14.5.14

JOHNNY RAMONE'S MOSRITE - A Book Extract

An extract from Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of The Ramones by the legendary Everett True, whom I commissioned to write it for Omnibus Press in 2001.




The date Johnny Ramone bought his first guitar is well documented, mainly because Johnny – the consummate professional – kept records about everything concerning his band. It was on January 23, 1974 that he and Dee Dee wandered into Manny’s Guitar Centre on 156 West 48th & Broadway. Johnny was looking for a guitar that no one else was using, a cheap one too. He bought a blue Mosrite for $50, plus $4.55 tax. The asking price was initially $69.55 (including tax). Johnny bartered them down after pretending 55 bucks was all the money he had with him at the time. The store receipt stated, ‘Must be picked up 1/24/74’. (It also showed that Johnny lived at 6758 108th Street, Forest Hills.) Mosrite, with its distinctive twang, had been used on The Ventures’ surf instrumentals in the early Sixties, but the make didn’t bother him too much – Johnny (correctly) figured all guitars sound the same when turned up loud enough. The original was stolen in 1977, although at least one interviewee for this book claims to know its whereabouts.
        In an interview with Lester Bangs, conducted for a guitar magazine, Johnny stated: “I bought it because it was the cheapest guitar in the store. Now I’ve gotten used to it and I like it. I also didn’t wanna get a guitar that everybody else was using – I wanted something that could be identified with me.
        “I bought a guitar in 1965,” he continued, “fiddled around for about a year and didn’t learn how to play anything. I just more or less gave it up. So when we started the group, I didn’t how to play it too well. I knew a couple of chords from when I’d bought these guitar chord books in 1965, but I didn’t know how to play a song or anything.”
        Since then, Johnny has used Mosrites exclusively because, as he explained to David Fricke when being interviewed for the Ramones Anthology sleeve notes in 1999, he’d “found something to be identified with. It was a good guitar for me: lightweight, very thin neck, easy to bar chord. It had a sound of its own. I was happy with it.”
        Johnny forgot his previous aspirations to be Hendrix, and just learnt what he deemed necessary for the Ramones sound: “Pure, white rock’n’roll, with no blues influence. I wanted our sound to be as original as possible. I stopped listening to everything.”
        On the same visit Dee Dee claimed to have picked up a Danelectro bass for 50 bucks, which he later smashed. He then bought and broke a Gibson Firebird, before buying his first Fender Precision from Fred Smith of Television. He soon sold that, against Smith’s advice, and to his lasting regret.
        In the Bangs article, Dee Dee stated that when he first bought a guitar, at age 13, it was “immediately too complicated for me. I just kept it in my room and when kids’d come over I’d show it off to ‘em but I never learned how to play it. By the time I was 21 and the Ramones started, uh, even a halfwit would know those three chords, y’know that D, E and G? So I know then. I just always wanted to be a bass-player.” 
         Four days after the visit to Manny’s, the pair held their first rehearsal.
“We wrote two songs the very first day we were a band,” Johnny told Rolling Stone. “One was called ‘I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You’ and the other was called ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Involved With You’. It was very much like ‘I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You’, almost the same song.”
        “That was just before I hooked up with them,” remembers Tommy. “The Ramones was a slow involving process. I was on the New York scene, seeing groups like the Dolls and the Glitter scene, the local bands, and I had this group of friends I grew up with in Forest Hills that I thought were much more colourful and charismatic and I thought it would be great to get a group together. I was on the phone with Johnny for a year and a half, telling him this. It didn’t matter to me whether he was the singer or guitarist.
        “So one day he calls me up and says that him and Dee Dee have bought guitars and I said ‘great, let’s get together.’ We got together at his apartment, and there was Dee Dee and Joey and a fellow named Ritchie Stern – Ritchie was going to be the bass player but he couldn’t master the instrument. They came in with songs at that first rehearsal and we worked on them. We were always working on songs, formulate them, arrange them, track them. We were doing all originals straight from the start. My take on that was that the songs were so good we had no interest in doing covers. They’re going to tell you the reason we didn’t do covers is cos they couldn’t play them, but that’s nothing to do with it. I don’t think they could have played ELP, but they could have done The Who or Little Richard.”
        Dee Dee did indeed disagree: “It was risky and nervy what we were doing,” he told Michael Hill in 2001. “We started trying to figure out songs from records and we couldn’t, maybe ‘Yummy, Yummy, Yummy’ by The Ohio Express, or ‘Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat’ by Herman’s Hermits… It sounds absurd because we had such advanced and maybe even narrow-minded taste at the same time.”
        Frustrated, Joey started writing his own ideas for songs on scraps of paper and the backs of shopping bags, “really weird songs,” his mother recalls. Charlotte let the Ramones hold their early practices in the basement of her Art Garden gallery in Forest Hills: “I remember going down there once with a business partner and seeing all of these overhead lights and plants,” she told littlecrackedegg.com. “My partner thought it nice that the boys were such ambitious horticulturalists. She was a bit naïve about the proclivities of rock musicians.”
        It was decided who would play what by who wanted to play what. Dee Dee chose rhythm guitar and to be lead singer, Johnny - lead guitar, Joey - drums, Ritchie - bass – but he dropped out straight away. (The band later delighted in telling British music journalists it was because he’d gone into a mental institution.) So the Ramones became a trio, but Dee Dee would go hoarse after a couple of songs because he sang so hard, so they passed the microphone over to Joey.
        “As a drummer, Joey was a basher, a choppy kind of guy, a lot of cymbals and stuff,” Tommy reminisces. “A little bit like The White Stripes. I got them together for artistic reasons, thinking this would be a great thing to do. Money didn’t even enter our minds. No one was making money back then.”
What made you think Joey would make a better singer than Dee Dee?
“He had a nice sound to his voice, and he wouldn’t go hoarse, he had a strong voice. So we began auditioning drummers and I was trying to explain to them the style we wanted – eighth-notes across, with the ‘one’ on the bass and the ‘two’ on the snare, fast and consistent. At the time everyone wanted to do heavy metal drumming, putting in the rolls. No one could do it, so I tried it and it worked. I’d never played drums before. I was more the mentor at the time, I always was. Once I got behind the drums, all the elements clicked together.”
“John and I weren’t vocal musicians,” Dee Dee told Harvey Kubernik. “We’re like a machine. We used to say horrible things about Joey. ‘We could have made it if we had Billy Idol.’ [Laughs] We were nasty.”
Tommy knows the exact moment when he realised how good the Ramones were. It was in ‘74, in the Art Garden. Dee Dee and Joey were going over one of Joey’s songs, ‘Judy Is A Punk’.
“The whole thing clicked in my head,” Tommy says. “Before that, I thought the band was good and interesting. ‘Judy’ made the difference. It was beyond good. There was brilliance there.”
         Choosing the name was easy. They lifted it from Dee Dee’s Sixties alias. Other stories have appeared as to its origin, however. It was chosen in homage to the street tough image of the Fifties greaser rockers. Joey told a journalist that they thought it had a ring to it – like “Eli Wallach”.
        “We made a list of 40 names on a piece of paper,” Tommy recalls. “That was the one we all agreed upon. Also, it sounded ridiculous. We immediately decided to call each other Ramone, probably because of The Walker Brothers, 10 years before. We thought it would be hilarious.”

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