Richie Ramone is Back: An Interview
with Michael Hendrick
In rock and roll there is a rarefied pantheon populated by a select number of bands who make us feel, who speak to Everyman, who splay the grizzled guts of the emotional, romantic, workaday routines of our lives into powerful melodies which touch and motivate us. Many bands exist in the industry of pop music but only a dozen or so speak to us directly, powerfully. These storytellers find themselves on a pedestal because they connect to our realities at the most basic, primordial level. The Coasters, the Crickets, the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and, of course, the Ramones come to mind first. There have been individuals, like Chuck Berry, Dion, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits who have done this, too. Bands like the aforementioned not only speak to us all but are known in the most seemingly remote parts of the world. Speaking for us all leads to deification and hero status. They influence younger musicians and, in so doing, influence our future, and light new recollections on the ends of the dying embers of old memories.
The Ramones may be the last of these supergroups to have emerged. Certainly, since the punk invasion that started in the 1970s Lower East Side of New York, many new groups have popped up, but few speak as well to our inner child. There have been more cerebral, more political, more ‘artsy’ bands, like REM, Nirvana, and the Patti Smith Group, to cite just a few. There are plenty of new faces in the melee of the indie music explosion, but not many of these are as recognizable or whose name alone can start a panic in countries where English is rarely spoken.
The Ramones had (and still have) this power. It is hard to imagine a world without the Ramones; just as difficult to imagine is the hard truth that their principal founders and faces – Joey and Dee Dee and Johnny – are dead and gone. Oddly, the drummers still survive. The pumping lifeblood of the trademark Ramones sound, part hard rock, part fifties tribute, part head-banging fun, drums drove the action. Other powerful groups of the era, like the Clash, the Dictators, the Damned – while all spurred to action by The Ramones – could not keep up the pace.
In a time when might was right and fast was class, the Ramones were hardest and fastest of them all. In the documentary film on the Ramones, “End of the Century,” the late Joe Strummer, of the all-powerful Clash, speaks of not being able to keep up with the boys from New York. Of all the Ramones drummers, Richard Reinhardt, aka Richie Ramone, was the fastest. This makes Richie Ramone the fastest drummer of all the original punk bands, which is no mean feat.
The Ramones were punks, not Beats. Their lyrics and lifestyles, however, were rife with Beat sensibilities and situations; the never-ending road, the need to express emotion through art and the Word, the ability to influence others to get up and move!
Recently, Beatdom caught up with Richie. As he came out of rock retirement and launched his new version of the Ramones 2012 Invasion, he has been very busy and we are happy to have him on the pages you hold.
Joey was your closest mate in the Ramones. He seemed to like other punk musicians who were on the intellectual side. A lot of them hung out with the Beat writers who lived on the Lower East Side, back then. Did you ever associate or see much of the Beat writers?
No, I never got to meet them or nothing. I don’t know that much about it. I’m not the biggest reader on the planet. I just never get around to it.
Why were you closest to Joey?
He was very supportive. Nobody else really wrote any songs before me, besides them…no other drummers really did anything like what Tommy co-wrote with the band. I was writing my own material but John didn’t like me to have more than one song because it picked his pocket. He would make less, the more songs I had, so that got frustrating…but Joey was always an encouragement to sing more. I was singing a lot of stuff live with him. It was really powerful, like in 1985-87. He was fully supportive of me. He didn’t feel like, “Oh, no, don’t take attention from me,” and that sort of thing. He even encouraged me to sing. That’s why I sing one of the songs on one of the records. He told me to sing it. I said, “What are you gonna do?” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just sing it.” The song was mine…“Can’t Say Anything Nice.” I sang that song for the Ramones album.
“Can’t Say Anything Nice” is one of six songs written by Richie and released by the Ramones. The others are “Humankind,” “I Know Better Now,” “I’m Not Jesus,” “Smash You” and the ever-popular, oft-covered “Somebody Put Something In My Drink” – which got stuck in the interviewers head, incidentally, for five days after playing it on a car stereo.
When we were home, as far as Joey, he couldn’t really leave the house much without being mobbed but we would go places like bowling and do ‘normal’ stuff that he could never do on his own. We would do all that.
“End of the Century” shows you trekking all over the place at odd hours. On the road with the Ramones did not look like fun.
Traveling, when we went to Europe and stuff, we’d go for a month but other than that we’d do a lot of like… leave New York, go to Massachusetts, play, and then drive home. We would drive as far as Vermont, drive there whatever it takes, six or seven hours, do the show and then drive home and be back at six or seven in the morning. We did a lot of that with the group, as opposed to just sleeping there at night. You’d kind of sleep on the way home. You drive seven hours. Leave at noon. Get up there. Play…then just jump right back in. It’s about fourteen or fifteen hours on the road in one day. We would do that in winter with ice on the road and it was scary for the band. We always worried that we were gonna crash.
In “End of the Century,” it seemed a lot scarier in South America, where there is not much ice. We see that you are going back there this year.
In Brazil, the fans are crazy…a really good place to play.
You have been working the Gobshites, a Boston band, who mix rock and roll with traditional Celtic music. How has that worked out?
I never played live with them but we went to Ireland, to Dublin, and recorded the record there. The week we spent there was great. They are mixing and doing it up and that should be out in a few months or something like that. I played all the tracks. I’ll be doing some shows with them. I’m not a permanent band member but I will be doing some shows.
You also did some work with the Ramonas (an all-female Ramones tribute band from the UK).
I did one show with them. I went all the way to Ireland and London is only an hour’s flight away. I just said, “Ah, I’m gonna go do a show in London and I hooked up with them and did a show with them there so I could see fans in London. I hadn’t been in London for twenty years, so I did the recording, then went to London to do a show and flew home from there. I may do something else with them. They were a lot of fun and I may do a festival or two with them…you know, summer festivals in New York.
That sounds like fun! Tell us about the record you did with the Gobshites.
It’s great. It’s a mixed bag but there won’t be any electric guitar…there’s a lot of acoustic guitar, there is accordion, bass, fiddles, banjo…we actually cover “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”…a really cool version of that with lots of chanting vocals. I can’t wait to hear the final take on that. It is similar to the original, the same type of beat. They never really officially released that so I said, “Let’s cut this again,” and it came out really good. The rough tracks were really cool.
Another of the many projects you have going is an appearance on the second posthumous Joey Ramone solo album, “Ya Know?” (It is slated for release in May 2012.)
They found tracks of Joey’s…new stuff, so they just took the vocals and snipped the vocals out of it, really. Everything else was redone. It was done on four-track cassette machine and they processed the vocals and we put all our bits around it. I think there are fifteen or sixteen songs. I played on five of them. Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick played drums on two or three and some other people played on others.
In the Ramones, playing that kind of beat, with the third-sixteenth hi-hats [polyrhythmic hi-hat ostinato], it’s not half-time beat.
Yeah, no one had a right hand like I did on the hi-hat. People would just stop and stare at the hi-hats, how I could make that hand go so fast…haha…
So what do you think about being the fastest drummer of the original punk bands? Many say that the churn of drummers from the seventies into the eighties slowed the group down and you brought back the hard edge.
At that time [before joining the Ramones] I was in a band named 384. The scene was changing to groups like the Cro-Mags and speed-metal came out. All the new punks used speed metal and that’s why we started speeding things up more and more. That’s how our stuff got really fast. We just took our songs and played them faster.
The fans sure dug it but we understand the promoters didn’t?
The promoters would start to get upset because we would be short of an hour. That is how fast we were, we did 33 songs in less than an hour…haha…
What do you enjoy most, these days?
There are a lot of things going on with the Gobshites. We are doing an EP with a video and I am starting work on my own record. I rerecorded some of my songs and also some of my new material, my music.
What is it like?
I don’t stray too far away from what I do. Some of my stuff is a little but harder, a little more metal, a little more guitar soloing than the normal thing. My stuff is mainly a little darker than the Ramones. Not that fifties sound, as you can tell from the songs I wrote. There are a lot of things I will be doing this year. I will be on tour. I’ll be going to Australia…eventually. There is nothing set in stone but I was not around the scene for a while so that is what the whole ‘2012 Invasion’ is about. (Since taping this interview, gigs in South America have been booked, as well as appearances at a Johnny Thunders tribute concert and a benefit show to raise money for children with cancer.)
Before you decided to ‘invade’ and were out of the rock scene, what had you been doing?
I was doing orchestra stuff…I did “Suite for Drums and Orchestra” based on the theme from “West Side Story” with the Pasadena Pops. I orchestrated for the symphony…ten or eleven songs and made them an eighteen minute medley. It is all-around drumming and it is drum filled. It really glorified the ‘Drum God Era.’ It is a whole other side of drumming that people got to see and that they didn’t know I could do.
How was it received by the orchestra crowd?
Standing ovations! They jumped up…it was really crazy. You’re playing not so much to the punk crowd but playing to an older audience…and they loved it! It brought back the Buddy Rich/ Gene Krupa era. In the fifties, there were drum gods; in the eighties there were guitar gods. Now, all of that is gone. When they wheeled the kit on the riser wheels at the end of the show, people gasped. The funny thing about orchestra is that it is taboo to clap or anything until the piece is over. I remember the first time I did it…I wondered what was going on. They said they had never seen a response like that for the eight years that they were doing it. The people just jumped up and it was crazy.
I played a lot of outdoor events. I didn’t do many shows, only a handful of shows and the economy hit and you know orchestras are generally funded by donations so it slowed down. I am going to do it again. I am doing the rock and roll for now – but it would be a wonderful thing to do until I croak. You know what I’m saying? I really like it. It is really exciting! It’s you and your drums and they hand out the music and do one rehearsal and you go. You don’t have to deal with anything and you have ninety instruments behind you that you are driving and it is amazing. I really enjoyed that but I owe a lot to my fans right now and they are killing me to get back out on the road with my stuff. While I have the time I’m gonna do that first.
The main reason you gave for leaving the Ramones was that Johnny was being cheap and not giving a fair share of the tee shirt concession.
I have my own tee shirt line now. It has my name, not the Ramones. It says Richie Ramone.
We understand you are active in your community as an animal rights activist.
My dog passed away ten days ago. It was hard. I had to put him down. He had cancer but I still have two other min-pins, miniature pinschers. Every one was a rescue. One got stepped on so he has a limp. The other got hit by a car. The neck is a little tweaked. All rescues. That’s all I do. I spoke at City Hall (in Los Angeles) about what they do here, though…I like to get the dogs as puppies, when they are five weeks old, especially when you are dealing with mixes of pit bulls. Everything in LA has a mix of a pit bull in it. I don’t want them to be in someone else’s home for a year and they kick it around and the dog’s all fucked up, you know? Everybody…they take their kids and they go, “Let’s get a puppy!” They don’t understand the work involved…how to train the puppy. It starts shitting and pissing all over the house and they kick it and yell at it and then bring it back. The dog is psychotic by then. It’s a shame.
What did you speak about at City Hall?
Out here, what they have is…I used to go a place and you see the picture of the dog, ‘available this day.’ So I would go there. I remember once or twice, I would go there at six in the morning and they open at eight and I’m the first in line but it’s not ‘first come, first served.’ What happens is, if somebody else wants the same puppy, it goes to an auction and that’s the thing I was fighting. It’s really horrible.
So you have three or four families, people with children, and they start auctioning at $50, $60, $80…I have seen these mutts go for $300. The average family can’t pay that and the children go out crying, “Mommy, why can’t we get that dog?” It’s heartbreaking. I’m trying to get them to change this auction thing. Whoever has the most money in their pocket gets the dog. It’s bullshit. If you see a dog that’s available and you want it, pitch a tent, sit there all night and be the first one in line. Online it always said they keep the puppies for a week and it is available that day. Not many cities do this. It is usually like, “I’m the first one here. That’s the puppy I want.” You get it. It costs maybe fifty or sixty bucks for the shots. Auctioning them is heartbreaking. You see the families and they can only go to $100-150 and that’s it. It’s stupid. They go to auction in LA because they make more money. Half of these people that want the puppy won’t keep it because they have no idea of the work involved.
When I train my puppies, I am up every two hours through the night. It takes about a month with the box next to the bed. Then when you hear them walking, you get up and take them outside. It’s a lot of work for a few weeks. People don’t do that. They don’t know how to train a dog. They think it’s a toy. I don’t have children. That’s why I love dogs…because it IS a responsibility. You have to be there to take care of them. You have to feed them and all that stuff. Walk them and things like that. Without things like that in my life, I’d be totally lost…haha…The heartbreak is that they don’t last forever.
We hear you can have a cat cloned for $5000. Maybe they do it with dogs, too.
I think they can…I wouldn’t want that. Every time a dog goes, I always get another one but it always has something of the dog that passed in it…like the dog that passed before this never really ate. It wasn’t a good eater. Then I got this dog, who became the most fabulous eater and is still the same kind of dog…there’s always something in there. No, I would never clone. There are too many dogs in the shelter to begin with.
Elsewhere in this issue, Hank Williams III talks about how pit bulls have been demonized.
If you don’t own a house, you can’t even have a pit bull in LA. They won’t let you put it in an apartment. They won’t allow that breed in apartments. It really got a bad rap.
What shall we expect from you next, musically, that is?
There will be a lot on the future, the whole ‘Invasion’ is that you are gonna see a lot more of me on different records, and putting my album out…I just did something in the studio and am going to do a video with it. I’m just re-introducing myself to the world again. Then I’m gonna follow it up with a whole bunch of records because I am in this little bubble of being a Ramone and I don’t stray far from my rock and roll roots.
I write all kinds of different songs but I only perform the ones I like that are hard and stuff. I am looking to collaborate with other people and submit my other songs, which are really not for me. As an artist, I don’t only write one type of song. It could be a ballad. It could be a keyboard song…it could be for Alicia Keyes or whatever, so there is going to be more of that.
Are you working with anyone beside the Gobshites and Ramonas?
There’s a band out of Canada called the Rock and Roll Rats. I just did five songs on their EP. That should be out soon. It’s so cool. I never met them. They send me the files, then I record on them in my studio and I send them back. It gets them more attention. They can have Richie Ramone on their album and I can do it in my pajamas and sneakers…haha…It’s a wonderful, tool, Facebook…I’ve hooked up with a lot of people and gotten a lot of work from it. I make new friends every day. People can find me, you know?
You can find out more about Richie Ramone, the 2012 Invasion, and even buy one of his tee shirts at www.richieramone.com. See him when he gets to your town, it is always fun to see a legend at work!