Johnny in Concert at Seattle Washington Live 1983
|Birth name||John William Cummings|
|Also known as||Johnny Ramone|
October 8, 1948|
Long Island, New York United States
|Died||September 15, 2004
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Labels||Sire, Radioactive, Chrysalis|
John William Cummings (October 8, 1948 – September 15, 2004), better known by his stage name Johnny Ramone, was an American guitarist and songwriter, best known for being the guitarist for the punk rock band the Ramones. He was a founding member of the band, and remained a member throughout the band's entire career. He died from prostate cancer on September 15, 2004.
In 2003, he appeared on Time's "10 Greatest Electric-Guitar Players.". That same year, he was number 16 on the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list in Rolling Stone, but in the new version published in 2011, he was ranked number 28.
Johnny Ramone was born John Cummings in Long Island as the only child of a construction worker, of Irish descent. He was raised in the Forest Hills, Queens neighborhood of New York City, where he grew up absorbing rock music. As a teenager, Johnny played in a band called the Tangerine Puppets alongside future Ramones drummer Tamás Erdélyi (better known as Tommy Ramone). As a teenager, he was known as a "greaser," though he was later described as a tie-dye-wearing Stooges fan. He was a lifelong New York Yankees fan. He also worked as a plumber with his father before the Ramones became successful, and at one point attended military school and briefly attended college in Florida.
He met future bandmate Douglas Colvin, later to become Dee Dee Ramone, in the early 1970s while delivering dry cleaning. They would eat lunch together and discuss their mutual love of bands like the Stooges and MC5. Together they went to Manny's Guitar Emporium in New York City in January 1974, where Johnny bought a used blue Mosrite Ventures II for $54 and change. On the same trip, Dee Dee bought a Danelectro bass. They collaborated with future bandmate Jeffry Hyman, later to become Joey Ramone and formed the Ramones, with the almost-unknown Richie Stern on bass, who left after a few rehearsals. Tommy Erdelyi, later Tommy Ramone joined the band in the summer of that year, after public auditions failed to produce a satisfactory drummer. Although Johnny Ramone wasn't as prolific a songwriter as his bandmates, particularly Dee Dee Ramone, his guitar style was a key part of the Ramones' sound and would become a major punk rock influence.
Johnny was responsible for initiating one of the major sources of animosity within the band when he began dating and later married Joey's ex-girlfriend. Allegedly, this incident prompted Joey to write songs like, "The KKK Took My Baby Away", and, "She Belongs To Me", although it has been speculated that the song was actually written before the founding of the Ramones in 1974. Though the band remained together for years after this incident, relations between the two remained cold and verbal communication was almost non-existent between the two. Years later, when Joey was in the hospital dying of cancer, Johnny refused to telephone him. He later discussed this incident in the film End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, saying an attempt at such a reunion would have been futile. He did add that he was depressed for a week after Joey's death, and when pressed, acknowledged that this was because of the bond forged by the band. In their road manager Monte Melnick's book about his time with the Ramones, Johnny is quoted as having said "I'm not doing anything without him. I felt that was it. He was my partner. Me and him. I miss that."
Alongside his music career, Johnny appeared in nearly a dozen movies (including Rock 'n' Roll High School) and documentaries. He also made television appearances on such shows as The Simpsons (1F01 "Rosebud", 1993) and Space Ghost Coast to Coast (Episode 5 "Bobcat").
Johnny was known within the punk rock community as one of its notable conservatives, and was a staunch supporter of the Republican Party. Johnny made his political affiliation known to the world in 2002, when the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After thanking all who made the honor possible—clad in his trademark T-shirt, ripped blue jeans and leather jacket—he said "God bless President Bush, and God bless America". He said in an interview, when questioned on his conservatism, "I think Ronald Reagan was the best President of my lifetime." This was evident in 1985 when the band released the UK single "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg"; Johnny pressed for a name change, finding the title insulting to Reagan, and the song was retitled on American releases as "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)" after a line from the song's chorus. In this same interview he claimed that "Punk is right wing".
As noted in tour manager Monte Melnick's book "On the Road with The Ramones," Johnny's father was a strict disciplinarian. Johnny is quoted as saying: "My father would get on these tangents about how he never missed a day's work. I broke my big toe the day I had to go pitch a Little League game and he's going, 'What are you - a baby? What did I do, raise a baby? You go play.' And even though my toe was broken I had to go pitch the game anyway. It was terrible. It would always be like that. I'm glad he raised me like that but it would always be, 'What are you - sick? You're not sick. What did I raise - a baby? I never missed a day's work in my life.' Then I went to military school, and in military school you couldn't call in sick."
Further, Johnny's early adulthood was marked with bouts of delinquency to which he attested were inexplicable at the time. "I didn't become a delinquent until I got out of high school. I had a two-year run. I'd go out and hit kids and take their money and rob everybody's pocketbooks. Just being bad every minute of the day. It was terrible. I don't know what my problem was. Things that were funny to me at the time were horrible. If I found a television set sitting in the garbage, I'd take it up to the rooftop, watch for someone walking down the block and drop it in front of them on the sidewalk. It was funny watching them see a TV set come crashing down 30 feet in front of them. To me it was hysterical, but it was also a mean and terrible thing to do. I also found a way of stopping the elevator. I could open up the door and stop the elevator. I would wait for an old lady to get in and stop the elevator. They'd be yelling and pushing the alarm, and I would keep them there. At about 20 years old, I stopped drinking and doing drugs, got a job and tried to be normal."
In 1983, Johnny Ramone was severely injured in a fight with another musician. He was saved by emergency brain surgery. This incident was said to have inspired the next album's title, Too Tough to Die. He never spoke of the incident in the following years.
Johnny Ramone married his wife Linda in 1994. She had originally dated Joey Ramone but left him for Johnny. Joey and Johnny continued to tour as the Ramones after this, but their relationship worsened and they stopped talking to each other.
On September 15, 2004, Johnny Ramone died in his Los Angeles home at age 55 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer. Many of his friends and musical contemporaries came to pay their respects. After his death, his remains were cremated with his wife Linda retaining his ashes. Prior to Johnny's death in 2004, he and Linda supervised the erection of an 8 ft tall bronze memorial of Johnny at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
In 2006, the remake of the horror film The Wicker Man was dedicated to Johnny Ramone's memory, as he was a close friend of the film's producer and star, Nicolas Cage. The lyrics for Pearl Jam's 2006 single "Life Wasted" were written by Eddie Vedder in honor of Cummings while driving home from his funeral. They also made their first video in 8 years for this song.
An annual Johnny Ramone memorial is held every year in Hollywood Forever Cemetery Hollywood, California. The Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute is presented by Linda Ramone and is held as a benefit for the Johnny Ramone cancer research fund which is led by Dr. David Agus at the USC Westside prostate cancer research center. The events have been attended by celebrities such as Vincent Gallo, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Rob Zombie, Kirk Hammett, Steve Jones, and Traci Lords. Additional celebrities who have taken part in the events include John Waters, Rose McGowan, Henry Rollins and Johnny Depp.
Five years ago, Johnny Ramone picked me to sing Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. He wanted me to sing it on a Ramones tribute record where many of his friends and other artists were covering his songs. Johnny was one of my best friends, and I promised him before he passed away that I would include that song on my record. He was very sick but wanted to play guitar on it as long as he was sitting down. Unfortunately, while we were recording the basic track, he died.
In May 2009, Finnish journalist and Ramones' webmaster Jari-Pekka Laitio-Ramone's book entitled "Ramones: Soundtrack Of Our Lives" is a memorial book to Johnny Ramone, Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone (ISBN 978-951-98965-2-6). In August 2011, Swedish author Bengt Ohlsson published "Rekviem för John Cummings", a novel about Johnny's last years. The book was shortlisted for the August prize, Sweden's top literary award. In 2012, Linda Ramone released the book Commando, an autobiography written by Johnny Ramone. Linda did numerous television interviews to promote the release of the book.
Johnny was known for his fast, high-energy guitar playing. Contrary to popular belief, his style was not based around alternate picking and power chords, but instead it almost exclusively consisted of rapid downstrokes and barre chord shapes. This unique playing style combined with heavy gain from the guitar amplifier created the bright, buzzsaw-like sound Johnny's guitar parts were known for, and it was highly influential on many early punk rock guitarists. Ed Stasium once stated "Johnny makes it sound simple, but I can't do it, and I bet Eddie Van Halen can't. Not for an hour!". This technique was also very influential on New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands such as Iron Maiden. His style has also been an influence on many alternative rock bands, as well as on thrash metal performers such as Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert has cited Johnny Ramone as one of his influences.
For example, Dictators bassist Andy Shernoff states that Jimmy Page's sped up, downstroke guitar riff in "Communication Breakdown", an influential song that contained elements of protopunk,[page needed] was an inspiration for Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone's downstroke guitar style. Ramone, who has described Page as "probably the greatest guitarist who ever lived", stated in the documentary "Ramones: The True Story" that he improved at his down-stroke picking style by playing the song over and over again for the bulk of his early career.
Johnny was almost exclusively a rhythm guitarist, as exemplified by live recordings. He was not fan of lengthy solos, and subsequently never attempted to gain much skill in this area of playing, which he has made clear in many books and interviews. Johnny's simple lead guitar parts can be heard on a few Ramones songs (including "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", and "California Sun"), but generally the infrequent guitar solos on the group's studio albums were overdubbed by Tommy Ramone, Ed Stasium, Daniel Rey, Walter Lure and other uncredited guests. Most of these small leads were only added in an attempt to give certain songs a more commercial appeal, and evidently were not common on most of the band's albums.
"I guess that before me, people played downstrokes for brief periods in a song, rather than the whole song through. It was just a timing mechanism for me." -Johnny Ramone
- Mosrite - Blue Ventures II - Johnny's first guitar. Bought in 1974, stolen in 1977.
- Mosrite - White Ventures II - Bought in 1977 to replace the stolen blue Mosrite. Owned until the band disbanded in 1996 - later sold to producer Daniel Rey.
- Mosrite - Sunburst Ventures II - Bought in the mid-1970s. Ended up in a music store along with a pair of Johnny's jeans.
- Mosrite - Blue Ventures II - Mint condition never played on stage saved as a backup guitar, traded to Johnny in 1988. Eventually autographed and sold to a band roadie who later consigned it for sale at Northern Guitars in Queens, NY. Subsequently purchased by a fan of the band in 2000. Currently resides in New Jersey.
- Mosrite - Red Ventures I/V1 - owned by T.bags of Deadones USA
- Mosrite - Brown Ventures II - Johnny's main second guitar from 1984 to 1989, later painted gold sparkle.
- Mosrite - White 1 pickup - Made by a friend of the band and used as backup during live shows.
- Mosrite - Sunburst 1 pickup - Used in the video for "Time Has Come Today."
- Mosrite - White Ventures (2) - custom-made for Johnny by Mosrite founder/owner Semie Moseley in the late 1980s.
- Rickenbacker - 450 - Used on the Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, later stolen.
- Rickenbacker - Fireglo 450 - Later traded for a Mosrite.
- Fender - White 1970s Stratocaster - Used on the song, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Owned briefly by Johnny before stolen.
- Fender - Black 1970s Stratocaster
- Fender - Red 1970s Stratocaster - used in a live dub by Johnny in 1985
- Hamer - White custom endorsement guitar - Johnny owned two. One was traded in the 1980s for a brown Mosrite which became a backup guitar.
- Boss - TU-12 Chromatic Tuner
- Marshall - JMP Super Lead 100W Head
- Marshall - JCM 800 100W Lead Series Head
"The Mosrites were light, and they were perfect for playing nonstop barre chords." -Johnny Ramone
Guitar Rig & Signal Flow
A detailed gear diagram of Johnny Ramone's 1990 Ramones guitar rig is well-documented.
“My rig has never changed! The same guitar! The same amp! It rocks, so why change it?” – Johnny Ramone
|“||We usually wear out our audience before we wear out ourselves. And we're getting faster every day. Our first album sounds real slow now.||”|
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