Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CJ Ramone Interview(Originally published on June 18th, 2013)

The Ramones are more than a band and very much way of life for me. As I often say, they are like a breath in my lungs or pulse in my heart. One huge regret I have is never seeing them live in my younger days but on the day I met this man, I was brought so close to the beauty of that spirit. It's very much alive when you are around CJ Ramone. This is due to his great integrity and love for what he helped to keep going from '89 to '96 when he became and will forever be a Ramone. He doesn't take the task of keeping his brothers Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee's spirits here among us and it shows in every move he makes. Also I am always in such admiration of how humble and willing he is to connect even on just a personal level as a friend to the fans. That day, a few summers ago brought me closer to who he is and even though he's got those qualities, I was full of nerves in asking him to do an interview. You could imagine my elation the following day when he responded with, "sure would"! So without further delay, here is the interview I got to do with him. This was such an honor for me to conduct and was done for all of us who love the Ramones, living with their example as philosophy for way of life. Gabba gabba hey!!

Sara: Thank you CJ for taking a moment to spend some time with us!! How have the days been treating you in New York lately?

CJ Ramone: 
Things have been alright. Got a bit of touring coming up to support my new record "Reconquista", and I'm looking forward to finally finishing my book up!

S: At what point in your life did you decide that music would be what you'd peruse? Was bass originally what you started with?

I was into sports up until about 13 when a growth spurt tore up the connective in my knees. I had to wear braces on my legs so that was it for sports. Some friends had a band but no bass player. I got my hands on a bass, taught myself a couple songs, and started playing. I decided music was it for me after playing a talent show at my church. We played an AC/DC song and I lost it. The guy that ran the show told me I looked like I was having convulsions, that was it. I knew I was going to do it.

S: September 30th of 1989. That's an unforgettable date for you. What are your memories and feelings you have that are associated with this date?

September 30th, 1989 was my first show with The Ramones in Leicester, England. One of the greatest moments of my life.

S: As wrote in Ramones Official Bio ( by Jim Bessman, on chapter 17) it talks about your start with the band and how it wasn't very easy. You had a problem with the Marines and were arrested which gave a delay to the band being able to play live. You're quoted in the bio saying, "it was like holding up a train for a conductor who has to piss!" and then what Johnny said about your first gig with them,  "It was really bad, he forgot everything we rehearsed—stay calm, don't move around, move around as you become comfortable. Pick easy, make it look like you're picking hard. But he threw it all out the window! His finger was cut up after one song, he was moving around. But he was fine for the second show.". What was the real key to be loved first by Johnny and Joey, then by the fans?

The beginning was tough. There was a lot to get used to, including the politics within the band, not to mention playing in a band that I had idolized. I'm sure I must have annoyed Johnny when I first came on, I was like a kid on Christmas morning everyday. I was amazed by everything and excited by things that Johnny had been bored with for years. I think he liked me because I had just come out of the Marines and was very mission oriented. If he said learn these songs by tomorrow, I learned them. If he said calm down on stage and play better, I calmed down. He was the officer, I was the grunt. I had no problem with it. 
Joey liked me for the reasons Johnny did not. He appreciated my youthful exuberance. We went to shows together, we went out to eat and hung around talking about politics, music, and life. If I missed the last train home he'd let me stay at his other apartment. Joey was my friend, Johnny was my mentor. They were both really important to me.

S: As far as important parts of the Ramones go, Arturo Vega is a name of great significance. With his recent and untimely passing, the Ramones fan base has been in shock and deep mourning. Seeing that you can always give a bit of light to even the darkest times, can you give us a few words on what Arturo meant to you?

It is sad for all of us, of course, to loose Arturo, but his life and his work was awesome. He created one of the most iconic images in music history, that is recognized everywhere in the world! The Ramones were born in his loft and wrote most of their early songs there. He witnessed and was part of so many great things in his life. Many things, in the art world, that most of us never heard about. The world is poorer without him, but Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee are happy as heck to have him back I am sure.

S: I really feel that you gave the Ramones such a breath of new life when you joined, stepping in to honor a place that was once filled by one of your heroes. Talk to us a bit about the whole creative process of learning the new songs Dee Dee was still contributing. How would the rehearsals go as far as who worked with who? What studio album out of the three you were on was the funnest to record?

Prepping for a record went like this. Everyone would get a tape of the songs submitted for the record. We'd all listen to them, then get together and vote on each song. After the songs were picked, I would learn each song, (guitar, bass, and vocals) and me, Johnny, and Marky would get together and rehearse. After a  few of those, Daniel Rey would come down to the rehearsals and tweak each song and get the tempos set. After that, we'd get into the studio.
Johnny refused to play the songs over and over, so Marky and I would go in to get the drum tracks down. He is a perfectionist so sometimes (the entire Mondo Bizzzarro record) we would have to do 30 takes of one song before he was happy. Once the drums were finished, I'd do my bass tracks. I would be so hyper rehearsed by that time, that it usually took me a couple hours to get my tracks done. After that, I wasn't allowed in the studio until it was time to sing. Johnny would generally get his tracks done quickly. Basic tracks done, Joey's turn. JOEY was even more of a perfectionist than Marky, sometimes working one WORD at a time. Vocal tracks done, the producer would take over and work his magic.
That's how it worked. Pretty standard stuff, but always interesting to watch.
Funnest one to record was Mondo Bizzarro. Working with Ed Stasium was an honor and he is a great guy as well as being responsible for the early Ramones sound along with Tommy Ramone.

S: More often than not, I feel fans and people in general stay very past oriented with you, almost freezing you in time at the final Ramones show in '96. Obviously you will be a Ramone for life but I'd like to set the record straight. Tell us who you are in the nearly 20 years later, who is CJ Ramone also known as Christopher Ward today?

Hmm... Complicated question. I think Cj and Christopher merged at some point. Cj was always in there just waiting to escape. He used to represent all the anger and frustration I felt towards the world. Now it's just the celebration of The Ramones and the fans and the ecstasy of being on stage doing something I was put here to do. There is also a lot of pride in the fact that I've survived and now, I make my own music that I love.

S: It's been well established that upon entering the Ramones, you were a huge fan but there's another part of you as a music lover that I like very much! In just watching the way you move on stage in 90s footage, it's clear to see you have a metal background. Tell us a bit about your love for this genre and how it has shaped you as a musician.

Like I said, Black Sabbath is my all time favorite, but I always loved the rebelliousness of punk. There was an "us against them" thing about it I was drawn to. Then the New Wave of British Metal hit. Iron Maiden's first two records bridged the gap between punk and metal for me. Paul DiAnno was way more street than Metal Warrior. He gave Maiden soul. "Iron Maiden" and "Killers" are incredibly deep records. Steve Harris and Clive Burr to this day are still my favorite drum, bass combo right behind Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Judas Priest was another band I listened to constantly. Early Scorpions and Michael Schenker Group from Germany, RIOT from the U.S. I saw Metallica and Raven in a little club near my house and was blown away. Anthrax and S.O.D., metal took over. There were no punks where I lived besides me and two other guys. My record collection was so bi-polar it was scary. Looking back, I just wanted to rage. I didn't care if it was punk or metal. If I liked it I bought it. That's a punk attitude.

S: Also from just observing what you will post on Facebook, its clear to see that you have an extremely well versed background covering many genres as a music lover. On a typical day, what would you listen to from morning to night?

Ramones first 4 records would do it for me.

S: As a veteran of music with three other bands you fronted in addition to your role in the Ramones, "Reconquista" was your first experience of just standing behind your name as a solo project. Even though you're so well loved and known, was this something that nerves came along with as far as the way this record was very much just you?

The only thing I worry about is doing something that doesn't live up to the Ramone name. I recorded "Reconquista" 3 times before I liked it enough to release. I've tried to get the best players I possibly could to tour with. Daniel Rey, Brant Bjork from Kyuss, Steve Soto and Dan Root from The Adolescents, and most recently, Jonny Wickersham and Dave Hidalgo from Social Distortion. I do everything I can to do it with respect for The Ramones.

S: In wanting to keep the release of "Reconquista" d.i.y. as possible, you chose to go through pledgemusic. This allowed you to really give a lot to the fans who chose to pledge but also pretty much meant that you'd take on  the huge task of handling every single detail. I'm sure it has been both pleasure and stress since a self release is no easy task! What have been the best and worst moments of the whole process? Would you do it the same way if you had the choice to go back to the start?

The Pledge Campaign has been a great experience. Being directly in touch with the fans is the way I wanted to do it. It has been tough, but only because the company that was supposed to manufacture and ship the gear, backed out a few days after we reached our goal. It left me and my manager Gene "Big Duke" Frawley scrambling to find companies to produce the gear. It took us awhile, but we've finally got it under control. Lesson learned!

S: I adore the range of what is heard on the album as far as what areas you touch on from the Ramones, to the more personal, and even the covers that came out so beautiful! For the original material on "Reconquista", were they songs you had written over the years and didn't quite fit with other projects or were they all written expressly for this album?

There may have been a riff or two I had  laying around, but all the songs were written for the album. In fact "Now I Know" was written in the studio. There were 3 songs I removed because they didn't fit the record. I will probably put them on my next one.

S: I am crazy for the entire album but would like to focus on two tracks just to get a more in depth look at you as a songwriter. First one I'd like to talk about is "Three Angels". Tell me how you chose the message for each of your brothers. Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee. Was it a difficult choice to make seeing how you've had so many years in knowing what it was to be with them on a person to person level? Or maybe just more of an intuition?

I wish I could say I was clever enough to sit down and think those lines up, but the truth is I didn't. I was driving in my car when the chorus came to me. I pulled over and wrote it on a piece of paper. Then the verses came out one after another. Honest to God it poured out of the pen onto the paper like I'd heard it a million times. The lyrics, the melody, the arrangement, it was all there. I like to believe that Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee put it in my head!!!

S: Ok, second one! Choosing one track that I connected to deeply and instantly on an emotional level to you personally was "Low On Ammo". Every bit of it was a work of art at first listen from the melody, to the way the lyrics build, and the openness and bravery in your voice. My eyes welled at the moment you say "Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee belong to us!" with the sincerity they're delivered in. Can you talk to me about the inspiration and back story behind this one?

After Johnny died there was a rush of books, documentaries, interviews, and articles by all these people that "knew" the band. They all talked about the personal lives of Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee and about all the bad things they'd done and how awful (especially in Johnny and Dee Dee's case) they were. I am not saying that the stories weren't true, but  more attention was being put on their failed relationships and other bullshit than what really counts, and that is their music. I also had some problems with  Ramones Productions Inc after Johnny and Joey died that I mention also. It really is a song to rally the troops!!!

S: This is probably one that many people are wondering about as far as the new record is concerned. If we weren't able to pledge while the campaign was open, when will "Reconquista" be available as a physical release to the masses? Also since the campaign is over, will you be allowing it back on the download sites like iTunes?

It will be available through my website.  I am not sure about the digital download sites yet.

S: Then one I'm sure everyone wants to know!! Are you working on more songs for another CJ Ramone album yet?

I have about half a new record written.

S: For these last four questions, lets lighten the mood and have some fun!.... Ok, I lied. This definitely is a serious question(wink wink), how do you take your coffee? Being a fellow member of the church of happiness(coffee) also makes me wonder something else. Seeing how you've been so many places in the world, where have you had your best cup?

I take my coffee with milk. Best cup in the world? Probably Brasil.

S: One love of yours that I've picked up on in my own observation is motorcycles. At what point in your life did you discover them? What would be your ideal trip to get away, just you and your bike?

I always liked motorcycles. Easy Rider made me want one. I got my first street bike in my late teens. A Kawasaki KLR 650 and I've owned one ever since. I already did my dream ride through the U.S. Someday I'd like to ride across Australia.

S: Italy is a country you visit frequently and you're getting ready to head out there once more next month! I can certainly see why with my recent first experience of going out there. As someone here in America who is quite fond of their punk rock scene, it makes me excited to see you play with good friends of mine like Tough and the Manges. What are your first memories of being there and what makes it such a special place/musical community to you after all these years?

My mothers family lives in  Italy(although her last name is Greek) so ancestry is part of the reason why I always wanted to go. Now I enjoy the culture and the fans. They're not as rabid as the  South Americans, but they treat me as a family member when I am there. There is a sincerity in them that I really like.

S: Now we're making it to our close so I'd like to thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to talk with us and present you with the final question. Since my very start of doing interviews, I've made a tradition of asking a Ramones related question which I always do last. I'm over the moon right now with a Ramone in my hot seat!! What are your top five moments experienced as a Ramone covering from the very start of your time in the first rehearsal to the last show?

5.  Playing River Plate Stadium in Argentina.
       4.  Playin on stage with Lemmy at the last Ramones show.
       3.  Recording "Mondo Bizzarro".
       2.  First show September 30th, 1989Leicester, England.
       1.  Finding out I got the audition while in custody of the United States Marine Corps

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