By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The Eagles and Captain and Tennille ruled the airwaves, and we were the answer to it. Los Angeles was great. We blew their minds. We were an instant hit. They totally related to us. A sick bunch. The L.A. kids were really wild and insane, much more like the English audiences than the jaded, hip New York crowd was at the time.
When Joey Ramone, a.k.a. Jeff Hyman, died in New York last month from lymphoma just shy of his 50th birthday, it made us think of a time in the ’70s much like right now, when ratings-driven commercial pop radio reeks of preteen garbage, weak metal with pierc.ings, and horribly bad R&B, while in the clubs generic house and trance music and most of its little looper variants are sucking even harder and deeper into utter putrescence and mediocrity. Tune out we did in the ’70s; when things got that bad, enough was enough. Then along came the Ramones, who didn’t get played on commercial radio anyway — but by then it was too late: Every weird record-collecting geek in every town formed a band, and for 10 minutes there, the very young took their own music back.
The Ramones’ impact on the L.A. scene was enormous. Herewith, a few reminiscences. (Joey/Jeff, rest in peace . . .)
I was a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to the Ramones. It was already spring of ’77, and even though the band had been kicking around filthy dive bars in the Bowery since ’75 and already had two albums out and had been written up by all the cool New York rock scribes who dreamt of being in their bashed-up sneakers, I still hadn’t been able to get around to actually listening to their music. I was developing cheap rehearsal facilities for unsigned bands and a place to have parties and jam sessions for my friends in a funky old basement off Hollywood Boulevard, the same space that soon came to be called the Masque. My customers happened to be mostly new L.A. punk bands who were all broke like me, all of them trying to create their own distinct sound and interpretation of “punk rock” independent from what was currently raging in London and (from what I’d been told) had already flamed out in New York.
One midafternoon, as I was hauling trash or struggling to staple old carpeting on the walls — the only acousticizing I could afford — I was interrupted by the arrival of a gaggle of scary-looking scruffs in leather jackets and heavy Noo Yawk accents. Sure enough, it was Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey Ramone, plus a few others who’d been sightseeing on Hollywood Boulevard when one of my helpers had recognized them and had dragged them downstairs to see what Slash magazine had called “the pit’s pajamas.”
The tallest, scariest-looking one was Joey, who turned out to be the gentle giant of the group. I gave the band the grand tour of the basement, which was a labyrinth of rooms, cubbyholes and creepy graffiti-splattered corridors. While Johnny was quiet and surly, and Dee Dee seemed uninterested and wanting to leave as soon as he could, Joey enthusiastically interrogated me about the new unrecorded bands that were playing there. Who were they? What were they like? He wanted to talk music, which was okay by me. Joey wished me good luck with my venture, and I was even more chuffed to pieces when he offered to put me on the guest list for the Ramones’ show at the Whisky later that night. I’d never been on anybody’s guest list before!
The Ramones played extremely funky “white rock” grooves. Their sound was massive, sonically devastating. Tight. I was stunned. It had never occurred to me that the distortion overtones from fuzzed-out, super-adrenalized hard guitar rock could fill every millimeter of the sonic spectrum and still be melodic, or that it could be played as minimalist locked-in grooves like the best funk or R&B. The Ramones — fronted by Joey, probably one of the all-time unlikeliest candidates for rock star — were the original Hammer of the Punk Gods, even though they were really a great pop band. They equaled the influence (if not the musicality) of Elvis, the Beatles and the Stones, and the Ramones were surely the punk Zeppelin, too . . . dude.
Fred Patterson (a.k.a. Phast Phreddie):
My magazine, Back Door Man, had been out for several months when I first heard of the Ramones sometime in late ’75. When they played their first gigs in California, battle lines were drawn. Fans became close friends. The others — and there were many more of them than us — became the enemy, lovers of things like the Eagles and Peter Frampton . . . and disco. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy made it okay for fans to get onstage. Rock & roll was reborn. Everywhere the Ramones went they were like the Johnny Appleseeds of the punk rock movement.