With tattered jeans, grungy black leather, long unruly hair and three fatal chords that reverbed round the world, The Ramones made as much of an impact on the punk movement in the '70s as Louis Armstrong did for jazz in the '20s, or as The Beatles did for pop-rock in the '60s. While Iggy Pop and The Stooges may have carved the ten commandments of punk into the sternum of late '60s youth, it was these four misfits from Queens that preached it to the downtrodden masses in the '70s with crude anti-anthems like "Beat On The Brat," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Teenage Lobotomy" and "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue."
Sadly, despite a recent new wave of punk, with the somewhat watered-down but still spirited likes of Green Day, Blink 182, and Rancid spreading the saliva-stained word to the kids of today, the Ramones lead singer and fountainhead of punk, Joey Ramone, has recently left us after a fatal bout with lymphatic cancer last April.
In the wake of this devastating loss to the music world ConcertLivewire contributor Maggie St.Thomas has interviewed the three remaining Ramones - Marky, Johnny and CJ., unearthing many human elements (loss, bitterness, sorrow and hope) from them.
In the last of our three part series of Ramones interviews, CJ Ramone (aka Christopher James Ward) opens up to Livewire about his past, present and future work.
Maggie- Aside from Los Gusanos and Bad Chopper (formerly known as The Warm Jets) what have you been doing since the disbandment of The Ramones?
CJ- Well, I'm now a dad with two kids.
Maggie- Tell me about the sound of your new band Bad Chopper.
CJ- Early 70's garage style punk. Sort of like Iggy & The Stooges with a lot of Ramones influences.
Maggie- Do you have any upcoming records?
CJ- We're hoping to have a CD out later this year or early next year. We've got a 4-song E.P. right now that we had just printed up with The Warm Jets and everything, and now we have to scratch all the artwork that just got done this week. We need to throw all those covers out (hysterical laughter).
Maggie- That sucks!
CJ- Yeah it does. It's pretty fucking stupid.
Maggie- What is your relationship like with ACME Records?
CJ- We did one single with them, and we're probably going to work with them more in the future. ACME really likes us!
Maggie- What was your relationship like with Joey before his passing?
CJ- It was a good relationship which is why I'm pretty fuckin pissed about the whole birthday bash for Joey thing. He was my friend. I mean, we had some problems, but there was no major fights or anything like that. We really were a family, but it was Joey and I who had the least problems within the band and his death really affected me. I was actually one of the first people to know that he was sick. I remember when he told me. Grieving was personal for me; it's definitely a personal matter, and all these magazines would be calling here asking me for comments when he died. It was horrible! But I was kind of counting on that night to have been my last hurrah for Joey; you know. I was counting on that being my final goodbye. But I got totally cheated out of it. I got fucking cheated, and you're the first person I've ever mentioned any of this to, or talked to about it. I almost wanted to call up Howard Stern and tell him 'Listen, if you want the real deal, the real story, I'll tell you the truth,The Ramones were dis-invited!' You know, as a band we would have never gotten back together, but we were all going to do this thing for Joey. We thought about playing a full set and having the spotlight on the microphone. You know, put his legend into full perspective, cause that's what he was. We could have done something really great that night. I'm not trying to make anyone else look bad, I'm just giving you the cold facts because I know what they are. It was just a really sad fuckin story. The fans really got cheated on what could have been a major part of the musical history of The Ramones. Whatever anybody else tells you about Johnny being sick, or that Marky was outta town, or whatever, all that is bullshit! What I just told you is exact. They decided that they did not want us playing there and they chose to dis-invite us.
Maggie- Ouch! I'm speechless. I didn't know that! I'd have to say that it was a pretty good night, very memorable. But if The Ramones had played...Wow! That would have been pure madness!
CJ- See, Joey's family was a collection of friends and all the fuckin freaks and weirdos he made friends with over the years that were close to him. He had stronger ties with his music family than he did with his blood family because they all tried to fuck him over so much. Imagine trying to capitalize on your brother's death to launch a career that
you never even had. Well, Mickey's trying to use Joey's death as a vehicle. We were only invited if he could sing on the mic, almost like trying to replace Joey. And it's really sad because' regardless, we should have had the chance to put Joey's legend into proper perspective after is death. If we had the opportunity to really put his life in perspective for the fans it would have really been something big. But instead, it was like a blurb in Rolling Stone Magazine. The fans really got cheated, I mean the people that went were happy with the way things went, but that was nothing compared to what it could have been. It wasn't climactic. The whole night could have only been building up for one thing, and that was to see The Ramones onstage, and none of us even attended.
I've vowed whenever I get back to South America and Japan I'm going to make sure I do my own tribute to Joey onstage. And that's what I'm going to do. Here in the states it doesn't really matter. I don't think anybody really cares at this point. Not that nobody cares, but it's already been said and done. That's why I'm going down to South America, and either before or after the set I'm going to go out onstage and say my peace and put it all behind me. It's not like I say to myself every morning when I wake up I wish there was something I could do about it now, you know. It don't even matter to me anymore, the only thing that matters to me now is having a chance to say my peace to people who will be able to appreciate it. No matter what anybody thinks or no matter what anybody says, Joey was one of the most influential people in rock 'n' roll ever! If you listen to the early Ramones albums they're just totally fuckin unbelievable if you look at it in the context of what was going on in music at that time and how many people they've influenced, cause that's how you really measure the true greatness of a band is how many people they've influenced and The Ramones were probably the most influential band of all time.
Maggie- Did you go AWOL to be in The Ramones?
CJ- I was actually waiting on a discharge, so it wasn't like I deserted. They [the Marines] kept trying to send me out to Japan and I knew once I got there, it would be awfully hard to get a discharge, so I said fuck it. I had already been jamming with The Ramones a couple of times over a two-month period while they had already auditioned like 75 people. Once I started to feel like I was going to get the job, I called them up to find out what I had to do. They arrested me and threw me in the brick. So, the first night I'm in jail I get a phone call from Johnny saying for me to do my time, and when I get out I've got a job. I got out 5 weeks later and went on tour with the band.
Maggie- Were you scared at first? Did you think 'Oh shit, now they're just going to find someone else?'
CJ- At first, of course! I mean I wasn't scared, I just figured 'oh well, it was fun. I got to jam with The Ramones.' In the real early photographs you see of me and in the video (Lifestyles of The Ramones), I've got a bandana around my head cause they just shaved it from the brick. I was literally just a week out of jail.
Maggie- That's crazy.
CJ- Yeah. Pretty wild.
Maggie- When are you going to take Bad Chopper out on tour?
CJ- We went to the states a couple of times in Los Gusanos, but, you know, I have one little boy, and my little girl was coming along and I couldn't leave my wife pregnant and just go out on the road. So I just said all right, I've got to put it down for a couple of years. It's going to take a while you know, to ease back into it cause I have to take into consideration that I have two kids, and I need to get my wife and kids used to me being on the road. I'm no less hungry than I was before, I mean I really want to do it again! I just have to be choosier on the tours I go out on, and now I have to pay more attention to how long I'm going to be away from home, just until I can afford to take them out on the road with me.
Maggie- I remember reading something about a benefit CD you did for the Oglala Lakota College on the reservation.
CJ- Actually, that was the first thing I did with Los Gusanos. We formed a benefit. At the time it was the only 4-year Native Run School in the country. It might still be I don't know. I figured it would be a really good idea to help them out, so we sent them the money. 50 per cent of it went to a library that they were building at the time, and the other percent of it went into the general fund for the schools and stuff.
Maggie- Are any of those CD's still available?
CJ- There may be some, yeah. Alternative Tentacles put it out. It's Jello Biafra's label. They're based outta San Francisco.
Maggie- That's very admirable of you. I know you've got a lot of fans out here that can't wait to see you when you get to this part of town. Marky will be out here this Tuesday.
Maggie- What kind of hobbies do you have?
CJ- I work on bikes a lot. I've got a Harley that I built and I've got a '67 Nova I've been working on for about a year now. I like guns a lot and old cowboy style rifles.
Maggie- What kinds of guns do you have?
CJ- Mostly shotguns. I've got a little old lever action Smith and Wesson that I found up in my attic.
Maggie- Would you consider guns to be something you collect?
CJ- Yeah, guns are something I collect. I'm not really looking out for rare stuff; I'm really way more into function than anything else. I like to collect stuff, but it's got to be functional, like tools, 'cause I use them so much!
Maggie- What types of films and movies do you like? Is there one specific genre that you love to watch?
CJ- Hmmm, not really. I don't have any one genre. If I had to name my favorite films of all time it would have to be "Jaws," "Aliens," "Taxi Driver," this movie from the '60s with Martin Sheen called "Badlands" that I really like a lot. Just all sorts of different kinds of movies really. But mostly real classic ones like '60s and '70s movies.
Maggie- Do you like horror films?
Maggie- What are some of your favorites?
CJ- That's tough. I really like the "Day of The Dead" series, "Dawn of The Dead," and "Day of The Dead." They're super gory cannibals. I like a lot of the old vampire movies with Christopher Lee. I mostly like old stuff, not too much new stuff. The makers of films now have it down to such an art and science that a lot of the cool campiness is gone.
Maggie- Define punk as it is today.
CJ- Its very California, very West Coast!
Maggie- What's one very important thing that you've learned from your ventures with The Ramones that you will always carry with you and never forget or leave behind you?
CJ- Follow what I want to do, follow my own road and not listen to other people. Sometimes people think they're doing you service by giving you advice, and a lot of times they're not giving you advice that pertains to you. It's just what they would do in that situation. If I had listened to any of those people, you know, I would have never even had some of the opportunities that I've had. I would have never joined The Ramones.
Maggie- What is it like to go from being a Ramone, which is a bit more high profile, to jamming with smaller bands?
CJ- I really just love to play. It's not even a question really of becoming rich or famous, you know. I just really like to play. And that's why after The Ramones retired I had to keep going. And people are like 'Holy shit! How can you go from playing with The Ramones and getting paid all this money to play in front of a couple thousand people a night, to playing in little bars with your own band to 75-80 people a night and getting paid shit.' I'm not doing it for money I'm doing it 'cause I like to play music. That's what it's about for me you know, I don't really give a shit. If I was never in The Ramones chances are I would have given music up, but because I did play with The Ramones it just totally re-sparked my whole thing with music. Now, I'll never let it go again. Regardless of whatever I do, I'll always fuckin' play music. I'll always be in a band. I'll always go out and play shows. It doesn't matter to me whether I'm in South America touring or whether I'm playing in a local bar. It doesn't matter.
Maggie- Are there any other bands out there that you'd like to be in?
CJ- I'd love to play with Tom Leeds and maybe, uh, I'd probably like to play in The Rolling Stones too, not that I think they're really good anymore, but just because Keith Richards is like my favorite guy of all time in music. There's nobody really new that I would like to play with. Maybe with like Queens of The Stone Age or Fu Manchu, I could see myself fitting right in. There aren't too many bands out there that I'm really too enamored with at this point.
Maggie- What type of music do you listen to and what inspires you most?
CJ- I listen to a pretty eclectic mix of stuff. Reggae and old Stones I listen to a lot, as well as Holly Go Lightly. She's really smokin'! Zeke & The Supersuckers and Queens of The Stone Age I listen to as well! I guess I listen to so much different stuff, I even throw on classical music once in a while. I listen to Tom Waits, The Clash. I'm not the kind of person that finds a new style of music and I forget about everything I listened to before that. I can add it into my collection. I still listen to all the bands I listened to when I was a teenager pretty much, except for a lot of the metal bands you know, cause they didn't age too well.
Maggie- Do you still plan on moving to Hawaii?
CJ- Yep. That's where my wife is from, and she wants to go home, so eventually we'll get there. We're probably going to go over in about another year or two. I really like it over there. It's totally laid back and stuff. They've got pretty mean herb over there too! That's always a good thing. Plus, I've always wanted to learn how to surf.
Maggie- How long have you been married?
CJ- Three years.
CJ- Thank you.
Maggie- Any last words?
CJ- Nah. I think I said everything I needed to say. ROCK ON!
Part One of "The Ramones Confidentials" with Maggie St. Thomas' interview
with Marky Ramone
Part Two with co-founder and guitarist Johnny Ramone.