Interview: Richie Ramone to unwrap punk hits on tour
Richie Ramone

Richie Ramone is ready to hit and run for 2018.

Richie appeared on three Ramones studio albums and performed over 500 shows with the iconic NYC punk band between 1983 and 1987.  Perhaps more importantly, he contributed new songs to the Ramones canon (and sang a couple, too)—a feat unmatched by any of the band’s other stickmen.

Ramones co-founders Joey (vocals), Johnny (guitar), and Dee Dee (bass) all passed away as the ‘90s acquiesced to the End of the Century (to quote an album title).  Original drummer Tommy Ramone died in 2014, leaving Richie, Marky (drums), and C.J. (bass) as the band’s sole surviving alumni.

Richie (who wrote such songs as “Somebody Put Something In My Drink,” “I’m Not Jesus,” and “I Know Better Now” for albums like Too Tough To Die, Animal Boy, and Halfway to Sanity) is still making loud, fast, tough music today, having formed his own band to create his solo debut Entitled in 2013.  The frenetic, muscly follow-up—Cellophane—arrived last year.

Now Ramones’ former speed-demon is heading out for a series of concert dates in the Midwest.  We rang the hard-hitting musician last week to discuss his solo work, his punk rock roots, and The Ramones’ lasting legacy.

AXS: How are you, Richie! Nice to speak with you.

RICHIE RAMONE: I’m good, thanks!

AXS: Tell us a bit about the Hit and Run 2018 tour.

R.R: We doing a twelve-show run here. I have a new guitar player named Steve Haley. He’s from Philadelphia. It’s me and Ben Reagan and Clare Misstake on bass. Ben plays rhythm guitar and drums, because I play drums but also front the band. I move back and forth a bit in the show. To sing and play drums a whole show is…I dunno. We move the drums up as close as we can, but there’s always a little bit of distance. So we make it so I can get out front for a while. Our show is basically Ramones classics and songs from my two albums. We do songs I wrote for The Ramones back in the day. It’s a good high-energy show!

AXS: Where was Cellophane recorded?

R.R: That was in L.A. We recorded at Red Bull Studios in Los Angeles. We got a week in there, then I mixed it and did some overdubs with Paul Roessler, who has a studio there also and is really cool. Paul was in 45 Grave. He’s a big deal in the punk scene, you know?

AXS: Right. You’re from New Jersey—do you stay in L.A. now?

R.R: Yes. After The Ramones, I came out here, then moved back two or three times. Now I’m out here steadily since, gosh…since 2009 I’ve been here. I’m a native now [laughs]! You know, I’m sick of the snow belt. You can’t beat the weather. I’m sitting outside right now, and it’s a gorgeous 77 degrees. The people aren’t the same as the East Coast. It’s harder to find two friends who’d take a bullet for you. But I have enough friends! I’m choosy about friends. But it’s all good!

AXS: I listen to the title track, and there’s a part of the chorus where you invite people to ‘Unwrap me!’ Is that like, an indictment of the over-commodification of music these days?

R.R: It’s funny you say that because it can be about that. People ask what the song is about, but I’ll tell you, I can write a song and have it mean three different things to three different people. So I don’t like to spoil that. My own vision of it is like being on the road night after night. It becomes kind of tough, and I feel like I’m all wrapped up. But you pull up to the club and the kids are calling your name, so you bust out and give ‘em a good show. But it does have different meanings for different things, so I don’t get hung up on that part. To me, lyrically, unless it’s spelled out like a country song—I went down to the store—I think it can be subject to however people want to interpret it. It’s not so much what I say as it is what you think you heard me say, you know?

AXS: Another standout is ‘I Fix This.’ Are you a problem-solver? What’s going on there?

R.R: Well, that song came about two years ago. Our tour manager in Sweden…whenever I wanted something, he’d say, ‘I fix this!’ He never said, ‘I’ll fix it’ or ‘I’ll take care of it.’ He’d said, ‘I fix this.’ One day I was in like a 7-11 and said I’m looking for a certain thing, whatever it was. And the girl behind the counter said, ‘I fix this!’ I almost fell to the floor laughing. That’s when I knew I had to write the song. But I don’t talk about Sweden or anything, see. That’s how the song developed lyrically. But I didn’t talk about the tour manager in Sweden. It’s more about us and the band, and if you have a problem, ‘I fix it’ for you, you know? It’s nice to see the audience sing along with that one. The video’s cool, too. That was shot in L.A. at an old bowling alley, from like the 1920s or something. You see those lanes and the machines, the way they work. You see that close up of me, and the pin-loading machine is spinning. Very cool.

AXS: Which drummers inspired you when you were growing up?

R.R: My favorites are Buddy Rich and John Bonham [Led Zeppelin]. If you take the two of them, you have the speed, you have the feel…. Buddy Rich never really played rock and roll. He tried on some of his things. But as a soloist and everything else—the speed—he was incredible. And John Bonham is kind of like, the ultimate drummer. He taught me so much as a kid, how he works that bass drum to his stuff. He’s so fluid. A good drummer is one who can play by himself, and you can listen back for a minute, and you can hear that beat. You should feel it, you know?

AXS: You did a drum arrangement of parts from West Side Story with an orchestra. Did you ever get around to doing the James Bond drum suite you planned?

R.R: I haven’t gotten to that yet. I took a break and came back from doing that orchestra thing. I did like six shows in two different spots. It was killer, and I loved it! It was a big undertaking. It was an eighteen-minute suite. I wanted to do a whole other one and have it be like, the second half. I was thinking of doing James Bond, because you’ve got all those cool theme songs from all those years. West Side Story is perfect because it’s the same situation where you don’t need the singer singing the melody. It’s all about teenage rebellion, where James Bond is all cars and women. But the songs are so identifiable, so you can make ‘em really drummy! You can make your own arrangements that way. So I want to do that in the future, but right now I’m having fun with these albums I’m doing now!

AXS: What was the toughest thing about touring with The Ramones?

R.R: The toughest thing? I dunno…. I don’t think there was anything too tough except missing friends back home, you know? When I was touring with The Ramones I was still a baby, in my twenties! So every moment was exciting, all the places we went. The road isn’t fun for anybody, really. It’s not a vacation like people might think. It’s a lot of work, and traveling can exhaust you. But to be part of a band like that, you have plenty of good times. Nowadays you read about all the fighting and stuff, but I came in at a good time. I was new blood, five or six years younger than them. So I gave ‘em new life at a time when the last record or two had been kind of sleepy. So I came in for Too Tough to Die, and Tommy was back with Ed Stasium, and they did a really raw record. It got The Ramones’ career motivated again. It was kind of a big deal. I loved every moment of it, you know? It was cool.

AXS: The Ramones’ music continues to draw new fans. Even my kids know who The Ramones are. Is it cool knowing you were part of something that transcends time like that?

R.R: Yeah, there are fans from sixteen to sixty, you know? It spans like four generations now. And it’s a more male-dominated audience. I’d say 85% male to 15% female. We draw the boys; it’s a rough show [laughs]! There’s a bit of banging around—but it’s a fun show! Back in the day we were always jealous because the hair metal bands in the ‘80s had all the hot girls going to their shows, and The Ramones really didn’t have that, you know? There was a small percentage. Minimal! We used to joke about that. At the metal shows it was as many girls as guys, if not more. It was the opposite.

AXS: We’ll be catching you at The Winchester in Cleveland / Lakewood. Any fond memories of playing around here?

R.R: Cleveland rocks! I can’t remember any specific places we played. But I’ve been there a few times in the last five or six years. Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo. Cleveland’s always been good to me. I think some of these towns took a big hit with the economy, and it was sad to see. I think it was in Toledo where the main parts were messed up, and I really felt for the people there. I don’t know if it was from the car industry or what. But they’re slowly getting it together again. I love to play the B-markets anyway, the towns that all the other bands skip. I’m playing lots of small towns on this tour. The people are into it, and they thank you for coming to their smaller cities. And we’re in a position where we can do that, because we’ll pull in a couple hundred people. So it works out playing the smaller venues. I enjoy it. It’s not purely rock and roll-dominated out there anymore. It’s more computer music…

AXS: Sure, lots of bubble-gum music, lots of auto-tuned dance music….

R.R: Yeah! That’s where it at, and that’s okay with me. But it’s important for people to still come out and listen to live music. That’s slowing down a bit. But come out and listen, because live we don’t play to any tracks. It’s different every night; there’s nothing exact. There’s no background stuff going on. Some nights it’s faster, some nights it’s slower [laughs]! Some nights it’s all f@cked up [laughs]. That’s what live music is. Sometimes the P.A. blows up, and sh#t like that! We try to keep the price cheap, too, because we want people to come out. It’s important that people don’t give up on live music.