New York punk rock architects the Ramones were one of America’s most ideally realized, irresistibly elemental rock ’n’ roll bands of all time, and even a decade after the deaths of its three primary founders — Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny — the loss still stings. Yet their walloping musical legacy lives on in nearby Eagle Rock, of all places, thanks to the efforts of former drummer Richie Ramone, whose just-released new album, “Entitled” (DC Jam Records), not only blazes with pure Ramones-informed momentum, but furthers and enhances the deceptively simplistic style with a deftly elegant mix of creative drive and experiential verve.
For “Entitled,” Ramone, who played more than 500 shows with the punk legends between 1983 and 1987, enlisted fiery New York City guitarist Tommy Bolan, of Warlock, a musician whose powerhouse approach lends the album an appropriately calamitous, hard-rocking atmosphere.
But it’s no nihilistic downer: “The new songs all came about in the last two years. Songwriting is about an emotion that strikes you, and I’ll write ideas down but I don’t finish a song until I have a purpose, so I completed all of these for the album,” Ramone said in a tough-as-black-leather New Jersey accent. “The [title song’s] main message is that life is rough, yes, but we are all entitled to something good, something to kick you in the ass and get you going.”
His compositions are consistently sleek, muscular and engagingly blunt, and it is important to note that Ramone was one of a very few non-founders ever allowed to contribute his own original songs to the Ramones’ set list, introducing solid numbers like “Somebody Put Something In My Drink,” which the band regularly performed up to its final concert in Hollywood, a very significant achievement.
“In total, Richie wrote six songs for the Ramones,” his manager, Doreen Sanchez, said. “And with this album, it was really important for Richie to re-record his Ramones tracks with his spin on them. Many people don’t realize how much he contributed to the band in the five years he was with them. Joey and Dee Dee fully supported Richie as a songwriter and even let him take lead vocals on a few tracks.”
“We became very close friends, Joey, Dee Dee and I,” Ramone said. “Before that, I had been in a lot of local bands, one called Velveteen that used to play CBGB’s a lot, but the Ramones really changed the game for me. You join the Ramones and you become one of the icons and you take it with you for the rest of your life.”
“Entitled” definitely does not squander that legacy. “I’ve listened to the album about a thousand times and I really like everything on it,” Ramone said. “The music is tough, which I like because I definitely don’t want to disappoint the Ramones fans, and the line-up is strong. We’ve got Clare Misstake [from London’s AntiProduct], on bass, with Tommy’s sound, all the metal kids can join in and play air guitar and I’ve got Ben Reagan from the Feederz, he takes over on drums when I want to get in the kids’ faces.”
Ramone has a South American tour in the works, and plans to start booking American dates later this year, “so the record has a chance to sink in first,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to getting on tour and seeing everybody, and also to see what happens in this crazy age when there is really no rock ’n’ roll on the radio.”
In the context of today’s repetitious electronic dance music and hip-hop styles, Ramone is somewhat of voice in the wilderness, but “Entitled” makes a strong, legitimate pitch for a new breed of punk expression.
“I really feel that these songs are a great representation of the transition between the old style and the new energy,” Sanchez said. “Richie has the legacy behind him and I cannot help but feel that Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny are sitting up there saying, “Go for it — you're making us look good.”--JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”