If you donâ€™t know who Ramones were then what the hell are you even doing on this website? If you do, then you know that without them the music world would be very different than it is today. Arguably, punk rock really wouldnâ€™t exist. The Ramones are a crucial punk band and their legacy will live on for a very long time -- hopefully forever. CJ Ramone replaced bassist Dee Dee Ramone in 1989 and played with the band until they broke up in 1996.
In addition to the Ramones, CJ has since been in 22 Jacks and released two records, Reconquista and Last Chance to Dance as a solo artist. But there is a lot more to him you might think. So Punknews news editor Ricky Frankel caught up with CJ Ramone at Itâ€™s Not Dead Fest where they discussed CJ playing Cuba, being on The Howard Stern Show, what he has planned for his musical career and, of course, being in The Ramones.
First of all happy belated birthday. I know you share a birthday with Johnny.
Before you joined the Ramones, you were in the Marines, what made you want to join the Armed Forces? Was that something you always wanted to do?
Well my dadâ€™s whole family are all military, but right out of high school I had a job in an aircraft factory and where I lived on Long Island all the good jobs were in the aerospace industry. And I was there for two years out of high school and they shut the factory down and so I was out of a job. I worked for a year or two as a landscaper, but I was 20, 21 years old and I knew that was not where I wanted to be. And because I wasnâ€™t real good in school and had no college my career path was kind of limited and I figured you know, in the military Iâ€™ll get to see the world, Iâ€™ll get a little bit of discipline, which I definitely needed because I was not very focused at that point. And not that you need to be like hyper-focused at 21, 22 years old, but for me I just hoped Iâ€™d be a little further down the line than I was. So it was just an obvious choice to go into the military. And I grew up around guns and hunting and all that stuff, so the Marine Corps just made sense.
When you got that phone call from Johnny while in military custody, that you got the spot to play bass, were you just extra excited/antsy to get out play with the band?
Yeah. It was really hard to stay focused and everything, but Johnny told me when he called me, he said, â€œJust do your time and donâ€™t get into trouble and when you get out you got a job,â€ and thatâ€™s really what was in my head the whole time. And I just kept my mouth shut and did what they told me to do and just bit the bullet until two, three weeks, maybe a little more, from when I got the phone call from Johnny in custody to when I actually got on the bus to go home.
You played your first show with The Ramones on September 30, 1989. On December 20, 1989 the US invaded Panama. Looking back was there a good chance you would have had to go?
I think the invasion force that went to Panama left out of Camp Lejeune, which is in North Carolina. I was stationed in San Diego at Camp Pendleton so chances are I wouldnâ€™t have had any part of it. Iâ€™m not 100 percent sure on that, but I talked a to couple of guys I was in with and I know we did not get called up for that.
Then it wasnâ€™t as close of a call as I though it was. When that event got announced though, were just like â€œWhoa! Just dodged a bullet!â€?
Nah, you know. Real honestly my first thought was, â€œI wouldâ€™ve felt really bad if I had left and we suddenly went to war because somebody would have had to have gone in my place.â€ And not only that, but I was fresh out of infantry school and I was real motivated and all that stuff. And thatâ€™s not to say that I was looking forward to going to war or anything like that, but it's just like anything when youâ€™re trained to do something you always want to test yourself and see if youâ€™re able to actually do it. And of course that is kind of the ultimate test of your will power over yourself, ya know?
When you first joined the Ramones were you disappointed with the fact that the other three werenâ€™t getting along? Did you feel torn between the three of them because you were the â€œnew guyâ€ at the time?
The weird part was just learning about it because I didnâ€™t know about that whole backstory to it. I didnâ€™t know the story about Johnny and Joey in love with the same girl and she leaves Joey for Johnny. I didnâ€™t know any of that stuff and I found out in a really, really bad way by bringing it up one night just by saying, â€œJohnny, howâ€™s Linda doing?â€ And all of the sudden the van got very quiet and I had realized that I had overstepped some unseen boundary there. But it really wasnâ€™t that hard because I had really good friendship with both of those guys. Joey was more like my friend. Johnny was more like my teacher or my mentor or whatever, but I just had good relationships with both of them. And it was uncomfortable sometimes like when it came time to talk about songs on the record and all that because they did not even look at each other. You know what I mean? It was a little bit awkward, but I always tell everybody that itâ€™s just like a family, you know? Everybodyâ€™s family has one family member that they donâ€™t really get along with. They were in a band and touring together, living together, eating together, sleeping in the same hotel for 15 years at that point. So it really wasnâ€™t that uncomfortable. It wasnâ€™t like every time I got in the van I was like, â€œOh no! This again.â€ But there were just certain times when I wished it had been a little bit easier to get things done. But thatâ€™s how it was.
Whose idea was it to cover the Spider-Man theme song on Mondo Bizarro?
Johnny let me pick that song.
Hahaha! That was you?! Thatâ€™s awesome!
Yeah. When we got offered I said to Johnny, â€œThereâ€™s only one song that we can do.â€ And he was like, â€œWhat song?â€ I was like, â€œThe Spider Man theme. I can hear the bass line in my head. Itâ€™s going to be the best song on the record.â€ And he was like, â€œOk, fine.â€ And that was my favorite cartoon when I was a kid so that fact that I was able to talk him into doing it was really good. And I thought it was. I really liked Helmetâ€™s cover, too. They did a really good job. I thought it was the best song on the record.
On Acid Eaters, which is the covers album, you sang lead on "Journey to the Center of the Mind", "The Shape of Things to Come" and â€œMy Back Pages.â€ How did the band determine what songs to cover and how did you and Joey decide on what songs each of you would sing lead on?
So everybody kind of put in their two cents on what they wanted to cover. My pick was â€œHave You Ever Seen The Rain?â€ by Creedence Clearwater Revival and my other pick was â€œI Donâ€™t Want To Grow Up,â€ but Johnny turned that one down and of course me and Joey kind of forced it on to the final record and it turned out to be one of the better songs on the record. The way we picked who sang what was that Joey didnâ€™t come to rehearsal so I would have to learn all the songs. I would have to teach Johnny the guitar parts and learn the vocals and sing them at rehearsals and in the studio. So what would happen is we would tape it and Joey would hear and if he liked the way I sang a certain song or if Johnny liked it then theyâ€™d say â€œOk, youâ€™re going to sing this one.â€ It was usually the Dee Dee songs. But that shows you what an unbelievably cool and humble guy [Joey] was. He was the lead singer of the band. Itâ€™s not like he played rhythm guitar and step back and I could step up, but he was all for me singing all three of the songs [on Acid Eaters].
So, once the band left Sire Records, apparently The Ramones almost signed with Epitaph Records how come that didnâ€™t happen?
At the time, this was one of the biggest arguments and one of the real times I stood up to Johnny with something having to do with business. You know not just was our record company contract coming to an end, but the booking agency, that contract was coming to an end and Stormy Shepard from Leave Home Bookings was trying to get The Ramones to jump on with her. And I started to hear Johnny talking about signing with our managerâ€™s label. Our manager was starting up Radioactive Records and one day we were in the dressing room and I was like, â€œJohnny youâ€™ve ran this band for years. Youâ€™ve single-handedly carried the whole thing. I donâ€™t understand how you donâ€™t see the conflict of interest of signing to your managerâ€™s record label. Just business-wise I donâ€™t understand how you donâ€™t see that. Youâ€™re really throwing away the last few years of your career. These guys over at Epitaph, they grew up listening to you. They will do anything to give you the commercial success you never had. Your manager is going to do the same thing he has done all along. Heâ€™s going to dump your stuff out there. Youâ€™re going to bust your ass with no support from anybody and youâ€™re going to ride out the rest your career the way itâ€™s been up to now.â€ And he was like, â€œWell when youâ€™re in the business as long as I am, you can tell me how to run the band.â€ But what I did not realize or understand at the time was Johnny worked out all kinds of backdoor deals to make cash money. Johnnyâ€™s whole thing was he was retiring, he wanted to have as much cash in the bank as possible, he had written off on being successful years before -- after End The Century came out -- he realized that the band was never going to break big and they were just going to have get out there and pound the pavement and make the money on their own. So he had worked out all kinds of deals and got a huge advance. We spent very little of it. Joey and Johnny probably just split that money and there was all kinds of little things like that going on, which even after I learned that, I found really unfortunate that he basically sold out the end of his career, you know his chance at real success for The Ramones for what amounted to a couple hundred thousand dollars.
In another interview you talked about how Johnny would give you financial advice and stock tips while on the road. Was talking about stocks and talking to a stockbroker a recurring conversation you would have during the down time on the road?
Johnny used to follow stocks real closely like every day. I never really liked it. I wasnâ€™t really into it, but I made so little money with The Ramones. I started at $350 a week and never made more than $700. And I did not have a lot of money and I was trying my best to save as much as I could and make as much as I could off of what I was making. Thatâ€™s how I kind of got involved in that for a little while with Johnny. Iâ€™m just not a â€œmoney guyâ€ you know what I mean? Iâ€™m just not really into it. And while I did learn a lot from him and everything else, things change so quickly that once he was gone I was just kind of lost on the whole thing and I pulled all my money out anyway. Thank God because I got out right before the whole big crash and all that stuff. So it actually worked to my advantage, but that was about the extent of my experience with that.
I think itâ€™s extremely interesting that he had that much business stuff going on while one the road.
Yeah, he was really good. He could pick â€˜em.
Iâ€™m not sure if you are aware of this, but someone uploaded a video of The Ramones on The Howard Stern E! Show (Watch it below). You guys were plugging Weâ€™re Outta Here. Do you think Howard was really trying to come off as a mediator between the four of you or do think he was just trying to get a rise out of the four you?
No, I was a huge Howard Stern fan before I got into the band and in fact the first time that we went on his show I became really defensive of the band right away and I realized that I would have to do something to make sure I put him on his heels. So as soon as we went in and sat down he said, â€œ Oh! The Ramones are here!â€ He goes, â€œJoey! Everybody tells me we look a like -- we look just like brothers!â€ And Howard was wearing a shirt with a snub nose .38 on it and it said â€œNew York Cityâ€¦ It Ainâ€™t Kansasâ€ and then I said, â€œ Yeah, but Joey wouldnâ€™t wear a tacky tourist shirt like that.â€ And of course they didnâ€™t include it in the show, but the room got very quiet very quickly. I hated to do that because I really like Howard Stern, but I just want to put him on notice that there was no way I was going to let him fuck with The Ramones. Thatâ€™s really why I did it.
Really? So you kind of kept him from doing that thenâ€¦
Yeah, right, because I mean, thatâ€™s a common thing with fighting or whatever is to put somebody on their heels right away. He didnâ€™t recover in time to really come up with any of his good stuff and thatâ€™s why I did it. But I donâ€™t think I said much after that. I never really apologized to him or anything for it. I didnâ€™t feel like I needed to because my thing was to protect the band. Later on when Joey and Marky actually went on the show without me, when they had their big fight and everything, thatâ€™s was because I wasnâ€™t there. If I had been there I would not have let it gone down that way or at least not as bad.
When you went to record your two solo albums, Reconquista and Last Chance to Dance, what did you do the same as when recording with the Ramones? What did you do differently (other than recording with different people)?
Well the first record is totally different because we had a huge lineup of superstars that came to play on the record. We had Jay Bentley from Bad Religion on there, we had Billy Zoom from X play on it, Johnny from Social Distortion. We also had a whole bunch of special guests come on and do guitar parts and stuff, that was all Steve Sotoâ€™s work. Steve put the word out and all those guys all came down and played on the record. And I was completely blown away because it was my first record as CJ Ramone. I was so unbelievably paranoid that it would not live up to the name and thatâ€™s kind of the curse of being in The Ramones, which is I canâ€™t just dump crappy records out. With The Ramones a lot of the stuff was kind of pieced together. We did it (Reconquista) in a more direct fashion of just cutting the tracks, like solid tracks -- very few punch-ins and just going for it, which is not how The Ramones did it. Of course there was layers of guitars and all that. I did learn a lot of stuff from The Ramones in the studio. I got to work with some really good producers, Ed Stasium being the main one. It was mostly about being very focused, doing things in a very regimented manner, and making sure to keep track of things and things donâ€™t get forgotten or lost. Itâ€™s just more about being organized and disciplined and that type of thing.
On your album Last Chance to Dance, you have a song called â€œMr. Kalashnikov.â€ Who was he? He was the inventor of the AK-47 right?
In that song thereâ€™s a line that goes â€œEvery common man with a gun in his hand is what we gotta do.â€ Itâ€™s refreshing to hear that kind of opinion coming from a punk rock artist. Can you expand on that?
Realistically, itâ€™s the most used weapon system in the world. Itâ€™s killed more people than any other weapons system. So that line had more to do with what Russia actually was doing with the AK-47. They tried to get it in every country they possibly could. That was the goal. And now on every continent, everywhere everyone knows the AK-47. So it really had more to do with that, than my actual opinion. I donâ€™t necessarily feel like everybody should own a gun.
Oh! Ok, I had a completely different view of that line then.
I think there are a lot of people who obviously we have a little problem with -- there are a lot of people who should not own guns. But my personal opinion is if youâ€™re a law-abiding citizen and you donâ€™t have any mental problems thereâ€™s no reason you should not be able to have a gun. Iâ€™ve owned guns since I was 12 years old. Never had a single problem. I taught my children how to use them. My wife is the only one who is completely anti-gun and hates it, but she understands that I have really good training. Everything is very safe and secured and locked up, so Iâ€™m a very responsible person when it comes to that. But the lyrics of the song really have more to do with his idea. For him personally, he was just trying to build something for the Russian army, but the Russians were selling them all over the world. They were trying to put one in everybodyâ€™s hands.
I saw you play at The Fonda in Hollywood last month with The Damned and before you played â€œThree Angelsâ€ you talked about how this was about Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee, but because Tommy was still living at the time when Reconquista came out, the next time you would write a new album you would write something for all four of them. How do you think youâ€™ll go about writing a song with a subject of that magnitude? Is there a new CJ Ramone album in the works? If so, do you think it will be on Fat Wreck Chords again?
Definitely on Fat. Recording in March. That was kind of a joke about doing a song about all four of them, but I probably will write something about Tommy because to me, Tommy is like the unsung hero of The Ramones. So I think most of the fans understand that he heâ€™s the guy that came up with the look, the sound -- punk rock style drumming is Tommyâ€™s invention. He only started playing the drums because he couldnâ€™t find a drummer to play the style he heard in his head. So he really was the unsung hero of the band. Dee Dee of course is one of the greatest rock and roll songwriters of all time. Joey, the front man -- Johnny, the motor behind the whole thing. But Tommy was the vision and the focus. He was the guy. I had the opportunity to tell him that the first time I met him. At first he was like â€œHow do you know that?â€ And I said, â€œIf you deconstruct The Ramonesâ€™ career and look where they fall off the cliff itâ€™s right at End Of The Century. Itâ€™s the first record that is not great side for side. Itâ€™s the first record where the production does not fit their style and everything after that is moments of greatness and a whole lot of mediocrity until Too Tough To Die when you and Ed Stasium come back and then suddenly Too Tough To Die is a comeback album.â€ And he was like, â€œOk.â€ That was acceptable that I figured it out that way. But I also had been told by Johnny that Tommy was the guy. And I know Dee Dee did an interview where he talked Tommy down and Marky takes credit for being in the band longer, but realistically without Tommy there would be no Ramones.
I know you did some guest work on the track â€œOff the Gridâ€ on the new Night Birds album (you could say that I had a minor freakout when I heard you count it off), how did that work out? Had you heard their stuff before?
We had been talking about getting together to do some shows on the East Coast. We went back and forth on it. And I just got a phone call one day and they said â€œHey, weâ€™re going into the studio. Do you want to jump in and do some vocals?â€ I donâ€™t get asked to do that very often, so I jumped on the chance. I was like, â€œYeah. I absolutely would love it!â€ Actually Vanessa Burt from Fat Wreck Chords kind of turned me on to those guys. So I went down to the studio, jumped in and we cut the track. I think I did everything in about 20 minutes and they sent it to me afterwards and of course it sounded great. Itâ€™s probably one of my favorite songs on the record.
You just got back from playing Cuba after a majorly successful Indie Go Go campaign to raise the funds for the trip. How was the show? I know anything Ramones-related, the people in Latin America go crazy for, how did it compare to other Latin American shows? What were the logistics of getting there?
We did the Indie Go Go campaign. We all paid for our own flights to go there because of course the money just got deposited to our accounts now. So I can reimburse everybody for their flights. But we actually paid for everything ourselves. We flew over and then we were met in the airport by a representative from the Communist Party, from the Cultural Administration. They then took us right through the airport, we got into a van and went right to the hotel, unpacked our gear. We spent the first day there driving around in the van seeing some sites and had some dinner. It looked a lot like a lot of the cities I have been to in Brazil and places like that. They are doing construction everywhere. Theyâ€™re really trying to update and build everything up. I think they realize that the Americans are coming and theyâ€™re trying to get ready. But the hotels were all nice. We did not have a problem finding good restaurants. There were several good bars. The people were unbelievably cool to us. We got to check out some salsa bands. Of course the common things of the old cars and cigars and all that stuff are true. The shows were all great. We played two shows. One at a place called Casa de Alba. Itâ€™s the headquarters for the Cultural Administration. And we played a second show at a big venue that might have been called Maxim. It was a big, big venue -- packed house -- Iâ€™d say 1,500 to 2,000. Both of the shows were great. They were shows like anywhere else. Thatâ€™s the really cool thing about punk rock. It doesnâ€™t matter what country you go to, the kids are always exactly the same. Anytime you have frustrated young kids who donâ€™t have a lot of money or have raging hormones, they act the same. They all act the same. Punk and metal blossom everywhere in the world in the worst conditions -- there will always be a punk scene and there will always be a metal scene. It donâ€™t matter where you go. And at this point Iâ€™ve been Russia, Iâ€™ve been to Cuba, Iâ€™ve played more cities in Brazil than any other international artist. And we go to every little tiny town that nobody travels to. Weâ€™ve been all over Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela -- weâ€™ve been to all of those countries. And weâ€™ve been to some pretty bad places and there are tight punk and metal scenes in every one of them.
So at those two Cuban shows, I assume the crowds just went wild?
Yeah. We did more Ramones songs than we usually do because thatâ€™s what the expectation was. So we did a good amount of Ramones songs.
I just saw Richie Ramone play HiFi Rockfest in Long Beach, has there ever been any talk of you getting together with either Marky or Richie to play together?
I tried to get Marky and Richie to come out with me a couple years back and Marky and Richie both have been putting out their own records and doing their own things for a while so when they turned me down, I wasnâ€™t insulted. I didnâ€™t think it was anything bad. Theyâ€™re just doing their own thing. There is some talk right now about me, Richie, Joe Queer and Ben Weasel possibly getting together to do something.
That would be very cool! I know you are very involved with Autism causes/charities, what are some good places for people to go to who want to get involved?
The organization that I work with is Autism Speaks. Itâ€™s a organization that puts most of what they raise into research. I know a lot of people donâ€™t dig that so much. A lot of people are kind of down on them for that because they feel like these kids need to be accepted for who they are and we need to work with them with what they have, but to me one 1 in 62 kids being born with something that can be completely limiting in their lives -- we got to find out whatâ€™s going on. I just donâ€™t think thatâ€™s something that you can just say we should live with. One in 62 kids is a huge, huge ratio to be dealing with. My boy was very low-functioning when he was first diagnosed -- didnâ€™t speak until he was eight, but because I worked with him really intensively and we always had good doctors, good therapists, and kind of developed our own program for him heâ€™s now on the high honor roll at school, speaks fluent Italian, he was number three runner on the cross country team, heâ€™s an incredible writer, heâ€™s goes to cooking school in the evening and next year will go to college for cooking. And I know other people who have done the same work that I have and have not had the same results, but I think you have to be willing to put the time and work in to give them the best shot that they can have.
Any thing else to add? Any thing you want to say to our wonderful readers/commenters?
Ah yeah! Hahahaha! Did you see the exchange I had?
Yeah, I was the one tweeting to you during it!
I was just surprised that they would assume that I was doing it for money because there was no money made, like literally we did not make a dime from doing it and we werenâ€™t asking people to give us money. We just put out one-of-a-kind stuff and obviously people thought it was important enough that in three days we raised $15,000. Iâ€™m kind of protective about my reputation because I donâ€™t make a living doing this. Iâ€™m able to do this because I have a very cool wife who is really supportive. And that was the last thing I wanted people to think is that Iâ€™m out there making a million dollars and stuff. Thatâ€™s why I tried to get across to them. I am a blue-collar punk. I do not make enough money to survive off of this. Thereâ€™s no way I ever will, but Iâ€™m not doing it for the money. I do it because I love to do it and Iâ€™m trying to keep The Ramones name going.
I thought the whole thing was very genuine. I didnâ€™t see what they were seeing at all. I wanted to see the Cuba shows happen.
Cool, thanks a lot!
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