Despite their impact, the Ramones struggled for commercial success. Their debut album, Ramones, has been called the most influential punk record, but it was only this past June – 38 years after its release – that the LP went gold.
The prototypical punk band – Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy Ramone – formed in Forest Hills, Queens in 1974. Their runaway train performances redefined rock music in the 1970s, when disco divas and sensitive singer-songwriters ruled the charts.
Tommy Ramone, whose real name was Tom Erdelyi, died earlier this month. He was the last surviving original member of the Ramones. Tommy was the relentless drummer who drove the band’s beat on their first three albums; he was replaced by Marky Ramone in 1978.
Tommy is also remembered as the one who created and shaped the Ramones’ raw, high-volume persona. It was an image, his friends told us, that didn’t fit Tommy Ramone himself.
Tony Bongiovi, Producer
Tommy was kind of quiet. You’d never know if you met him in a restaurant or on the street that he was Tommy Ramone and he created this band. He was the driving force. He was a very high-energy guy but very mellow, easy to get along with.
The other guys in the band, that’s a different story. They would argue in the studio all the time. There were a lot of drugs with that band but not Tommy. No drugs. Nothing. I mean nothing.
As a musician, he had a style that was perfect for that band. He wasn’t like a Ginger Baker or any of those real flamboyant stylistic drummers. He was there for one reason and one reason only: to keep that beat going. That’s it. The drums were only there to create the beat to keep the sound going. They weren’t there to be a focal point; rather, they were there to be the grounding that the music was built on.
Tommy took charge. The band was him. He oversaw the press and the look and the image. He interacted with the manager, he interacted with the record company and he had an image of that band that he wanted to project and he stuck by that. That was his job. He was very confident in what he was doing. He knew he had something there. Nobody knew how big it was going to be but there was definitely something different going on.
Tommy was the Ramones. He was in charge. It’s like Brian Wilson was the Beach Boys. Tommy was in charge of the band.
The Power Station recording studio’s founder Tony Bongiovi and Tommy Ramone co-produced 1977’s “The Ramones Leave Home” and “Rocket to Russia.”
Tom Wynbrandt, The Miamis
My brother James and I had a place on 12th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. We had a large apartment and we were centrally located, it was right on the trade route that connected Max’s and CBGB’s. So it was an easy hangout.
I remember Tommy and Dee Dee would come over and just hang out because there were always people over playing music and whatever. You’d listen to records, you’d shoot the shit, you’d talk about who’s playing where, then it’d be time to do something else.
They liked the Miamis a lot and they said they were starting a band and it would be called the Ramones. They knew that Paul McCartney used the pseudonym Paul Ramon when he checked into hotels, so that was the starting off point. But they also used it among themselves as sort of a pejorative: “You Ramone!” “Stop being such a Ramone!” And so they called the band the Ramones.
We played on bills with them and they opened for us and we opened for them. They were always hating each other. Joey was just this incredible geek who seemed really shy, this tall beanpole of a kid with really long hair and sunglasses.
Johnny was very driven with his drill sergeant mentality abetted by a streak of meanness. He was always pissed off, it seemed, always itching for a fight.
And Dee Dee was Dee Dee, he could be completely charming and he could be a complete pain in the ass for no reason. He could just be a baby: “I’m not doing it.” “Why?” “Because.” “What do you mean?” “I’m just not.”
But Tommy was always the savviest and the most normal. Tommy was a smart kid, he was introspective, or shy, let’s put it that way. He was better socialized. [Laughs] You could take him out in public.
After three albums, he wanted to do other stuff. He didn’t need to be a Ramone for the rest of his life.
Guitarist Tom Wynbrandt was co-founder of The Miamis, an underground rock band called too punk for the pop market and too pop for punk.
Craig Leon, producer
Tommy was a conceptual artist. His concept piece was the Ramones. Tommy had the light bulb go off in his head about what he could do with the band when he heard some of the humorous songs that they were writing. And he put it together.
Tommy was the manager and the guiding light of the band. The first time they played I thought they were absolutely hysterical. Humor and rock really do go together and it was good humor, it wasn’t trashy. It was everything that rock wasn’t at the time.
Rock ‘n’ roll was on a deteriorating course where it was getting decadent. People were spending 14 weeks recording a bass drum sound and I’m not exaggerating. The Ramones were exactly the opposite of all these indulgent things. They came along and just made this big old noise and it was over in the amount of time it would take Steely Dan to tune up. They struck me as being something radical and different.
Tommy thought the band had commercial potential. They thought they were going to be as big as the Bay City Rollers. That album that just went gold, they thought that would be six weeks after release, not 38 years (laughs). I’m laughing about it but I’m the guy who brought them into the label and said they should sign these guys. I did not think they would be as big as the Bay City Rollers. But Tommy actually did. He was serious.
A few years ago Tommy and I met up again at a club a couple of doors up from where CBGB used to be called Exile on Bowery. People from the old bands hung out there. Tommy lived in upstate New York, he didn’t live in the city at that time. We met and we just kind of sat there and enjoyed each other’s company. We didn’t say very much but it was a sense of accomplishment that we were still here after all these years. It’s so sad for me to know that, well, one of us at the moment isn’t.
Craig Leon produced the 1976 debut album “Ramones.”
Correction The original version of this post misstated that Craig Leon produced the album “Leave Home.”