NEW YORK – The Ramones always seemed too fast. Their songs rushed by, often two minutes or less of pure adrenaline. Their influence outstripped their sales. And now, with the death of drummer Tommy, all four original members of the seminal punk rock band are gone.
Tommy Ramone, born Erdelyi Tamas in Budapest, Hungary, died Friday at age 65, said Dave Frey, who works for Ramones Productions and Silent Partner Management. Frey had no further details.
Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone, taking their surname from an alias Paul McCartney used to check into hotels, formed in Queens, N.Y. in 1974. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members were among the leaders of the original punk rock movement with songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Rockaway Beach.”
Wearing ripped jeans, black leather and bad haircuts, the Ramones stripped rock down to its essentials: two guitars, drums, a singer and no solos. Their 1976 debut album had 14 songs in less than 30 minutes, with “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” and “Beat on the Brat” reflecting their twisted teen years.
Their taste also reflected a love for early 1960s rock, before it became “progressive.”
The Ramones never had a Top 40 hit, although not for lack of trying. They brought in the eccentric Phil Spector to produce an album. After seeing the Ramones in Asbury Park, N.J., Bruce Springsteen wrote “Hungry Heart” for them – then kept it for himself when his manager smelled a hit.
“This is art,” Tommy wrote in the liner notes for a Ramones compilation. “Sometimes it doesn’t sell at first. Sometimes it takes a while for the world to catch on.”
Their concerts were a bolt of energy, songs tumbling upon one another. “Hello, Schenectady!” Joey shouted upon taking the stage in Syracuse, N.Y., one night in the late 1970s, before Dee Dee let loose with the familiar, rapid-fire “1-2-3-4” call that signaled the music’s start.
Upstate New York city. Starts with an ‘S.’ Close enough.
Bands like Nirvana, Blink-182 and Green Day – who inducted the Ramones into the rock hall – came later and did sell, with sounds unimaginable without the Ramones’ influence.
Now, teenagers not yet born when the Ramones played their last gig in 1996, perhaps even unaware of their legacy, wear black T-shirts to the mall emblazoned with the band’s distinctive insignia.
Tommy Ramone was the last to see it all. Singer Joey died first, of cancer, at age 49 in 2001. Bass player Dee Dee was killed by a drug overdose the next year at age 50, three months after the band’s rock hall induction. Guitarist Johnny, then 55, died of cancer in 2004.
Tommy was the band’s original manager and helped produce some of their earlier albums. He was a guitar player in a band with Johnny that predated the Ramones, but went behind the drums when they couldn’t find anyone else to keep up. He got out early, leaving the stage in 1978, although he produced the Ramones’ 1980s album “Too Tough to Die.”
“If you’re cooped up in a van with the Ramones, it can eventually get to you,” he said in a later interview.
He stayed active as a producer, working with the Replacements, among other bands. He played mandolin, banjo and guitar for a bluegrass band in his later years.