Remembering Tommy Ramone
This past Friday brought music fans one of the most depressing end-of-an-era moments in rock ‘n’ roll history: the announcement that Tommy Erdelyi, a.k.a. Tommy Ramone, the last of the original Ramones, died after a struggle with bile duct dancer.
As he was born in Budapest, Hungary on January 29, 1949, Erdélyi Tamás may have been destined from day one never to be elected President of the United States, but the U.S. government’s loss proved to be punk rock’s gain. After moving to America when he was four years old, the future Tommy Ramone grew up in Forest Hills, New York, where he played with the future Johnny Ramone – then still known as John Cummings – in a garage band called the Tangerine Puppets, and at age 18 he served as an assistant engineer on Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies album. (In a 2011 interview with the website Noisecreep, Tommy said of the guitarist, “He was as big as you could get. He was a wonderful person, very easy going, very hardworking and dedicated – a real perfectionist.”)
Although Tommy’s greatest legacy involves the work he did as drummer on the first three Ramones albums – their self-titled debut (1976), Leave Home (1977), and Rocket to Russia (1977) – it wasn’t a gig he’d sought. Indeed, it was one he inherited in the wake of Joey abandoning the drum kit because he couldn’t keep up with the tempo of their jet-propelled punk-pop tunes…or, as Dee Dee Ramone famously recalled in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Tommy – who was actually managing the band at the time – “finally had to sit down behind the drums, because nobody else wanted to.”
Tommy reminisced about how the Ramones got their first record deal in an interview in an October 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, explaining that the process started with an audition for Richard Gottehrer. “He wanted to sign a singles deal, and we didn't want that,” said Tommy. “We kept talking, and then Linda Stein came and saw us and recommended that Seymour [Stein, her husband, head of Sire Records] see us. We had a private show for Seymour at Performance Studios, a rehearsal loft and studio that I ran with the guy who became our tour manager. Seymour liked us and signed us. That's kind of what happened. The whole thing, the whole experience, was very family. So was the whole Ramones experience. It was a mom-and-pop kind of thing.”
Although the Ramones were never a tremendous commercial success, Tommy mused to the UK newspaper The Guardian that he felt that their reputation as one of the greatest bands of all time was the result of having slightly outside-the-box fans. "Even from the very beginning, the type of fans the Ramones generated were the kind of people who wound up running industry, who became professors and scientists,” he said. “Our staunchest fans were always a little bit more on the outside, the type of people who didn't fit in with society. And once these people start running things, I think they started to inform the general public, 'Hey, by the way, the Ramones started it all.' That's when the general population started becoming aware of how special the Ramones were."
After three albums with the band (plus the later-released concert album, It’s Alive), Tommy departed the Ramones’ ranks, ostensibly to further pursue his interest in music production, which he went on to do for the band on two of their subsequent albums, Road to Ruin (1978) and Too Tough to Die (1984). Of his other production efforts, two will likely stand out in particular for alt-rock fans: the Replacements’ Tim (1985) and Redd Kross’s Neurotica (1987).In addition, Tommy surprised many Ramones fans in 2006 when he joined forces with Claudia Tienan, late of the Simplistics, to form a bluegrass duo called Uncle Monk.
To celebrate the life of Tommy Ramone, we’ve put together a playlist consisting of some of the greatest songs from the Ramones albums in which he played a part as either a member or a producer, and we’ve also thrown the entirety of Tim into the mix, too, because…well, look, if Tommy’s going to be remembered for something outside of his work with the Ramones, that’s a damned fine album to cite. With Tommy’s departure, this truly is – as mentioned earlier – the end of an era, but it’s an era that’ll never be forgotten.