The legend Richie Ramone was the third drummer in the band The Ramones. He’s now touring with his own band and has two solo albums to show for, Entitled and Cellophane. We had the opportunity to have us a chat when he visited Kristinehamn in Sweden.
Did your musical carrier start out as a drummer?
I started out as a drummer from the age of eight years old, so I’ve been playing drums for fifty-two years.
Do you prefer to play the drums over singing?
The drums are my first love. But I used to sing when I went to church. During my growth I sang in different bands, so singing feels natural to me. I appreciate both and the reason for not having a band with a singer is that I write about personal experiences, and who would be able to sing a song with feelings from my heart better than me? This is why I sing my own songs. The reason to why I’m not playing the drums through out the show is that it creates a separation from the audience. You can’t play the drums and sing all the time, you need to come out and mingle with the audience, and interact with them to get close, instead of sitting behind the wall of drums all night. It would be boring.
You sing about personal things, so I wonder about the song ”Somebody Put Something In My Drink”, did that happen to you?
Yes. When I was 18, 19 years old, prior to my time in The Ramones. I moved to New York City and stayed with friends, we didn’t have any money. During late nights we went to night clubs and when people left their drinks to use the bathroom or to dance, we snitched their drinks. One night I started to feel weird, what was going on? I felt sick and thought about going to the hospital. The drink was laced with LSD. A hallucinogen drug. When I realized it was okay. When you get a drug and don’t know about it, it’s a very frightening experience. So it’s from that story the song came about. When I started in the Ramones a couple of years later, I told the story to Dee Dee Ramone and he said I should write the song. I wrote it and it became one of the top 20 of all Ramones songs. So it’s cool to have done that.
And the song I Fix This?
The single”I Fix This” is based on an event from the last tour in Sweden, about two and a half years ago. There were a lot of people saying; I’ll fix this and meant I’ll sort this out. I found it very interesting, so I had to write the song. It was the first time I had heard that phrase.
In 2007 you wrote a classic piece…
After I left the Ramones in 1987, I moved to Los Angeles and played in several different bands, but none of it turned out well, so I quit playing for nearly ten years. Then I wanted to come back and do something different, so I arranged an orchestral piece based on West Side Story. There were a few shows and it gave me an opportunity to play drums in a different way. This was more like jazz and drum solos, it was a lot of fun.
Were there no recordings of this?
No, some of it is available on YouTube. I can’t record it since I didn’t write the songs. It was Leonard Bernstein who wrote them and I just made my own arrangements to them. It was ten songs in twenty minutes like a medley. An orchestra of 90 persons and a drummer, it was an awesome experience. I’d like to do it again but at the moment I am happy to play with my band.
It was meant to be the same with the James Bond themes?
The was suppose to be my next piece. If I ever would do something similar again, it would be in a time when it was too difficult and hard to do a high energy punk show. Hopefully I can go back to that, since I like that too but to play the drums and sing, it takes a lot of energy from you. With James Bond, there’s beautiful music that doesn’t need a singer at all, since everyone knows the tunes anyway. James Bond was cool. Recently when I went to England, it was my first time behind the wheels and I drove on the wrong side of the roads and I kept saying to my band; Bond, James Bond. The clutch is on your left side and you need to shift gears with the hand you normally steer with. That was a lot of fun.
Would you make something orchestral with your own songs?
Write music for an orchestra? No.
Or play with your band together with an orchestra?
Having my band playing in front of an orchestra is not in my mind. I couldn’t play with the whole orchestra. It would feel like they were in the background, I want to be a part of the music, so no I would never put my band in front of an orchestra. One should never say never though, but I don’t think it would work for me. It was fun when I did the orchestral shows, as none of the Ramones or rock fans came to the show. It was a whole new kind of audience, politicians, judges and that kind of people. It was fun since I don’t usually see them during my normal shows.
On your latest album you have a Depeche Mode cover; ”Enjoy The Silence”, are they a favourite band of yours?
I don’t have Depeche Mode on my walls, but this is one of the few songs I really like with them. In South America, they really like both the Ramones and Depeche mode. When I was in my studio I started to sing that song and I just said wow, I think I can do a rock version of this one and make it to my own. When you do a cover you need to put your own mark to it, so it feels like you’ve written the song yourself. When bands record a cover in the same way as the original band did, it still won’t be the same; it’s okay but not as good as the original. I think my version feels like my own, it’s a song that people can identify with.
Some of your songs has also been recorded as covers, how do you feel about that?
There are several bands that made covers on my songs and it feels really exciting. It’s a great honour when people make covers on your songs. I see a lot of bands on YouTube that made covers and it gives you a great feeling.
Do you remember the first record you bought?
Oh, I don’t know. My first 45er might have been The Young Rascals. I can’t remember for sure which one that was my first, it was during the late 60: s. My five year older brother Lennie had a large collection. I was exposed to all sorts of music. So it wasn’t like I as a ten year old just listened to rock´n´roll. I can remember Led Zeppelin 1 and 2 with John Bonham. To as a child listen to one of the very best drummers ever been born, is a lasting memory.
Did the music you grew up with influence you?
I think it’s somewhere in my head. I listen to all sorts of music, jazz, funk, fusion, rock and metal. I believe it’s important to try out all sorts of instruments when you grow up and not just the drums or the guitar. Also to practise to all kinds of music, it doesn’t have to be that specific genre you’ll end up playing. But to have the knowledge give you the opportunity to use it in the music you do play. Right now I play punk rock but I have more knowledge that that. I am not the kind of person who just listens and play one specific genre. When you listen to many different genres you become a complete musician. You can listen to country music and still be a rock musician. Country music is a lot of fun to listen to because of the lyrics. It’s very simple and they sing about going to the bar for a whiskey and waking up the next morning with a different girl. I think the lyrics are really fun even though the songs are about the same. Then there’s music from Africa, so there’s a lot of different genres to listen to. I sometimes listen to classical music like Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. It’s very relaxing and it penetrates your mind. When you write your own music it doesn’t necessary mean that you are copying something but it’s still there and will appear in some way or tune.
Are there any differences between when you were on tour with the Ramones and now?
First of all there’s no difference, you get a filthy dressing room and we play the same shabby bars. The difference is that when the Ramones played, we had a much larger audience, roadies and sound engineers who took care of us. These days we’re more of a do it ourselves band and we do everything. It’s expensive to hire help to do your work for you. The Ramones was a much bigger band than what I have now. Then it’s the issue of no record industry anymore. Now you have to spend your own money, make your own records. I’m on the label DC-Jam Records who’s distributing my albums but no record company will give you money or a tour support, all that is gone. The record sales have dropped tremendously because of the free downloading. Van Halen could sell 5 million copies in the old days but now they can sell 400000 copies and it’s a gold record. There’s a huge difference. This is the reason you see more bands on tour selling merchandise and play live. It’s the only way to earn any kind of money. So I in a way it’s better for the fans, because there’s a new band coming to play in your town nearly each week. So there are more bands on tour now. Take the Beatles as an example. I don’t think they were out playing at all during their last four years, they made records and I think they earned well on doing just that. If you’re not out there selling t-shirts, you will suffer. I love to be out on the roads and if I wasn’t a musician, I would never have visited Kristinehamn. This is what makes it fun. Meet the audience, eat different kinds of food around the world, drink different wines and try all the other bad stuff.
Do you play any of the Ramones songs during your shows?
I wouldn’t tour without my own music. I could tour around the world and just play songs of the Ramones, as a cover band. But I don’t want to, since I want to be my own person and artist. I am not the Ramones, but I am Richie Ramone and there’s a big difference. It’s important to take the time to write your own music. As long as I’m touring I am writing songs for a new album, so a new and fresh album might be ready and out with just two years in between.
Do you have an odd or fun tour memory you would like to share with us?
With the Ramones I feel very blessed and honoured to have been able to be a part of the rock´n´roll history. Each night with them was special. I miss all the guys. It’s a tough question; it’s hard to pick out one show, I think they are mixed up, good and bad ones. If I were to pick something from my solo carrier... I think that a good show shouldn’t have an audience who’s standing around with their arms crossed, but an audience should be involved and be screaming yeaah. That’s what punk rock is about. To be a true punk rocker is to be you, be a decent person, and be real and not to be a silly figure on stage. The person you speak with right now is the same person you’ll see on stage tonight; even my clothes will be the same. The audience is a big part of it all. When I write songs I think of my fans and hope they will like it. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. You can’t please everybody in this business. If I can please 50% with what I do, it’s good enough for me. I do have a memory from very recent times and that’s from yesterday when I played in Karlskoga. When the show ended at midnight, everyone sang Happy Birthday in Swedish. It was beautiful; I’ve never heard that before. It was a special night with cake and singing, I will try to get my birthday to last all week (laughter).