The Ramones were a hugely influential punk rock band, formed in Forest Hills, Queens, New York in January 1974. They played their first concert at the Performance Studio in New York on March 30, 1974. They led the New York punk movement and are often credited with forming the musical foundation of punk (see protopunk).
The original band members all adopted Ramone as a surname although they were not actually brothers: Joey Ramone (May 19, 1951 - April 15, 2001) (real name Jeffrey Hyman) (vocals),
Johnny Ramone (October 8, 1948 - September 15, 2004) (real name John Cummings) (guitar),
Dee Dee Ramone (September 18, 1952 - June 5, 2002) (real name Douglas Glenn Colvin) (bass guitar) (1974-1989),
Tommy Ramone (January 29, 1952) (real name Thomas Erdelyi) (drums) (1974-1978).
Later band members also adopted the name: Marky Ramone (July 15, 1956) (real name Marc Bell) (Later replaced Tommy and Elvis on drums) (1978-1983, 1987-1996),
Richie Ramone (August 11, 1957) (real name Richard Beau) (Later replaced Marky on drums) (1983-1987),
Elvis Ramone (November 24, 1955) (real name Clem Burke) (Later replaced Richie on drums) (1987),
C.J. Ramone (October 8, 1965) (real name Christopher John Ward) (Later replaced Dee-Dee on bass) (1989-1996),
An earlier member, Ritchie, left the band before the first recording (not related to the Richie Ramone, above). "Here lies Ritchie Ramone" can be seen on a cartoon drawing of a gravestone on the innersleeve of the 'Rocket to Russia' album
Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone) suggested the name, inspired by the fact that Paul McCartney used to call himself Paul Ramon when he was in the Silver Beatles.
The Ramones pioneered a rather repetitive sound that avoided the excellent musicianship and the artistically adventurous guitar solos that 1970s rock music had become known for. It heralded a raw, loud, fast and direct sound often reminiscent of 1950s-early 1960s rock and roll or bubblegum pop. Joey Ramone has stated the Ramones were rather taken with the Bay City Rollers' hit song "Saturday Night," and set out to imitate its catchy, sing-a-long quality.
The Ramones started with Joey Ramone on drums, Johnny Ramone on guitar and Dee Dee Ramone on bass and vocals. Tommy Ramone was then an employee of the studio, and after several times helping Joey to get some beats straight, ended up joining the band, while Joey took over the lead vocals since Dee Dee had problems singing for an (although brief) entire set while continually playing.
Their early songs were very fast and very short, most clocked in at about two minutes.
In the early '70s, many New York bands started to play in rock clubs such as the famous Max's Kansas City and CBGB (which stands for "country, bluegrass and blues" and was not originally intended to be a rock club) in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Other bands from this period include the New York Dolls, Tom Verlaine's Television, Blondie, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Patti Smith Band, Suicide, and the Talking Heads. These bands formed a musical scene of people who played very different styles of music that later were collectively called punk rock, perhaps due in part to a fanzine called Punk Magazine.
Ramones concerts at CBGB's became legendary, due in part to their brevity: Most concerts were twenty to thirty minutes long, much shorter than their contemporaries', and are often described by their witnesses as extremely fast, crude, energetic and desperate. There are some super-8 movies of these shows, present in a couple of the band's videos.
According to a bio by Australian Musicologist/Guru Glenn A. Baker, they did play longer shows by simply playing their entire set and then repeating it. Apparently they used to be booed off stage when they played outside New York City. One reviewer (unknown) described them as taking "three chord rock back to its one and a half chord basics". A non-fan friend-of-a-friend who went to a concert commented later that she "couldn't understand why they kept calling out 1-2-3-4 in the middle of the songs"!
After playing for several nights at CBGB, they were signed by Sire Records in autumn 1975 and recorded their debut album Ramones for about $6000.
They appeared at The Roundhouse in London, England, on July 4, 1976, second billed to the Beatlesque Flamin' Groovies. Their appearance galvanized the UK punk rock scene, inspiring future punk stars including members of The Clash and The Damned. Another Ramones gig in England became their first live album, It's Alive, considered by most critics one of the best live albums ever.
After two years on the road and the Top 50 hit album Rocket to Russia, an exhausted Tommy Ramone was replaced on drums by Marc Bell, who became Marky Ramone. Tommy left the band to go back to his studio work, which he preferred to the hard life of touring. In an interview from "End Of The Century", a documentary on The Ramones, Tommy said that he felt like the band wasn't accepting him as a friend. In the same movie, other band members were interviewed on this subject and they said that they were in a way jealous of Tommy because he was more mature. An example one of the band members gave was that Tommy would make his own breakfast in the morning. From what was said by the band members, it was just small differences like this that they had with Tommy. Tommy worked with Marky to ensure that his drumming was appropriate for the Ramones style; he also produced the Ramones fourth studio album Road to Ruin and their eighth Too Tough To Die. It was the lineup with Marky which played a central role in the 1979 film Rock 'n' Roll High School, a film that Roger Corman originally called Disco High until writer/director Allan Arkush heard the Ramones.
After Rock 'n' Roll High School, legendary producer Phil Spector became interested in the band and produced End of the Century. During the recording sessions for End of the Century, Spector reportedly pulled a gun on Dee Dee Ramone. The band would later consider this one of the 'not-so-great' albums they had distributed, crediting tensions between the producer and the artists. Johnny recalls that he was disappointed with the outcome of End of the Century.
Marky Ramone was fired because of his alcoholism and eventually replaced by Richard Beau (under the name Richie Ramone). They recorded several albums with Richie Ramone who was then replaced by Clem Burke (a.k.a. Elvis Ramone) from Blondie. Burke lasted two days in the band before Marky came back in 1987.
Dee Dee Ramone left after 1989's Brain Drain, and was replaced by Christopher John Ward (C.J. Ramone), a Ramones fan that gave a younger rock feeling to the Ramones' work. However, Dee Dee did continue contributing to the music of The Ramones by lending his lyrics for use in later songs. Dee Dee left to pursue a solo career as a rapper, adopting the name Dee Dee King.
After a spot in the 1996 Lollapalooza festival, The Ramones disbanded, reportedly due to ongoing personality clashes and frustration at not achieving success commensurate with their influence. Joey and Johnny didn't speak to each other for years. Joey was also reported to have drug problems, and later admitted drinking heavily for much of the '80s. In his last years he became an avid follower of Wall Street.
Their last show is recorded on video and CD and featured several special guests such as Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam.
The Ramones have proven hugely influential, mostly on later musicians, but in other fields as well: In 1997 four species of trilobites were named after members of the band: Mackenziurus johnnyi, Mackenziurus joeyi, Mackenziurus deedeei, and Mackenziurus ceejayi.
While the origins of punk rock are the subject of debate, The Ramones are widely credited with popularizing the form. Several people often state that, when they first heard the Ramones, they felt that they could do the same, deciding to play instruments and form their own groups. The Ramones' first British tour is widely credited with inspiring the first wave of English punk groups: The Buzzcocks, The Damned, The Clash, the Sex Pistols and others.
Some bands are so taken by The Ramones as a whole that a subgenre dubbed "Ramones-punk" has appeared. These bands often dress up like the Ramones, and play instruments like theirs. The music is generally a little faster and heavier on the guitars with (often) tongue in cheek lyrics about girls and similar fare. Notable bands include Screeching Weasel and The Queers, both of whom recorded entire Ramones cover albums. However, many Ramones cover bands are flawed in the same respect: they sound better than the actual Ramones.
Longtime Ramones fan Henry Rollins appeared at a Ramones Thirtieth Anniversary Tribute concert September 12, 2004. The event was at Los Angeles' Avalon and hosted by Rob Zombie. The performers demonstrate the breadth of the Ramones' influence: The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dickies and X played great sets and then CJ Ramone, Marky Ramone and long time producer Daniel Ray took the stage and played while different guitar and vocal teams came out and did Ramones songs.