“It feels great when you go out to play to thirty- or thirty-five-thousand people,” says erstwhile Ramones drummer, Marky Ramone during a recent phone conversation. “The energy’s there, the exposure is incredible and the money is obviously good. But when you play a good packed club, that energy and electricity and excitement are all contained better. I recently played two shows with the Sex Pistols in Rio de Janeiro, and there were forty- or fifty-thousand people there. And that was great–but I also just did a show at Coney Island High in New York [a nightclub, not a school], and I liked that just as much.”
Marky Ramone is rediscovering the special joys of clubland with a new four-piece called the Intruders, who will play at the QE2 Friday night, along with the Trauma School Dropouts and 4 Minute Warning. “I got the Intruders together about three or four months before we did the final Ramones tour on Lollapalooza,” recalls Ramone. “I knew that [Ramones vocalist] Joey [Ramone] was tired; he didn’t really want to deal with the whole thing anymore. I also knew that [Ramones guitarist] Johnny [Ramone] wanted to retire to live in Beverly Hills or wherever, so I said to myself ‘Jeez, what the hell is this? Are these guys sixty years old or something?’ And since I just love playing so much I wanted to have a new band with a bunch of young guys in it, so I could keep playing for the Ramones fans and hopefully build up a new set of fans for some new stuff.”
It’s not the first time Ramone has embarked on a new musical adventure. His first band, a pop-power-trio called Dust, issued two albums on the bubblegum-oriented Kama Sutra/Buddha label in the early ’70s while the pre-Ramoned Marc Bell was still in high school; Dust disintegrated when Bell’s school commitments and the band’s touring requirements became mutually exclusive. By 1974, Bell had graduated from high school, begun hanging out in New York City’s underground nightclub scene and scored a drumming gig as time-keeper for club fixture Wayne (now Jayne) County, a hard-rockin’, Georgia-bred, preoperative transsexual who along with better-known glam-bam scenemates, the New York Dolls, was bent on stretching the limits of acceptable on-stage behavior.
“That period was all really amazing,” recalls Ramone. “And really unusual for me, ’cause I wasn’t used to all that kind of stuff yet, but I was finding myself hanging out with Wayne and with David Bowie and others in the back of Max’s Kansas City [nightclub] with all these Andy Warhol types around. It was all just really interesting , if nothing else.”
After recording the semi-official, but wholly-legend-making, theme song for Max’s with Bell on the drum-kit, County relocated to London to help pump its burgeoning pre-punk scene. Bell then found himself courted by ex-Neon Boy, ex-Television, ex-Heartbreaker bassist-vocalist Richard Hell, who was assembling his ferocious and influential Voidoids; within a year, Bell, Hell and guitarists Bob Quine and Ivan Julian had released one of New York punk’s most seminal–and most enduring–documents, 1977’s Blank Generation .
Within another year, Hell had decided to focus on his writing and acting careers–and Bell had become Marky Ramone, replacing founding drummer Tommy Ramone (who went on to become an influential producer under his real surname, Erdelyi) in New York’s first nationally-known punk troupe, those four-beat, three-chord wonders, the Ramones. The Marky-fortified band released five albums between 1978 and 1983 (a period that found the Ramones stretching creatively into the metal and pop spectrums to escape the artistic pigeon-holes defined and mastered on their three pre-Marky albums), before Marky opted out for a four-year music sabbatical and head-clearing period. Returning clean and mean in 1987, Marky rode the kit until the Ramones’ demise after last year’s Lollapalooza tour.
I ask Ramone how he felt watching the ’90s neo-punk bands attaining the strong commercial success that largely evaded the Ramones throughout their careers–just as the Ramones were fizzling out. “I thought it was all great, myself,” he answers. “Green Day, the Offspring, Rancid . . . all of those bands loved the Ramones–and they admitted it! Green Day’s Billy Joe named his kid Ramona, and the Rancid guys, they’re big fans–but they’re also good friends of ours. The bottom line is that if it weren’t the Clash and the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, there would be none of this whole punk thing anyway–so these new punk bands really owe a debt to those older bands, but that doesn’t mean that the new ones aren’t good themselves. I’m glad they all pulled it off. It’s good for everybody.”
The success of the neo-punk movement certainly can’t hurt the Intruders, who have already signed record deals in Europe, Japan and South America and are currently shopping their record in the States, shooting for a May release date. “The new record kinda sounds like the Ramones,” explains Ramone, “with a few differences. I kept the rhythm the same, because I’ve been playing it that way for so long that it’s become like my trademark. I wrote the album with my friend Skinny Bones, who sings and plays guitar, and we added a bass player and another guitar player–so the Intruders have a fuller sound than the Ramones with that extra guitar. I really just wanted the thing to be a sort of a mix of the pop and the punk thing, instead of having it come out like a straight hardcore record. We’re trying to integrate the old punk school with the new punk school.”
Does Ramone ever see his namesake band reassembling? “No, no chance,” he answers without a pause. “The Ramones just had so many problems, y’know? I mean, Joey and Johnny didn’t really get along because Johnny married Joey’s old girlfriend and that bothered Joey for years, and all that kinda stuff just really interfered with the group. Plus, with all due respect to the man, Joey really can’t deal with being in a band anymore. He’s just burned out, and that was why we had to call it quits; he just didn’t want to do it anymore.
“But me? I can go on with this forever, you know? I do all the right things that I need to do to keep myself strong and to allow me to keep going for as people will come out and see me play. I love playing too much to quit doing it now.”