The Johnny Ramone tribute at Hollywood Forever Cemetery has become a tradition. This past Sunday marked the tenth annual event honoring the late guitarist. In a marathon celebration that began before sundown diehard Ramones fans were treated to a Q&A that included Johnny’s widow Linda, Duff McKagan, host Rob Zombie and more, an all-star concert that found both Zombie and a group, which included McKagan, Steve Jones, Fred Armisen and surprise guest Billy Idol, covering the Ramones, and finally a screening of Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects.
“Johnny was a good friend of mine, we first met probably ’95 as the Ramones were wrapping up their touring and they opened for White Zombie on tour,” Zombie told Billboard. “We hit it off first day, we started talking, we had a lot of things in common, very similar views on certain things, we became good friends and stayed that way right until the end.”
It was fitting that Zombie, such a close friend of Johnny’s, hosted what may be the last Johnny-specific public event. Jeff Jampol, who co-manages the band’s estate with Dave Frey, says going forward the tributes will be all about the group as a whole.
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“That was probably the last Johnny Ramone tribute you’re gonna see. We’re gonna do something moving forward, but it’s gonna be Ramones,” Jampol told Billboard. “We’re all gonna focus on the Ramones, and it’s that whole thing of, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ The legacy is the Ramones, the music is the Ramones, it was the four of them – it was Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy, and everybody is cooperating and moving in one direction together as a team.”
For years, Linda Ramone has controlled Johnny’s half of the band’s estate, while Joey’s brother Mickey oversaw the lead singer’s half. After a long behind the scenes disputes all sides are finally on the same page.
“It’s always been about the entire band expect I had Johnny’s half and Joey’s brother Mickey had Joey’s half. And since we weren’t speaking he did more Joey and I did more Johnny,” Linda says. “We can move on now and do Ramones cause me and Mickey now are friends, so that’s cool. I was happy he came last night.”
Linda jokes, “As we say everyday now, ‘We’re all one big happy family.’” But that is important for her, as the recent tragic passing of Tommy Ramone makes it even more pressing the band’s music be preserved and celebrated.
“With Tommy up there now with them it even feels more like, ‘Wow, they are all gone,’” she says. “I spoke to Tommy every week and the legacy was really important to him too.”
It’s Jampol’s JAM and Frey who are now co-managing the band, and Jampol says that was part of his requirement for coming on board. “JAM as a company, we were not interested in doing this unless it was Dave and I co-managing the Ramones as a whole. And so now everything we’re doing is Ramones centric.”
“The 40th anniversary of the Ramones is coming up in 2016, that’s when the first album came out. So we have a lot of projects leading up to that. We’re looking at a documentary on the Ramones, we just secured a ton of footage, much of which has never been seen before,” he says. “It came from the Ramones on the road over the years in the Seventies and a little bit in the Eighties, from a gentleman who had shot them, his name is George Seminara.”
The documentary is just one of several projects in the works. Among the others are a theatrical play, a book and a film, which already has Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese attached.
Of the book, Jampol says, “You’ll see a book coming, which is not a biographical book so much, but a story of the band’s formation and those first few records and that craziness that happened. It’ll be a combination of prose, photographs and memorabilia and posters, just kind of documenting the scene. The Ramones were the first punk band and they started the punk movement.”
In leading up to the anniversary the Ramones will be reappearing in several other ways, including remastered music, fashion and music placement.
“You’re gonna see some really interesting combinations of music and new music and remastered music and apparel,” Jampol says. “As far as the apparel goes, and really everything, as a company, for me, authenticity is the foundation of everything. And luckily, when you have a really genius artist like the Ramones you don’t have to spin it. It is what it is and what it is is a beautiful moment in time that sparked a revolution in music and in fashion. So you look at 76 when the Ramones first album came out, and that really sparked that brand new wave of what I call the American rock and roll wardrobe, which is jeans, white t-shirt, leather jacket and sneakers.”
The event Sunday featured a VIP area with alcohol provided by Stillhouse whisky, a company founded by former Live Nation president of merchandising Brad Beckerman. Beckerman’s company also recently handled the wrap party for the Foo Fighters’ HBO series. He sees the Ramones as being a perfect fit with one of today’s biggest rock bands.
“The Ramones are iconic and you’re talking about timeless music,” Beckerman says. “You could see it last night, I saw so many kids there. The only thing similar to what I saw last night in terms of a scene was the Dead, which was a culture.”
The Ramones first formed in 1974, 40 years ago this year, but, to Jampol, the band’s proper anniversary is 2016. “There are a lot of people trying to cash in on Ramones mania and cash in on celebrations, there are these small clubs, this is the fortieth anniversary tribute and it’s not true. The big fortieth anniversary is gonna be celebrated in 2016 with the release of the first record,” he says. “And my feeling is the same when we celebrated the Doors. [The Ramones] got together in ’74, they started playing some shows, they were a small local band, but the world became aware of the Ramones when they released their first record in ’76. And that’s the year we’re celebrating.”