by Wade Millward
Marky Ramone Keeps Ramone's Music Alive
Ramone, a Rock n Roll Hall of Fame member best known for his 15 years drumming with punk rock legends, The Ramones, has a pretty tight schedule nowadays. A documentary on his entire life and career is in production, and when he’s not DJing for his Sirius/XM Satellite Radio show, he is touring worldwide with his new band, promoting his new Drum Scholarship, promoting his clothing line started with longtime friend Tommy Hilfiger, and even marketing his own brand of pasta sauce.
Yet Ramone’s numerous projects, bands, and punk lifestyle have not hindered his whimsical and personable nature as he offers some small talk before the interview.
“Oh yeah, it’s a rainy day here in New York; I’m just taking care of some stuff before I go host the radio show,” says Ramone. “You say you’re calling me from Florida? Oh, Florida would be a welcome. You know, my grandpa lived in St. Petersburg; do you live anywhere near there? I remember going there as a kid.”
The “radio show” Ramone refers to is his Sirius XM Satellite Radio show, Marky Ramone's Punk Rock Blitzkrieg. The show, which focuses on playing classic and contemporary punk, airs Tuesday nights on Faction. As Ramone approaches his sixth year as DJ of the satellite radio program, there has been speculation as to whether he will go on to host for another year.
“I have DJed for five years already, and they keep asking me to continue. I do other things though; I have to allot my time. I can’t just be a DJ,” says Ramone. “But if they asked me to do a sixth year, I’d have to really think about it. I play punk to show the genre because other stations don’t. Faction is the number two station on Sirius, and there still are a lot of punk stations.”
Much of Ramone’s time now is focused on the newly created Marky Ramone Drum Scholarship. The scholarship will be funded by an all-star concert organized by Ramone, and it will be held on October 8 at the Music Institute Concert Hall. Ramone voices his excitement at promoting the scholarship, which was created by the Music Institute in Hollywood.
“I was asked do it by the former writer-producer for Dust, Kenny Kerner. I thought it sounded like a good suggestion, so I would visit him in California. My friend Nancy suggested it,” says Ramone. “I thought it was a great idea; I certainly could’ve used it when I was young. For all these kids in college, there are no music scholarships to help them out. So if it’s done right then it’s worth it; I mean there are already so many science and math scholarships out there.”
Ramone reveals some details about how the concert will be organized.
“At the show I’m going to be doing Ramones classics with my band and some special guests who know and love Ramones songs. I’ll give a heartfelt speech of course, ’cause this scholarship means a lot to me,” says Ramone. “When I was a kid I had nothing, and I just started playing drums and hanging out at CBGB. I got lucky and worked very hard, but without that type of work you need education to rely on. I feel fortunate to be asked to help with the scholarship.”
Ramone is definitely prepared musically for his scholarship concert, as he has been extensively touring with his latest punk rock group, Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg.
The group acts as a Ramones tribute band, and features former Misfits frontman Michale Graves on vocals, along with guitarist Alex Kane, bassist Clare B, and of course Ramone himself on drums. They will be touring Europe in September before heading to South America in October.
“We’ve been playing everywhere: New York, Spain, South America, LA. Spain actually wants us to come back,” says Ramone. “I’m personally not into touring every day, but if we get a gig I’ll play it, because I enjoy playing.”
Ramone recognizes the significance of Marky Ramones Blitzkrieg to fans of classic punk.
“I entertain requests to play Ramones songs to the new generation, which I think is great,” says Ramone. “You know, unfortunately there will be no reunions since Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee are all dead now, so this is the next best thing. I am proud of the band, I put together the band myself to ensure the quality of our performance is good.”
When asked if there was anyone he had a desire to collaborate with next, Ramone affirms his satisfaction with his current state of affairs.
“At this point, I enjoy playing Ramones songs; they’re just too good not to be played. If something came along and it wasn’t too burdensome, I’d think about doing it,” says Ramone. “But I enjoy this; it’s like playing in a brand new band. I just wanted to play the old songs and have fun, and sometimes you get what you wish for. And I really think Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey would be happy with the group, since it keeps their legacy alive too.”
Outside of Blitzkrieg, Ramone will be getting some significant coverage as the subject of an upcoming documentary, titled The Job that Ate My Brain. The documentary will include Ramone’s early days at the notorious music venue CBGB as well as his time writing punk history will such notable groups as Wayne County & the Backstreet Boys, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, and of course The Ramones.
“Well, the book is written. And then a guy approached me from a group who sells movie rights and I agreed to the project,” says Ramone. “I think it would make a great film since there’s a lot of content. I was part of the CBGB crowd and I auditioned for The Dolls, I played for the Ramones for 15 years, we played 1700 shows and recorded 10 studio albums with them, I spent time with Phil Specter. There is a lot the camera can focus on.”
Ramone gives some highlights from his exciting and lengthy career in making in being an active part of music history.
“I liked Richard Hell. He and Tom Verlaine, they discovered CBGB. Well, not discovered, but without them it wouldn’t have catered to punk rock. Hilly [Kristal] agreed to allow punk to play at the club and I enjoyed doing Blank Generation with the Voidoids,” says Marky. “I also like when we toured with The Clash in Europe. Then in the Fall of ’77, Dee Dee Ramone alluded to me that Tommy was going to stop playing to produce. I knew them before this since they came to see Dust, so I knew Dee Dee well.”
Ramone also mentions his own dabbling in amateur film.
“I didn’t do anything for the documentary, they didn’t film me. I just made the movie deal,” says Ramone. “But I ran around for 10 years with cameras making home movies. I put out the Raw DVD [a collection of home video footage shot by Ramone], which, if it means anything, was the first gold DVD for The Ramones in their entire career. I am a camera buff, but a real movie is a lot more; there are other things that go with it.”
Punk Rock Spaghetti Sauce
“It may sound corny, but I’ve got this pasta sauce coming out called ‘Marky Ramone’s Brooklyn’s Own Pasta Sauce’,” says Ramone.
Being able to market his own brand of sauce holds great sentimental value for the Punk Rocker.
“You see, I made it with my grandpa; he was a chef at 21 Club. I watched him as a little boy, and then when I got older, I lived alone at 18, and so pasta sauce and spaghetti was the cheapest thing around,” says Ramone. “I got really good at making it, and so I am excited I get to share my recipe with others. And I got to do the artwork on bottle, and it’s really cool looking. Soon it will be sold in stores; right now you can only get it online and in restaurants.”
Despite the successful developments, Ramone has had his share of detractors for this latest project.
“People I knew were like, ‘are you kidding me, you’re a DJ not a chef!’ And so I said, ‘why not?’ says Marky. “It always thrilled me to see him, my grandpa, cook. I had always wanted to do it, and so I went for the opportunity. It was new and I like doing new things. I tested the waters first, and people really liked it, so I’m saying ‘hey, if you want more you can have it!’”
Ramone says that he will be donating the earnings from his sauce.
“The charity I am going to send it to will be one that goes to the soldiers coming home from Iraq who need it. And some will go to the families who’ve lost husbands and wives in the war,” says Ramone. “I’ve always said, you don’t have to support the war, but you should always, always, support the troops.”
Despite his busy schedule and submergence in Ramones mythology, Ramone still has his ear on the always evolving punk music scene.
“I think it’s great. There are a lot of great new bands, and on my radio show I play a little new stuff, some classic stuff, some old school stuff. I mix it up,” says Ramone. “And a lot of these new bands are great: the Gallows, from London, and The Riverboat Gamblers are a couple examples. Rancid and Green Day are still out there and still good, and Green Day just had that musical on Broadway.”
Marky makes further comments on American Idiot, the Broadway musical based on Green Day’s 2004 album of the same name. The Tony-winning show has caused a stir in the punk community, but Raome disagrees with these notions.
“I think that is cool because it presents the punk genre to new people and a new audience,” says Ramone. “Some out there are saying it’s a cop out, but I don’t agree. Parents are bringing kids to the musical, and so this bridges the generation gap.If I hear something not representing the punk genre I know it immediately, I can hear it musically. It’s hard to say someone isn’t genuine, since you could call someone hard rock, metal, punk, heavy metal. Anything can be applied to any band, and there are so many categories.”
Marky compares Green Day’s efforts to spread punk rock to the masses with his own.
“That’s what I do with my band. I’ll look out into the crowd and see that fathers are with their sons, since they are too young to be at the show alone! You know, these kids need escorts, which is fine, that happened to me when I was playing with my first band Dust,” shares Ramone. “I couldn’t go into a club to play without a parent 'cause they were serving alcohol. I was in tenth grade at the time, and a lot of places sold alcohol and they could lose their liquor license if it was found out that there were minors present. You know, it’s the same way today.”
Ramone also shares his thoughts on the changing state of the music industry as a whole.
“It’s new; I mean there are so many new things. There’s downloading and iTunes, people are buying songs now instead of the whole album, which makes sense because albums usually feature these filler songs to take up space and they’re not usually very good,” says Ramone. “But you can buy the whole album too. Sure it cuts out the stores and retailers, but you can’t stop change. People thought it was crazy when the 8-track came out, but then there was the cassette, and then CDs. You just can’t stop progress. The only way you could stop it is to stop downloading and go back to vinyl, but c’mon, who’s going to do that?”
Ramone gave some pivotal advice to any and all fledgling music groups trying to break out.
“Bands need to find new ways to garner attention and produce their music to a mass audience which I hope they can do,” says Ramone. “They definitely deserve it.”