His group changed the face of music at a most pivotal time – The Ramones were a pioneering band of the punk movement, and the guitar wizardry of Johnny Ramone led their passion-filled way. Their fame sealed a familial bond: but the Ramones weren’t even related.
He was born John Cummings in New York on October 8, 1948. He was the third of the quartet’s original members to have died in the span of four years: vocalist Joey Ramone (real name: Jeffrey Hyman) succumbed to lymphatic cancer in 2001, while bassist Dee Dee Ramone (real name: Douglas Colvin) died from a drug overdose in 2002. The fourth original Ramone, drummer Tommy (real name: Thomas Erdelyi), left the band in 1978.
Cummings formed the Ramones with Dee Dee and Joey in 1974. Joey was the band’s original drummer, but he soon switched to lead vocals when manager Tommy, a former schoolmate of Cummings, took over the drum stool.
The band became one of the leading lights of the burgeoning punk-rock movement, centered at the New York club CBGB during 1975-1976, along with such acts as the Heartbreakers, the Patti Smith Group, and Television. The Ramones signed in the United States to Sire Records in 1976, but their greatest initial success was in the United Kingdom. Their July 4, 1976, live show at London’s Roundhouse with San Francisco’s Flamin’ Groovies has long been recognized as a turning point in the development of Britain’s own punk movement.
Their furious three-chord progressions, filled with 1950s sensibilities, call-to-arms anthems, and inane, yet often hysterical lyrics (I Wanna Be Sedated, The KKK Took My Baby Away, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, and Teenage Lobotomy) found an immediate audience with bored kids and social outsiders.
“Johnny had the guitar sound that launched a thousand bands,” Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock told Billboard magazine. “Many bands tried to emulate it, but they never got it right.”
The Ramones’ first three albums were major influences on the punk movement globally, and the act managed to score four Top-40 singles in the United Kingdom between 1978-1980. Its biggest commercial success came with the Phil Spector-produced End of the Century, and its cover of the Ronettes’ Baby I Love You, in 1980.
Despite declining record sales and several line-up changes, the Ramones recorded 13 studio albums and issued several live sets. In a 2001 interview with Livewire magazine, Johnny shared, “The Ramones stopped in ’96. I have been retired, but I still have work with certain Ramones related projects. There are always new products to be dealt with. I’m also very busy with my hobbies, which include baseball and films.”
“John kept things in control when they could have spun out of control very easily,” says drummer Marky Ramone, who joined the band in 1978. “His legacy will live on in every band that has, is, and always will be trying to duplicate the Ramones sound.”
In recent months, he was said to have been working on his memoirs with Washington Times reporter Steve Miller.
Johnny Ramone passed away on Wednesday, September 16, 2004, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 55, and had suffered from prostate cancer.
Several of Johnny Ramone’s friends — including Eddie Vedder, Rob Zombie, and Nicolas Cage — gathered at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Friday, January 14, 2005, to unveil a four-feet tall bronze statue of the guitarist, who according to Cage’s eulogy, “willed the Ramones to happen.”
Zombie, wearing a Ramones T-shirt, explained how the statue came to be. “Every Christmas trying to find Johnny a gift was impossible,” he recalled. “So I thought what I would do is have my friend Wayne [Toth] sculpt an award that just said ‘legend,’ and I would present it to him at Christmastime.” Zombie then recalled how, as a joke, he suggested to Ramone that he make a giant version of the award. “Now this joke is sitting over there. It weighs 50,000 pounds, and it’s made of bronze.”