Today in Rock: Remembering Johnny Ramone

Thursday, September 15: 10 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
(l-r) Johnny Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone

With his trademark stance – head down, eyes focused, legs shoulder-width apart, right arm furiously strumming a low-slung Mosrite guitar – Johnny Ramone became a punk icon. He was the ultimate guitar antihero, shying from gratuitous solos and obscure voicings, preferring deliberate playing over the more familiar guitar histrionics of the late-1970s. Torn jeans, T-shirt and black leather jacket were staples of a look that became his understated hallmarks, a far cry from the flamboyant stage outfits that predominated popular music. His rapid-fire, down-stroked barre chords fostered a style that owed little in the way of influence to any other musician or group. For decades, his "buzzsaw" technique was the blaring force behind the Ramones' sound, spurring songs such as “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Glad to See You Go,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach,” “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” and “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” On September 15, 2004, Johnny Ramone passed away after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer. He was 55.

Born and raised in New York City, Johnny Ramone found kindred spirits in bassist Dee Dee Ramone, singer Joey Ramone and drummer Tommy Ramone. The brash quartet hailing from Queens ignited the punk-rock movement in 1976 with their eponymous debut (pictured, left). Their short, combustible songs drew from the worlds of comic books, horror films, girl groups and garage rock. The band mixed humor and horror in equal measure and gave their urbanized fans a way to purge all the pent-up energy that comes from living in a concrete jungle. "The Ramones are American originals by being almost completely unoriginal at the same time," says Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Curatorial Director Howard Kramer. "They were an incredible amalgam of junk culture - B-movies, go-go boots, Phil Spector records, the MC5, The Stooges, the New York Dolls and everything that was not stadium rock and roll. They made everything short, fast and loud – and that was actually a remarkable accomplishment." From their NYC epicenter, the band connected with a youthful underground that spanned the globe, as the first four Ramones albums – Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977), Rocket to Russia (1977), Road to Ruin (1978) - incited a revolution in music and lifestyle. They launched the grassroots punk-rock movement in New York and London – the Clash were among those who paid heed when the Ramones first toured Britain – and helped downsize rock from arenas and stadiums to the more sensibly scaled environs of clubs and neighborhood holes-in-the-wall. Bands like Green Day, Offpsring and Blink-182 are inconceivable without the Ramones and British speed-metal luminaries Motorhead paid them tribute with a song, entitled “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.,” that the Ramones themselves later recorded.

The Ramones spent much of their time on the road, performing nearly 2,300 concerts – roughly as many as the Grateful Dead, as ironic as that may seem - between their formation in 1974 and final show in Los Angeles on August 6, 1996. Joining Johnny Ramone on most those concerts was his Mosrite Ventures II guitar. "This was his number one, go-to instrument from 1979 to basically the end of the Ramones career."

WATCH: In this All Access video, Kramer talks more about Johnny Ramone and the guitar he used to help define the Ramones' sound.


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