Entitled Funky Men Intruding in a Family Way: A Field Guide to the Side and Solo Projects of the Ram
January 25, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
By now we are all familiar with the grind of the Ramones — 22 years, 14 studio albums, 2,263 concerts, 10 million fights. But what of their side projects and solo outings during and after the band, the various creative jaunts Da Bruddahs hoped would extend their personal brand or at very least keep their names on fans’ rubbery glue-soaked lips? You could fill a wing of Erasmus High with all those singles, EPs, LPs, and CDs. You could, but we know you won’t, so No Recess! is showcasing them all here with proper context and commentary. What else can you say? Gabba gabba pinhead cliché.
Please note: This field guide will not cover anything the Ramones did prior to being Ramones. So no Dust, no Voidoids, no Tangerine Puppets, no Jeff Starship, no Milk & Cookies, no Guitar Pete’s Axe Attack. This hurts me more than it hurts you. I’d love to spend all night picking apart the finer nuances of Guitar Pete’s Axe Attack. Marquee talent Guitar Pete Brasino is left handed but didn’t play a left-handed guitar — he played a right-handed guitar upside down!
HEY HO, LET’S PALEY: A ONE-OFF IN ‘79
Technically, the earliest Ramones side project is a cover of the Richie Valens song “Come On, Let’s Go” that Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky recorded with power pop duo (and Sire Records label mates) the Paley Brothers. Although this spirited take eventually found its way onto the soundtrack to Roger Corman’s 1979 cinematic Ramones opus Rock n’ Roll High School, it was first released as a Paley Brothers single to promote the feathery pair’s 1978 self-titled LP. Andy and Jonathan Paley don’t exactly violate the zoom beat from Queens with their sugar-free vocal wilt; that said, the listener is left wondering how much better “Come On, Let’s Go” would have been with actual Ramones singer Joey at the mic.
Like so many of the documents that expertly capture the Ramones’ groundbreaking noise, “Come On, Let’s Go” was produced by founding drummer Tommy (under his birth name T. Erdelyi), who left the band the previous year and was replaced by Marky.
If we’re counting backup vocal contributions assorted Ramones made to other groups (and we are), mention must be made of Joey and Dee Dee’s turn as the Ramone Catholic Choir on the second Dead Boys LP, 1978’s We Have Come For Your Children. The Choir provides support on “(I Don’t Wanna Be No) Catholic Boy,” though you’d be hard pressed to catch the nuances of either Ramones’ trademark throat pattern anywhere on the song. Joey and Dee Dee are easier to discern in “Supermarket Music” by the Undead (the L.A. Undead with Sid Terror, not the New Jersey Undead with Bobby Steele). This lo-fi yet sing songy crunch nugget was recorded a year prior; the Undead insist it was released as a single in 1977, but “Supermarket Music” was apparently such a limited run even comprehensive cataloging site discogs.com has no info about it. Thankfully the group re-released the tune on 2002’s First, Worst, & Cursed.
1979's "On the Beach," a bouncy beat-ish single from the Rattlers, is another platter bearing Ramone back up vocals; in this case, it's Joey, and it doesn't seem like he could avoid participating. After all, Rattlers leader Mickey Leigh is, was, and shall always remain Joey younger brother.
THE ‘80s: JOEY’S LOVE, DEE DEE’S FOLLIES
If “I Got You, Babe” was begging for a muscular power metal remake, Joey Ramone answered the call in 1982 with Holly Beth Vincent from Holly & The Italians. These kids do gangbusters conveying the emotion and love of this famed narrative when they aren’t being swallowed by the drums, keyboards, and guitars.
A more political opportunity came for Joey in 1985 when he was given a line to sing on Steven Van Zandt’s anti-apartheid anthem “Sun City” (credited to Artists Against Apartheid). It probably stands as the most upbeat seven-minute political screed featuring Ron Carter on acoustic bass that’s ever been put to tape. Mixed down from over 300 tracks, there are enough special guests on “Sun City” to constitute a small town — Afrika Bambaataa, Bob Dylan, Bob Geldof, Bobby Womack, Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, the Fat Boys, George Clinton, Gil Scott-Heron, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Cliff, John Oates, Kurtis Blow, Lou Reed, Pete Townshend, Peter Gabriel, and Stiv Bators, just to name a few. And yet Joey’s unique gurgle stands out, even as it dashes by in this charity marathon.
Two years later, Dee Dee Ramone, the punk rocker’s punk rocker, tripped into his Al Capone’s vault moment when he decided to give hip-hop a whirl via the single “Funky Man” (credited to Dee Dee King). Dee Dee’s songwriting talents did not translate to this new genre — even with a beat five years behind the times, the celebrated nogoodnik peaks with, “I’ve seen it all, I’ve had a ball, someone should make a Dee Dee doll!” (vocalized in the same bizarre growl he uses to greater effect on Ramones songs like “Wart Hog” and “I Lost My Mind”). “Funky Man” makes the Fat Boys look like N.W.A.; any reasonable human would have stopped there. Dee Dee did not.
Thus, in 1989 came Standing in the Spotlight, Dee Dee Ramone’s full-length rap exploration. Standing in the Spotlight is right up there with Rhinestone and Ethel Merman’s Disco Album in terms of mortifying, paralyzing embarrassment on both sides of the stereo. For reasons only he understood, Dee Dee eschews the snarl on Spotlight, substituting a Bobby “Boris” Pickett type approach. That is to say, he raps like a stoned zombie reciting a children’s story. Dee Dee’s voice rises and falls where he assumes emotion should be — even when he’s talking about a woman he loves. It’s pronounced on the LP opener, a retread of ‘60s hit “Mashed Potato Time” that crests with a big meaty saxophone solo (you know, like all great hip-hop compositions).
Strangely enough, not every composition on this infamously wretched hip-hop outing is hip-hop. There’s a Cassidy style ballad in “Baby Doll” and some punk fracas (that should have gone to the Ramones) in “Poor Little Rich Girl.” Neither of these cuts will distract you from “Commotion in the Ocean,” which is absolutely the worst song ever written about surfing. The least painful entry on Standing in the Spotlight is “The Crusher,” a punk/hip-hop hybrid outlining Dee Dee’s wrestling dreams that the Ramones deemed cool enough to cover on their final album, 1995’s ¡Adios Amigos!. Or maybe they were just teasing their wayward brother.
To be fair, you can’t place blame squarely on Dee Dee for Standing in the Spotlight. Marky Ramone provided the beats and every original was co-written by Daniel Rey. Rey produced/co-produced several late-period Ramones albums, beginning with 1987’s Halfway to Sanity, sometimes earning partial authorship credit for what many consider the top-tier latter day Ramones songs (“I Wanna Live,” “I Believe in Miracles”). We all learn our limitations, some more publicly than others.
HOW PUNK CAN A RAMONE GET? THE CLINTON YEARS
Dee Dee returned to punk on 1993’s “What About Me” single, credited to Dee Dee Ramone & The Chinese Dragons (the Dragons being bassist Alan Valentine, drummer Scott Goldstein, and guitarist Richie Screech). It’s a forgettable bruiser’s lament, particularly when compared to “The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs,” an experimental drum-and-vocal arrangement by John Cage that Joey covered in the same year for a Cage tribute album, Cage/Uncaged. Joey’s “Widow” is only slightly stranger than all the answering machine messages he was leaving for “The Howard Stern Show” staff members around this same time.
C.J. Ramone — who replaced Dee Dee in the Ramones in 1989 and stayed until the band’s demise in 1996 — also busted out in ‘93 with a single from his side project, Los Gusanos. “Quick to Cut” is revved-up biker rock that kicks around with sneering grit, hellacious solos (courtesy of lead guitarist Dirty Ed Lynch), and C.J.’s devil-may-care boyish yelp. The second Los Gusanos single, 1994’s “I’d Love to Save the World,” is of the same leathery mold.
Dee Dee tried to strike back in ’94 with a new band, the Inter-Celestial Light Commune, and a new full-length offering. Despite their hippie dippy name, the I.C.L.C. were punk, as evidenced by the album’s title, I Hate Freaks Like You. Joined by Pandemonium drummer Danny Arnold Lommen and Misguided bassist Johnny Carco, Dee Dee’s trio here has an endearing crackle that’s well served by the pop sensibilities in producer Daniel Rey’s songwriting. Dee Dee was no slouch himself, of course, when it came to penning the perfect piece of rock dementia; alas, the breathy whine he adopts here wasn’t made for an entire album of lead vocals. There are too many pockets where he embarrasses himself. And yet, even as Dee Dee flails, a charm remains. Leave it to this guy to title his most turgid, frightening song “I’m Seeing Strawberries Again.”
Meanwhile, in 1994, Joey collaborated again with brother Mickey — who, in addition to the Rattlers, also played in the groups Birdland and Stop — under the moniker Sibling Rivalry for the EP In a Family Way. This three-song platter opens with a meandering cover of Blodwyn Pig’s “See My Way,” tosses in their previous summit "On The Beach," and concludes with the novel boogie of “Don’t Be So Strange.” It’s hard to tell if it’s Joey or Mickey affecting the basso profundo that carries this last song into total weirdness. Either way, it’s the best thing about In a Family Way, and yes, that includes the cover photo of the brothers Hyman sitting at a kitchen table while “Mama” brandishes a rolling pin.
Joey did another duet in ’94, one with buzzsaw melody princess of Wales Helen Love. Helen flew to the U.S. to record the single “Punk Boy” with our original punk boy and the result is two and a half minutes of unflappable, undeniable sugar-laden electricity. Another cut for the “how was this not a fucking hit, particularly in the wake of Green Day?” pile.
South Carolina ska kids the Independents caught the attention of the Ramones around this time; Joey wound up managing the group while C.J. provided snot-streaked vocals for “Love Sucks,” which is found on 1995’s In For the Kill. The Independents built up a loyal following by pairing their peppy attack with graveyard imagery. To wit: their singer goes by Evil Presley. Yes, that’s scary, but Evil’s got nothing on Nina Hagen, who turned in a typically unhinged rendition of “Zero Zero UFO” the same year. This take features rhythm guitar work by the song’s co-author, Dee Dee, and is featured on the LP FreuD Euch. Take heed: Nina changes the location of the protagonist's UFO experience from Idaho to Malibu. Sorry, potato jocks.
Punk rock was so big again in the ‘90s even Ramones roadies were getting record deals. See singer/guitarist George Tabb, who carved out a fine niche with his paint-peeling pop punk trio Furious George. Dee Dee appears on their 1996 EP Goes Ape!, adding infectious backup coos to “Betty Crocker, Punk Rocker.” A year later Joey popped up on Furious George Gets A Record; methodically he recites the lyrics to the murderous rant “Gilligan” before laughing (one assumes) at the frivolity of it all. George Tabb was also a columnist for MaximumRockNRoll and at one point turned in a column describing the session with Dee Dee. Apparently the author of “Rockaway Beach” was disappointed Furious George didn’t have more substance to their music. A rich comment considering the way Dee Dee’s discography would unfold.
As the Ramones officially dissolved, Marky got busy with his new act Marky Ramone & The Intruders. Though he led this band in name it really began as a collaboration between Marky and singer/guitarist Garrett Uhlenbrock, a.k.a. Skinny Bones. Previously the pair collaborated on several of the more delirious, offbeat post-Dee Dee Ramones tunes (“The Job That Ate My Brain,” “Have a Nice Day”) and the magic continues on the 1996 self-titled Intruders LP. Crisp, hooky riffs crash into one another under Skinny’s playful melodic rasp while Marky, freed from the draconian rules of Johnny Joey Inc, loosens up behind the kit, reminding us what percussive charisma sounds like (Mark also produced this disc, displaying deft work). MRATI is buoyed by the nimble Mark Neuman on bass and rhythm guitar work from Gilbert “Ratboy” Avondet; from “Oh No Not Again” through “I Wants My Beer” and “Maybe Tomorrow” (and all the rest), this thing is hit after hit after lost hit, a refreshing take on Manhattan punk throbbing for the Adderall generation.
Unfortunately, Skinny Bones was jonesing for something harder than tiny orange pills. Heroin addiction sidelined him from the Intruders around the time MRATI was released; these boys were never quite the same.
Los Gusanos also unleashed their first full length in ‘96, also self-titled. “Never piss on a fire!” C.J. warns in “Carve Your Name.” Fair enough! C.J., Dirty Ed, bassist Big John Chadwick, and drummer Bo “Lefty” Matheson (replacing Frank “Spanky” Saitta from the singles) flame together in great cohesion even when they’re torching up riffs of stock make and model. Early Social Distortion probably would have paid through the nose for the spit Los Gusanos find on this platter. That said, the song about pot (“Burnin’”) reaches Defcon 2 levels of corny.
Yet another Ramones-related event in 1996: Spacemaid covering “Do You Remember Rock n’ Roll Radio?” and convincing Joey to add the sparsest of backup vocals. Somebody must have owed somebody else some money. The following year, Joey performed a cover of the Stooges song “1969” for We Will Fall: A Tribute to Iggy Pop. Joey’s backing group on that includes the rhythm section from the Misfits (bass player Jerry Only, drummer Dr. Chud) as well as Daniel Rey on guitar. It’s a fun rendition drenched in requisite wah. We Will Fall is also notable for offering Blondie’s version of “Ordinary Bummer,” credited to Adolph’s Dog.
Zonked! — an adjective that has probably been used more than once to describe Dee Dee Ramone. It’s also the title of his 1997 album, featuring Marky on drums, Dee Dee’s wife Barbara Zampini Ramone on bass, and the ever-ready Daniel Rey on guitar. The group is solid and the headliner’s penchant for melody remains, though Dee Dee sounds a bit fatigued. The best spots are by guest vocalists — Joey’s romantic “I Am Seeing UFOs,” Lux Interior’s “Bad Horoscope.” And, of course, the Moe Howard “Moe Knows” t-shirt Marky is seen wearing in the liner notes.
Marky Ramone & The Intruders returned in 1999, retaining vim and vigor on sophomore effort The Answer to Your Problems? (released in some countries as Don’t Blame Me) despite the absence of Skinny Bones. Here the group is centered around the weary bark of Smokin’ Ben Trokan, also guitarist. On bass, a rhythmic demon known as Johnny “Fingers” Pisano. Trokan and Pisano wrote the majority of Answer; thematically (and performance-wise) it’s in line with the zip and paranoia of the previous album. The misstep here is aural mimicry of the Epitaph Records sound (no coincidence production credit goes to Lars Frederiksen). Dated, chest-heavy distortion drowns the trio; any resemblance between the bottomy thud of The Answer to Your Problems? and the sharp quirks of Marky Ramone and the Intruders is pure coincidence.
The Intruders only made it a stone’s throw into the new millennium before disintegrating. In 2006, Marky decided to re-release the group’s two albums as Start of the Century, cramming both — completely out of order — onto one CD and packaging it with a second disc containing a 2005 live performance of Ramones hits by Marky, singer David Brooks, bassist Aaron Dowell, and guitarist C.J. Gunya. MRATI and TATYP? were re-released again as a single album in 2016, again credited entirely to Marky, under the strange banner of The Originals.
In theory, Dee Dee and Marky forming something after the Ramones called The Ramainz is brilliant, cool, and hilarious. In execution, heard via 1999’s Live in N.Y.C., it is merely alright. The music‘s tight, but once again Dee Dee does himself in by attempting to sing in his lazy huff numerous anthems that even the golden-voiced Joey couldn’t keep A+ by the end of his touring career. Barbara, also the bass player, is no better on vocals, but at least she sort of sounds like she wants to be there. If you’ve ever wondered what “Wart Hog” would sound like if Dee Dee Ramone was asleep and underwater, here you go.
Across a few ponds, Swedish garage titans the Nomads invited Joey and Handsome Dick Manitoba (singer for the Dictators) to guest on “The King of Night Train,” a bouncy cut also from 1999 and another interesting marker the garage revival decided to whiz past.
Joey had more work in ‘99 with Ronettes legend Ronnie Spector, co-producing her EP She Talks to Rainbows with Daniel Rey. Ronnie does indeed cover, quite beautifully, the ¡Adios Amigos! Ramones ballad this disc is named for; better still is her silky duet with Joey on “Bye Bye Baby,” another forgotten Ramonesland treasure (originally found on Halfway to Sanity). It’s a disservice to call She Talks to Rainbows a companion piece to 1980’s End of the Century (infamously produced by Ronnie’s hellish ex Phil Spector) — this is how End of the Century should have sounded.
THE CRETIN FAMILY Y2K
Johnny Ramone always viewed his world famous band like any other job; when he was off the clock, he didn’t want to think about work. His guitars never left the practice space and he gave away or sold them off once the Ramones retired. No one expected him to do anything musical after 1996, but in the year 2000 he shocked us all by picking his Mosrite back up for a special appearance on a tribute to one of his heroes, Elvis Presley. Danny B Harvey and Slim Jim Phantom Present a Special Tribute to Elvis finds the titular two rockabilly figures slappin’ out 14 of the King’s most beloved tracks with guest appearances by Lemmy Kilmister and Michael DesBarres. Johnny chugs along on a fun Lemmy-led rendition of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and a surfy instrumental take on “Viva Las Vegas.” His guitar is dialed down to a murmur, which you can be sure he was probably against, but it’s an interesting peek into what may have been had Johnny survived cancer and gotten the bug to record music again.
Also in 2000, C.J. and his Los Gusanos pal Big John teamed up with former Murder Junkie Mark Sheehan for The Warm Jets. A self-titled single offers the grungy stutter of “She Says” on the A side; the other half continues the fuzzy snarl moistened with hot s-e-x in “Diabla.” What a shame there was already a band called the Warm Jets who put the legal kibosh on C.J. et al’s acceleration. This platter has great character.
Society seems to agree that when an artist emerges from a studio with re-recordings of their own cherished hits it is both tragic and cringe-inducing. Dee Dee’s 2000 album Greatest & Latest is no exception. As talented as Dee Dee was, by himself he couldn’t have remade the magic of “Teenage Lobotomy” or “Pinhead” even in 1977, let alone 2000 (the “latest,” by the way, includes a cover of “Cathy’s Clown” sung by wife Barbara in a pronounced nasal clip). Perhaps the only idea worse than recording a classic one more time is writing a sequel to a classic. The Ramones barely got away with “The Return of Jackie & Judy” in 1979; on Hop Around, a disc also released in 2000, Dee Dee tries to turn several Ramones staples into franchises. “38th & 3rd,” “I Don’t Wanna Die in the Basement,” and, the pièce de résistance, “Now I Wanna Be Sedated.” Finally, a danceable Maalox moment. The title track is the only thing that comes close to furious Ramones magic; of course, it’s a sequel to “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Arizona-based Navajo punk trio Blackfire grabbed Joey for vocal support on their 2001 disc One Nation Under — specifically, the manic track “Lying to Myself." Also in '01, Joey sang “Garden of Serenity,” a Ramones deep cut from Halfway to Sanity, live with the Independents on their sophomore disc Back From The Grave. “Yes, this is a Dee Dee song,” Joey announces at the top of the proceedings. “It’s one of my favorites, very obscure, you know.”
Marky Ramone And The Speedkings prove they are no grammatical masters with the title of their 2001 album No If’s, And’s Or But’s! Inside, the disc finds a good compromise between the unique charisma of the first Marky Ramone & The Intruders album and the liberty spiked bruising of the second. As the Speedking name implies, you can smell the congealing engine fluids as Marky, singer/guitarist Nick Cooper, non-vocal guitarist Dee Skywalker, and bassist Steve Jay tear through material related to your local chop shop (“Girls & Gasoline,” “Burning Rubber,” “HotRods-R-Us”). In 2002, this disc was repackaged as Legends Bleed with a couple rare Intruders cuts and a portion of a live gig. That same year, the Speedkings released “I’ve Got Dee Dee On My Mind,” a sweet if non-essential tribute to the greatest rapper from Whitestone, Queens, and Rawk Over Scandinavia, an EP of four Ramones covers.
Check this shit out: To coincide with his role as the Pope in the Steve Grasse film Bikini Bandits (which also stars Maynard James Keenan as Satan and Corey Feldman as the angel Gabriel), in 2002 Dee Dee wrote and recorded “Bikini Bandits” and “Do The Bikini Dance,” both of which were released as singles. The delinquent bass player also put out a cover of “Born to Lose,” but his best work that year was contributing vocals/instrumentation to a couple static pounders on Youth Gone Mad’s Youth Gone Mad Featuring Dee Dee Ramone. These L.A. garage punks squeeze a wonderfully emotional performance outta Dee Dee on the hard-luck tale “False Alarm.” It probably helped that Youth Gone Mad was an established group with years of experience, not just an assembly of rent-a-punx Dee Dee grabbed for one album. Oddly, Dee Dee does not appear on YGM’s cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
Dee Dee died of a heroin overdose that June. One of his final recordings, the sweetly inward “I’ve Gotta Right to Love Her - If I Want Too” (performed without him on the Youth Gone Mad album), wound up on a split single with Terrorgruppe that was released as a tribute to Dee Dee in that band’s native Germany (Dee Dee spent pockets of his youth in Germany but was in fact born in Fort Lee, Virginia).
Speaking of death, Joey Ramone’s 2002 solo debut Don’t Worry About Me will always be tinged with the sadness that Joey (d. April 2001) did not live to see its release. This adds extra poignancy to the disc’s beginning and closing songs, a soaring rendition of Louie Armstrong’s signature “What a Wonderful World” and the lovesick title track (respectively). Sandwiched between is material that fluctuates between amusing (“Stop Thinking About It”), confusing (is “Mr. Punchy” the theme to a cancelled children’s show?), and flat-out stupid (“There’s a spirit in my house, and I know it ain’t no mouse!” Joey confesses to no great meaning in “Spirit in My House”). The backing group features Marky, Daniel Rey, and Dictators bassist Andy Shernoff; guest stars include Captain Sensible, Helen Love, and Joey’s brother Mickey Leigh. A certain level of quality is established that helps put over even the more dubious material (the guitar solos in that dumb ghost song are fuckin’ cool).
The same year as Don’t Worry About Me came a posthumous holiday release from Joey, the EP Christmas Spirit… In My House. Three tracks from the full length are front loaded with Joey’s dreamy run through Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” and a melancholy rendition of his own “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” (originally recorded with the Ramones for 1989’s Brain Drain). This guy could have made a career out of yule music.
Joey’s final recording before passing, allegedly, is a brief line on the Backyard Babies song “Friends,” an all star collab that also boasts the talents of Danko Jones, Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks, and Cardigans singer Nina Persson. This hard rockin’ celebration of platonic relations appears on the Swedish group’s 2003 disc Stockholm Syndrome.
2003’s Street Animal by Dee Dee Ramone & The Spikey Tops is, in fact, a muddy audience recording of a 1989 New Rochelle concert put on by Dee Dee and this short-lived tributary. The Spikey Tops are full on lunkhead metal — from song one, the pentatonic solos are a’blazin’ over true caveman rhythms. Dee Dee croons with enthusiasm, though, often to astonishing degrees. Maybe Deed was a closet Nugent fan. Street Animal contains early, crotch-stuffed versions of signature tunes “Main Man” (mislabeled on the record sleeve as “I’m an Apeman”) and “Poison Heart,” both of which the Ramones bought from Dee Dee and re-recorded for their 1992 effort Mondo Bizarro.
Truth is always stranger than fiction, even in the world of the Ramones, which is why Marky found himself drumming for the Misfits between 2001 and 2005. Bass player Jerry Only took on singing duties (vacated by Michale Graves) and also hired legendary Black Flag guitarist Dez Cadena. A trio with tremendous potential, and yet they only managed to get through one album, a doo-wop covers LP entitled Project 1950. Marky handles the beats in a cinch, helping carry Only’s weird foghorn bellow across oldies like “This Magic Moment,” “Dream Lover,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and (you guessed it) “Monster Mash.”
Original Ramones drummer Tommy stepped back around the boards in 2004 to add percussion to “Bowery Electric” by the Bowery Electric Crew, a one-off tribute to Joey comprised of C.J. on bass, Marky on drums, Daniel Rey on guitar, and singer Jed Davis. This mournful and rootsy rocker appears on an EP that bears the Bowery Electric name but also includes tracks from the bands Goin’ Places and Suzy & Los Quattro (a Spanish band of no relation to Suzi Quatro). Two years later, Uncle Monk, the bluegrass duo Tommy had with his wife Claudia Tienan, put out their one and only self-titled effort; it’s filled with the kind of laid back pickin’ and a pluckin’ you might hear drifting around a mist-laden mountain range (or in a Civil War documentary). Who could have guessed the quiet architect of “Blitzkrieg Bop” would go Petticoat Junction?
Punk rock was so big again in 2006 that even people helping to manage estates of deceased Ramones were getting record deals. John Cafiero, who worked with Johnny’s widow Linda for some time following the guitarist’s 2004 death, used his spare hours to form and front an anime-obsessed punk group called Osaka Popstar. Cafiero, who also worked/continues to work with the Misfits in management capacity, got Jerry Only, Dez Cadena, and Marky Ramone into this group, as well as Voidoids guitarist Ivan Julian, and recorded 2006’s very appropriately titled Osaka Popstar and the American Legends of Punk (issued by Misfits Records — natch). Who else but a manager could convince these titans to do a high-octane sprint through the theme to “Sailor Moon?” Also covered on this borderline insane record: Paul Tripp’s “The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t” and folk standard “Man of Constant Sorrow.”
Elsewhere at this juncture, there’s C.J.’s band Bad Chopper — technically The Warm Jets with a fresh moniker (whose ranks include Mark Sheehan and guitarist Brian Constanza). Yes, they're called Bad Chopper and they put a motorcycle gang on the cover of 2007’s Bad Chopper, but these outlaws are somehow less a testament to biker rock than Los Gusanos. They’re also more generic, even with a few guest shots by former Heartbreaker Walter Lure. Quirkier lyrics could have elevated Bad Chopper, but C.J. is insistent not to go beyond exactly what you’d expect from titles such as “Sick Of It” or “All the Pretty Girls.”
After providing drums for a re-recording of Runaways hit “Cherry Bomb” for Runaway singer Cherie Curry in 2007 and bailing on Osaka Popstar in the wake of 2008’s EP Rock ‘Em O-Sock ‘Em Live!, Marky proved he wasn’t done dicking around with Misfits when he created Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg with Michale Graves. In 2009, the Blitzkrieg released the reflective track “When We Were Angels” backed inexplicably with the Intruders song “One Way Ride” from 1999’s The Answer to Your Problems?. Two originals was apparently too much to ask of Mark and Michale. MRB was more of a touring entity in any regard; at one point, nuclear energetic rocker Andrew W.K. fronted the act.
RICHIE RETURNS, TWICE! C.J. THRICE! THE 2010s
It’s a miracle: Joey’s voice sounds fantastic throughout his second posthumous solo album, 2012’s …Ya Know?, which makes up for some on-the-nose subject matter (spoiler alert: Joey loved being from and living in New York City) and so-so melodies. Putting a romantic button on this late Ramone’s career outside Da Bruddahs is a guest vocal by Holly Beth Vincent on “Party Line”; they still got each other, babe.
“Nothing lasts forever and blah blah blah,” C.J. laments on “What We Gonna Do Now?” — the first song on his debut solo effort from the same year, Reconquista. That line serves as a succinct wrap up of this entire meat-and-potatoes mediocrity. Reconquista can’t pull itself out of its own mid-level dreck, even with guest appearances by Adolescent Frank Agnew, X’s Billy Zoom, Flogging Molly’s Dennis Casey, and Bad Religion’s Jay Bentley. At least we get the definitive “this belongs in an Olsen Twins movie” rendition of Lou Reed’s “I’m Waiting for the Man.”
No one had money on vanished Ramones drummer Richie (who toured with the group for four years in the mid-‘80s and played on three LPs) resurfacing during Obama’s second term with 2013’s Entitled. There’s a harder edge to Richie’s rock, as if he’s here to say the legend of this band will not steam roll me anymore. This is inspiring and his sound has conviction. Yet we must recognize that white-hot guitar solos are not what songs like “I’m Not Jesus” (written by Richie, originally recorded by the Ramones for Halfway to Sanity) were missing. Vocally, Rich adopts the same dismissive British affectation Joey used on 1976’s Ramones; the key difference is you can hear decades of tar in Richie’s lungs. There’s probably also resentment in there. Three years later, Richie put out Cellophane, a duller attack whose conversation point is a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” You will not shed a tear.
C.J.’s voice, for all its been through, remains the same after 20-plus years — still youthful, still optimistic, always sounding ready for a party. It’s a shame he’s had such trouble on these solo endeavors finding the right musicians to help support his fresh throat. The worst, most middling records by the Queers have more punch and intrigue than 2014’s Last Chance to Dance. If this is the last chance I’ll be over by the refreshments.
Naturally, that was not C.J.’s final waltz, and even 2017’s American Beauty will most likely not be the bookend of his career. American Beauty offers the most snap, crackle, pop of any disc bearing C.J.’s name, but it is still nothing worth shoplifting from Hot Topic (where it surely plays on a loop as emotionally frustrated children fondle “Rick & Morty" tchotchkes).
As satisfying and unique as much of this material is, not a single piece of it can match the entertainment value of Joey and Marky Ramone’s verbal donnybrook on the October 5, 1997 episode of “The Howard Stern Show.” During a previous appearance, Joey had referred to Marky as a drunk. Marky calls in to defend himself; then Joey gets on the phone and the fur really starts flying. Joey insists Marky’s a drunk. Marky brings up Joey’s OCD. Joey accuses Marky of wearing a wig. Marky accuses Joey’s entire family of wearing wigs. Joey slams the Intruders for not being able to “draw flies” at their gigs. Marky repeatedly insists Joey should play Tiny Tim in a biopic, even when Howard Stern is attempting to broker peace.
“I can’t believe this,” Stern laments at one point, audibly disheartened by the squabbling. “I really had no idea you guys were fighting.”
In many ways, the Ramones were as brotherly as brothers could get.