Seymour Stein and Linda Ramone on the Ramones' Grammy Museum Artifacts
The Ramones' label head and Johnny's wife/Joey's ex reminisce on everything from Elton John to Zippy the Pinhead and more.
On the surface, Seymour Stein and the former Linda Marie Daniele [aka Linda Ramone] would seem to have little in common beyond their thick, outer-borough accents. But the legendary music exec, co-founder of Sire Records and Rosedale, Queens native are inextricably linked by their ties to a band who not only changed their lives, but millions of others, too.
"I'd do anything for the Ramones," says Stein, who upon first seeing the four "cretins" from Forest Hills, Queens perform in 1976 promptly signed them to his Sire Records label. But he wasn't the first or last Stein to be so inspired by the Ramones. His ex-wife, the late Linda Stein, was the first in the family to see the band live and would soon after co-manage them with music impresario Danny Fields. Daughter Mandy Stein, who has known the Ramones since she was a toddler, would direct the documentary Gabba Gabba Heyday! in addition to films on CBGBs and the Bad Brains.
For Linda Ramone, too, the band is a family affair -- only literally. She was not only a fan who witnessed some of the band's earliest gigs at CBGBs, but she would also date singer Joey Ramone (a.k.a. Jeffrey Hyman) for three-and-a-half years before leaving him for guitarist and band mastermind Johnny Ramone (born John Cummings) adding another thick layer of tension to the band's well-documented dysfunction.
"When Johnny was dying, he left me his legacy," Linda says from the L.A. Grammy Museum, which last weekend opened its new exhibition "Hey! Ho! Let's Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk," (after debuting at the the Queens Museum last April). "He said, 'I'd rather be here doing my legacy myself, but if I had to pick one person, I'd pick you.'" For Linda, this has meant hosting annual tributes at L.A.s Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Johnny's memorial statue resides and overseeing her late husband's estate and vast trove of memorabilia which once included baseball and horror relics as well as Ramones keepsakes spanning the band's 22-year career and 2,263 shows.
Surrounded by Ramones artifacts, like a Zippy the Pinhead costume and an armadillo doodle drawn by Joey, Billboard spoke with Linda Ramone and tour manger Monte Melnick, and separately with Seymour Stein and his daughter Mandy, to get their reflections of this trailblazing and endearing--if a little nutty--band.
Pre-Graphic Design Ramones
Mandy Stein: They would do these weekly residencies at CBGBs and do two shows a night.
Seymour Stein: I first saw them after I rented out a rehearsal room for an hour -- they must have done 18 songs in a little over 20 minutes. We had the rest of the time to discuss and work out the terms of the deal. I wanted them very, very badly and they wanted a deal too, to show the world what they had. I signed them that night in the rehearsal studio.
The Ramones (Smiling!): Outtake From the First Album Shoot
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Mandy Stein: Roberta [Bayley, the photographer] was the girlfriend of Richard Hell and was enmeshed in that community. She still lives on the Lower Eat Side. She also worked at CBGB and would collect the money when you came it. It was shot around the corner from CBGB out by the dumpsters.
Seymour Stein: The same week [I signed them] they finished the first album, they worked so fast. That was mostly due to Johnny -- if he doesn't get seven tracks done on the first night, he wouldn't be very pleased and nobody wants to be around Johnny when he's not very pleased.
Seymour Stein: I thought it was a good picture. Johnny was the real tough one. Joey certainly wasn't tough, Tommy was a sweetheart, Dee Dee was Dee Dee.
Linda & Danny Says...
Seymour Stein: I heard about the Ramones from Danny Fields and Lisa Robinson, both of whom I rated very highly for their ears and still do. There's this biopic out now on Danny called Danny Says, that's very fitting. I was always in England when the Ramones were playing and it was so frustrating. I came back just to see them and caught the flu on the plane and had a 103 degree fever. I asked my wife to go and she was up for it anyway. She was a school teacher but loved music. She came back raving about them.
Mandy Stein: Danny and mom went together to see them at Mother's on 54th and 3rd -- it was a gay club that would have punk rock shows. They went together. The Ramones were such Stooges fans and loved all the music Danny had signed. They were very on top of the music business.
Seymour Stein: Linda was a school teacher when she saw the band. And I believe they asked Danny and her to manage them and they did a very good job. It was Linda's idea to have then go over to the UK. I had signed a band I always loved, the Flamin' Groovies, who were on Sire and needed an opening act. So we asked them if they would take the Ramones and they were very happy to do it and extremely grateful they did. Everyone who was just starting out in punk or new wave in the UK came to their gig at the Roundhouse in Camden -- it was amazing. The Clash , the Sex Pistols and the Damned.
Johnny, Seymour, Linda, Dee Dee...and Sir Elton In Fetish Wear
Mandy Stein: That's in London and that's Elton John. He and Mommy went shopping before the gig. He has those kind of punk bondage pants, well, not literally, but whatever they were selling at Vivienne Westwood.
Seymour Stein: I don't remember when that picture was taken but I think Elton really liked them. One of the great things about Elton John is that he was and is a huge music fan. He has one of the greatest music collections, second probably only to Craig Kallman at Atlantic Records. Elton is a big fan and he's helped a lot of artists along the way, and for no personal gain, just because he believed in them.
Mandy Stein: Like Ryan Adams.
Seymour Stein: He asked me if I knew Ryan Adams and I knew him from that original band he was in on that Bloodshot label, Whiskeytown. Elton would have been -- if Elton was running a record label, he could have turned it into a major label with his ears, he's an incredible fan.
I Want to Be Your Boyfriend
Linda Ramone: I would always talk to Joey at CBGBs but we really got together in L.A. I was staying at the Tropicana and it was my summer vacation and I knew Joey from New York and that's when we decided that we were gonna be boyfriend and girlfriend. It was during the filming of Rock and Roll High School. I was 21 when I first met Joey and we dated for three-and-a-half years... I think he is one of the best singers of all time.
Tougher Than Leather and a Love Triangle
(Courtesy of the Grammy Museum)
Linda Ramone: This is one of Johnny's jackets that I had. There weren't many. He traded a couple and a couple got stolen so he kept that. I love that... He was tough. He'd give you a stare that would knock you dead in a minute. Johnny loved that I was never intimidated by him so maybe that's what made us click.
What happened was Johnny fell in love with me. We really didn't expect that because nobody expected Johnny to fall in love. It just happened being on the road together. He liked the idea that I cooked, I was Italian and I liked that normal side of life and he fell in love with me. So what happened was Joey would have had to quit the band if he stayed with me because Johnny wasn't going to give up and there was no other way to go. Me and Joey talked about it and Joey said "I can't get rid of Johnny," and at that point I think Joey honestly wanted to see if he could do it on his own without me.
When he figured out he couldn't he wanted me back and I couldn't because I was already in love with Johnny -- so that was the whole big love triangle. It was sad, but not really, because Johnny fell in love with me and I fell in love with Johnny and we were together for the rest of his life.
Joey and I didn't speak for a couple of years and then he called me out of the blue and we promised each other on the phone that we would never bad mouth each other ever. And throughout our whole lives we never did.
(Courtesy the Grammy Museum)
Linda Ramone: This is Johnny's and it's one of 20 handwritten [date] books I have at home. What happened was when Johnny joined the Ramones he would write down every show, attendance, and where they were. I never let anyone touch them but when the museum show was happening, I decided it's amazing to see how Johnny did this from the first show of the Ramones to the last show and everything else that he did. All the gigs they played, what they went to see, I thought it was so interesting that I let this one go. They played over 2,000 shows until 1996 -- twenty years. Written there is the first time they went to Phil Spector's house in 1977. It says "Went to Phil Spector's House, Tuesday the 8th."
Seymour Stein: Johnny was very disciplined and thank God! I don't care what anybody says, thank God he was disciplined, look how long they stayed together!
Linda Ramone: Everything in the house was organized. Every tape, every album, everything everywhere was organized. He liked to organize, that's why the Ramones made it to the end. Joey didn't even know what city he was in -- he didn't care.
The Spectre of Phil Spector
Linda Ramone: That's Phil Spector, Tommy and a roadie. It was taken in 1977 at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. He loved the Ramones and wanted to work with them back then. Then he worked with them on End of the Century and believe me he was as crazy as he looks there. I was there everyday at the studio. It was pretty... you know... Phil was crazy, but I never thought he would kill someone. I mean Johnny would always constantly say, 'Hey, he's gonna kill someone someday,' but i never thought it. He carried guns around with him but they were all legal, he was allowed to carry guns.
Seymour Stein: It was only Joey that really wanted to work with Phil and I set it up. Phil is a good friend of mine. I got a call from Johnny who said, "My father just died." And I said, "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that." And he said, 'Well, we were never really close, but for me it's a ticket out of here, I can't take it anymore." As much as Joey loved it, Johnny did not like it. I was happy with the recording session, let's just leave it there.
Zippy The Pinhead, Johnny's Red Shirt, Hamer Guitar & Sha Na Na
Linda Ramone: It comes from the movie Freaks , they would say "Gabba Gabba Hey!" instead of "goo-goo goo-goo", That's a pinhead dress that they would bring out someone on stage with the mask on and a Gabba Gabba Hey sign and go dance around. This one is Monte's, he kept that."
Mandy Stein: "You never knew who was in it, it was always like a big secret. I think sometimes it was Arturo [Vega, the band's longtime art director] or Monte but it was always a nobody knows kind of thing."
Linda Ramone: "The Hamer Guitar I just bought back. It's Johnny's, he used it when the band played Sha Na Na [TV show]. They played "Rock & Roll High School," it was a great show and very funny. It's a very rare guitar.
Linda Ramone: That red t-shirt is from the photo shoot for End of the Century that Mick Rock did. The shirt is mine. I have a ton of stuff at Ramones Ranch [the L.A. house she shared with Johnny].
Rock & Roll Rodney & Monty
Linda Ramone: That's from Rock and Roll High School. That's another LA personality driving the car, an L.A. DJ, do you know who that is? Rodney Bingenheimer, Rodney on the ROQ.
Monte Melnick, The Ramones tour manager: I'm in that. They pull up to the school, I open the door, they come out, and then I walk behind them.
Seymour Stein: I think Linda [Stein] should get credit for that.
Mandy Stein: Mommy really wanted that film to happen. At the time it didn't do that well but now it's the coolest film in the whole world. It's the coolest band that ever existed taking over a high school with the mean old principal - that's every girl or boys' dream. No more homework! One thing about the Ramones was that they had a very good sense of humor. Every thing they did was tongue and cheek. They weren't seriously singing that the "KKK took my baby away" Or "Beat on the baby with a baseball bat" or "Lobotomy."
Seymour Stein: Or I'm a Nazi shatze.
Mandy Stein: It was all a joke but I think some people took it seriously.
Seymour Stein: You know two of the boys were Jewish. Nazi shatze -- I didn't like it, but I loved them.
Linda Ramone: These are Monte's t-shirts.
Monte Melnick: They were a road band basically -- they didn't sell very many albums, initially. They worked on the road, they made their money on the road and they figured merchandising was the best way to make money so they made a lot of money off merchandising. They always had plenty of t-shirts to sell and different designs. John Holstrom [cartoonist, writer and co-founder of Punk Magazine] did a few of them. The Sheena one is a John Holstrom design. I think it's from the mid-80s.
Mandy Stein: That's worth a lot of money.
Seymour Stein: The t-shirts I've seen most when I'm walking anywhere in the world -- I'm talking Australia, New Zealand, Japan, even in China and that's only recently. I see Ramones shirts and CBGB's shirts and it's about even. [The label] had nothing to do with them, that all went to the band.
Set In Stone
(Courtesy of the Grammy Museum)
Linda Ramone: That has great importance. Every year, to get Johnny a present was difficult. And if he didn't like a present you gave him, he would kinda tell you. So Rob Zombie, who was one of Johnny's closest friends got Johnnie this statue made by Wayne Toth because we all started calling him legend. So Rob had that made and it was a Christmas gift and Johnny loved it. It's a great statue. So when Johnny was sick, Mr. Arturo Vega would come over with these tombstone ideas. I was like, "I don't like no tombstone." But Johnny loved John Wayne and we always saw John Wayne's memorial statue and I was like, "You should do a statue." So then we decided to do a statue and we used Wayne Toth's.
Tears at the Rock Hall
Seymour Stein: I remember that night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I was there. I remember most of all what Tommy said that night about how much this would have meant to Joey. Of all of them, Joey wanted it most. Joey lived long enough to know they had been inducted and died in-between -- it was very sad, very sad [eyes well with tears]. He said something about Joey and I just couldn't stop crying. Both Johnny and Tommy spoke wonderfully and Dee Dee spoke a little goofy. But they were all wonderful, I loved them all. They were each very different from each other. If I told you that I thought they would [get as big as they are now], I'd be lying. But the thing is, I always thought they would find a very special spot in music history.