The Ramones at CBGBs. Photo courtesy of Gypsy Warrior.
No band embodied the fun and grit of New York City better than the Ramones. On March 30, 1974, the Ramones put on their very first show, for 30 friends in a small studio on East 20th Street. “It was not an auspicious debut,” writes Tony Fletcher in All Hopped Up And Ready To Go, “the set collapsing several times into complete chaos.” Here are some fun facts from the early days of the Ramones:
The band members were not actually brothers, but they did all go to Forest Hills High School in Queens, where Johnny Cumming and Tommy Erdelyi played in a band called the Tangerine Puppets.
The four met through their mutual love of the New York Dolls, a wild and cutting edge glam-punk band that influenced many of the later CBGB bands.
Doug “Dee Dee” Colvin came up with the stage named Ramone, or rather, Paul McCartney did, using “Paul Ramon” as his early stage name. Dee Dee then convinced the rest of the band to adopt the name too.
The band started as a trio: Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey (real name: Jeff Hyman), with Joey on drums and Dee Dee singing lead vocals and playing bass. During an early show, Dee Dee had Joey come up to try vocals and Tommy, who had been considering pitching himself as the band’s manager, stepped behind the drums. The lineup was set.
The band’s early setlist included “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You”, “I Don’t Wanna Get Involved With You”, “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement”, “I Don’t Wanna Be Learned, I Don’t Wanna Be Tamed”, and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” Dee Dee’s philosophy was that if a song couldn’t be summed up by its title, it wasn’t worth singing.
The Ramones were the first regular headliners at CBGBs, playing there over 20 times in 1974, the year after it opened. The venue became famous for launching the Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie and Television, among others.
The Ramones released their first album on February 4, 1976. The record kicks off with “Blitzkrieg Bop” and includes “Judy is a Punk” and “53rd and Third”, the latter which is a song about Dee Dee’s days as a prostitute on that street corner, which now houses corporate law office buildings.
The Clash and the Sex Pistols, the two primos of British punk, couldn’t get into the Ramones first show in London, so they threw a rock at the second-story dressing room window, explained the situation to Johnny Ramone, and then formed a human chain to climb up.
All four original members of the Ramones have passed away. When Joey died in 2002, a star-studded lineup of musicians came together to record a tribute album: We’re a Happy Family.