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Goodbye, Tommy Ramone

Hank Shteamer

Everyone knows that the Ramones gave rock & roll a new attitude, a new fashion and a new name, all handily referred to as punk. But what makes their music so enduring, and endearing, is how classic it sounds: Flail around to “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy Is a Punk” or “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” and you’re responding to the same primal pulse that fueled “Johnny B. Goode.”

Tommy Ramone—the band’s best-known drummer and last surviving original member, who died yesterday of bile-duct cancer at age 62—was arguably the man most responsible for that pulse. Originally, it was Joey, the band’s future iconic frontman, who sat behind the kit. But that wasn’t a good fit, so the Ramones’ then-manager, a Hungarian Jew born Erdélyi Tamás, took over, and in the process, helped the band’s world-beating early tunes to breathe. The group’s signature hip-shaking swing is unthinkable without Tommy’s laid-back drive.

Tommy drummed on and co-produced the first three Ramones albums—1976’s self-titled debut, and 1977’s Leave Home and Rocket to Russia—but later stepped back to his initial behind-the-scenes role. (He cited the “depressing” nature of touring as one reason for the decision.) In his later years, he was a chilled-out NYC fixture, who played mandolin and sang in the folk duo Uncle Monk. Tommy was always happy to reminisce about the group that made him famous, as he demonstrated in 2012, when he dropped by our office to play and discuss Ramones staple “Rockaway Beach.”

We leave you with a clip of the Ramones playing “Blitzkrieg Bop,” a song Tommy co-wrote, at CBGB in 1977. Farewell, sir—NYC has lost another legend.


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