February 4, 2010

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Ramones’ history, Blitzkrieg’s present
Drummer Marky Ramone comes to the Tupelo
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Marky Ramone wasn’t the first drummer of the seminal punk rock band the Ramones, but he played a key role in the early New York City music scene prior to joining them in 1978. The former Mark Bell, who changed his last name to replace Tommy Ramone, made his first record with the proto-metal band Dust while he was still in high school. 

“I was going on 16,” the drummer said recently from his home in Brooklyn. “We could play on the weekends but we couldn’t tour … my parents wanted the diploma on the wall, ya know. I mean, education is important.”

After graduation, Marky dove into to emerging punk milieu. “I started hanging out at CBGB, and that’s where I met Wayne County, Richard Hell, Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry. I auditioned for the New York Dolls.”

After a stint in County’s band, Marky joined Richard Hell and the Voidoids in 1976, playing drums on the band’s first EP, which included “Blank Generation.” The song eventually made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 most influential” list.

The Voidoids toured Europe and, along with the Ramones, Blondie and the Dead Boys, helped spark a punk rock movement that gave birth to the Sex Pistols, the Clash and other bands. “The first Converse sneakers Joe Strummer ever got were the ones I gave him when he toured with me and Richard Hell, when he was in the Clash,” Marky said.

The pace of touring got to Bell at the same time Tommy Ramone decided to give up his drum kit to produce and manage the band. Dee Dee invited Marky to join. 

“I stayed for 15 years,” he said, noting that he took a brief leave of absence midway for personal reasons. “They asked me back again, so I guess … I’m the longest living member of the longest lineup that existed in the Ramones career.”

At the time, no one anticipated punk’s enduring musical influence. The idea of “Blitzkrieg Bop” being used as rally music at Yankees games was far away.

“We didn’t start out to conquer the world, we never thought about, let’s have a hit record...,” Marky said. “We just played our style of music and that was it. But then all that other stuff came, y’know?”

When the Roger Corman-directed Rock and Roll High School hit the big screen, things blew up. “We started seeing bands everywhere we went wearing leather jackets, sneakers and going ‘1,2,3,4’ before their songs,” he says. “There was an interest, a whole other new interest  — ‘Oh, the movie! Phil Spector! Blah, Blah, Blah!’”

The band’s work on End of the Century with now-imprisoned producer Spector is the stuff of legends, a few of which Marky is quick to dispel. “He never pulled a gun on us. There were guns there but he never pointed them at anybody. I don’t know where that rumor came from,” Marky said. Dee Dee Ramone wrote about it in his autobiography, Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones. “Dee Dee had a very child-like, vivid imagination — that’s why he was the best songwriter we had,” Marky said. “As a person, Phil was maniacal and egocentric, but he’s Phil Spector!” Marky confirms that there were a few hostage situations. “See, the Ramones were very hyper people. We made an album in two weeks. Phil took about four to five months to make that one.”

Yes, Marky says, Spector forced Johnny Ramone to play the opening chord of “Rock and Roll High School” a hundred times, and kept him at the drum kit for hours on end. “Not to be vindictive about anything, but he wanted a particular sound that he wasn’t hearing. Finally he did get the sound and that’s the result  — what you hear on the album. You know, you’re not there to purposefully do that to somebody … there’s a reason for these things.”

Marky carries on the Ramones sound with Blitzkrieg, a band that includes ex-Misfits singer Michale Graves on vocals, along with guitarist Alex Kane and bass player Clare B of the British band Antiproduct.

Although Blitzkrieg’s show features 32 Ramones songs played fast and loud, “I told these guys, this isn’t a tribute band,” Marky said, and the band recently released “When We Were Angels” via iTunes, a frenetic song that bears a striking resemblance to the Ramones’ work with Phil Spector

“Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee aren’t alive, but I feel that the music’s too good not to be played, and a lot of the young fans want me to come out and play Ramones songs, so I’m gonna do that,” Marky said.

The entrepreneurial drummer also keeps busy with his weekly Sirius XM radio show, Marky Ramone’s Punk Rock Blitzkrieg, and is currently lining up distributors for his Marky Ramone Brooklyn’s Own Pasta Sauce. He’s a close friend of rock star chef Anthony Bourdain, who wrote in his autobiography Kitchen Confidential that listening to Ramones records helped inspire his culinary style.

Is there a give and take going on?

“Maybe, I don’t know,” Marky says with a laugh. “I know he can’t play the drums!”


Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg
What: Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg
When: Friday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road in Londonderry
Tickets: $40 & $45; see tupelohall.com
Blitzkrieg is appearing Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. at Tupelo Music Hall, 4 Ocean Front North in Salisbury, Mass. ($30, general admission)