Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Conversation with CJ Ramone!

I’d look over and see Johnny and Joey next to me, and I’d be saying to myself, “how did I get here?” And that was right up to my last days in the band. I still had that attitude.

Bassist CJ Ward was a member of the Ramones from 1989 to 1996, playing over 800 shows with fellow Ramones Joey (vocals), Johnny (guitar), and Marky (drums). CJ brought renewed energy and enthusiasm to the band, and played a big part in its longevity.

CJ was a huge fan of the Ramones, and joining the band was a dream come true. Hell, it’s EVERY fan’s dream come true! But CJ did it - and it was not without its challenges. Not only did he have to play well enough to meet the fans' high expectations; he was also replacing legendary Ramones' bassist Dee Dee Ramone, a punk icon and fan favorite.

CJ will release a new solo album, Last Chance To Dance, next month. The first single from the album, Understand Me?, can be heard here. If the album is anything like the single, we’ll have a treat on our hands in just a short time.

You can learn more about CJ and his current projects at his website and his Facebook page, and I also commend a 2009 interview with Mark Prindle that is well worth the read.

I wish to express my gratitude to CJ for his time and I hope you enjoy our wide-ranging conversation. We talk extensively about the Ramones’ music and many other topics. As a special bonus, at the end of the interview CJ goes head to head with Johnny Ramone and ranks all of the Ramones albums. Enjoy!

Life As A Ramone

Monte: Thank you for talking. To me you are an unsung hero – it was because of you that the Ramones survived as long – and as well - as they did.

CJ: I hear that a lot (now), but when I first got into the band, I got brutalized. I got spit on, and hit with coins and bottles, there were nights I came off stage and I was covered with so much spit that I couldn’t even stay in the dressing room with the rest of the guys, because I smelled so bad!

Monte: How long did that go for?

CJ: Every time we went somewhere new. Not so much toward the end. After a couple years, there were fans coming to the shows who never even saw Dee Dee, didn't even listen to the Ramones’ back catalog. So it was definitely better at the end.

It was rough, but I’m glad it was that way. If I had just come in and was accepted, it wouldn't have meant as much as going through all that. And I had just come out of the Marine Corps so you know, it wasn't like I was some scared teenage kid suddenly thrust into this violent world where people hated you just because you weren't the guy they came to see.

I was never intimidated. I used to walk to the end of the stage and spit back at them, and throw stuff back at them and curse at them and everything else. That’s what I felt was my best chance of surviving that – not to be timid about it and to make sure they understood, I don’t care what you think, I’m in the Ramones. I ain’t goin’ nowhere. I’m here.

Monte: I saw the Ramones maybe 15 times over the years, with both you and Dee Dee. To me, it was like ok, this guy is a Ramone and that's all there was to it.

CJ: Back in the day, if you were into the Ramones you were a member of a pretty small club. They weren't as accepted as some of the other bands.

Monte: That’s true. I met my wife at a Ramones show. She went because she wanted to hear I Wanna Be Sedated” We met in the Mosh Pit and the next thing you know, we were married.

CJ: You know, that’s funny, my wife and I met through the Ramones also. My wife was a friend of a friend, we met my first U.S. tour, and we stayed friends for 17 years. And when I divorced my first wife, she was helping me out with my little ones, and we've been together ever since. Nine years!

Monte: How would you characterize your role in the band?

CJ: I got hired to do a job. I know the job I have to do, and I have to get up there and do it. And that’s exactly how I went about it. My job was to make sure that when people left a Ramones show, they walked out of there going “holy shit that was unbelievable.” That’s what I got hired to do. Not an easy task. To come in behind Dee Dee was not easy.

The only time I ever called in sick was when I got into a motorcycle wreck and busted my wrist and got a concussion. I was busted up. But I still went. We had a festival booked. I went to that festival and played with a busted wrist. I got a shot in my armpit to numb out the nerves in my arm, and I got out on that stage and played. I’m not saying, “wow, what a hero I am,” but that’s how seriously I took my job.

Monte: Can you talk about some of the songs you most enjoyed playing?

CJ: Playing the songs that Dee Dee wrote was an unbelievable honor. If Dee Dee had been in the band he would have been singing those songs. It felt really good to be chosen to sing those songs. Strength To Endure, and Main Man are probably the two that are most near and dear. Those were great songs.

Monte: I’ve heard you sing Warthog a few times…

CJ: Yeah…Warthog was the show stopper song, where the crowd really erupted and just totally went off. It was bizarre to be up there singing it when I had been out in front dancing to it for so long. To be on the other side of that was really awesome.

On Acid Eaters, we did the Who’s Substitute and I got to do that cool little riff in the middle. It’s not exactly what John Enthistle played – I changed it up a little to make it more like the Ramones. That was a fun little riff to play. When we did Spiderman for the record of all the cartoon songs (Saturday Morning Cartoons Greatest Hits), Johnny told me to pick the song and I picked Spiderman. The bass line that I wrote for that was actually tough to play.

But for the most part, for the bass lines I pretty much played root note stuff. Being all note-y and doing a lot of riffs and stuff is not always what makes a great bass player. Being able to play with feel and put emotion into what you’re playing counts for a lot more than being able to play a million notes.

There’s a whole slew of unbelievably great bass players that I've met in my life. Guys that have done no more than played with local bands or played in their room….really talented guys that were much better bass players than I am.

Monte: You’re way too modest.

CJ: It’s not for me to say what my contribution is. I just did as best as I possibly could, and with as much feeling as I possibly could, and it was easy, because I was such a big fan. I know I fired them up. The last time I saw the Ramones play before I was in the band, they were terrible to watch. Dee Dee was just strumming all the strings open. They shut him off at the board. Johnny and Joey weren't doing much on stage. It really was kind of sad and in fact I turned to my buddy and I was like “I don’t think I’m going to be able to put up with too many more of these.” And it really was a shame. They were a far cry from how they were.

If you listen to Mark, I didn't do anything for the band. I was okay, but I was no Dee Dee. But I've always deferred to what (the others) have said. Tommy even mentioned me at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, which I was totally blown away by. He didn't need to do it. He wasn't even in the band when I was there. It felt good to hear him say that. For him to make that comment really meant a lot to me.

I've always said, I’m a solid bass player, I play with a lot of passion, and I try to play the bass line that fits the song, not necessarily the one that makes me sound (the best).

Monte: What is it that people love about the Ramones?

CJ: The Ramones understood what made classic music. In fact I've just posted an interview with Johnny that I’d never seen before, where he explains their whole approach to music and why they did what they did. At that time, all the musicians were virtuosos and there was no chance for kids to do anything in music. You had to be a really great player even to be considered. 

But they understood what made great rock and roll, and they modeled themselves after the classics. All the 50s and 60s pop stuff, and the girl groups, a lot of the Motown stuff – they really had a good understanding of that, and it was a conscious decision to make music that sounded like that. That was their favorite music, and that’s what they were going to do. Obviously they had Dee Dee and Joey, who grew up listening to that and were both great songwriters.

Dee Dee was one of the greatest rock and roll songwriters of all time. It was a source of frustration for him his entire career to not be recognized for that. And when you hear stories about him throwing tantrums, and people go “oh, that’s just crazy Dee Dee…” In fact, he felt completely overlooked and under-appreciated. He felt he was never given the credit that he deserved, even within the band. When he left, that was one of his demands to get him to stay. He said, “for now on I write all the songs or I quit.” And of course they said no that was ridiculous, so he quit.

Monte: But Dee Dee still wrote a lot of songs, all the way to the end.

CJ: Absolutely. I just found out recently that he went back to Johnny and asked if he could be back in the band, after I had been there for a couple years. I had never known this before. And Johnny told him no, it’s CJ’s spot now, and everybody knows him, everybody likes him.  And that was kind of bittersweet because I had always wanted to see Dee Dee back in the band.

Monte: I’d like to talk about Johnny’s musical contributions. No one played like him, did they?
CJ: No. Absolutely not. Johnny’s style is not an easy thing to copy. I've learned over the years, having had to find other players to come out on the road with me to play Ramones stuff, they say “oh yeah I can play that stuff, no problem.” So we start rehearsing, and they do ok, and we get on stage, and the songs start coming one after another, and all of a sudden they’re having trouble keeping up, and they get lost in parts and things – it’s not simple stuff.

And because the changes come quick, if you get lost in a part, you have to just stand there and wait for the part to go by, and wait for the next part to come in. it’s the only way to survive it. I came up playing heavy metal. Where I lived there were two other guys who listened to punk, and nobody playing punk. I was a huge Black Sabbath fan when I was a kid and I loved Iron Maiden and all that British Metal stuff. I was a very technical player and it was maddening to me to get onstage and not be able to play everything correctly when all I was playing was root notes. But that’s how their music is. It is deceptively simple.

Monte: As the years went on, it seems like the band was driven to play everything faster and faster. The early stuff was fast, but there was such a melodic element to it.

CJ: That was Johnny. He felt like that’s how the fans liked it – the fans like to slam dance. So the faster we played, the better it was. I was the opposite. I tried to tell him “listen, why don’t we slow it down, so Joey can sing the melody lines and I can sing the harmonies? If we slowed it down just a little bit, it sounds so much better.” But Johnny said no, the fans like it fast. So that was it.

Monte: Did he feel that as he got older he had something to prove?

CJ: That could have something to do with it. I think I remember him saying once that we have to show that we can keep up with the younger bands. Johnny didn't understand (the challenges of) all-down picking (which he did), and alternate (up-down) playing. I don’t think he understood how tough what we were doing really was. I think his intention was to try to play as fast as those other bands, which is impossible (in light of how he played).

Tommy Erdelyi's Contributions

Monte: Did you get to know Tommy at all? How would you describe his contributions to the band?

CJ: Tommy came up with the look, the sound, their attitude…he created the Ramones. He was the visionary of the Ramones. The first time I met him I said “you know, some fans understand what your contribution is.” He said, “how do you know that?” I said, “if you look at when they start to come off the rails, it’s when you are not there. Road To Ruin was the last great Ramones record because you taught Mark to play that drum style, and you produced it.

The cool thing now is that he does get acknowledged. But I can relate to Tommy’s position to that some degree. Tommy was THE guy but his role was so minimized when he left the band. It was like he was never there. It wasn't until the rock and roll Hall of Fame that Tommy began to be recognized for his contributions.

The real fans knew, and that’s always how it is. But he wasn't just the drummer that invented the punk rock drumming style. He was the producer, and the stylist, and everything else. It was all him.

And that’s not to say that Joey, and Johnny, and Dee Dee didn't make their contributions. Of course they did. But he’s the guy that had the brains to put it all together.

Monte: He also produced the first four albums, and played drums on the first three.

My benchmark for the Ramones is any of the first four records. If you hold up any of the records that came out after Road To Ruin, none of them came close. If you deconstruct their career, you see that as soon as Tommy and (engineer and some-time producer Ed Stasium) are out of the picture, they lose direction. They didn't put anything out that came close. You can put those four records up against any other band’s first four records, and the Ramones will come out with more great songs than anybody else. Those four records do not contain a bad song.

The Phil Spector record, End of the Century, was the first of their really mediocre records. The only one that to me had the energy and the sound and everything was the one that Tommy and Ed Stasium came back for, which was Too Tough To Die.

The Drummers

Tommy’s drumming is almost a soft touch, in contrast to the guitar and bass – and even the singing. To me that’s a big part of what makes their early music so special.

CJ: Yep…Stylistically, Tommy is my first favorite. Tommy invented the style and nobody could play it like he did. He is the originator.

Monte: What can you say about playing with Marky? 

CJ: I just followed him. I tried to match him exactly every night. If you look at those videos with me and Mark, we are just killing it every night. It just sounds like a freight train, every song. We were probably one of the tightest fast rhythm sections you’ll ever see. And that’s because we rehearsed. When we weren't on the road, we used to rehearse. Rehearsal is everything.

Monte: So you guys were really able to communicate on stage?

CJ: Never verbally. All I had to do was look over or he would look at me. Very rarely did we ever have anything happen on stage where we had to stop or anything.  It was such a treat to play with him. The guy is an incredible drummer. Mark is like a machine. The band never played that fast with Richie in the band. Mark had that total machine style down. Nobody could play eighth and sixteenth notes on the hi-hats like Mark. He’s really incredible in that way.

Monte: Sometimes when I’m playing to Ramones music, I’ll drop off the hi-hat on two and four, just to give myself a break. But he never did that, did he?

CJ: Nope. He’s really a talented drummer.

Monte: Any thoughts about Richie? (Richie (Reinhardt) Ramone was the Ramones' drummer from 1982 to 1987)

CJ: After Tommy, Richie is my favorite drummer! I know that sounds terrible because I played with Mark for so many years. I just always liked Richie’s style. He sang, he wrote songs…and he’s got his own thing going on now. He’s a totally legit member of the band. He played on the Ramones’ biggest comeback album (Too Tough To Die).

When Richie came to the band, their sound actually changed for the good. I liked the way they sounded with him in the band. Had they been working with Ed Stasium and Tommy Ramone all along on the production, those records would have sounded a lot better with Richie on drums.

Tommy was a pop drummer and Mark was more of a heavy metal style of drummer. Richie was kind of a mix of the two. He had a little bit of swing to the way he played, even though he had that really aggressive kind of attack. I really liked that style.

The Ramones never had a bad drummer!

Issues Within The Band

Monte: Did you ever find yourself acting as in-between, being the broker between Johnny and Joey?

CJ: Always. That was really my role in the band. If I had to pick one thing that I did – besides being young and getting them all fired up – it was definitely being the go-between guy with the two of them. They could be really difficult, and it was kind of odd to be in the middle. These were guys I grew up listening to, I idolized them. It was not comfortable. But, I recognized that it was what I needed to be doing.

Monte: It’s amazing because they get up on stage, they’re completely cohesive and tight as hell, but…

CJ: Completely dysfunctional. I was a Ramones fan and I hated it. I thought I was joining a gang, but when I got there and saw what the reality was, it sucked. I was heartbroken. It’s like when you’re a kid and you hear your parents fight, it’s scary…that’s what it was like.

The worst thing is how I found out about it. I had no idea until one day I got in the van and I said, “Hi Johnny, how’s Linda?” and all of a sudden the van got really quiet. I said to myself “uh oh, I must have said something wrong.” And later Monte (Melnick) came to me and said “CJ, you have no idea?” and he told me the story. I felt like an idiot. You've got keep in mind, these were guys I idolized. The last thing I wanted to do was piss them off. It was a really bizarre, strange situation. (note: Linda Daniele left Joey to date – and later marry – Johnny. The discord within the band is sometimes traced to this series of events).

Monte: Was that really the cause of the problems or were there other things?

CJ: They hated each other for a whole slew of reasons. They agreed on nothing.

Monte: It’s kind of a shame they never had any kind of reconciliation at the end.

CJ: Yeah but I’m not surprised at all. They lived it. It wasn't an act. They were who they were. I’m glad though that Tommy did get his due to some extent. I’m glad that Johnny got his story out somewhat before he died because he takes a lot of abuse for the way he was and the things he did. But I always tell people, “look at it this way. If Johnny wasn't there, the Ramones would have imploded a long time ago.” As soon as Tommy left, that would have been it.

Dee Dee and Joey were both mentally ill. That’s the bottom line. So how do you keep two guys with issues like Joey and Dee Dee had in line? How do you keep the machine moving so the Ramones can continue to play? You don’t do it by being nice. You do it by making sure everybody plays by the rules, and does their job. That’s how you do it. (note: Joey suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Dee Dee...where to start...)

It’s nice to think that every day can be a Kumbaya moment, but the fact of the matter is, that was no small thing that Johnny was doing. And for the most part, he felt like he was doing it on his own. He wasn't, but he felt like he was. And he was trying to stay true to what the Ramones were about, and stay true to the fans, and he did it the best way he knew how.

I can understand how people can say “oh he was a prick,” and this and that. Nobody knows that more than I do. I was the low man on the totem pole. I know how mean and unreasonable he could be. But you have to take into consideration what he was doing, and who he is working with. When you look at it that way, he’s not really such a bad guy. He’s a guy in a tough position trying to maintain a career and work with guys he doesn't like. But they had to stick together. He understood that and kept it going.

Monte: Did they stick together because of the money, or did they realize the power of their music?

CJ: It’s everything. To a certain extent, absolutely, they were doing it for the fans. But that’s also how they were making a living. But on top of it you have the whole thing of being a rock and roll star. That’s a tough thing to let go of.

Monte: Overall, was (long-time manager) Gary Kurfirst a positive or negative influence on the band?

CJ: Gary was a businessman, and Johnny was a businessman. And what happened at the end there, with (prominent Punk label) Epitaph records offering to pick us up, he told Johnny, “I’m getting my own record company, it’s going to be funded by a big label. Sign with my label and we’ll work out a deal for you. He talked Johnny into selling out the last few years of their career.

I said to Johnny, “I don’t see how you could possibly justify signing with your manager’s label, turning down the biggest punk rock label in the world right now, to sign with you manager’s label. Your manager, who you gave some of the greatest rock and roll ever recorded to, and couldn't get you a number one, couldn't get you a gold record.

I wasn't trying to be “I know more than you do,” or anything. Just as a fan, I could not wrap my head around how he could justify that. And Johnny just said to me, “well CJ, when you've been in the music business as long as I have, then you can tell me how to run the band.” And I let it go at that.

He sold his career out for that, but his career had taught him, “you can’t trust record companies, everyone tells you what you want to hear, but they never deliver.” And that’s why he did what he did.

I think Johnny had realized around the time of End of the Century that they were never going to be accepted in the mainstream markets, or get any support from radio or MTV or anything like that, and that’s what drove Johnny to do some of the things he did. He became all about touring hard and selling T-Shirts – forget all about promises from record companies; it’s never going to happen.

Monte: Do you ever think about how mind-boggling it is that all of the original Ramones passed away?

CJ: It is bizarre. I don’t think anyone else out there besides Mark can relate to my situation.

Recently in South America someone asked me, “are you a big fan of James Hetfield? Because you dress like him on stage. You always wear a plain black T-Shirt.” I told him, I walk out every night with those guys on my mind. If it weren't for them I wouldn't be walking out on stage. So how else do I express my appreciation, and how much I miss them?” I can’t go out and preach, and say “oh my former brothers, blah blah blah.” I always send Three Angels out to them. I don’t know how else to express it. I can get on stage every night with that black T-Shirt on, and that’s me paying respect.

Before I go on stage every night, I put on headphones, I put Ramones music on, and I play along to them, because that’s what we used to do every night before we went on stage. I still do that every night.

A Life-Changing Decision

Monte: I’d be remiss if I didn't express my admiration with respect to how you handled your son’s autism. (note: shortly after the Ramones retired, CJ was offered the bass position in Metallica. He turned it down to care for his young, autistic son).

CJ: I appreciate that. Thank you. That’s a whole different thing. When you’re a dad, you know that your kids’ only shot at any kind of life is you.

Monte: You left the road for years to take care of him. You turned down Metallica.

CJ: I like to think that there are a lot of dads out there who would do that.  What would you do if your doctor told you that your son was autistic, and he needed to wake up in the same bed every day, and have you put him on the bus, and you give him his meals? You have to do it, you have no choice. It’s not like I just decided this was the best way to do it. I was told by his doctors. You want your son to have the best shot he can have? This is what you've got to do.

I told the doctor, “I have a chance to join a really famous band and make a lot of money. He’d be riding on the tour bus, he’d be with me every day.”  The Doctor told me, “it’s not lost on me who Metallica is, I get what you’re saying, but here’s what you've got to do if you want to do the right thing by your son.” And he laid it out for me, and that’s what I did.

CJ Today

Monte: You keep the Ramones’ music alive through your live performances, which is great for the fans but I wonder, is that a missed blessing in some ways?

CJ: Not at all.  One of the things I told people when I got signed to (current label) Fat Wreck Chords is, “I play Ramones songs in my set, I’ll play them every night, I’ll play them until I die.” People come to see CJ Ramone, I know that they want to hear my songs too, but they want to hear Ramones songs. I’ll always play Ramones songs. It’s my mission to keep their spirit alive. I do mostly my own songs and a few Ramones songs. I have two good albums under my belt. And the new record Last Chance To Dance is coming out November 25th.

I've got Steve Soto and Dan Root from The Adolescents. They pretty much play with me full time. They recorded a record with me, they each co-wrote a song with me. Dave Hidalgo Jr. from Social Distortion plays drums on it. It’s a lot like (prior solo album) Reconquista but a little bit lighter. Reconquista had a lot of personal stuff in there. It was about my years since the Ramones retired and all the drama and stuff that happened to me…problems with the organization…I went through a divorce, and a child custody (battle), so Reconquista was a little on the heavy side. This record is a little lighter and a lot more fun.

Monte: It has a great cover.

CJ: Thank you. It was taken by a New York photographer. I saw that picture on the Internet and we hunted him down and I begged him to use it and he agreed.

Monte: Are you going to tour in the United States?

CJ: The problem I have is that the guys I work with are all pros, and I pay them well. I can’t go out and do shows for free like I used to. And the costs of touring (in the States) have gone up so much. The price of gas is a lot higher than it used to be, and it’s really tough. What I’m hoping is that if we can get on some festivals this summer and play for some big crowds, if people see what we’re doing, they’re gonna dig it. If you’re a Ramones fan, you’re gonna like it. The Ramones spirit is there. I try to peel a little bit from all parts of their career. I try to do as much as I possibly can.

Summing It All Up

Monte: Looking back on all you've experienced…how would you summarize it?

CJ: A dream come true. (Playing with the Ramones) was the greatest time in my life. It’s not often that you hear about someone who’s a fan of the band getting into the band. It’s a pretty unique experience. I’d look over and see Johnny and Joey next to me, and I’d be saying to myself, “how did I get here?” And that was right up to my last days in the band. I still had that attitude.

I've done everything in my life I ever wanted to do as a kid. I've been in the military, I've toured the world with a band I grew up loving, I've got three kids that make me proud every day, I've got a wife that stands behind me 100 percent…there isn't a whole lot in my life I could complain about. I still work with great musicians. I’m still living the dream. I owe it all to those guys.

"Got a good feeling...about this year...all is very well, CJ is here..."
Ramones, It's Gonna Be Alright, 1992


Monte: As you probably know, Johnny rated all the Ramones albums in his book. I thought it would be interesting to hear your perspective. The first album, Ramones (1976), he gave an A.

CJ: The rating for that record isn't even on the scale. It’s one of the most classic records ever made. I would say absolutely 100% A+ because It sounds like nothing that came before it. That album sounds so classic the way it is produced, with the guitar in the left channel, and the bass in the right channel, and the drums and the vocals right up the middle, and those cool little harmonies in there…it sounds so perfectly honest and unique.

Monte: Leave Home (1977). He gave it an A. He says, “We couldn't have done this on the first album, but we were better players.”

CJ: To me, the first four Ramones records are probably the most perfect four records ever put out by any band. Near flawless. The beauty of what the Ramones did is that there was nothing contrived about it. They were just doing it. They were going for a sound – but it was their sound, it’s what they created. And that’s why, the first four records for me are all A+, across the board.

Leave Home… the production sounds really good. Now you have those classic sounding songs, but you have them cleaned up a little bit, and you can hear the harmonies a little bit more, and they’re exploring more of the strange lyrics they have on the first record. So by the time you get to Rocket to Russia (1977) and Road To Ruin (1978) they've perfected their style, their technique, and their sound. In that short span of time they just became this perfect unit.

In the beginning they were very much like an on-stage skit, with Johnny yelling “play it lively now” (and all the rest). But by the time you get to 1977 and you watch (the classic video of the London concert) It’s Alive, it was unbelievable. They’re machine like. The excitement level never drops off for their entire set. Dee Dee is almost acrobatic on stage, and Johnny is constantly moving and he looks so tough, and they’re dressed perfectly…and Joey in all his awkward, strange glory, is totally comfortable with himself and his voice, and is really laying into it. And Tommy is just sitting back there looking cool as can be and pounding out the beats. They were never better than that for the rest of their careers.

Monte: End of the Century (1980)?

CJ: Way too much Phil Spector and not enough Ramones. Because there are some good strong songs on there and some classics, I’d probably give it a C. What did Johnny give it?

Monte: B.

CJ: I’m surprised. He always talked a lot of crap about that record.

Monte: It has a few good songs on it.

CJ: That’s how every record (after the first four) went. (A few) good songs, a lot of filler, and bad production. If they had worked with a producer who understood them, some of the songs that came out sounding really crappy probably would have been great songs, done in the Ramones style, with the Ramones sound, instead of the hot producer of that year trying to cram the Ramones into his vision.

Monte: Pleasant Dreams (1981) and Subterranean Jungle (1983)? I personally don’t care for either. Johnny went with B and B-, respectively.

CJ: Couple good songs here and there but for the most part weak production, and even the performances were kind of weak. Now I see why Johnny gave End of the Century a B. It’s still better than (those two records). So End of the Century I’d call it a B.

Pleasant Dreams is almost on par with End of the Century. I’d give it a B-. Subterranean Jungle, a C.

Monte: Yeah. Lousy covers, bad choice of songs. Too Tough To Die (1984)?

CJ: B+

Monte: Johnny says, “all of a sudden we all got along" and gave it an A-.

CJ: Yeah. They were back in their element. If they just worked with Ed and Tommy their entire career, they’d have album after album sounding the same. But the argument to that is, “so what?” Those albums would have been so much stronger.

Monte: Animal Boy (1986). B- from Johnny.

CJ: Probably the worst sounding record they ever put out. I would give it a C+.

Monte: I have a soft spot in my heart for that record. I love Bonzo Goes To Bitburg and the title song.

CJ: Absolutely the worst production job, right behind Loco Live.

Monte: Halfway to Sanity (1987) he gives a B-. He says that “Dee Dee and I wrote Weasel Face about a guy that had a real weasel face.”

CJ: I like a lot of the songs on that record. Yeah, B-. I get how he’s grading them. What did he give the three records after the first one? Did he give anything an A+?

Monte: Rocket To Russia.

CJ: Wow. That guy is so weird, so unaware of how great they really were but that’s ok.

Monte: Brain Drain (1989). He gave it a C and calls it one of his “least favorite” albums.

CJ: To me it’s the first record where Dee Dee goes deep – like Punishment Fits the Crime. I always kind of liked that song. Zero Zero UFO, Don’t Bust My Chops, I Believe In Miracles…song wise it’s a pretty strong record. But the production makes it sound like it’s a half-assed metal record. I’d give it a C+.

Monte: Now we’re getting into the CJ era. Mondo Bizarro (1992) – he gave it a C. I personally think this is the best of the records with you on it.

CJ: I would disagree with him there. You have to compare it to what they had done in the couple years before it. And if you compare Mondo Bizarro to say, Subterranean Jungle, you have to rate it higher than that. The power on the record, the delivery…it’s probably their most powerful delivery since Too Tough To Die. So I’d give it a B to B-.

Monte: Acid Eaters (1993). He’s more generous on this one than I would be. He gave it a B- and calls it “hit and miss.”

CJ: I would give it a D. If it had been an EP, it would have been a B. The songs on there are really not good. That was done strictly for the money. We started out to do an EP but the manager said “hey if you do a full record I can get you a bigger advance and you can take a bigger cut.”

Monte: That spoke to Johnny.

CJ: Yep, that spoke to Johnny.

Monte: Adios Amigos (1995). He gave it a B+.

CJ: That’s crazy. I was so disappointed in that record. It was a really disappointing final good bye to the fans. I would give that a C. The artwork is terrible. Some real clunkers for songs on there.

Monte: Let’s go over the live albums. Loco Live had you on it (1991).

CJ: Worst album the Ramones ever did. The only reason I don’t give it an F is because it’s the Ramones. But I’d have to give it a D-. Overdubbed drums and cymbals that is completely apparent.

Monte: It makes the Ramones sound boring, which isn't easy to do.

CJ: Yep…we worked with a producer on that record that said to me as we were overdubbing, “yeah, you know that part where you’re singing “Want…what I want…what I want….” And I said “what are you talking about, I don’t sing that in any song.” And I realized he was talking about Warthog. I was so aggravated, I just wanted to flick his nose, I was so pissed off. You’re producing the record, and you can’t even do your homework and know the songs you’re going to be producing? It burned me like nothing else ever has. And that’s why that record sounds like it does.

Monte: It’s Alive (1979).

CJ: My favorite live album from any band, ever. Absolutely (an A), and if you include the video, it’s an A+. Watching it, it’s life changing. You watch that video, and you want to be a rock star. It’s that powerful.

Monte: And Finally, We’re Outta Here (1997).

CJ: A cheap ploy to sell some CDs, and an awkward way to end your career. I’d give it a C.

Monte: Well, it’s better than Loco Live.

CJ: Anything is better than Loco Live!

(note: this week I listened to the first four albums (at maximum volume) to see if CJ is right, and he is. There isn't a bad song on any of them. In fact, they sound better each time I play them!)

And Finally....enjoy some CJ!


  1. Learn all about the Ramones in the book;
    Throughout the remarkable twenty-two-year career of the Ramones the seminal punk rock band, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers, Recording Academy Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winners and inductees into The Library of Congress' National Recording Registry, Monte A. Melnick saw it all. He was the band’s tour manager from their 1974 CBGB debut to their final show in 1996. Now, in this NEW UPDATED EDITION he tells his story. Full of insider perspectives and exclusive interviews and packed with over 250 personal color photos and images; this is a must-have for all fans of the Ramones.

  2. Can't argue with you Road Cat. And don't forget to read the interview with Monte ON THIS BLOG, right before CJ! :)

  3. Monte this is spectacular stuff you should think about becoming a full-time journalist. Thanks for sharing this with the world!

  4. Thank you McCall you are too kind! It is a fun project but I don't think full-time journalism is for me. Gotta feed the family and all that...I do appreciate your kind words though! Monte

  5. Excelent! Five stars!

  6. It is very nice to see that after só many years he is still getting New fans and attention. I ran the oficial Ramones fan club in São Paulo 'till the 90's. Só my friend Douglas kept it as the official Brazilian FC. Missing a lot this Good old times.

  7. It is very nice to see that after só many years he is still getting New fans and attention. I ran the oficial Ramones fan club in São Paulo 'till the 90's. Só my friend Douglas kept it as the official Brazilian FC. Missing a lot this Good old times.