Interview by Sarah Corbett-Batson
Sitting on a sofa in his trademark black leather jacket, Richie Ramone (drummer for the legendary band in the mid ‘80's) is hastily scoffing a Chinese takeaway in the dressing room of The Barfly in Camden Town, London, where his band are due to take the stage in a few hours. Just prior to soundcheck, we chatted about t-shirts, politics and those other Ramones drummers.
PSF: Joey Ramone famously said that you saved The Ramones when you joined. What do you think you added to The Ramones legacy?
RR: Whenever you get a new person in the band, there's new blood. Joey and I hit it off really well. Joey knew my attributes as being a singer, a songwriter, a fabulous drummer and producer so he used me for everything and I think that's what he was trying to say. It just changed things. And when you change drummers, it changes the sound anyway. My drumming was way more aggressive than anybody else before me. At a time when speedcore was becoming popular, we became like a locomotive.
He loved that I could sing. Even "(You) Can't Say Anything Nice," he wanted me to sing that on the record. I was like, no you're the singer, you do it. But he said, no I want you to sing it. So I ended up singing it on the record. He also loved that I could back him up singing live. Joey understood talent and he was very secure in his shoes, in his sneakers. You can find a lot of lead singers who are like, "no, don't do that, you'll take away from me," but he was totally supportive, 100%.
PSF: How difficult was it being in a band where there was tension between Johnny and Joey?
RR: Not difficult. When you read about it, it seems more than it was. It was almost comical. It didn't bother me at all. We did our thing and whether Joey didn't talk to John or whatever was going on never affected our show. We were always there for the fans. I don't think anybody else cared apart from Joey and John. They had their little spat, we didn't care. We would laugh mainly.
PSF: It has been said their differing politics (Joey being a left-wing liberal and Johnny being a right-wing conservative) played a part. What are your views on that?
RR: That didn't play that much of a part. There were times when that was brought up, like when we did "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" when Reagan went to the Bitburg cemetery. Dee Dee wrote that song. John didn't like it so they changed the title to "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down" but it wasn't such a heavy issue.
PSF: Are you a political person?
RR: Yeah, I'm a Democrat. I think that the current Obama administration is fabulous. He's done a lot of wonderful things. You can pick him apart for this and that but he got handed a real mess and we're surviving. He brought us this wonderful healthcare; it's really good right now.
PSF: Why do you still call yourself "Richie Ramone" long after the end of The Ramones?
RR: Why not? I've worked hard for that. That's what people know me by. It doesn't make sense to change my name now. I'm established.
PSF: The Ramones logo is an iconic T-shirt design. Do you feel that the image has overtaken people's knowledge of the music?
RR: That's happened to an extent. But you don't have to know every band member's name to wear the T-shirt. There are two T-shirts in the world right now. CBGB's is number one and The Ramones T-shirt is number two, that's what I believe. The most identifiable and real cool to wear. So keep buying the T-shirts!
PSF: On the subject of CBGBs, do you ever go back to the Bowery these days?
RR: I was there last year on tour; we played The Bowery Electric. It's all changed. New York City unfortunately now is for the poor or the rich, there's no middle class. It's all gone and cleaned up. Everybody had to move out and go to the boroughs.
PSF: In a recent interview Marky Ramone said that he was the only link to the original Ramones line-up and that he felt that he had a responsibility to play the music live (interview by Chris Kensler for Fox411 News published on December 12, 2014). I'm assuming you don't agree that he is the only link to them?
RR: No, I don't agree that and I don't believe he has a responsibility to play it live other than to make money. He's not creative and he's not a songwriter and he's not a very good drummer.
Tommy was the better drummer because he played from his heart and feeling. He was creative and he created the hi-hat beat for the band. He created the sound as the drummer for that band. That puts you right there.
PSF: Did you ever regret leaving The Ramones?
RR: I was 29 years old and I made the decision and lived by it. You look back and say, "oh I shouldn't have left," but you can't live your life like that. Maybe I should have stayed, I would have written some great songs for them. But you have to move on with your life or you'd shoot yourself. I was a little punk kid so I didn't care; I was way younger than those guys.
PSF: What advice would you give to young musicians?
RR: Just keep plugging away and don't be a copycat, try to be original. Post as much as you can on Facebook and all these social media things. Then you've got to gig and it's not the easiest thing, let's put it that way. I think there's like 5 million bands now. That's a lot compared to 1975 so how do you stick out of the pack? It's tough. But if you believe and you're good and you have something about you, you're going to stick out if you're true and a natural.
PSF: Although you sing, I would guess that drumming always comes first?
RR: Yes, I'm always a drummer first without a doubt but I felt I wanted to sing on this record because I wanted to tell the stories of my life in the lyrics. I though I was the only one who could really express what I'm talking about. If I got another singer, it wouldn't come out the same way. It's working pretty good. It's a lot more work though! Now I've got to drink tea, I've had so much English tea and liquorice for my voice. I have to be such a good boy and not party too much every night. I still like to party, but I have to pick and choose. I can't do a show and drink until 7AM every night. To do night after night after night of singing and drumming – I've got myself into something. But I'm loving every minute of it. I've got a great band so it's going to be a great show.
PSF: Do you have complete creative control? Is it very much your band?
RR: Complete. 100%. Everything is everything that I want it to be. So technically I'm a solo artist and I've built the band around what I want to hear. When you find musicians who give you that respect, I'm not saying that when they suggest something you don't listen or tell them to shut up, it's not like that. But it has to fit in my brain or otherwise it doesn't work, I won't do it.
We're still a band though. The Ramones never wrote together. I wrote on my own. All of those songs I wrote for them, I wrote all on my own. But when you perform live, that's a camaraderie, that's the band whether it's under my name as a solo artist or not, you have to play as a band. That's what we have; we play as a band now.
PSF: Have you always written songs alone?
RR: Mostly on my own but I have written with some people, such as Fred Schneider from the B-52s and on this next record there will be some collaborating going on. It's very difficult for me to write with anybody because if they're not getting what I'm doing, then why am I wasting my time? Or if they keep pulling me somewhere else that I don't want to be, then it's a waste.
PSF: Is there anyone you'd like to work with?
RR: I wouldn't mind working with some R&B artists and writing something like that, something totally different. There's a lot going on in my head and I listen to all kinds of music. I think that's important. Getting back to your earlier question about advice to musicians, they should listen to everything. Just because they want to play rock ‘n' roll or punk rock, don't just listen to that, listen to everything because all of a sudden you go, "oh wow that would be cool in my punk song, I like that chord" or "I like that groove" and that gives you all those things going on. You've got to expand.
PSF: Why are you playing the Barfly tonight? You could play somewhere bigger...
RR: I like playing small and intimate. I really like Camden – it's packed with people from all walks of life, it's a real melting pot, it's kind of cool. Tonight should be sold out although PIL are playing tonight too so he'll steal some of my audience. I prefer to stick my face right in yours right from the stage. I bring my drums up front; I don't like to be too far from the people. I like to get right there. When they put those big walls and stuff, the sound barriers, I don't know. If I can touch everyone right in front of me, I get a charge off that. I feel their attitude and it gets me going. The Ramonas (female Ramones tribute band) will be coming tonight, they're friends of mine. I'm excited to see them too. I think that tonight's going to be a real special night. There's a good buzz around town about this, being here with my own band for the first time, I think it will be successful.
PSF: So what's next for you?
RR: In January we're going to be laying some tracks down in the studio. I want to do an EP and maybe get something out in the middle of the year, maybe June. In February, we go to South America for a month to play down there so it's basically touring, writing and recording but I think we'll be doing a lot more touring this year. The band killed it in Italy and Spain and they want us back. There'll be some festivals next summer. We'll be playing a lot more - 2015 should be really good.
PSF: Do you prefer playing live to recording or song writing?
RR: Yeah, I love playing live. Just to dig deep for that one hour. Like here we are laying around and I'm eating Chinese food and you wonder how you're going to do this but you have to find that place night after night and get there. So that's what I like about playing live.
Recording I love too but I don't think I'd record if I couldn't do this live. When I write songs, I visualise that I'm on the stage, how it would work, how I'd get the message across.
I've always found song writing hard, for me it's not easy. I find it difficult and I really have to work at it. Finding the groove of what I want to do, yeah that may be a little simpler but piecing it together and then getting to the words, being able to say stuff that has meaning to me, that part is difficult. I usually hum things and find lines that work well. I write the music first then the words. I write when I feel something in my heart.
PSF: What's the best thing you've ever written?
RR: "Somebody Put Something in My Drink," which is probably in the top ten of all Ramones songs ever. That's my highlight.
PSF: What's the best Ramones song that you didn't write?
RR: "Havana Affair" that Tommy Ramone wrote. I love it, it's full of energy and we're going to do it tonight. I mainly do the classic songs that The Ramones did that were really tough. I don't really do the poppy stuff.
See Richie's website
Also see our Tommy Ramone/Marky Ramone interview
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