The “glitter rock” era of the early 1970’s, best represented by bands as The New York Dolls, was conspicuously out of step with the dire economic situation by the mid-1970’s. Glam and glitter was ill-fitted with the worldwide economic depression. As the Dolls faded into managerial feuding and drug abuse, a group of neighbors in Forest Hills put together a band of their own. They abandoned the flamboyance of glam and glitter rock for simple, tough jeans and leather jackets, and an equally simple, tough sound, and they named themselves the Ramones.
Performing at the East Village club CBGB, Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey, and Tommy became the prophets of the next cutting edge of fashion and music, the new phenomenon that would come to be called punk.
Ramones went through a few changes in the their setup, especially drummers would come and go, and when Marky Ramone, who’s been behind the drums since 1978, left the band in 1983, a 26-year old from New Jersey replaced him. Born Richard Reinhardt in New Jersey in 1957, Richie Ramone joined the band and became their saviour at a point in time when they were struggling, and he stayed with the band for three albums and four years, an era of the Ramones that produced classics such as “I Wanna Live”, “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)”, and probably the most popular song from the period, penned by Richie himself, “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”.
However, a financial feud between Richie and the band led to his departure right after a show in New York in 1987, and Richie left the music scene and went on a very long hiatus. A call from Mickey Leigh, Joey’s brother, in the mid-2000’s would however change that when he convinced Richie to play a Joey Ramone Birthday Bash, and that inspired him start his solo career.
After two full-length albums, “Entitled” in 2013 and “Cellophane” in 2016, Richie spent two years writing his autobiography “I Know Better Now – My life before, during and after The Ramones”, and when he passed through Hamburg to play Monkeys Music Club we hauled him in for an interview and a photo session, and chat about his autobiography, his life story including the Ramones years, and getting that third record done before the end of 2020.
The Narration of Richie Ramone
It’s great to have you back, it was a while ago we heard something from you.
It’s been a while because it took two years writing this book with Peter Aaron, my book “I Know Better Now” on Backbeat Books. I’m writing [music] now and I have a bunch of stuff, but I’m very particular with my records. I always want to make sure the next one is better, and if it’s not better I won’t even do them.
I really like ”Cellophane”, that was a pretty solid record for me and it’s way better than the first one. But I do have some new stuff and I’m trying to get one out by the end of the year. I know there will be a single coming out in a couple months, we talked about that before we left [for touring] with the label. I just got to do it, but I also love playing golf and that takes a lot of my time too.
Tell me more about your book. What is it about?
They gave me a decent good upfront money for the book. I never really wanted to do a book because everybody was doing books at the time, but finally some agent convinced me to do it. And I also talked to some of my friends and they said ”Do it while the iron’s hot”!
I said I was wanting to do a book at the end, when I’m like ninety or when I’m on my deathbed, but they said ”No, if you wait twenty years nobody’s going to even care about you or want to do a book with you, so if they want you to do it, do it now”. That kind of convinced me, but it was hard remembering all this stuff, especially the Ramones days.
But I also wanted to do a book that wasn’t just all about the Ramones, I wanted it not to be just a Ramones book of bashing and all the shit that’s been out there already. I want to tell my life story from growing up where I grew up as a kid, how it progressed all through the bands I was in and how I got in the Ramones. That’s why it’s called ”I Know Better Now – My Life Before, During and After the Ramones”.
And you know better now?
Yeah, I know better know about a lot of things, you know. I think as we grow up we’re told a lot of things and when you live life through them you know better. What do they call that? Wisdom? I’m 63 years old now and I have a lot of wisdom.
Do you bring any copies with you on tour?
I brought like twenty because it’s too heavy. They’re hardbacks, I can only fit like twenty in a box, sign them and sell them. I sold a couple last night, but it’s like a shock because they’re not cheap. If you go on Amazon right now they’re like twenty euros.
I’m doing a book reading in Berlin after the tour at the Ramones Museum. I play in Berlin tomorrow and then on the last day of the tour, it is the 5th April, and I’ll do a book reading after that one. Flo Hayler [founder of the Ramones Museum] ordered a bunch of books from Amazon, but I’m not going to bring all these books. I got books, I have vinyl and we carry that shit ourselves, plus that they wanted five hundred dollars to ship sixty records to Berlin. It’s a lot of money, and the weight is like fifty pounds. It doesn’t make sense, does it? That’s why I’m kind of concerned because I asked the guy how much it cost. He was like “Five or six hundred“. It doesn’t make sense! How can you make any money?
But at least I had all my shirts made here because I know who invented the printing press: the Germans, right? The posters came out beautiful, they really did a great job this company.
So, the book is all about my life and it’s a really honest book, and a lot of people never really knew my background – and it got great reviews. It’s coming out as an e-book now, I think it’s this week actually.
“I Saved the Band”: The Adventures in the Ramones
Richie Ramone grew up in a music family with a horn playing brother and pianist sisters, and already at early age he played weddings and bar mitzvahs with his brother’s band, encouraged by his parents. With such a diverse musical background he brought in different styles and a more aggressive tempo in the Ramones.
However, joining a tight-knit band of friends wasn’t easy and tensions were always high in the Ramones. Two of the members, Johnny and Joey, didn’t speak to each other for most of the band’s 22-year history. Beneath the goofy banter and incendiary stage shows lurked intra-personal dysfunction, psychological wreckage and lifelong trauma.
When Richie joined the band in 1983 he soon learned that it would take forever to earn their respect, and he would rarely enough be fully accepted as a songwriter although he penned down the classic song “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”. And in financial terms and sharing profits from merchandise he was never considered a fourth band member.
I remember I started making music and dream of the tour life when I was ten or something. When did it hit you?
Being a drummer? Well it’s kind of interesting.
When you were a kid they made you learn an instrument. They thought that practice an instrument would give you responsibility or something like that, and my brother he became a music major from that. He played sax and all that kind of stuff.
I guess my sisters learned the piano but none of the girls kept with it, it was just for a short time, but I became a drummer because I always was. Even in kindergarten they bring out this dirty dusty box that sat in the corner of the room. “Recess time! Go get an instrument!”, and I always got things like this and blocks, I never got the plastic trumpets to blow in. I was always doing this [drumming with his hands on the table and his jacket] and that’s how that happened. My parents got me a teacher when I was in fourth grade, so I’ve been drumming for over 50 years.
That’s a long time! It also means that you have experienced lots of different music before getting into punk.
Right! A lot of different music. My brother was a horn player. Some of these bands I was in were eight or nine piece bands with horn sections and funk and fusion music like Billy Cobham, so here I was this virtuoso musician who won awards and I could read music and do all this, and I ended up as a punk rock drummer.
How did that happen?
I’ve been in bands all my life. I was playing live already when I was ten or eleven years old, playing weddings and bar mitzvahs, because my father always said ”You’re five years ahead of your time!“ because my brother was five years older than me. When I was eight he was thirteen, and we were buying the Hendrix records and all that stuff from the late 60’s. And because I played in wedding bands and stuff like that I never really had to work in McDonald’s, I always had money because I was able to do that.
I had an ABC card, where I could go into places where they sold liquor and perform. All that background of music made me even a more well-rounded punk drummer because I just didn’t have one style. I’m able to take what I have and then use that into that world rather than just being a guy who plays like those monkeys with the arms, that’s all they could do. That’s it. All that knowledge really helped out, and also being a live performer.
I work with so many people today, and when they’re playing live they just listen to themselves. They’re not listening to the bass player or the guitar player. When I’m playing drums I’m not listening to what I’m playing, I’m listening to everything around me. That’s how it’s supposed to be like, you’re not supposed to listen to yourself. That’s what makes it tight and really cool. So I learned a lot from playing live.
With all that background, what was your influence on the Ramones?
My influence was, like Joey said, that I saved the band. First of all I was the third drummer, and every time you change the drummer, immediately you’re going to change the sound of the band. I got this new kid here now because I also front and sing and play drums too, and he’s really good. He really keeps things solid when I’m out front bashing kids in the head at the show.
But I gave them a lot. I gave them song-writing, I gave them singing, singing live behind the kit that no one else really did, I and Joey were singing together at the shows. I gave them peace, I gave them new blood. I gave them energy at a point when they were getting sleepy.
There were two records that weren’t so great before we made “Too Tough To Die”, which became like “Now they’re back!”. I gave them a real solid, different style. Tommy is more like a Charlie Watts drummer; my play was more like a train. It’s like ”Here I go, I’m going, you better be with me!”, and I laid the foundation which was kind of a different style. Marky sucked, so I don’t even talk about him.
Here I was this kid from New Jersey, 26 years old, they were all like five or six years older than me, and that was refreshing to them. I kind of really put them all together again and that’s how we went about our business. Joey and I became very close; I was in the band four years and ten months and we were together every day and every night. We were inseparable whether we were on the tour or whether we were walking around East Village in New York City. We were really, really close. And he was very secure. He never said ”Richie, you’re the drummer. Stay behind the drums”, he kept pushing me to sing more and kept pushing me to the front, being really supportive. Not every singer does that and that was really good for me. We just had a really good relationship.
I remember Joey always pushing to change things and make new stuff, while John always wanted to do the same stuff all over again. At least that’s what the legend says.
John, that was his thing and he liked it as a cult band. I guess after a few records he realized ”Well, let’s just try to make money, we’re never gonna have a hit“. It’s a shame. If they came out like twenty years later, they would have had something. So with John it became all about the money, much money. ”Throw it in my floor and it’s safe in the floor”, that was his life.
And then he passed away. All his money, his millions of dollars, and he couldn’t even use them after he hoarded his whole life. I don’t think he’s ever bought me a cup of coffee.
So you’re getting more than you asked for? I’m in a talkative mood (laugh).
It must have been quite a blow to the band when you left on such short notice.
Absolutely! What happened towards the end was that after four years I was like ”Ok, there’s the circle, there’s my name, my image and everything. If you make a dollar on a t-shirt give me ten cents, give me something”.
What bothered me the most was not even that, it was when we came to Europe, like Germany. It wasn’t euro back, it was Deutsche Mark. Every morning Arturo Vega, the lighting and t-shirt guy, got in the van with these envelopes and they were like [Richie holds up his finger to show how thick the envelopes were], and he said ”This is your envelope John, Joey, Dee Dee” and then the van would pull up to the bank. They’d all get out and change it into greenbacks US. It happened every day and I’d sit in the van in the back, and it didn’t exactly make me feel like one of the guys. Why was I left out? All you got to do is giving me an envelope a little thinner to make me part of the family. It was tough being Richard Reinhardt when they wanted you to be Richard Reinhardt and being Richie Ramone when they wanted you to be Richie Ramone.
That was my life and it really started to earth me. That’s when I started to push John and say ”It’s time to do something, it’s only fair”. I never wanted an equal cut, I wasn’t there at ’75, I didn’t form this band, I didn’t create that sound, and I didn’t create downstroke [John’s famous guitar technique]. “Now I’m writing songs, putting songs on records, and it’s time to do a little something“, and it all got messed up and that was probably my fault. What I should’ve done was just tell my lawyer “Talk to their lawyer and get this done”, because when you start mixing money with friendships – that’s not a good idea. They could never come to terms of anything.
I think I just got married at the time and I said ”Well, tonight I’m gonna do it”. Long Island where I lived, that was at least a two-hour drive from New York City, and I said “Get a big white limousine after the show, I’m going to walk backstage and quit, and that car better be waiting”. I wanted two Quaaludes [sedative medication, highly addictive] and two bottles of Dom Perignon for the ride home. And there were two Quaaludes waiting and Dom Perignon. I hopped in and said ”I’m leaving and I’m done!”, put my head through the limousine roof, waved to everybody and left. It was heart-breaking because after four and a half years people respect you. I quit with a show following on the day. Probably the stupidest move you can do, but you do stupid things when you’re angry. I don’t think I would do that today because I know better now.
CJ went through a lot of bullshit. When he first got in the band they’d throw things at him, like ”Fuck you!”. They wanted Dee Dee. When they got a new drummer it took a while for you to gain their respect. I remember at this show there was this 15-feet long band in the audience saying “Richie”, and that was on the night I was quitting. That was like wow! I will always remember that. Then there was a big ”What to do“ the next day because they had a show, and the management was knocking on the door. I never let anybody in and we were talking through the door for hours, and then there was this anonymous person who said ”Well, if you go back and do these two shows, then Johnny is gonna fire you anyway for starting this thing”, and I said that was it for me, “I’m quitting now because I’m not going to get fired from the Ramones, no fucking way”. That’s what it was.
Later on this became a thing where John said he didn’t say that, this was made up by my wife, or someone made this up because women don’t like touring. It was very odd and it’s a shame, and none of that would have come to head had they just said ”Ok, have your lawyer call our lawyer and we’ll figure something out“.
That’s all they’d have had to say and I would have been in that band until the end because they were my friends. I wasn’t asking for the world, but John was like that. John and the first two albums would only take one song I wrote because I got the writing royalties. The Ramones split it four ways; Dee Dee wrote all those songs, but John was still getting his share and he didn’t do nothing. At the third album I got two songs because I used to have good material and Martin in Beggars Banquet, our English label, would always take a second song of mine and put it on the English record or make an EP, or put it on a single, because he liked me and John really had nothing to say about that.
Did you stay in touch with Joey after what happened?
God no! That was another side and I understand, Joey felt betrayed like he got stabbed in the back.
I moved to California because I couldn’t stay in New York City. I was like ”Ok, I can’t stay here anymore, walk around the village and people see me”, so I moved to LA. But I saw Dee Dee and talked to him many times after that, before he died. But Joey, he felt betrayed and I never bothered to get in touch. I remember getting a call that he was sick in the hospital and he was looking for me. By the time I got in touch with them he had passed and I felt pretty bad about that.
These are the things I know better now because you grow up. You don’t know this shit until you get to live through it.
The Hard Work of Writing New Music
There’s nothing worse than sitting down to work on a new music and having no ideas at all. Or you have ideas, but within a few minutes of working on them, they just don’t excite you anymore.
For Richie it’s a struggle although he won’t admit it’s writer’s block stopping him from doing new music, it’s about understanding that writing music requires discipline and to set aside a block of hours just being in the studio. But the best ideas for songs come from everyday activities like watching TV or meeting Swedes speaking funny English.
Let’s talk about your music. “Somebody Put Something In My Drink” is one of my all-time favourites.
Yeah, that led off the album. It was a song that Dee Dee pushed for doing a video to because that could have been a really funny video, but then again John interfered because that would’ve given me a little too much attention.
We all know the backstory on that because when this happened – I was like 19 then – I moved to New York City. We’d go to the club and when people get up to dance or go to the bathroom, we’d run over and grab their drinks, just steal it because we had no money and we’d drink whatever. One night I did that and I started feeling really weird, “Whoa! I gotta go to the hospital, something’s wrong with me“, and then I realized that I was on LSD.
That’s actually a true story?
That’s a true story! I told Dee Dee that story years later and he said “Richie, you should write that song“, and look, that song got in the top 20! The song they kept in their set after I left. Do you know how painful that was? They played that for another nine years. It was always in the show and never went away.
If we go back to ”Cellophane”; I listened to it during the last couple of days and it’s a bit like a time travel. It’s shifting from the Ramones’ sound from “Too Tough To Die” to “Enjoy the Silence”, your Depeche Mode cover that sounds a bit like Marilyn Manson. Had it something to do with it?
No, maybe it just sounds that way because I doubled my vocal with a third like Manson does.
When I write a song I don’t listen to anything, I don’t try to copy anything, I just let it flow from my head. A lot of people say that’s a good thing, it should sound like something you heard before. Maybe it is but I just don’t know how to do that. And I don’t know how to write happy songs. You could tell my songs really aren’t happy, they’re more about stuff I experienced in real life.
It felt like it was a growing album. I sang better on that record than the first one, and I developed as an artist on it – and I loved that cover. I did the cover because it worked with my voice and it’s a great tune to pull out live because either you’ll get this [the middle finger] or everybody is jumping up and down. It’s cool just with the guitars and no synthesizer, really raw.
Do you have a personal way how to write songs? David Bowie for example, whipped up words.
I just read that the other day. But no, I don’t, but maybe I should try that because getting all the words right is always difficult for me. Words are important. Usually I’m watching TV and I hear something like ”Enthusiast“, and now I got a new song I’m writing called “Enthusiast” on how I want to try everything.
It takes me a little time to rip through words. Dee Dee was gifted that way, he was a poet more than a songwriter. The guy had loads of books, and he just sat there and wrote words and could write a song in a day. But not me, it takes me a little longer but I do have my own little sound, it has its own identity. It doesn’t sound like the Ramones because I’m not trying to copy the Ramones. CJ got records that got him stuck to that format, which is nice for him.
You don’t have some kind of a concept for an album? Or do you just put songs in that fit nicely together?
They used to do that in the seventies all the time but I don’t think anybody really do concept albums anymore. It would be nice to do that, but it’s a lot of work to make a concept record. Now, usually your second song is your single.
Some people still do it, but not many and certainly not because it doesn’t sell that good.
It’s always important how one song ends and how the next one starts, I pay attention to that, and it got to go in the right spot on the record. I don’t know, maybe I’ll do it this time.
I learned from Joan Jett, I read an article about her. I’ve done nothing in years because I’ve got writer’s block. Well, it’s really not writer’s block, I write songs. It’s just to get in there, you got to do the work. You can’t be walking down the street, having a beer in one hand and a schnitzel in the other and think that by the time you get home you wrote this whole song! Maybe you can do that once, but it’s work to sit down and do that. You got to say “Ok, here’s a four-hour block, I’m going in there with my pen, my mic and my guitar, play a beat and physically do the work”. And that gets a little more difficult as you get older because when you’re home you’re like “No one’s gonna pay attention to it anyway and nobody cares“.
But there are people who care about your work and there are people who listen to your songs. Maybe it’s not in the mass numbers that you think is happening, but there are people. That’s why I come out right after the show to the merch table because I want to talk to these people, and they all say ”Oh my god! I really like this and that“, so there are people who listen. You have to keep that in the back of your head as you’re doing it.
It’s important that you sit down and do the work, that’s what Joan said. I finally realized that was it. It’s not writer’s block, it’s just that you can’t get it. When I’m on tour and I see something then I’ll jot something down, but I won’t physically be writing songs on tour. I just can’t do it, but I remember the experiences I had and maybe something will come out of that, just like “I Fix This“. That was from Sweden and the tour manager there. Anytime I wanted something like “I’d like a cheese burger“, he said “I fix this!“. I was like “I fix this”? Usually you say “I’ll get it for you“ or “I’ll take care of it” but he just said it over and over. I said “Is that your thing?“ until one day I went to a store and I asked the clerk for something behind the counter and she said “I fix this“. I almost passed down on the ground and said “That’s it! That’s the song I’m writing!”.
I just found that term so cool, but it’s not about Sweden, it’s just taken in a different perspective. I really like that title and that’s how that song came about. That’s how it works for me.
That also leads me to the obvious question: when is the next album coming out?
I don’t know, I got to finish it first. I want to put a single out first and then get the record out by the end of the year, hopefully. I want to do it because I feel it’s important.
Nobody buys the records, and it’s kind of pointless to release records, but I feel if I’m a touring musician I should keep writing and putting records out. It would be bad just playing the same old things. I will do it by the end of the year.
The label is bugging me right now, they want this single I have promised them and I didn’t do it yet, so I got to do this. I’ll be in the studio the first week of May cutting a few tracks and then we’ll add to that later. My latest thing you probably heard is “The Last Time“, where I wrote about my dad dying. I really like that one and people really like that song too. It’s not really on vinyl anywhere. They made me do a couple of thousand flexi-discs of it and some magazine put it out, but they’re really hard to play on your vinyl player.
“I Fix This“ off “Cellophane” did really well. It’s not because people are buying it but because it’s important to make new products if you’re going on tour, so I’m going to do it.
Marky [Ramone] makes his career. He never wrote a song and he just goes out as a Ramones cover band, that’s what he does and he has made a wonderful living doing that the last twenty years. I can’t do that because I sat there and looked at Joey’s back for those five years, and Dee Dee’s and John’s. I know what Ramones sounds like, Marky should know that too. He can never be like the Ramones, he just can’t do it.
Our line-up was very cool because I laid down this beat, Dee Dee flopped around me, and John flopped around Dee Dee. When someone else tries to play Ramones’ songs they play too tight, it’s like this machine. They play “Dadadadadadadadamm!“ and that wasn’t the Ramones’ sound. It’s kind of loose.
It’s a big thing doing the cover band thing, but I just can’t do it. People have to sit there with their arms folded to get through my shit.
Back in the days the whole production was analogue. Are you doing it digital today?
It’s funny you say that because I just found a studio where I may record on tape this time, an analogue studio.
We’ve got a couple around here, and I know that Dave Grohl does analogue stuff in his garage.
What really works well with that analogue thing is the guitars because you can push them into the red. If you push anything into the red in the digital world it’s just nasty distortion as opposed to tape distortion, which is really cool. There’s a lot of benefits of it, but nobody wants to deal with it. Why? Because of the editing process. More than anything it’s about what they can edit now. I remember cutting this big two-inch tape, “Are you sure?”, and then putting it in backwards by accident, “Oh that’s wrong, got to do it that way”.
All the editing is much quicker in the digital world, to do records like that. But forget about the money; I don’t think it’s so much the money, it’s rather that a lot of people are doing stuff at home, but not so much if you’re doing drums, live drums, it’s more hip-hop and stuff. That shit is all done at home now.
For the analogue stuff you have to keep the machine maintenance, you got to get a guy come in all the time and align the heads. But there is a difference, especially when you take that analogue stuff and put it on vinyl and play it. You’re definitely going to hear a difference, not as squishy or compressed as digital.
It’s not only the recording process that has changed the last two decades, promoting your records and yourself is much different. Today we have social media which opens up a new world of opportunities but it also has its drawbacks. What’s your experience of this transition and how you should work with promotion today?
I don’t know, I just go with the times, I don’t know what I was doing before, but I remember I stopped playing music for like ten years and when I came back social media was around. I do it myself. If somebody writes to me I’ll write back. I have my Facebook page Richie Ramone official and my personal page. It’s great for new bands and stuff.
It’s a good tool and it’s a bad tool. Last night I had this guy holding his fucking camera in my face and I yanked it out of his hand, then I shot the audience and everybody liked it. I gave it back to him and he stopped. I can’t stand those things right in front of my face.
You’re not entitled to film a whole rock show and take that home. No! I’d stop and say ”Ok, you can get a song or two but if you think you’re gonna stand there all night it ain’t gonna happen at my show, unless your way in the back and I don’t see you”.
No Money From Touring
What seems to be constant through all these years is that musicians doesn’t really get any money at all. The money ends up somewhere, but not in your pockets. Is it all about being out touring now?
It’s all very bad and I don’t see no money from that. You get a check $100 here and there.
It’s great for fans to have that many bands on the road, that’s really the only way to make it, to sell t-shirts and stuff on the road and play live. I’m doing 29 shows with two days off. This is my second night and then I’m doing like 19 shows in a row. It has an impact singing every night like that, but if you take too many days off the expenses of hotels and the driver of the van won’t add up. We’re not making money to begin with. But I say we still have cheese doodles and stuff in our bags and that we’re doing it for the love. We are making some money, but we have to pay our bills, it’s not that we’re going to get rich off this at all.
But I love traveling, I love meeting people like now, I love eating the food. I can’t wait to start “schnitzling” down the next week; I just love schnitzel and the sausages in Bavaria and all that good food.
I come from one world where we all live in the studio, but it’s not the rock thing. I’m playing golf and then I’ll go in my studio, write a little and do that kind of easy life. Then you come into this torturous thing where you drive every day, reach a new city every four-hour drive, every day. But you get into this flow. It’s going to take me a few more days where you just cooking, and then when you go home you’re like “God, I can’t sit for so long! I’m used to go, go, go!”.
The post tour blues you mean?
When I wasn’t playing I missed that, the energy and how the fans feed me, it’s like a vampire drinking blood. It’s something that is very hard to get away from as a musician, you need that and will go crazy without it.
That sounds like new lyrics on being a vampire on tour.
Those are the sort of things that inspire me when I get that thought and go for it.
Tonight we can expect loads of Richie Ramone songs and a couple of Ramones classics then.
Well, there’s Ramones classics, but the only ones I try to do is those that work with my voice like “Havana Affair” and some of the harder Ramones stuff, that’s what I could pull off. I can’t do “Danny Says“, I’m not that type of singer because I’m not a crooner like Joey is, and I won’t even bother. I just don’t want to do them injustice.
Richie Ramone pages