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Joey Ramone (real name: Jeffrey Hyman), the gangly punk rock icon whose signature yelp melded with the Ramones' three-chord thrash to signify the New York punk revolution, died yesterday (April 15). HJoey Ramone (real name: Jeffrey Hyman), the gangly punk rock icon whose signature yelp melded with the Ramones' three-chord thrash to signify the New York punk revolution, died yesterday (April 15). He was 49. Ramone was hospitalized last month for lymphoma. His death was confirmed by Arturo Vega, the Ramones' longtime artistic director.
His career started during the early 1970s glam-rock era, when he played in several New York bands -- occasionally under the name Jeff Starship. But his collaboration with bandmates Dee Dee (Douglas Colvin), Johnny (John Cummins), and Tommy (Tom Erdelyi) became something special.
The Ramones soon were bashing out music that blended the direct, energetic hooks of early rock'n'roll with the scene's vitality, all topped with a humorous public image that was a mix of late-'50s greaser aesthetic with punk sneers and attitude. The band quickly became a fixture in clubs like CBGB and Max's Kansas City, joining the likes of Patti Smith and Television, and later, Blondie and the Talking Heads.
The fact that its four members had limited musical skills did not stop them. In fact, Joey became the lead singer only after his drumming proved too rudimentary to keep up with his bandmates' thunderous riffs. The Ramones spent just two days and $6,000 recording their 1976 Sire debut album, a collection of two-minute, three-chord blasts.
But the four scruffy, leather-jacketed rockers from Queens nonetheless grabbed the world's attention with irresistibly stripped-down pop hooks and deadpan lyrics that were more cartoony and self-deprecating than nihilistic.
"They changed the world of music. They rescued rock'n'roll from the pretentiousness and unnecessary adornments," Vega said.
With Joey in the lead, the Ramones turned out what are now classic anthems of the early punk years, including "Beat on the Brat," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," "Teenage Lobotomy," and "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker." Despite their influence and critical acclaim, the Ramones never cracked the top-40. "End of the Century," a 1980 album recorded with legendary producer Phil Spector, was their best-selling set, topping out at No. 44 on The Billboard 200.
In 1979, Joey and the band appeared in the Roger Corman movie "Rock'N'Roll High School,' contributing the title song to the soundtrack. The group also recorded the title track for the film "Pet Sematary," based on the book by Ramones fan Stephen King.
With a career that spanned more than 20 years, the band's sound evolved little, although as teenage angst waned, the Ramones occasionally addressed political topics, such as with 1985's "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" -- Joey's angry rant about U.S. president Ronald Reagan's visit to a German military cemetery.
The Ramones also endured several personnel changes, beginning with Marky's departure in 1983. He was replaced by Richard "Richie Ramone" Beau, who was replaced by Marky upon his return in 1988. In 1989, Dee Dee left and was replaced by Chris "C.J. Ramone" Ward.
Although strife within the ranks led the Ramones to disband in 1996 following a tour in support of its final studio album, "Adios Amigos," its members did join together to promote the release of Rhino's 1999 anthology "Hey Ho Let's Go."
Following the band's demise, Joey kept a fairly low profile, sometimes performing at or hosting shows at New York clubs -- such as last October's "Joey Ramone & Friends" at CBGB -- and was an occasional guest on Howard Stern's morning radio show. Over the last several years, Ramone produced material for 1960s icon Ronnie Spector and worked on a solo album that has not yet seen release.
A message on the band's official Web site proclaims, "We remember you," recalling the band's "I Remember You." That song was covered and dedicated to Ramone by U2 during its recent New York club show, which was broadcast nationally.
"In this moment of pain and sorrow," the message continues, "let us find comfort in the words of the king of punk himself: Life's a gas, life's a gas, a gas, oh yeah / Life's a gas, life's a gas, a gas, oh yeah / So don't be sad 'cause I'll be there / Don't be sad at all."
-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y., & AP
Copyright 2001 Billboard.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.