Though relegated to being a cult band during their time together on this Earth, few bands can claim to have had as great an influence on rock n’ roll music as Forest Hills finest, the Ramones. Their 1976 debut album effectively launched the punk rock explosion, both in their native New York City and in the U.K., where their distorted, three-chord buzzsaw anthems inspired first wave English punkers like The Clash and Damned. Joining in time for the band’s monumental fourth album Road to Ruin, drummer Marky Ramone was there for the band’s heyday and was the band’s longest serving drummer, after having played with Brooklyn proto-metal band Dust and seminal CBGB’s mainstays Richard Hell and The Voidoids. His new autobiography Punk Rock Blitzkrieg chronicles a life in music, from being a teenage rock n’ roll fan in the ‘60s to touring the world with brothers Ramone. It’s an essential read for fans of rock in its purest essence and Marky talked to his about his motivations for the book, the Ramones worldwide legacy and his future plans.
VH1: What made you want to write an autobiography?
Marky Ramone: Good question. I read all the other books and a lot of them were definitely over exaggerated. Some of the people weren’t even around the inner circle. Joey’s book, the author wasn’t there. I think he was a roadie for six months when the band started out before Johnny (Ramone, guitarist) fired him. Johnny’s book, unfortunately he couldn’t complete because he was too ill. His wife Linda completed it. (Ramones road manager) Monty Melnick’s book is very good. There’s a lot of quotes and people I’ve never heard of who had nothing to do with the Ramones but had opinions and a critique of what they thought of the band.
So here I am; I was in the band 15 years, doing 17,000 shows, 9 studio albums. The book is extremely legitimate, informative and thick. It has everything; my audition for the New York Dolls, playing with Wayne County and Richard Hell, touring with The Clash, the making of the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, how I grew up, the usual thing. My father told me something, he said “You have to live with it.” Everything in there is the truth.
You talk about your first band Dust, whose records were reissued recently. There seems to be a lot of interest these days in those more obscure early hard rock and metal bands.
We were one of the first heavy metal bands in America by far. In 1970 when Black Sabbath hit the shores, that’s when metal was solidified but I can count on my fingers the American bands who had heavy metal elements to their music; Blue Cheer, Mountain, Sir Lord Baltimore and Grand Funk Railroad. Dust was a real metal band. England was a year ahead of us, they always had the best musicians, but what’s funny is all that material for the first Dust album was written before the first Black Sabbath album even came out.
We were too young to really hit it heavy and were naïve about the management. We had to finish high school. My father wanted that diploma on the wall. A lot of the places we did play served alcohol, and at the time you had to be 21 to drink, so we always had to have a parent or tour manager with us. It was hard in America to pair us with other bands though for some reason we got really huge in the Midwest. We did two albums and I was often told, if we had hung in and done a third album, we could have gone over the top, but who knows. My guitar player Richie Wise ended up producing the first two Kiss albums and the bassist Kenny Aaronson became an in-demand session bass player. It worked out for everybody. I ended up doing an album for a band produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, who did the early Rolling Stones records, and then started hanging out in New York City at (early punk rock haunts) CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.I never knew until I read the book that you were almost the drummer in The New York Dolls.
Well, we all knew each other. They used to come see Dust play. Me and (Dolls guitarist) Johnny Thunders had the same birthday and would celebrate it together if we could when he was around. And me and Jerry (Nolan, Dolls drummer) knew each other. We were the only two at the audition. Their original drummer died in London so they had to press on. Jerry got the job. I was coming off of Dust and doing different time signatures, 5 stroke rolls, I was showing off, which wasn’t called for in their music. He just played a straight beat and that’s why he got it because that’s all they needed.
It’s interesting, because I think that style of playing did fit in when you were with Richard Hell and The Voidoids.
Yeah, that was a little more jazz punk. “Blank Generation” is really a swing song. There were songs with stops and starts, different time changes, different accents. It was a lot of fun to do that album, Blank Generation. And then Malcolm McClaren took Richard Hell’s look and brought it back to London and then you had the Sex Pistols.
Was there ever a chance of being a second Voidoid’s album with that original line up?
No I don’t think so. After I got back from The Clash tour that we did in England in 1977 Richard was a little turned off. He had a drug problem, which is known, and I think it hampered his career. He came home and it was a lot easier to get what he needed to feed his habit. I had to leave. At one point I threw a bunch of bills on his table and said, you’re the leader of the band, pay for these. We had just been on the road and I got the big “I can’t do it” story, so I said, okay, bye, and that was it. And then (founding Ramones drummer) Tommy told (Ramones bassist) Dee Dee “If you see Mark at CBGB’s, tell him I’m leaving the band and I suggest you tell Mark to join the group.” Dee Dee asked me so I said, let’s get together and see if it works out. We went to a rehearsal studio with Johnny and it worked out. We rehearsed four songs; “I Don’t Care,” “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Then they gave me the demo cassette of Road to Ruin (the fourth Ramones album and Marky’s first with the band) and the live concerts they were doing at the time, so I had to learn about forty songs in two weeks.
Was it hard to adapt your drumming style?
Well, I had to come down a little. (Laughs) Tommy for what he did, he did very well. He did what was needed in the song. That’s what every drummer should remember; play with what the song needs. But I always liked jazz drummers. I always liked Ringo Starr because he always used his wrists and fingers. Tommy was just going along with Johnny and Dee Dee’s down strokes, which is the way punk should be played. I just followed that and instead of using my whole arm I just use my wrist and fingers like a jazz drummer.
Of the Ramones records you played on, which is your favorite?
I liked Road to Ruin, Mondo Bizzaro, Pleasant Dreams and the Phil Spector album (End of ohe Century). I disliked Subterranean Jungle. I didn’t like the producer. He was going for a drum machine sound, which in ‘82 was popular with New Wave, which was really just a watered down name version of punk. It was more radio friendly. The drums don’t match the band. So that’s one album I didn’t like, but there’s good stuff on every album.You talk in the book about trying to have a hit on those early records but at a certain point it seems like the Ramones made peace with the fact that they were playing for the history books.
When we did an album we never really thought of writing a hit. We just wanted to write a good song. After End of the Century, if (producer) Phil Spector couldn’t get anything out of the bag, who could? So we didn’t rely on singles or this or that. We just continued to tour and play 115 shows a year. And it went on and on, and we garnered more fans, all over the world, not just in England or America. You know, “I Wanna Be Sedated” should have been a hit, but obviously the references and connotations are about drugs and alcohol. “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio” was a great song but it was a dis to DJs so what DJ is going to play that? There were a lot of reasons these songs weren’t top 10 hits. “Baby, I Love You” was our biggest single, which written by Phil Spector and two other people (Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich). But obviously now, the albums and songs are still selling like crazy and we’re in commercials. Bands are always doing Ramones covers, Metallica, Marilyn Manson, Green Day, you name it. So I’m very grateful for it. When I spoke to Tommy before he passed away, he was grateful to see what was going on too.
What are your future plans?
I’m going to do a book tour in the United States and then go to England and then do shows with the group to keep the music alive. I feel the music is too good not to be played. And I just signed up for another year for the Punk Rock Blitzkrieg radio show on Sirius XM, which I’ve had for 10 years. And besides my Marinara sauce, Marky Ramone’s Brooklyn’s Own Pasta Sauce, I’ve got my own beer coming out and my own hot sauce and a few other things. I’m growing a food company and the profits from each product go to charity. Profits from the sauce goes to Autism Speaks. Profits from the beer goes to Musicians without Borders, and for the hot sauce I want to give part of the proceeds to Iraqi veterans that have come home without limbs. You know when I see that, it just kills me. So I want to give away whatever I can from each food product to some kind of charity.