Linda Talks To The Sun UK About Johnny Ramone, Ramones 40
Read the original article in The Sun UK.
LEGS splayed, knees bent, bristling with aggression, Johnny Ramone used his guitar like a weapon.
With his mop of straight, shoulder-length hair, frayed jeans, leather biker jacket and white sneakers, he struck a pose that turbo-charged a rock revolution.
It’s 40 years since the Ramones’ debut album arrived, blasting off with Blitzkrieg Bop’s immortal rallying cry “Hey ho, let’s go!”
Fast, furious, fresh and focused, the 14 songs were over in 29 breathless minutes.
The sound that kick-started punk on both sides of the Atlantic was driven by the machine gun precision of Johnny’s right hand.
They also created great pop hooks, echoed the direct approach of Buddy Holly and early Elvis Presley and even created a rock “wall of sound” to rival the pioneering girl group productions of Phil Spector.
It’s desperately sad that none of the four original members, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy, has lived to celebrate the 40th anniversary.
But this week, I spoke to the woman who knew them better than anyone . . . at a time when appreciation for the Ramones and their enduring influence couldn’t be higher.
Linda Ramone was Joey’s girlfriend for more than three years before becoming Johnny’s wife and love of his life.
We’re marking next month’s release of a dazzling new box-set edition of the debut album which gathers up the original tracks, mono mixes, demos and live recordings.
Larger-than-life Linda tells it straight with no edit button. “They all lived on the same block, they loved the same music, they all were in it together and now they’ve all died,” she says.
“None of them had kids. Maybe it’s better, who knows? I might have had a kid who listens to rap!”
It’s a comment typical of Linda’s partisanattitude to the Ramones and supports her mission to keep their name alive since Johnny’s death from prostate cancer in 2004.
“They changed music forever, made it completely different,” she maintains.
“They took away from all the long, overdone guitar solos. Their music was short, simple and cool . . . and they looked so cool too.
“I love The Beatles but the Ramones were just the coolest band ever. Johnny looked amazing and, in later years, he’d admit, ‘Wow, I was good-looking. I didn’t think that back then’.”
Johnny, born John William Cummings in 1948, the only son of a construction worker, dreamed of being a baseball star with his beloved New York Yankees.
He was dogged by pent-up anger, the need for control and a quick temper, and thought a career in the Army might serve as an outlet for his emotions.
Linda says: “He put himself in military school. It wasn’t as if his parents sent him there because he was bad. He wanted to go and he wanted to be a sergeant.”
The idea of Johnny ferociously barking out orders resonates with his short sharp shock approach to music.
“But military school was too strict,” continues Linda. “They wanted him to cut his hair. He said it was really hard having to get up early every morning, make your bed, clean your rifle. Too intense!
“He quit just at the time he was getting into music. When he saw Elvis, he wanted to be a rock star.”As a teenager, Johnny played in a band called the Tangerine Puppets, worked with his dad as a plumber, even delivered laundry, all the time following his passion for new music which included punk forbears such as The Stooges and The MC5.
He hung out with future bandmates, like-minded souls, and by the summer of ’74, the Ramones were up and running.
“Johnny was leader of the band,” says Linda. “I don’t know if he would have liked it as much if he wasn’t. He loved being in charge.”
His first serious guitar was a blue secondhand Mosrite Ventures II for which he paid $54 at Manny’s Music, New York.
Now he had a chance to express himself and Linda provides a telling insight into her late husband: “Johnny felt his anger made him play his guitar that way. If he wasn’t angry, if he was a fluff- ball, how could he have influenced so many guitar players the way he did?
“I mean his stance alone! Nobody stands like Johnny and he looks crazy or angry, his eyes rolling and his hair flowing.
“The whole point of the Ramones is Johnny’s sound. His guitar and that anger drove it. That’s just how he was.
“When he was young, if someone said something to him he didn’t like, he’d just punch you and lay you out on the floor.
“Later on, he would just give you this stare and people wouldn’t even be able to speak.
“I was never intimidated — go figure guess that’s why I lasted. He mellowed out a little when we moved to LA and he retired.”
Linda describes herself as a “music freak” and remembers first seeing the Ramones very early on at Manhattan’s legendary scenester club CBGB.
“There was probably only 20 to 25 people there and the audience used to hang out with the bands. At the beginning, it was the Ramones, Television, Blondie, Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers and Talking Heads.
“I leaned towards the Ramones immediately. I also liked Blondie because Debbie was always so beautiful.”
Her relationships with two Ramones, extrovert guitarist Johnny and shy singer Joey, has been described as one of rock’s great love triangles, up there with George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd.
Ending with one and starting up with another led to an irreparable rift between the bandmates.
They continued to make studio albums and perform live but it’s claimed that Joey revealed his animosity in the song The KKK (Ku Klux Klan) Stole My Baby Away for 1981’s Pleasant Dreams album, which could be a dig at Johnny’s right-wing politics.
Linda tries to set the record straight when she explains the entangled situation: “Well, what really happened is that Johnny fell in love with me, which was shocking because I don’t think Johnny expected to fall in love with anybody.
“I don’t think he ever was in love before. I’m not saying I was the only one in his life, I’m just saying he was kind of obsessed. So I had to leave Joey. At one point before that happened, Joey said to Johnny, ‘I don’t want you to talk to Linda.’ And Johnny was like, ‘She’s my best friend, you’re not telling me what to do.’
“So it was either Joey and me stay together and Joey leave the band or I leave him.
“I’d been with Joey for three and a half years and I believed he wanted to try life without me.
“When I met him, he wasn’t powerful in the band but by the time I left him, he had a voice and I think our parting was mutual.”
Linda recalls bad feelings around the Ramones camp as she began the relationship that would lead to marriage to Johnny.
“Joey had stopped drinking when he was with me but started again the day I left,” she explains.
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh you broke his heart . . . ’ Yeah I broke his heart because when he wanted to get back with me, I was already with Johnny and I wasn’t going back. That’s why Joey got mad.”
It must have been compromising for Linda to be paired with two such widely differing types, despite the image created by the Ramones’ “uniform”.
She says: “They were definitely opposites. Joey was more sensitive and you had to watch everything you said to him.
“He was also very sensitive about the way he looked. He said he was 6ft4 but he was really 6ft6.
Growing up, people hadn’t been very kind to him. Joey’s only real hobby was music and that was our life together. Because I liked Slade and Sweet and Iggy, that was his first attraction to me.”
Linda says Johnny had hobbies outside of music but they were consuming passions.
“He was a baseball fanatic, a genius with his knowledge and his number one hobby. Then came his horror movie collecting. He said hobbies kept him sane.”
Politically, Johnny was a controversial character, staunchly supporting the Republicans while many rock stars, notably Bruce Springsteen and Cher, pinned their colours to the Democrat mast.
Linda says: “I guess people might be surprised but, while the band was together, Johnny didn’t talk about politics.
“At the end, though, he was a Republican through and through and he didn’t care if all our friends from Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) to Rob Zombie were Democrats. Johnny loved debating and read so many books.
“He also loved his retirement and planned his whole life around it. He would always talk about saving enough money to retire so ‘I don’t have to get another job because I can’t do anything else!’
“He was frugal and saved all our money. He was happiest when he retired because we finally got a house with a pool in LA and we were away from the demands of New York City.”
Lastly, we return to the legacy of the Ramones, a band from a world away who seem just as relevant today.
Linda says the The Clash’s late great frontman Joe Strummer had something to say on the matter.
“Joe Strummer, who was a very close friend of Johnny and me, and I still see his partner Lucinda all the time,” she reveals.
“He said all the punk bands were waiting for the Ramones to come over to the UK. He believed the Ramones influenced all punk — Joe Strummer’s quote, not mine!”
And what’s it like keeping the flame burning today?
“When Johnny was dying, he said, ‘I’d rather have been able keep my own legacy alive but, if I had to pick one person, it would be you because I know you’ll do a great job.’
“That’s the most important thing. Johnny, who was never really into giving women any kind of job, gave me the most important one.
“So, for me, it’s all about love for my husband and love for the Ramones.
“But if I didn’t think the Ramones were one of the best bands in the world, I couldn’t be this passionate about it.”
So “hey ho, let’s go” crazy for the Ramones once again.