Photo courtesy of VQPR
Marky joined the Ramones on drums back in 1978 after the departure of original drummer Tommy Ramone and remains the only living member of the longest running Ramones line-up. It was clear from my conversation with Marky that with the untimely passing of band mates Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny, he feels a personal responsibility to not only keep the Ramones legacy alive, but to ensure that the place that the Ramones has already been cemented in music history remains true to that legacy. During Marky's 15 years with the band he played 1,700 shows, recorded 10 studio albums and 3 live albums and personally oversaw the first Ramones DVD to go gold. Who better to do it?
EvAl: It seem like you've taken on a role of Romones historian. Is that a personal responsibility that you feel?
Marky: It is. I think that's what Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey would have wanted me to do. Tommy's playing bluegrass music now, more power to him. But does that keep the Ramones legacy alive? Musically, no. Him maybe talking about the band is. But that's really about it. I'm physically doing what I have always done in the Ramones and have a really great band doing it. And there's a whole new generation out there that wants to hear these songs. So who am I to say, "no, I don't want to do it." I get so many emails and stuff at my radio show ... "Marky, when are you going to come and play? Marky, when are you going to bring the band. Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?" I thought about it and I said, "yeah, I like to play the drums," and when I would play with my other bands doing originals the kids liked it but they wanted to hear Ramones songs. So I said, "Alright you got me." So I put together this group. It's been 9 months already and we've played so many places already. And if you notice on MySpace, you can see the videos. So you see how well we go on. So we're gonna start concentrating more on the United States and England. You know, I wanted to take my time. I didn't want to rush it out and go, "here's Marky Ramone with his Ramones-sounding band." I would never disrespect the Ramones by calling it the Ramones just because there's one original member. I think people that do that are acting desperately and I feel that it's wrong and misleads the audience and it shows that particular person is doing something out of desperation. If you're going to have a band with only one member, at least use your name or a new name for the band. So I would never do that. It's just Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg.
EvAl: It seems that you get more credibility that way and people are more likely to take it in the way you meant it which is as a tribute as opposed to milking the Ramones name.
Marky: I don't need to milk.
EvAl: This actually draws a question out which is about the Misfits who you actually played with ...
Marky: ... well there was only one member of the Misfits.
EvAl: Right. So your view on that?
Marky: It was fun for three years but after a while the kids would be yelling out Ramones songs. And I was honored but I felt at that point it was time to leave. And I got a lot of complaints from the kids. I think Jerry works hard and he's good at what he does but, like I said, is it the Misfits that the kids know, that the kids remember? No. But I'm not going to bad mouth the situation. I just feel that I would never call a band with one original member the band's name if there weren’t original members ... at least 2 or 3. But it was fun and I got to produce the 1950 Project album and I picked seven of the songs on it.
EvAl: So you were very involved in that?
Marky: Yeah. I give credit to Jerry for trying and I love Dez Cadena as a guy. He's a great guy. And Robo he's a good guy but he's still there and he's playing the way he's playing and he gives it all he's got and you gotta give credit to a guy like that too. So as a three piece group called the Misfits, if that's what they want to do, more power to them.
EvAl: So going back to Blitzkrieg, it sounds like this is something that came out of demand from the fans. How did you get Michale, Clare and Alex?
Marky: Clare and Alex met me in England. They were living in England ... London. I was doing something there, I think my spoken word tour. And they were there and we met. And they were big Ramones fans. You know, I always a girl in the band. But who had to be really good. And this chick, Clare, is great. She knew of the Ramones, knows the songs, she's very honed very well, her skills. So I was very happy to have her in the group. And she can sing harmony very well. Alex is a very accomplished guitar player. He's able to do the 8th note down strokes that was an integral part of the Ramones. But he's able to also to do the leads which are on the records but we weren't able to do live as the Ramones which was okay, that's just what it was like. Alex is able to do that and I feel that when you buy a record, there are things on there you want to hear and he's able to do that which I like. Michale to me was the best singer the Misfits has had. I mean, he's the best singer. He left the band, went out on his own. He didn't go to any hockey camp. That was all bullshit. That was all a lie from the management who said he went to hockey camp which he didn't do. I felt that that was disgraceful for the management to come up with that story and lie to the public. They just wanted to banish him from any Misfits connection but you can't change history. He wrote those two albums and he sings great on them and the proof is in the pudding. So I disdain people who try to change history in anything whether it's sports, whether it's music, for their own financial and position and situation concerning the band problems ... lying and deceiving the people. Michale Graves is an accomplished lead singer. He was so good that they wanted to banish him and make him look bad because they wanted to make the other thing look better. And I saw right through it. So now I know what really happened and now I want everyone else to know that Michale didn't go to hockey camp. He wasn't a disgruntled employee. He left the band because he wanted to do other things.
EvAl: Did you meet him when he was still in the Misfits?
Marky: Yeah. Jerry, when the Misfits were together, the original Misfits, well not the original band but with Doyle and Michale Graves, they always asked me to do Blitzkrieg Bop with them because they were big Ramones fans obviously. So I would go up there and do Blitzkrieg Bop with them when I was around. And then I ended up playing with them. But after the three years with them, I really wanted to do other things. I don't stay in one place too long. I wanted to nurture my radio show on Sirius XM. I wanted to form a punk show to just play punk music and not be told what to play. It's four hours a week and so far it's #2 on channel 28 Faction all over the country. It's the biggest [punk] show in America.
EvAl: Do you view satellite radio as freeing for music in that you're really not sucked into the formats?
Marky: It's the best thing that's ever happened to music because there are no formats, you're getting it from real people that were in the business and it's not repetitious. A programmed radio show is repetitious. There's no scans, no bullshit. I get to play what I want to play and I get to help young bands. They send in their CDs and if I like the music, I play it. I play old school/new school punk and I feel that a lot of these groups were overlooked and they had great songs but, at the time when these bands came out, they were up against a lot of other competition. There was disco, there was stadium rock and a lot of DJs would not want to push the punk genre because of the sensationalism that happened in England with the punk scene there. They were wearing Nazi stickers and were very political, which was okay, but the Nazi thing a lot of people took the wrong way. And that came back to America. And a lot of America died by the Nazi onslaught. Same with the British. So it didn't connect to me why a punk kid would wear a Nazi sticker if maybe his father or grandfather got killed by a Nazi during the Blitzkrieg or when Poland was invaded. You know, it was sickening. So in America, the punk bands took the slack of that. That's why they wouldn't play the Ramones. But then new wave came along which was a more subtle form of punk and a more radio friendly format. So they started playing new wave but the Ramones garnered a lot of fans underground and then it became above ground. And we were very happy for our legacy and that's what I'm here to continue. We were the first [punk] band to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We were the first [punk] band to have our finger prints on the Hollywood Rock Walk. We were the first punk band to be on the Simpsons. We were the first punk band to be recognized, whether it means anything I don't give a shit, by VH1 for lifetime achievement. VH1 was always good to punk. MTV was a different story. For some reason, they weren't playing too much punk. In the beginning they did because they needed videos, you know what I mean?
EvAl: So what do you think the turning point was for punk music in terms of going from something that was underground into something that was more accepted by media?
Marky: When Rock and Roll High School came out. That's what opened up a lot of doors to punk because it showed a lot of innocence in that movie and that we weren't the big bad punk rockers as people thought. Just guys wanting to play good music. We wore leather jackets and that term was coined by a magazine called punk. So we had our audience and then we continued, persevered throughout the world and got more fans ... more fans. Then of course the grunge scene came out and they cited us as an influence ...Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. And I'm not really fans of that kind of music but I respect what they did and I think Eddie Vedder's a great guy and I agree with his politics. I think Nirvana's Curt Cobain was a great song writer/front man. Then Green Day, Rancid, they came out and cited us as an influence. Then the rest took its course.
EvAl: Do you view that as your legacy in music.
Marky: Oh yeah. The fact that the Ramones changed music, even in fashion. You go to England ... the first time I went there they all had leather jackets, arm pins like the Ramones did. Sid Vicious with the eagle logo, the American presidential seal logo, U.S. stickers and everything. I gave Joe Strummer his first pair of Converse when I toured with them with my band Richard Hell and the Voidoids. We toured together for 5 weeks through England in '77. But the Ramones went there in '76 and most of the punk bands were in the audience watching. So you see how much the Ramones had influenced the culture. And before that in England the big rage was "pub rock" and "glam rock" and all that stuff. And then the Ramones came out and changed everything, they really did. When I first heard that first album upstairs at Max's Kansas City which was a club that my friend and my former lead singer, Wayne County, played ... I'd never heard anything like it. I said, "what the hell is this?" And it just stuck with me. This is like the first time hearing the Beatles when I was 8 years old. I'd never heard anything like it. So I knew that was a turning point in music. You had the New York Dolls, they were big kings in New York for a year and a half, two years. And then the Ramones came along and just blew everybody away.
EvAl: In terms of Blitzkrieg, how do you think the band is doing justice to those songs?
Marky: I think we're doing it for the new millennium, the new century. It's the start of the century, not the end of the century. I think we're putting our stamp on it but it's still sounding like Ramones but with a more additives. If the Ramones came out today, they would still make it. They would still be influential. I'm not here to compete with them and I know there will never be another Ramones. But if I'm able to present it properly with a quality sound and not ripping off everything they did and not being a tribute band, then I'll know it'll work.
EvAl: I haven't seen you guys yet, but I have watched some videos and it seems like Michale, Clare and Alex all bring a piece of themselves to the music in such a way that they're not trying to recreate anything, they're trying to make it new.
Marky: I wanted individuals, who would not imitate or emulate but to put their own gist on it, you know. And that's what they're doing
EvAl: The show tomorrow is El Mexicano Rock Fest. At first I thought, what I really weird place for Blitzkrieg to be playing but then I thought about it and remembered the Ramones have such a solid following in Latin America.
Marky: Latinos! Friends and fans of the Ramones. The Latino fest I did recently in Mexico we had 12,000 people, or maybe more than that, watching and loving it. They were there for us and we always had a large Latino following.
EvAl: Why do you think that is?
Marky: I don't know. Maybe they relate to the name, the look. A lot of people relate to the Ramones differently and to what I do. The energy, the lyrical content, you know the fact that we didn't talk every minute. We just raced on and we were very hyper people. That was in the music.
EvAl: What about new material? I heard a rumor that there might be some new material coming out.
Marky: We did 5 new songs. So it will be probably on a 7 inch soon.
EvAl: Have they been recorded already?
Marky: Yeah. They're good, I love them.
EvAl: Are we going to hear any tomorrow?
Marky: No, we're only going to concentrate on the 32 Ramones song set. But we're taking our time. There's no rush. You establish what you do now, and then you go, "okay we got some originals." We're going to put them out soon.
EvAl: What was the writing process like for those songs?
Marky: I wrote one, Michale wrote three and there's another one we're going to do. It's all a process together. One's a ballad, one's a very Ramoney kind of song, the other one's like a fun dance kind of song but not a disco hip hop kind of thing, like dance surf sound rock. The other one is going to be more fast, hardcore, punk, Ramones style. So you'll see.
EvAl: Great. I'm looking forward to that.
EvAl: You had mentioned the 32 songs that you play in your set. With 20 years of history in a band, how do you go out and pick those songs?
Marky: The Ramones were together from '74 to '96 that's 22 years. I was in the band 15 years. I did 10 albums, Tommy did 3. So you have a pretty huge repertoire. I pick the songs that I feel at this point are the best ones. I mean, I go through different stages. Maybe I'll throw in some songs from the Richie years. Maybe I'll throw in some more songs from the more obscure albums like Half Way to Sanity or Animal Boy. Too Tough to Die was great. I'll throw in more songs from the lesser known Ramones albums so there's a lot of things.
EvAl: You tend to mix it up as you go city to city?
Marky: Yeah, but there's so many songs that you could play a week.
EvAl: How do you get ready, especially with a new band for something like that where you have such a large repertoire?
Marky: Rehearse. Rehearse. You write out the set list, the way it flows, the continuity, and then you let it ride. You don't talk about the weather. You don't talk about your grandmother. You just play. In fact, I got the name Marky because my grandmother used to call me Marky. When I was approached by the Ramones to join the band, they said, "Marc can you change your name because it doesn't flow. Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, Marc Bell..." And already I did five albums before I joined the Ramones and I was very close to Dee Dee as a friend. So I said, "Okay what do you got in mind?" "How about Ronnie? How about Timmy?" Nah nah nah. What I'll do is this, I'll put a K, change a C and a Y. I'll call myself Marky Ramone because I remember my grandmother calling that as a little kid because I had to clean her stairs. She lived in a big house and as a little boy I used to clean the stairs for her. She used to yell, "Marky, Marky come on it's time to clean the stairs."
EvAl: In terms of the Ramones, you've been pretty public in the past about some of the internal band conflicts.
Marky: I was in the middle between Johnny and Joey's continued animosities. Not physical, they wouldn't talk because of the situation that happened with a girl. It's well documented, I'm not saying anything new, but it sucked because there's a lot of fish in the sea. But the thing was the band was so close that it was always a constant reminder of that situation that happened. But Joey moved on. He eventually found another girlfriend who I thought was more compatible with him and Johnny married the other girl. And that was it, may the best man win.
EvAl: So given those conflicts, why do you think the band was able to make it so long together?
Marky: Because we knew that all that bullshit wasn't as important as the goal. And we weren't masochists. If they disliked each other so much, we wouldn't have stayed together that long. You know what I mean? It would have been unbearable. So we left all that shit off the stage. And when we got off the stage that was another story. But in the end, I always said to both of them, why don't you guys make up? You've know each other since you were kids. Why don't you go visit Joey in the hospital? Joey, why don't you visit Johnny? Nah, I don't wanna. Johnny's remark was why should I visit somebody in the hospital if I don't like them. I kinda felt that was cold. I was the only Ramone to visit Joey in the hospital. We had our falling out too, but you gotta let things go sometimes.
EvAl: Being in a band, you've got the work side and you've got the business side.
Marky: It's a business. No matter what anybody says, it's a business. It's like sports. I'm sure that there are people in the football league or the major leagues that don't get along but they're on a team. A construction crew, there might be one guy who hates the other guy because maybe his muscles are bigger, maybe he's the foreman and the other guy is the worker. So there's always something people find reasons sometimes not to get along. It sucks. I always try not to hold on to trivial matters because in the end it's not worth it, you know. Me and Dee Dee were the closest in the group but everybody had their own qualities, everybody was different, everybody contributed and that was the Ramones.
EvAl: Speaking if Dee Dee, there was just a celebration a few weeks ago.
Marky: Yeah, I decided not to go because I felt that three times was enough. It was a good thing but the audiences were getting less and less and I felt that, to me, it's a cool thing but I can't be around graveyards. And I think that it's a little morbid to be involved with something like that after a while, you know what I mean? And showing the same footage, and saying the same stuff, after a while it gets repetitious. And I feel at this point that the intention was good but I feel that Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee should rest in peace. That's what I feel. I heard there were only 200 people there. That's what I'm saying, it gets less and less. There were 1200 people when I attended. Not mainly because I was there, but after a while it's like how much more can you present? The intention was good but the audience attendance dropped and I didn't want to be part of it any more. It was organized by Linda Cummings and I am sure that she went through hell when he was dying of cancer. And it's admirable that she stuck by him and nursed him and my hat's off to her. At this point I feel let it rest.
EvAl: We talked a little bit about your radio show, we talked about Blitzkrieg, we touched on the Ramones look which is reflected in your clothing line. I heard something about pasta sauce and discussion of books. You're a busy guy.
Marky: Busy, busy, busy.
EvAl: What keeps you going?
Marky: What keeps me going? The deaths of Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. Because they died too young and I feel if we rested for three years, not really rested but dragged around for three years, had some time off, we would have got back together. So to keep the legacy alive, I was approached by my friend Tommy Hilfiger who I've known since I started out. And he asked me if I wanted to do a line. A small capsule collection they call it. For a season. I said yeah, only if I'm able to be part of the design, and see the outcome, critique what I see and change it if I have to. Sure, you got it. So I was able to do that. I designed a leather jacket, not from a Ramones outlook, but from my first band Dust I was in when I was 15, 16 years old. So I took it from that because I did some custom stub work on that coat and I used some of that design on that Hilfiger leather jacket. And the jeans that I made were a tight fitting jean that I would wear in bands I was in. I added some stub work for them too, which was tasteful, not too much. I don't like things when they're over the top. That was the outcome. I might do something again with him in the future, I might not. I might do something with Perfecto leather jacket which is the jacket I wore with Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Ramones and in Dust. Perfecto Shop Leather which is probably the biggest American leather jacket company along with Harley Davidson. We're just talking about it. But the pasta sauce is great. I was approached to do that and had the cartoon on the front. It's called Marky Ramone's Brooklyn's Own. But I had to be sure that the ingredients were natural, that it wasn't bullshit and that it was a real sauce. I wanted the price to be low so it was affordable. So we're going to start putting it out there, not right now, but eventually.
EvAl: So are you going to be like the Paul Newman of pasta sauce?
Marky: If I can get to the point, I'd be very grateful because Paul Newman did some great things charity-wise. I've done a lot of charity work, too, that I'm proud of. So if it comes to that point, if it makes a huge profit, I would donate some of the proceeds to charity.
EvAl: There was some discussion at some point about writing a book ...
Marky: Writing a book, taking my time. I wanted it out this year; it will be out next year. I'm not in a rush. It's everything from when I was born, what I remember, everything starting out at CBGBs, New York in the 70's, the bands, the people I knew, the owners of clubs, what it was like going to England the first time, my relationships with all the punk individuals that started the scene, writers and the reviewers. Everything. So it takes a lot. And you got to get a lot of skeletons out of the closet. Also, I'm putting out a DVD of drum video. A lot of kid drummers, even guitar players ask me, how do you play the way you play. Well, I'm going to put out a DVD.
EvAl: So it's an instructional video?
Marky: Yeah, but it's for beginners. I show them what I do with my eighth note playing and all that stuff. How I played in the Ramones and all the bands I was in. It's just me playing on my drums, explaining what I do. It's simplistic, that's the way I wanted it, but at some point in the video I show some technical charm, let's put it that way. I get a little technical just to show people I can do other things. But there will be a DVD put out too, where I will get to that.
EvAl: When it comes to writing the book, it sounds like it's a full autobiography. How do you dust off the cobwebs? Are you one of those people that keep everything and it's a matter of opening boxes?
Marky: Yes. I have the largest Ramones video library in the world. I have all my notes, a lot of things on paper. I was in the band 15 years and I'm the one who was in the longest line-up of the band. I've seen it all and done it all with them and I knew Dee Dee before I joined the Ramones. So I'm able to write the most coming from a Ramone. There are other people that wrote Ramones books and I review them. There was some I liked, and some I didn't like. I didn't like Everett True's book, I think it's called "Hey Ho Let's Go: The Ramones." I think he's English. Very inaccurate. Dee Dee Ramone's two books were inaccurate. Dee Dee had a very child-like, vivid imagination and a lot of his books weren't accurate. There was a point in one book that he said that he killed a border guard and he didn't. Come on! He's not a murderer. So there are things like that that are inaccurate.
EvAl: And if you were [a murderer] you probably wouldn't put it in a book.
Marky: Exactly. That's why I love Dee Dee, because he was so childlike that he wrote so many great songs. But the great book that he did write was the "Horror of the Chelsea Hotel" which was just a fantasy. That should be a movie. Monte Melnick's book is 4.5 stars out of 5. He was there. He saw all that. The other Ramones book is Dee Dee's first wife's who was there in the beginning until about 1990. I give her book a 4 star rating. The black one, Jim Bessman's book, I give 4.5 starts. He hung around CBGBs and he knew us all. He saw the development if the Ramones so I give his book 4.5 stars. There's one book I'm waiting for to review and that's Joey's brother's book that's coming out. His name is Mickey Leigh. So I want to see how accurate this is and I will review it. The first amendment in America is very important and I feel that you can say anything you want about anything if it's accurate. Even if it's inaccurate, you should be able to say what you feel if you were there and you know the truth.
EvAl: How do the authors feel about you reviewing their books?
Marky: I reviewed them on MySpace but I got rebuttals, I got responses. And they said, you know Marky, you're right on the money. You were right. So I'm not patting myself on the back, I was there. You know what I mean? I was there. I know about the beginnings because they told me all about it and it was only two years [between] when their first album came out and I joined the group. And the first song I recorded was I Wanna Be Sedated. And the biggest selling album is End of the Century. Individual album, not greatest hits. Sedated is the most downloaded Ramones song next to Blitzkrieg Bop. I give kudos to people who did write books and took the effort and time. But the accuracy, to me, in a historical sense is very important.
EvAl: As we talked earlier, it seems like that's very much your mission.
Marky: It is. It is. I feel sometimes when people try to banish people from things and try to change history it's for their welfare or because they're vindictive and because they're envious and they're jealous. And unfortunately there's a lot of jealousy in this business and it's sad because I feel that if there's someone better than you playing an instrument or writing better or doing something better, you learn from them. Don't be jealous of them, learn and that will make you better. That's how I look at it.
EvAl: Touring with Blitzkrieg, you've been to Latin America, you've been to Asia, you've given the East Coast some decent attention. Us West Coasters are starving for some Blitzkrieg right now.
Marky: We wanted to do this show because of how peculiar it is. I like playing shows, but I like other things involved at this point in the game. It doesn't just have to be a show. I like to be part of other things that are involved with it, you know. But we will be hitting Los Angeles. We will be hitting San Francisco. I will be doing a New York show eventually because the Ramones have a lot of fans in New York. I've had a lot of fans in New York because of the Voidoids and the punk scene. They're curious [about Blitzkrieg] and I want to present them properly which I feel I'm doing.
EvAl: Any idea when those shows will happen?
Marky: I'd say the spring. I want to go to Poland. I have an offer to go there. I was never there, the Ramones were never there, I want to go there. I did something in Russia with the group, which I love going to Russia. I've played Beijing. I did Dubai. Blitzkrieg just did Japan. That was great. Australia kicked ass. You can only do so much. Plus I have my own signature drumstick line with Vic Firth. I never knew that would happen. I put a lot of effort into that ... to the weight and into what stick should be used in punk rock drumming. And of course it's up to the individual but I used so many sticks and I found all the time and experience the proper weight to do what I do which can be strenuous if you don't do it properly. That's why I decided to that instructional video.
EvAl: It seems like with all things Marky Ramone related, you're patient and you want to do things right.
Marky: Yeah, because first impressions are important. The memory, that's why it's called a memory. You can't erase it. You can come back a second time, but it's always the first time that's on people's minds. That why people get lobotomies, because there are certain things that they don't want ingrained in the brain any more.
EvAl: Thank you so much for your time.
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