Losing a Founding Father of Punk Rock
Johnny Ramone�s unfortunate, untimely death is heart-breaking news but it can also serve as a reminder of the massive impact The Ramones have had on punk rock, the music world and underground counter-culture, in general.
The Ramones started playing music together before I was born. Their raw, groundbreaking sound made the New York venue CBGBs notorious in the mid- 1970s, but that was just the beginning. Twenty years later, when I dove into the punk rock scene in high school, I soon realized their power and passion had a lot to do with the influence they�d had on punk rock music.
That was the year I bought The Ramone�s self-titled first album, the first of the combined 21 studio and live albums they recorded between 1976 and 1996. The record had a fast, low-fi sound that was different than what I�d heard before. The Ramones� musical structure was simple – never more than four guitar chords and a constant beat of the snare drum – but it was addictive. Songs such as �Beat on the Brat�, �Chainsaw�, �Let�s Dance,� and �I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,� were catchy. Meanwhile, the guitar distortion and the sheer energy behind every song on the album made me pump my first in the air. It quickly became clear to me that The Ramones had created a successful, often-imitated formula. They stripped rock n� roll to the bone, removed the excesses and over-production that had prevailed throughout the 1970s and rattled the world with a fresh, raw sound.
When I picked up a guitar in high school, it was Ramones records that influenced me. Wailing guitar solos by Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton were intimidating and tough to learn. But Johnny Ramone proved that anyone could play rock n� roll. He rarely played more than a few power chords, proving that anyone could play honest music that matters, without a need for the seven-minute guitar solos that were so popular at the time. He played at an intense, pulse-pounding speed that the music world had never seen before. Countless of the punk bands since – Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, Minor Threat, Black Flag, to name a few – have imitated Johnny�s distorted, four-chord sound.
Today, the band�s influence also extends beyond the punk scene. Last year, a Ramones tribute album was released, featuring an eclectic group of musicians, including Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rob Zombie, and Kiss. Meanwhile, several modern punk rock bands – from Green Day, to Screeching Weasel – have recorded Ramones covers.
Now that punk rock has become commercialized, far too commercialized for some purists, it is evident that the Ramones were on to something unique. Their influence can be heard on radio airwaves across the country and can be seen in the studded bracelets, belts and band T-shirts currently filling Hot Topic stores and malls across America.
In the twenty years the Ramones played music, they performed live 2,263 times. So, it�s sad to consider that there is now only one living original member. This week, I�ll pick up my guitar and strum a few power chords to my favorite Ramones tunes, honoring a man who made rock n� roll accessible and proved that the guitar can resonate with a sound that is both simple and powerful.