He'll forever be considered the “new kid,” but CJ Ramone played with New York punk icons the Ramones for seven years between '89 and '96, right up to the final show in Hollywood. He's also one of only three surviving Ramones — all of the four originals are sadly gone but CJ, Marky and Richie remain (some people count Clem Burke of Blondie, who filled in for two shows, but we don't) — and the only surviving member who isn't a drummer.
CJ plays at the Los Globos this week, and then at The Observatory the following night, so we sat down with the man to discuss Ramones stuff, but also his recent solo material…
L.A. WEEKLY: As one of the few surviving Ramones, is there a responsibility on you to continue that legacy?
CJ RAMONE: Yeah… I mean, I definitely consider everything I do musically, from the shows I play to the music I put out, I always consider that the Ramone name is attached. I don’t take it lightly. I recorded my first record three times before I put it out. Put it this way — I feel the weight of it bit it’s a weight that I enjoy. I try to keep the Ramones spirit alive.
The new album, The Holy Spell, just dropped — how do you think you’ve evolved as a solo artist?
It’s been a very natural evolution. Going back to the Ramones, how I ended up singing was, Joey didn’t come to rehearsals. I became the default singer at rehearsals, with zero experience. I got up there and did it as the utility guy. I was very surprised when the band told me I’d be singing two of the songs that Dee Dee wrote for the Mondo Bizarro album. I was hugely terrified but I was really happy to be doing it. But it really helped to solidify my place in the band with Johnny, Joey and Mark. That shows you what an unbelievably good guy Joey was — he wasn’t intimidated, and he didn’t feel like I was stepping in and trying to push him to the side. He liked the way I sang those songs. Once the Ramones ask you to sing a couple of songs, everything else comes pretty easy. I’ve gotten better over the years — I’m a little bit more relaxed and I can joke around with the crowd.
What do you write about on the new album?
This album is quite a bit more mature than the rest of my records. Still very fun, still very positive, but much more mature. A little self-deprecating humor on a couple of the songs, talking about getting fat and old. I have a pet peeve about certain genres — if it’s metal it’s gotta be angry, if it’s punk it’s gotta be frustrated and “fuck off,” if it’s pop music it has to be happy or heartbroken. I feel like when I write a record, I write about all the different emotions. I don’t sit down to write music when I’m only in one kind of mood. If I die tomorrow, this would be the record I’d want to be remembered for. Not to make my silly little pop record sound like a classic or anything like that, but there’s a lot of intimate stuff on the record and I’m really proud of it.
Do you enjoy playing L.A.?
Of course. The Ramones played our last show in L.A., because rock & roll and punk rock is still huge in L.A. New York City lived off of its musical reputation that it made in the ‘70s. The only other legitimate music scene to come out of New York besides that initial scene with Blondie, the Talking Heads, Ramones, Television, was the ‘80s hardcore scene. But L.A. was the center of the music industry forever. It always has been. We always did good in L.A. Everybody always came out for the Ramones in L.A., and that’s why we came here to do our last show. Besides the fact that Johnny had already moved to Los Angeles. But realistically, we knew our last show would be bigger in L.A. than if we did it in New York.
What can we expect from the set?
I have four pretty good records out now and the set is mostly my stuff, but I will always play Ramones music in my set. People come to a CJ Ramone show, they’re gonna wanna hear some Ramones songs. The great thing about it is that, at this point now, my songs and the Ramones songs dovetail seamlessly in the set. People react really well to my music. That’s my biggest accomplishment. I didn’t want to ride out the Ramones thing for the rest of my life. It’s hard because the promoters prefer that you play more Ramones songs.
The 30th of this month we’re gonna do a west coast run — Vancouver all the way down to San Diego. Then I jump on a plane and head over to Europe to meet up with the guys from Me First & the Gimme Gimmes — I’m playing bass for them for several weeks. That tour ends, and then my tour picks up in Europe a week later. First week of August, we fly into New York work our way back west. Take two weeks off then we go to Australia, Japan, come from home from that, and then going to South America to record a live record in the early winter.