I Love You” making No. 8.

That song had come about after a collaboration with Phil Spector, who they met after appearing in the 1979 film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – Joey would also become close friends with Spector’s ex-wife and Ronettes frontwoman Ronnie Spector, who he had cited as one of his own influences: in 1999 he produced her EP She Talks to Rainbows.

The impact and influence of Joey’s band would continue long after the fire and fury of punk’s first wave had died down, with subsequent bands as diverse as Metallica, Nirvana, the Lemonheads and the Strokes all claiming them as inspirational, and Joey especially embodying what a rock ‘n’ roll star should look, and sound, like.

joey ramone place
Source: RICHARD B. LEVINE/Newscom/The Mega Agency

The sign for 'Joey Ramone Place' is New York's most stolen street sign.

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In 1995 Joey Ramone was diagnosed with lymphoma, only publicly revealing his condition in March 2001, one month before his death. He died at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on April 15, 2001, aged just 49.

Two years later, a block of East 2nd Street in New York City was officially renamed in his honor – it was later reported that the sign reading “Joey Ramone Place” at the corner of Bowery and East 2nd Street was New York City's most stolen street sign. One gets the feeling that the man who sang “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” would have approved.

Speaking after his death, former Ramones manager Danny Fields described Joey Ramone’s unique stage presence: “He was a perfect instrument of those songs and that speed and that energy. He never screamed, never waved his arms around. He stood in one place and delivered.”


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