The 5 Most Fascinating Facts That Factor Into the History of the Ramones

When asked about the Ramones in the documentary Punk: Attitude, Mick Jones of The Clash said, “It was just like really short songs, really hard attack, no-nonsense.”

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Jeff Hyman, John Cummings, Doug Colvin, and Thomas Erdelyi joined forces to create one of the most influential bands in the world. Bassist Colvin adopted the name Dee Dee Ramone, inspired by Paul McCartney’s use of the name Ramon to check into hotels unrecognized. He convinced the rest of the band to take on the similar surname. Let’s look at five fascinating facts about the Ramones.

1. Singer Joey Ramone Started as the Drummer

The group began as a trio with Dee Dee as the lead singer. Johnny played guitar, and Joey played the drums. But eventually Dee Dee struggled with the demands of consistent live performances at extreme volumes. As the band’s manager, Tommy suggested Joey as lead singer—which created a need for a new drummer. After being unable to find a suitable replacement, Tommy took over the drum throne and also took on the last name Ramone.

There were no real outlets for a band playing the kind of music the Ramones were. Dee Dee was friends with Richard Hell and went to see his band, Television, perform at a small club called CBGB in Manhattan’s East Village. Dee Dee arranged an audition for club owner Hilly Kristal. Joey remembered his reaction in the 2003 documentary film End of the Century: “Nobody’s gonna like you guys, but I’ll have you back.”

2. The Progenitors of Punk Didn’t Like Being Called “Punk”

The Ramones started regularly playing the tiny CBGB, whose scene consisted of a handful of other bands like Television. These were outfits that were…different: Talking Heads, Mink DeVille, the Heartbreakers, Suicide, and Blondie both performed and attended other bands’ shows in the early days.

As they began, there wasn’t a name for their type of music. When the famed Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968 was released in 1972, Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye referred to the music in the liner notes as “punk rock.” 

Bands like The Stooges, The MC5, The Dictators, and the New York Dolls had been doing what would later be called punk rock before it was used as a marketing tool. Suddenly, these New York bands had an identity. They were “punk!” But it didn’t take long for a band of British delinquents (actual punks, and proud of it) called the Sex Pistols to start generating negative press for the new genre. It put a real damper on the scene. 

In Punk: Attitude, Tommy revealed, “Unfortunately, I think it was detrimental to us as far as the straight media was concerned because they assumed we were a bunch of hooligans and were kind of afraid of us.”

[RELATED: 3 Movies Every Ramones Fan Should See]

3. The Ramones Acquired a Manager, but It Was at a Cost

As the band continued to play, the scene at CBGB was growing. The booming volume, arguments among the band onstage, and matching leather jackets made Ramones shows a car wreck, can’t-look-away experience.  

Johnny had been acting as band manager since Tommy moved to drums. In 1975, the band was approached by Danny Fields, who commented in End of the Century why he was so impressed with the band: “No guitar solos. The songs are over so fast. They’re all so cute. They look great. I love what they’re wearing. I just said right away, ‘I want to be their manager.'” 

Johnny informed Fields, “Well, we need a few thousand dollars for a drum kit. If you come up with that, you can be our manager.” Fields agreed. The first thing he felt was needed was a record deal. He arranged an audition for Seymour Stein of Sire Records at SIR Studios. The band played for 15 minutes, and a deal was offered on the spot.

“What I look for first in any artist that I sign … is great songs. Because, to me, that is the most important thing,” said Stein, “They were in one way as real as real could be. You could have been walking down on the corner of 53rd and 3rd and really seen Dee Dee Ramone, you know, hustling.”

4. The Ramones Caused a Big Stir in London Before NYC

The band quickly went into the studio to record their debut album. Ramones is 29 minutes of pure rock—the antithesis of what was happening in mainstream music at the time. To promote the album, the band hit the road, and were not met with open arms everywhere. They had a hard time booking gigs away from New York City, so Joey started pushing to set up a show in England. It was arranged for the band to play at The Roundhouse in London on July 4, 1976—ironically, America’s Bicentennial. Various Sex Pistols and members of The Clash were in attendance. 

Chrissie Hynde recalled in Punk: Attitude, “Sid Vicious learned how to play the guitar by listening to the Ramones, and staying up for three nights on speed and playing along to Ramones records. The Ramones were the one band I think that the English punks kind of looked up to.”

While the crowds grew over the years in the U.K., they never could break through to the next level in America. But that didn’t stop them from having a great career. Over the next 20 years, they performed more than 2,000 shows and recorded 14 studio albums. Although they never had a single perform well on the charts, classics like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” have grown to legendary status. 

5. Tommy Ramone Produced Many of Their Albums

Tommy co-produced the band’s first four albums. He got burned out on the drums, though, and vacated the position after the third album. Marc Bell, a.k.a. Marky Ramone, replaced him. As the band was looking for a hit, they shifted to legendary “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector for End of the Century, and then to 10cc’s Graham Gouldman for Pleasant Dreams. Tommy returned to produce 1984’s Too Tough to Die, and went on to produce Tim, one of The Replacements’ best, in 1985. The Ramones were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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