Rebel sound, rebel image

By Paul Rigg

September 15th marks thirteen years since the American guitarist John Cummings, better known as Johnny Ramone, succumbed to prostrate cancer at the age of 55.  

Johnny was a co-founder of the Ramones and played rhythm guitar throughout their enormously influential career, which includes an arguable claim to have kicked off the whole punk rock genre.
Certainly Johnny's distinctive sound, created by an American Mosrite guitar, with rapid downstrokes and nonstop barre chords, can be recognized across a huge number of metal bands from Metallica to Iron Maiden.  

Johnny was ranked number 28 on the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list in Rolling Stone magazine, but rested importance of his choice of six string."I bought a Mosrite because it was the cheapest guitar in the store," he once quipped.  


Johnny Ramone was born on 8th October, 1948. He first started playing with Erelyi Tamas (Tommy Ramone) in The Tangerine Puppets in the mid-sixties, before the pair went on to found the Ramones with Jeffrey Hyman (Joey Ramone) and Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone) in 1974. They famously took the band's name from the pseudonym Paul McCartney used, Paul Ramon, when he sought to maintain a low profile in the early years of the Beatles.

Johnny Ramone's long dark hair, black leather jackets and ripped up jeans - under his instruction - gave the whole band a distinctive and edgy image, caught the zeitgeist of the times and effectively spawned a youth movement. It is practically impossible to imagine the Ramones without that youthful and rebellious look.

Johnny was behind one of the most torturous-sounding relationship tangles in rock, when he started dating and later married Linda Daniele, who had previously dated Joey.  

Some have said that their relationship provoked Joey into writing songs like "She Belongs To Me", and "T
he KKK Took My Baby Away", although the truth behind that particular story remains debatable. Although the Ramones stuck together, the relationship between Johnny and Joey never really recovered. 'Linda Ramone' - who now dedicates her life to promoting Johnny and his legacy - describes countless evenings where the three of them would eat together in almost complete silence. 

Ironically, the man with the rebellious image was politically conservative and a staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan and the Republican party. He was once quoted by The Observer as saying: "People drift towards liberalism at a young age, and I always hope they change when they see how the world really is."

His conservatism also extended to keeping a tight rein on the Ramones budget, as their huge influence took a long time to translate into any kind of commercial success. "The Ramones had it rough..." explained the 'fifth Ramone' Arturo Vega, - who toured with them for their entire career - "there was never any money made."  

In 1983, Johnny Ramone was almost killed in a street fight with a member of the New York punk group Sub Zero over an ex-girlfriend. He had his skull fractured and experienced internal bleeding but was saved by four hours of emergency brain surgery. This incident was said to have inspired the Ramone's next album title:
 Too Tough To Die.

Tragically, Johnny and the other three original members of the Ramones all died relatively young. The album title Too Tough to Die, however, remains as an apt eulogy to Johnny and the band's image, musical influence and legendary status.     

 (Images: ©CordonPress)