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Johnny Ramone playing at The Eagle Hippadrome in 1983
|Birth name||John William Cummings|
|Also known as||Johnny Ramone|
October 8, 1948|
Forrest Hills, New York, U.S.
|Died||September 15, 2004
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, guitarist|
|Labels||Sire, Radioactive, Chrysalis|
John William Cummings (October 8, 1948 – September 15, 2004), known professionally as Johnny Ramone, was an American guitarist and songwriter, best known for being the lead guitarist for the punk rock band the Ramones. He was a founding member of the band, and remained a member throughout the band's entire career. He died from prostate cancer on September 15, 2004.
John William Cummings was born in Queens on October 8, 1948. He was the only child of a construction worker, of Irish descent. He was raised in the Forest Hills, Queens neighborhood of New York City, where he grew up absorbing rock music. As a teenager, Johnny played in a band called the Tangerine Puppets alongside future Ramones drummer Tamás Erdélyi (better known as Tommy Ramone). As a teenager, he was known as a "greaser," though he was later described as a tie-dye-wearing Stooges fan. He was a lifelong New York Yankees fan. He also worked as a plumber with his father before the Ramones became successful, and at one point attended military school and briefly attended college in Florida.
He met future bandmate Douglas Colvin, later to become Dee Dee Ramone, in the early 1970s while delivering dry cleaning. They would eat lunch together and discuss their mutual love of bands like the Stooges and MC5. Together they went to Manny's Music in New York City in January 1974, where Johnny bought a used blue Mosrite Ventures II for just over $54. On the same trip, Dee Dee bought a Danelectro bass. They collaborated with future bandmate Jeffrey Hyman, later to become Joey Ramone, to form the Ramones with Richie Stern on bass. Stern left after a few rehearsals. Tommy joined the Ramones in the summer of that year after public auditions failed to produce a satisfactory drummer.
Johnny was responsible for initiating one of the major sources of animosity within the band when he began dating and later married Linda Daniele, who had previously dated Joey. Allegedly, this incident prompted Joey to write songs like, "The KKK Took My Baby Away", and, "She Belongs To Me", although it has been speculated that the song was actually written before the founding of the Ramones in 1974. Though the band remained together for years after this incident, relations between Johnny and Joey remained strained. Years later, when Joey was in the hospital dying of cancer, Johnny refused to telephone him. He later discussed this incident in the film End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, saying an attempt at such a reunion would have been futile. He did add that he was depressed for a week after Joey's death. When pressed, he acknowledged that this was because of the bond forged by the band. In their road manager Monte Melnick's book about his time with the Ramones, Johnny is quoted as having said, "I'm not doing anything without him. I felt that was it. He was my partner. Me and him. I miss that."
Alongside his music career, Johnny appeared in nearly a dozen films (including Rock 'n' Roll High School) and documentaries. He also made television appearances on such shows as The Simpsons (1F01 "Rosebud", 1993) and Space Ghost Coast to Coast (Episode 5 "Bobcat").
Johnny was known for his fast, high-energy guitar playing. His style consisted of rapid downstrokes, power chords, and barre chord shapes. This unique playing style combined with heavy gain from the guitar amplifier created the bright, buzzsaw-like sound Johnny's guitar parts were known for, and it was highly influential on many early punk rock guitarists. Recording engineer Ed Stasium once stated "Johnny makes it sound simple, but I can't do it, and I bet Eddie Van Halen can't. Not for an hour!". This technique was also very influential on new wave of British heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden. His style has also been an influence on many alternative rock bands, as well as on thrash metal performers such as James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth and Scott Ian of Anthrax . Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert has cited Johnny Ramone as one of his influences.
For example, Dictators bassist Andy Shernoff states that Jimmy Page's sped up, downstroke guitar riff in "Communication Breakdown", an influential song that contained elements of protopunk, was an inspiration for Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone's downstroke guitar style. Ramone, who has described Page as "probably the greatest guitarist who ever lived", stated in the documentary "Ramones: The True Story" that he improved at his down-stroke picking style by playing the song over and over again for the bulk of his early career.
Johnny was almost exclusively a rhythm guitarist, as exemplified by most live recordings. He was not a fan of lengthy solos, and subsequently never attempted to gain much skill in this area of playing, which he made clear in many books and interviews. Despite this, Johnny did play simple lead guitar parts on a few Ramones songs, such as "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue" and "California Sun". A brief guitar solo can also be found on live versions of "I Can't Make It on Time", in which Johnny utilizes a minor pentatonic scale and string bending. However, the infrequent guitar solos on the group's studio albums were usually overdubbed by Tommy Ramone, Ed Stasium, Daniel Rey, Walter Lure and other uncredited guests. Most of these small leads were only added in an attempt to give certain songs a more commercial appeal and were not common on the band's albums.
"I guess that before me, people played downstrokes for brief periods in a song, rather than the whole song through. It was just a timing mechanism for me." -Johnny Ramone
Johnny Ramone was known for favoring Mosrite, an American guitar brand known for their association with '60s pop and rock music.
Johnny first bought a guitar (brand unknown) in 1965 but didn't really learn how to play it, "just fiddled around for about a year."
Johnny used light gauge Fender Electric strings through most of the 1970s, later changing to Dean Markley.
"The Mosrites were light, and they were perfect for playing nonstop barre chords." -Johnny Ramone
"I bought it (Mosrite) because it was the cheapest guitar in the store. Now I’ve gotten used to it and I like it. I also didn’t wanna get a guitar that everybody else was using – I wanted something that could be identified with me." - Johnny Ramone
"I got it [Rickenbacker 450] because I wanted something that sounded British Invasion. Even with a Strat pickup in the bridge it just doesn't sound thick enough so I just use it around the house for demos and practice." The guitar was later auctioned off by his estate in 2015.
A gear diagram of Johnny Ramone's 1990 contains only four elements: a guitar, a tuner, an A/B box (for the tuner), and a stack of Marshall amplifiers.
Johnny was known within the punk rock community as one of its notable conservatives and was a staunch supporter of the Republican Party. Johnny made his political affiliation known to the world in 2002 when the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After thanking all who made the honor possible—clad in his trademark T-shirt, ripped blue jeans and leather jacket—he said "God bless President Bush, and God bless America". He said in an interview, when questioned on his conservatism, "I think Ronald Reagan was the best President of my lifetime." This was evident in 1985 when the band released the UK single "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg"; Johnny pressed for a name change, finding the title insulting to Reagan, and the song was retitled on American releases as "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)" after a line from the song's chorus. In this same interview he claimed that "Punk is right wing".
As noted in tour manager Monte Melnick's book On the Road with The Ramones, Johnny's father was a strict disciplinarian. Johnny is quoted as saying: "My father would get on these tangents about how he never missed a day's work. I broke my big toe the day I had to go pitch a Little League game and he's going, 'What are you – a baby? What did I do, raise a baby? You go play.' And even though my toe was broken I had to go pitch the game anyway. It was terrible. It would always be like that. I'm glad he raised me like that but it would always be, 'What are you – sick? You're not sick. What did I raise – a baby? I never missed a day's work in my life.' Then I went to military school, and in military school, you couldn't call in sick."
Further, Johnny's early adulthood was marked by bouts of delinquency which he attested were inexplicable at the time. "I didn't become a delinquent until I got out of high school. I had a two-year run. I'd go out and hit kids and take their money and rob everybody's pocketbooks. Just being bad every minute of the day. It was terrible. I don't know what my problem was. Things that were funny to me at the time were horrible. If I found a television set sitting in the garbage, I'd take it up to the rooftop, watch for someone walking down the block and drop it in front of them on the sidewalk. It was funny watching them see a TV set come crashing down 30 feet in front of them. To me it was hysterical, but it was also a mean and terrible thing to do. I also found a way of stopping the elevator. I could open up the door and stop the elevator. I would wait for an old lady to get in and stop the elevator. They'd be yelling and pushing the alarm, and I would keep them there. At about 20 years old, I stopped drinking and doing drugs, got a job and tried to be normal."
In 1983, Johnny Ramone was severely injured in a fight with Seth Macklin of the band Sub Zero Construction. He was saved by emergency brain surgery. This incident was said to have inspired the next album's title, Too Tough to Die. He never spoke of the incident in the following years.
Johnny Ramone married his wife Linda in 1984. She had originally dated Joey Ramone but left him for Johnny. Joey and Johnny continued to tour as the Ramones after this, but their relationship worsened and they stopped talking to each other.
Johnny Ramone was a Roman Catholic as noted in his autobiography Commando. Though he considered himself a religious Christian, he did not attend church due to physical abuse he suffered at the hands of nuns as a youngster.
On September 15, 2004, Johnny Ramone died in his Los Angeles home at the age of 55 after five years with prostate cancer, less than a month before his 56th birthday. Many of his friends and musical contemporaries came to pay their respects. After his death, his remains were cremated with his wife Linda retaining his ashes. Prior to Johnny's death in 2004, Arturo Vega suggested a monument to Johnny. "I suggested some kind of monument... He agreed right away. The monument was my idea; the statue was his idea," relayed Vega. Johnny's wife Linda oversaw the creation and erection of an 8 ft tall bronze memorial of Johnny designed by Wayne Toth at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. The statue, based on a gift given by Rob Zombie, was unveiled at a ceremony coordinated by Linda on January 14, 2005.
Shortly after Johnny's death, Linda Ramone unveiled a statue of Johnny at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles on January 14, 2005. The statue was sculpted by Wayne Toth. Several of Johnny and Linda's friends spoke at the ceremony including Nicolas Cage, Rob Zombie, Eddie Vedder, Tommy Ramone, Vincent Gallo, John Frusciante, Seymour Stein, Pete Yorn, and many others.
In 2006, the remake of the horror film The Wicker Man was dedicated to Johnny Ramone's memory, as he was a close friend of the film's producer and star, Nicolas Cage. The lyrics for Pearl Jam's 2006 single "Life Wasted" were written by Eddie Vedder in honor of Cummings while driving home from his funeral. Pearl Jam also made their first video in eight years for this song.
An annual Johnny Ramone memorial is held every year in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute is presented by Linda Ramone and is held as a benefit for the Johnny Ramone cancer research fund which is led by Dr. David Agus at the USC Westside prostate cancer research center. The events have been attended by celebrities such as Vincent Gallo, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Rob Zombie, Kirk Hammett, Steve Jones, and Traci Lords. Additional celebrities who have taken part in the events include John Waters, Rose McGowan, Henry Rollins and Johnny Depp.
Five years ago, Johnny Ramone picked me to sing Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. He wanted me to sing it on a Ramones tribute record where many of his friends and other artists were covering his songs. Johnny was one of my best friends, and I promised him before he passed away that I would include that song on my record. He was very sick but wanted to play the guitar on it as long as he was sitting down. Unfortunately, while we were recording the basic track, he died.