Interview: Richie Ramone

 For many, and especially for those of my generation, THE RAMONES was a pivotal band in our Punk Rock education. After playing on the band's last truly great album, 'Too Tough To Die' and its two succeeding albums, drummer Richie Ramone seemed to disappear.
The man is now back, fronting his own band and has recently released his debut solo album, 'Entitled', on DC-Jam Records.
As you can read below, he has been busy in the post-Ramones years. 
..Before we discuss the solo album, can you tell us what your first musical memory is?
..Richie) My first musical memory was running around the classroom in kindergarten and playing the sand blocks during recess. My older brother Lenny had an extensive record collection and I listened to all kinds of music from Rock to Funk to Zappa. In the late 70s I moved to NYC and that's when the Punk bug hit me. My eyes really got wide when I moved to the East Village.

..Coming up to date, you are about to release your debut solo album, ‘Entitled’. Why decide to release it now? Except for four songs you wrote for the RAMONES, have the songs been written over several years, or are they all recent pieces?
..Richie) My dogs spoke to me one night and said “Dad, why don't you record an album." I was like, "Ya know, that's a great idea..." and I never looked back. I wrote eight new songs for the record in the past three years. It was just a matter of putting the final touches on them before going into the studio.

..Tell us a bit about the band that recorded the album. It’s an interesting line up that includes ex-FEEDERZ guitarist Ben Reagan and a guitarist outta Metal outfit Warlock. How do the two fuse?
..Richie) I recorded the album with Tommy Bolan on guitar and Jiro Okabe on bass. Ben is in my touring band with Clare Misstake on bass. Punk music is aggressive and so is Metal so the two fuse very nicely.

..The album has been released on DC-Jam Records - how did you hook up with them? Did you try any other labels. In what ways has DC-Jam been different to work with when compared with Beggars Banquet that released the three RAMONES albums you played on?
..Richie) My manager, Doreen Sanchez at Mediamix Management, got it in the hands of Darron Hemann at DC Jam, and it took him like 24 hours to give us a record deal. He got it right away which was really important to me to get a label that understands this record. Of course, we had some other interest but Darron said what I wanted to hear. This is my freshman album and I have not worked with a record label before as closely as I am now. Martin at Beggars is a great guy but the industry has changed so much that I don't think you can compare anything going on now to those days.

..I note the track listing includes the two songs you contributed to ‘Halfway To Sanity’ - ‘I’m Not Jesus’ and ‘I Know Better Now’, plus ‘Humankind’ from ‘Too Tough To Die’ and ‘Smash You’ from the ‘Howling At The Moon’ EP. In what way would you say your solo versions are better?
..Richie) All those tracks came out great with the RAMONES, but I wanted to put my sound and my spin on them. I don't think one version is better than the other, they just have a different attitude. I just wanted the fans to have a few songs that they know already because 12 new songs is a lot to digest. I wanted them to rock the first time they spinned it.

..What about the other songs on the album? Any in particular stand out for you? Is there a theme that runs through the album - be it lyrically or sonically?
..Richie) All of the songs reflect on my life and things that everyone has gone through. I wanted to make sure the album sounded big and the songs complement each other with the same over all sound. 'Criminal', 'Take My Hand' and 'Entitled' say it all.

..Going back to the RAMONES, I believe Little Matt (Ramones roadie) got you the audition - but you were not a fan and had to buy the records to learn the songs. Given that premise, you were probably unaware of how dysfunctional the band members were with the feud between Johnny and Joey, Joey’s increasingly erratic OCD behaviour and, I think, Dee Dee was being medicated for being Bipolar along with his unrelenting penchant for others substances! Looking back, what initial observations and thoughts did you have on entering the World of the RAMONES?
..Richie) I was a kid joining my first national act and was just lucky to be there. Matt and I were hanging out one day and he said the RAMONES were auditioning drummers, so I told him to get me an audition if he could. Sire Records gave me the albums to learn the songs and the rest is history. Joey and I hit it off right away so that made things easy and comfortable. I saw all of those crazy things around me but didn't pay much attention to it.

..Since the band split, there has been a myriad of books published about the band. How do you feel you’ve been represented in these books?  Having read many of them, it seems most talk highly of you; Dee Dee’s Poison Heart says you were a good songwriter (but not much more) and Johnny’s Commando states you were a good guy and your playing was terrific. It seems to be Joey, though, that was really impressed having said you, “Saved the band and was the greatest thing to happen to the band.” That alone must give you a great sense of pride.
..Richie) Some books are good, some are different and some are just not true. I Slept With Joey Ramone is by far the most accurate in my opinion. It's a great feeling to have an icon like Joey say that about you. I was really fortunate to have met and played with this band for five years.

..I Slept With Joey Ramone, written by Joey’s brother, Mickey, paints your friendship with Joey as being the closest you had with any of the members. Do you have any specific personal memories of him that have not been printed elsewhere?
..Richie) It is true that Joey and I were very close and hung out all the time. Everyone should know what a great soul he was and how much fun it was to party with him.

..Having spent five years in the band, you must have witnessed all the antics many of us have read about. Can you cast any insight on the friction between Joey and Johnny? I’ve read that it was so bad that they would be in the same room but conversed through Monte - or even Dee Dee who no doubt only added tension! How did the band rehearse and write new material under that kind of friction - what was the mood like?
..Richie) It was not that bad to me, but maybe someone who revels in that kind of shit would be amused. We were together so much of the time that yeah, we fought like brothers but that never affected our live performances. With rehearsal, we had to book a minimum of three hours, but only stayed like 45 minutes. Practicing was not on the top of our list and I still find it boring to this day, because the fans give you energy when you play live. The adrenaline is just not there when you rehearse, and since we did not write together, we didn't need to practice.

..Coming on from that, you wrote a number of RAMONES songs, including ‘Somebody Put Something In My Drink’. How did you present songs to the band? Was it through ‘Commander’ Johnny first - or was it to the whole band in rehearsal? I believe Dee Dee was almost non-existent on ‘Animal Boy’ - do you think that made your songs more readily acceptable to the band?
..Richie) We would bring our songs to Gary Kurfirst who was our manager. We all sat around in his office and played our cassette tapes with the new material and then decided what to record. Dee Dee was around and in the studio all the time so I'm not sure where you came up with that one. One thing that is always constant is that a good song is a good song. You just have to know how to tell them apart.

..Talking of ‘Animal Boy’, I believe it was Legs McNeil in the gorilla suit behind you on the album’s cover. The monkey you are holding took punches at Legs I believe? How come you ended up with the monkey? Was there ever a possibility that Johnny would hold it - or that it took punches at Johnny?!
..Richie) Joey was supposed to hold that dirty monkey, but for some reason it kept jumping from Joey's arms to mine, so we decided that I should hold him. I think the ape may have pissed on Johnny at some point, but I can't remember exactly, so maybe that is why he didn't want to hold him.

..How does the excitement of releasing your debut solo album in your early-50s, compare with that of releasing what was probably the last truly classic RAMONES album in ‘Too Tough To Die’ when you were in your late 20s? How does the Richie Ramone of 1984 differ from that of today?
..Richie) It's different because this is my album from top to bottom, and harder to do because of all the time spent on recording and mixing. Back then, I worked two days to lay my tracks and that was it though I mixed a bunch of songs on 'Halfway To Sanity' after Joey called me at 4am complaining that it wasn't sounding right. Ya know, I don't think people change that much after they hit their mid 20's, so really I am still the same guy just a little older and wiser. It's fun to grow up.

..And talking of ‘Too Tough To Die’, it was produced by the band’s former drummer and founder, Tommy. What thoughts and emotions were you having during the recording of that album with the original band all back together again - but you on the drum seat? Did Tommy give you any advice on how to handle the band, or what you were getting involved in?
..Richie) Tommy loved my drumming and was really excited in the studio and happy with the recording process. He could tell I was prepared to make this record, so he just let me go and do my thing. It turned out that 'Smash You' was one of his favorite songs on the record. Tommy is a great guy and just goes about his business, and so did I.

..There are a few stories of why you left the band. It’s well known you were not happy about not receiving a cut of merchandise money. It’s also unquestionable that you hired a car - a limo? - to pick you up after a gig in East Hampton which whisked you away and out of the band. The reason, depending on which version of your departure is read, was either:
A) Totally to do with your cut of the money;
B) You heard from a drunk Joey Ramone that Johnny was going to sack you;
C) As claimed by Johnny, you were in ‘negotiation’ with the band about your salary but you walked away before it was settled. Johnny has claimed he had no intention of sacking you.
Which one is true from the Richie Ramone perspective?
..Richie) You can only be rolled over the hot coals for so long before you have to make a stand or you will lose your mind. That time is very blurry after all these years but there is one thing that is clear to me now. Somebody put something in my drink!

..Haha!! In hindsight, do you regret leaving the band? In what ways do you think the band was different after you left?
..Richie) Ya know, regret is a bad word because you must make decisions and live by them and not run around saying well maybe I should have done this, or maybe I could have done that. It was what I felt at the time to be right,and so be it. I think the band changed more when Dee Dee left because his persona and songwriting was so special. Dee Dee was a big part of the RAMONES character and makeup… no disrespect to CJ, he is a great guy and bass player and fit in very well with the group.

..If you had to pick just one positive and one negative memory from your time in the RAMONES, what would they be?
..Richie) Just being a Ramone is something that I am blessed with forever and growing up on the streets of NYC at that time was truly enchanting. The RAMONES changed the way I look at things and jump started my career. The only negative is that my brothers have left the planet too soon, and it would have been so much fun to have Joey and Dee Dee around during the recording of 'Entitled'. I can sometimes feel their energy calling out to me saying, "You done well Richie, you done well."

.I’ve read that Johnny in particular was precious over the use of the ‘Ramone’ name - once going ballistic over Joey’s use of it for a private show/ party. Did you have to go through any legal process to release a record under the name Richie Ramone?
..Richie) Why? That is the name the world knows me by so why should I confuse everyone? Johnny has the right to be precious about everything RAMONES, but you can't take away someone's name for your own amusement.

..So, life for Richie immediately after the Ramones - what was priority number one?
..Richie) Leave NYC and head to sunny California. I always wanted to give Hollywood a try and there was no better time than now.

..Tell us about ‘Suite For Drums And Orchestra’ - the classical composition you debuted in 2007. It was based around ‘West Side Story’ - How were the Pasadena Pops players that you worked with on that project? That must have been quite a departure from the RAMONES. What was the reaction to it?
..Richie) The Pops are a great orchestra with very talented musicians, and it's such a blast to drive a 90 piece band through an 18 minute body of work. The crowd at these shows were filled with politicians and cougars, so you knew you were not at RAMONES gig. It's fucking great when they push the drums up on the stage before my spot, and the crowd looks stunned because that is something you don't normally see with the Symphony. I studied drums since the age of five and just wanted to arrange this piece like they did in the big band and drum god era. I have to say, the crowd jumped to their feet at the end of the piece, so that was way cool.

..You’ve also released a couple of records with bands of late - THE GOBSHITES and ROCK N ROLL RATS. How did you get involved with them? Was there ever a possibility they could’ve been long-term projects?
..Richie) Peter Walsh from the Gobshites is a good friend of mine and yeah, he always wants to put a band together with me. I recorded with him in Dublin last year and we had a total fucking blast. Temple Bar is a great party town, so making this record was a breeze and the mix of Guinness and Jameson's really comes across on the album. The R&R Rats are a bunch of great guys from Canada and they sent me some tracks that I really thought were good. I recorded the drums in my studio here in LA, then sent them back the tracks to mix in Canada. What you can do in the digital world today is amazing, and how you can make a record without all the musicians being in the same room. I think the EP came out great, so look for them on tour soon.

..You played on a couple of tracks on the recent posthumous Joey Ramone solo album ‘...Ya Know?’ Tell us a bit about those sessions - I see Joey’s brother Mickey is involved in those, along with Handsome Dick Manitoba of DICTATORS! You still in touch with Mickey - or RAMONES drummers, Marky or Tommy?
..Richie) Mickey and I are great friends and he asked me if I wanted to play a few tracks on the record, and so I went to the studio the day after the Joey Bash in NYC. It was very surreal, like Joey was there with you, as he sang through the headphones which was amazing and a little sad at the same time. I see Tommy from time to time but I have never spoken to Marky. We are all busy doing our own thing and live on different coasts, I guess.

..Looking at any of those RAMONES albums you played on, what thoughts go through your mind - given the benefits/ pitfalls of hindsight - when you realise those other three guys have passed away? Do you think time has healed any differences you may have had with those guys - or are your thoughts and feelings still those of the disgruntled Richie Ramone who walked out on a band with shows imminent?
..Richie) It feels strange when you think about everyone being gone from that lineup, and yes, I went through a phase where I thought I was next. I live my life by not looking back at the past but rather looking ahead to the future because it is a much healthier way to go about it. What's done is done, it is what it is, so let it be and move forward.

..What keeps you in L.A.? Ever had a desire to move back to NYC?
..Richie) NYC has changed so much now that the East Side is barely recognizable. The weather is great in LA, you don't have to deal with the cold and snow, and the food has gotten a lot better, so why go back. I am here to stay this time.

..So - what next for Richie Ramone? Are you working on a follow-up album already - is the project a long-term thing even?  I’ve also read about a second ‘Suite For Drums’ based around James Bond themes...
..Richie) We will do an extensive tour over the next nine months in support of 'Entitled', and go from there. You are right about the Bond piece, but this tour and band are ready to rock and that's all that is on my mind right now.

..Can were ever expect a book from you about both pre and post RAMONES, as well as the band? A Drummers’ Perspective might be really interesting with a third of it written by Tommy, another third by Marky and the final third by you.
..Richie) You never know what is coming next with me, but maybe I will ask my puppies for some insight on the book.

..Sounds a plan to me!! Anything you want to add?
..Richie) I will see all of you on tour soon so get out and let's party. The world is yours, so go get it....peace...Richie

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