The Ramones (Ian Dickson / Contributor / Getty Images)
On the anniversary of Joey Ramone's death, we profile the original members of seminal punk outfit The Ramones, all of whom have passed away.
Formed in 1974, The Ramones are widely acknowledged as the world’s first punk rock band, their first four albums credited with laying the blueprint for English punk rock, American hardcore and the many offshoots which would follow over the course of the next two decades and beyond. Though the band only achieved modest commercial success, they toured relentlessly for 22 years before breaking up in 1996 and were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Joey Ramone, a.k.a. Jeffry Ross Hyman, was born in 1951 in the Forest Hills section of Queens. His mother ran an art gallery and he lived with her when his parents divorced in the early sixties. He took up the drums at age 13 and by the early 70s was playing in glam influenced bands. He was also a fan of 60s era girl bands and the Phil Spector “wall of sound.” Joey was the Ramones’ original drummer, before their songs got too fast and he couldn’t keep up.
He switched to vocals and despite having no formal voice training, became arguably one of the most recognizable singers of the 20th century, with a vocal style that influenced countless punk rock bands to follow. Responsible for most of the Ramones’ lyrics, he sometimes betrayed a leftist-leaning political outlook which put him at odds with guitarist Johnny Ramone.
After The Ramones broke up, Joey largely eschewed the spotlight. He had a short-lived career as a radio DJ, recorded an EP with his brother and produced an album by Ronnie Spector. Joey Ramone died of lymphoma on April 15, 2001, at the age of 49.
Dee Dee Ramone, a.k.a. Douglas Glenn Colvin, was born in 1951 in Fort Lee, Virginia, and as an army brat relocated frequently during his youth. When his parents separated, he spent his early teen years in Berlin with his mother before moving to Queens. It was there he met John Cummings (aka Johnny Ramone) and Thomas Erdelyi (aka Tommy Ramone). The three formed a band called The Tangerine Puppets.
Dee Dee is credited with coming up with the name The Ramones, after having read that Paul McCartney often checked into hotels until the alias “Paul Ramon”. He was also originally the vocalist before taking up the bass.
Dee Dee co-wrote much of The Ramones’ material throughout their career, and even contributed songs once he was out of the band (some of which he relinquished in exchange for being bailed out of jail).
Dee Dee briefly tried to reinvent himself as a rapper called Dee Dee King in 1989, and after leaving The Ramones worked on solo and side projects – even once playing in a Ramones tribute band called The Ramainz. The real Ramones invited him onstage for their final performance in 1996. Dee Dee’s name also surfaced during the recent Phil Spector trial, as he’d claimed Spector once held him in the studio at gunpoint until he played a riff up to the producer’s standards.
Dee Dee Ramone had long suffered from addiction issues and died of a heroin overdose in 2002.
Johnny Ramone, a.k.a. John William Cummings, was born in Long Island but grew up in Queens, son of a waitress mother and construction worker father. He met Dee Dee Ramone while delivering dry cleaning and the two would often hang out and talk music. Dee Dee was with Joey when he bought his first guitar, a used Mosrite Ventures II he purchased for $54.
Though he didn’t contribute as many songs to The Ramones catalog as Dee Dee or Joey, Johnny’s style of buzzsaw power chords would influence a generation of rhythm guitarists.
Johnny caused some friction in the band as he eschewed drugs and alcohol, was more career-minded than the others and also more conservative in his political views. A fan of Ronald Reagan, he fought to change the title of their song ‘Bonzo Goes to Bitburg’ as he found it insulting to the then President. Further complicating matters, he dated and later married Joey’s ex-girlfriend (which allegedly inspired the song ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’). The two continued as bandmates for years despite the falling out, but ceased interacting at all once the band had broken up.
When it was discovered Johnny had prostate cancer, both Pearl Jam and The Red Hot Chili Peppers played shows to help him raise money for his medical expenses. Johnny Ramone died of the disease on September 4th, 2004.
Tommy Ramone, a.k.a. Thomas Erdelyi, was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1949, the son of Holocaust survivors. His family immigrated to the United States when he was a small child, settling in Queens, New York, where he grew up near his future band members. Originally The Ramones' manager, Tommy took over the drums when Joey Ramone switched to vocals.
In addition to providing the driving force behind The Ramone's signature speedy beats, Tommy Ramone wrote songs such as "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." He also helped forge the band's studio sound, co-producing their seminal 1970s albums Ramones, Rocket to Russia, Leave Home and It's Alive. After that point, he stepped aside as drummer, training his replacement Marky Ramone, a.k.a. Marc Steven Bell, while continuing to be a part of the band as a producer and manager.
Before Tommy Ramone died of cancer on July 11, 2014, he was the last living original member of the band. He was 65.