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The Ramones

Article from One Two Testing, May 1985

Gabba Gabba meets MIDI MIDI

How did the Ramones ever discover synthesisers? What has Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics to do with it? Where does Jon Lewin get the ornaments for his mantlepiece? Dee Dee Ramone has some of the answers.

I had to scrabble on the floor for it at the end of the gig, but it was worth it — only a small triangular piece of white plastic, and not even the one he'd been playing with, but it did have 'Ramones' stamped on it, and I'd got it. Seven years later I have still got it; I keep my Ramones' plectrum on the mantelpiece, right next to the one Bo Diddley gave me.

The Ramones provided some of the most exciting and energetic music of my late teens, and I feel sorry for anyone who didn't grow up with them. Their raw power, matched to that perfect pop sensibility of both tunes and image, made them direct heirs to Little Richard and early Presley.

Now, in 1985, after something of a lean period which saw the group without a record deal, the Ramones are back. The new LP, 'Too Tough To Die', sounds as vital as their early work, and comes as a welcome kick to the saggy bottom of such bedsit troubadours as the Smiths and 'Everything But The Girl'. While in some ways the Ramones have returned to first principles with the new LP by working with original drummer/producer Tommy Erdelyi (pronounced 'erd-leeleye'), they are also breaking new ground by using Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics to produce the single 'Howling At The Moon', the first-ever Ramones song to feature prominent synthesisers.

"Dave originally wanted to do it with a whole orchestra, violins and everything, but our manager drew the line at that. But there is a tape of Johnny playing 'Durango 95' with some violins. They did it for a joke — Johnny's plugged into these two Marshalls, and there's one of those drum machines like Dave Stewart has, and the waddyacallit, violins and cellos play this gypsy break. We loved it."

Meeting your heroes is nearly always a disappointment, but not so Dee Dee Ramone, who proved to be both interesting and funny — not at all the cartoon moron the Ramones are often made out to be. While they may not have the academic qualifications of Queen (snigger), they're certainly not the pinheads I was lead to expect.

"Our manager manages the Eurythmics too. He was driving around with Dave Stewart, and he played him a demo of 'Howling At The Moon', and Dave liked it. He's real smart, and knows his way round a studio. He brought the synths in."

Have you ever used synthesisers before?

"No... I don't know anything about synthesisers, but we're really into keyboards. We're all writing on keyboards — it's like a fad in the band — we all took piano lessons, and everybody has a couple of those little Casios, the VT65. We don't want to use the synthesiser sound, but we wanna play rock 'n' roll music, so we might put some of those organs on our new songs to sound like Chris Montez or those kinda groups — 1910 Fruitgum Company, and the Mysterians...

"Joey just wrote a song like a cross between Ricky Nelson and Chris Montez; he plays with both hands, and he knows all the chords."

How do you go about writing and recording your songs?

"We all write together; we demo, like, 30 songs for an album, then throw the rest away. We used to record right there in the rehearsal studio, but now Joey and Ritchie bought these Fostex home recording units. And sometimes I work with Joey's brother Mitchell at home, he has a Fostex too. Joey, Ritchie and I wrote a couple real nasty songs with those machines — technopunk!"

How do you work in the studio?

"We play live. Except for 'Howling At The Moon' — we did that like a disco record: first we did a drum track with the drum machine, then keyboards and bass... that was done the way Dave Stewart works, he took over. The song wouldn't have been the same without his input."

Has your approach to recording changed over the last ten years?

"NO." Dee Dee was most emphatic. "We went back to our old studio, and our old producers. In the middle there, we did soften some of the music trying to get a hit single — we were fighting for our lives."

What was it like working with Tommy after all this time?

"Well, we wanted to work with him for a long time, but he had a nervous breakdown and was in a mental institution. He'd just got out of the institution, and his doctors thought it would be good therapy for him to work with the band again. But we knew he wasn't crazy, even when they put him away — we knew he was a very good producer."

He's co-credited as writing one of the songs; did he take over from Ritchie on drums for that?

"He didn't really write it. We just gave him a credit so he could make some money — we felt sorry for him! Well, he is our friend, and he was our first drummer. Y'know, he didn't quit because of bad fighting, he just had that nervous breakdown. Now he's better."

Dee Dee's New York drawl took on a sing-song tone as he apologised for his friend. I pressed him on the production of the LP.

"Well, on the last album, 'Subterranean Jungle', we were so paranoid we made them not produce us. We left everything off, for a raw sound.

"But now, we really worked on it ourselves. We messed up a little bit on 'Subterranean Jungle' — it wasn't that good... but how many great albums can you make? Like, our first three LPs are masterpieces, and I think this one is real good. We got hard again, regained our insight into what we were doing. We were conscious of making an album for Ramones' fans, not trying to get a hit."

You've been working with other musicians on 'Too Tough To Die'. Did I detect a Walter Lure (Johnny Thunders' old sidekick) guitar solo on 'Chasing The Night'? And what's Jerry Harrison's (Talking Heads) role on the record?

"Oh yeah — he played one note on one song. He's a friend, and we liked to give Jerry the opportunity of playing with a good band every once in a while!"

Do you take much of an interest in all this technical stuff I'm asking you about?

"Yeah, sure. We always use Fender basses, and Mosrite guitars. They're kinda hard to find, the Mosrites, as they only made about 200 of them. We've got about ten, but they're getting rarer. And we use Marshalls for the guitar, and Ampegs for bass, because the Marshalls aren't sturdy enough for bass. And Ritchie uses Tama drums — he had a kit ripped off in LA, so he's just bought a new one.

"We've had the same soundcrew for about ten years now; they've got their own band, they know all our songs, so they do soundchecks for us! It's like a big happy family — everybody's older now, has children. We have great picnics in the Summer..."

Part of the Ramones' appeal for many is their immutability: their gigs and records have a constant and unchanging appeal, a promise that always (for me) delivers. So is it an anathema to talk of progression for the Ramones? Quo vadis. Dee Dee?

"Well... I don't know what's gonna happen now. We made such a serious gloomy LP — like, we're predicting the end of the world in a few years — we're gonna make a happier record next time. I'm in the mood for happy cheerful songs now; I feel pretty happy and jolly — I been writing some love songs."

I noted the Vera/Dee Dee tattoo on his arm and remembered the dedication to Vera Ramone' on the LP.

"As for gigging — I like to play, but I feel we're being taken for granted. Maybe we should only play 20 times a year. Oh yeah — in my spare time, I'm taking dry cleaning lessons; when I retire, I'm gonna open up a dry cleaners."

I saw them gig later that day, playing faster and more magnificently than ever. Age cannot wither them, nor custom stale their infinite lack of variety. I don't care if they are the Status Quo of my generation, they're the only group who can still make me fight for a plectrum (I didn't get it this time). Epic.

More with this artist

Previous Article in this issue

Vesta Fire

Next article in this issue

MIDI Goes to Hollywood

Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - May 1985

Donated by: Colin Potter


The Ramones



Interview by Jon Lewin

Previous article in this issue:

> Vesta Fire

Next article in this issue:

> MIDI Goes to Hollywood

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