I’ve been so busy lately that I have to admit I am behind on publishing my reviews; but I have some fantastic shows to tell you about, the first of which is for punk rock legend CJ Ramone. He was preparing for a quick, European tour and he came here to Maryland, of all places, to play two quick practice shows before heading over the pond! The first of the two was held right here in our very own backyard, at the beautiful Fager’s Island on 59th Street and the bay on Friday, Nov. 20th! The second was held Saturday, Nov. 21, just over the bay bridge from us in Gambrills, Md., at a little place called Molloy’s Irish Pub. Not sure why or how he decided to come to Maryland for these quick shows but I am just glad that he did and honored to have had the chance to meet him and see him perform!
There was a decent crowd when I arrived for the opening act of the evening, local favorites Speed Queen. They got the crowd good and warmed up and as the minutes passed, the smell of leather began filling the room as the dance floor became more and more crowded. Fans clad in black leather jackets, biker boots and plenty of good ol’ Chuck Taylor’s, met CJ Ramone with many cheers as he jumped onto the stage and got straight to it, kicking things off with one of his newest songs “Understanding,” the first track on his latest album Last Chance To Dance, out last Nov. 2014. This is the second solo album he has released as CJ RAMONE, the first being Reconquista, released in 2012. Both are available for purchase through his website www.cjramone.com
and they are both great. They were both recorded and produced on low budgets, in the same raw sounding, DIY Punk Rock style. That raw, almost live sounding, recording style is what made the Ramones and punk rock so great! I, for one, love both of his albums and love that he continues to keep the spirit of punk rock music alive and rockin’!
He went on to play many Ramones classics, the first of which was “Judy is a Punk.” It sounded just as good as ever and really got the crowd moving. Somewhere in there he performed one of my favorites, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and he continued to mix in more songs from his new album. He played every song just a lil’ bit sped up, one right after the other, almost blending together, which is just how the Ramones would have done it! He stood with a very punk rock stance, bass hung low, almost rested on his knee, with his right foot cocked to the side, almost twisting his ankle while intensely belting through each song! It was all so very punk rock and I loved every minute of it! CJ continued to pay tribute and speak about “the guys” thanking them for everything from the music to changing his life. He wrapped the show with a tribute to the recently deceased drummer of Motörhead, Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, who died on November 11. (See Sonic Notes 11/20.) In 1991 Motörhead released a song entitled “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.,” a song that was written in the band’s honor, of course, and CJ performed it just right!! Overall, the entire show was non-stop adrenaline, energy-fueled fun and I still can’t believe it all happened at Fager’s Island.
After the show, I had the amazing chance to chat with CJ Ramone for a few minutes and I spoke with his two supporting musicians for this show as well. Josh Blackway was on guitar and handled backing vocals and Chris Eller provided that steady beat on the drums. They told me they were both semi-locals so I tried, of course, to find out more about how they ended up with this crazy opportunity, but they didn’t have time to get into it. I also wanted to find out if they would be touring with him in Europe and who is credited on the new CD, but again, no time for all my questions. I did, however, find the credits on CJ’s first solo album, Reconquista, which read, CJ Ramone - vocals, bass, Steve Soto - guitar, backing vocals, Dan Root - guitar, backing vocals, Pete Sosa - drums. So again I am not sure where Josh and Chris, both excellent musicians, fit into all of this but I was happy to have met them as well!
Of course, all of this got me thinking that I have to give a little background info on just how iconic this music and the Ramones really are. I’m sure there are many fans out there who know more about them than even I; however, I felt compelled to do a lil’ research, to refresh my own knowledge and to help educate a whole new generation of fans. So here it goes...
RAMONES is an iconic punk rock band, originally formed in New York City, which was really one of the first bands ever to be labeled as Punk Rock. Literally, the phrase did not exist until rock journalists of their day referred to them as ‘punks’ and bam! ... a brand new culture was born! Their very first show was played at the infamous C.B.G.B. in New York City on August 16, 1974, where they quickly became a regular act. C.B.G.B.’s was an iconic music club that was opened in 1973 by Hilly Kristal in Manhattan's East Village, NYC, and sadly was closed in 2006. The letters C.B.G.B. stood for country, bluegrass, and blues; however, because of booking bands like the Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Blondie and Talking Heads, the club became historically known as the birth place of Punk Rock Music!
Somehow, the Ramones’ very loud, very fast and unpolished sound quickly found its way overseas, helping to inspire a whole new generation of European teens who were eager for a new, energetic sound. This led to the creation of even more iconic punk rock groups such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash who appeared by ‘76. The Ramones truly helped inspire and shape a whole new music scene throughout the ‘70s as they toured around the country. This all, of course, paved the way for yet another giant branch on the music genre tree, leading to many, many more sub-genres that still continue to pop up today, including but not limited to, hardcore punk, post-punk, alternative rock, grunge, pop punk, skate punk, ska punk, garage punk, glam punk, riot grrrl, horror punk, and yes, even Christian punk! Thank you Ramones for starting it all and a big thanks to CJ Ramone for still keeping their music alive and in true punk spirit!
Some have argued or debated even, on who can really call themselves a Ramone, but I think if anyone can, CJ would be one of the few on that list. Though it is true he was not one of the original founding members, Christopher Joseph Ward (A.K.A. C. J. Ramone) has certainly paid his dues and is still keeping the band’s music going strong. Ramones founding members were lead singer Jeffrey Hyman, A.K.A. Joey Ramone (1951–2001), guitarist John Cummings, A.K.A. Johnny Ramone (1948–2004), bassist Douglas Colvin, A.K.A. Dee Dee Ramone (1951–2002), and drummer Thomas Erdelyi, A.K.A. Tommy Ramone (1949–2014). They first adopted Ramone as a surname based on the well known fact that Sir Paul McCartney had used the pseudonym Paul Ramon in his early days of performing and they thought it would be funny to create these sort of alter-images of themselves, ones that would be ‘cooler’ than they saw themselves. This idea blossomed into the whole, fun-loving spirit of the band and so the name Ramones simply became the band’s name.
Tommy was the first to stop touring with the group in ‘78; however, he continued to produce their records under his birth name. They brought in drummer Marc Bell, A.K.A. Marky Ramone, to fill his seat but he was replaced from ‘83 to ‘87 by Richard Reinhardt, A.K.A. Richie Ramone. It is well known that the band was going through a lot during these years, including struggling with the stresses of touring, addictions, temptations and even a scandalous lovers triangle! Lead singer Joey’s girlfriend, Linda Marie Daniele, fell in love with guitarist Johnny and the two were married in ‘84. Johnny and Linda’s marriage lasted 20 years before his passing in 2004. Joey and Johnny continued touring but more and more began working separately in the studio until they eventually stopped speaking to each other at all. I am sure this made for strange working conditions, to say the least, and so the shuffle of band members continued.
Richie Ramone was briefly replaced in ‘87 by Elvis Ramone, A.K.A. Clem Burke (of Blondie and the Romantics), who only played two shows with them before Marky rejoined the band and stayed with them until they retired in ‘96. Dee Dee quit touring and recording with them in the studio during the making of their eleventh studio album, 1989's Brain Drain; however, he continued to write music for the group until they retired.
This is when Marine Christopher Joseph Ward, A.K.A. CJ Ramone, got the call to audition for one of his favorite bands. Being a native New Yorker, born Oct. 8, 1965, in Deer Park, he had grown up watching this scene explode in the city and by 1983 he began playing in punk rock bands who idolized the originals. CJ performed with the Ramones for the first time in Leicester, England in 1989 when he was just 25 years old, and he spent the next seven years touring, performing and recording, playing bass and performing many of the lead vocals until they officially retired in ‘96. He recorded three official studio albums with them: Mondo Bizarro (1992), Acid Eaters (1994), and Adios Amigos! (1995). He even married Marky Ramone’s niece Chessa, and though the two are now divorced, they did have two children together, Liam and Liliana. CJ is currently married to attorney Denise Barton, with whom he shares one daughter, Mia Dove.
After the official retirement, CJ and Dee Dee Ramone both continued to write music and perform music with many other musicians over the years, including one together. A Ramones tribute band called The Ramainz, formed by Dee Dee, his wife Barbara Zampini (A.K.A. Barbara Ramone) and Marky Ramone. CJ has continued to play in many, many other punk rock bands and has continued to thank and keep the spirit of the Ramones alive! All in all, I’d have to say, to any of the nay sayers, that all of this solidifies CJ’s place in the Ramone family, then, now and forever more!
His current tour schedule is short but grueling, in true punk rock fashion; he played the two shows here in Md., there are twelve listed on the current European Tour and two more when he returns to the states, which makes a total of 16 shows all within 30 days, and his facebook says possibly more to be added. Not too shabby for a guy who just celebrated his 50th birthday! Keep it up CJ! Thank you again for a great show and everything you do ... we salute you sir!! For more info please visit his website @ www.cjramone.com