Johnny Ramone, a founding member of pioneering punk act the Ramones, died yesterday afternoon (Sept. 15) at his home in Los Angeles. He was 55 and had been suffering from prostate cancer for some time.
The guitarist was born John Cummings in New York on Oct. 8, 1948. He is the third of the quartet’s original members to have died in the past four years: vocalist Joey Ramone (real name: Jeffrey Hyman) succumbed to lymphatic cancer in 2001, while bassist Dee Dee Ramone (real name: Douglas Colvin) died from a drug overdose in 2002. The fourth original Ramone, drummer Tommy (real name: Thomas Erdelyi), left the band in 1978.
Cummings formed the Ramones with Dee Dee and Joey in 1974. At that time, the latter was the band’s drummer, but he soon switched to lead vocals when manager Tommy, a former schoolmate of Cummings, took over the drum stool.
The band became one of the leading lights of the nascent punk-rock movement centered on New York club CBGB during 1975-1976, along with such acts as the Patti Smith Group, Television and the Heartbreakers. The Ramones signed in the United States to Sire Records in 1976, but their greatest initial success was in the United Kingdom. Their July 4, 1976, live show at London’s Roundhouse with San Francisco’s Flamin’ Groovies has long been recognized as a turning point in the development of Britain’s own punk movement.
“Johnny had the guitar sound that launched a thousand bands,” Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock tells Billboard. “Many bands tried to emulate it, but they never got it right.”
Matlock remembers attending the Ramones first-ever headlining U.K. gig at Dingwall’s in London on July 5, 1976. “I did blot my copy book by getting a bit overexcited and throwing a plastic glass at them, and they walked off the stage,” he recalls.
The Ramones’ first three albums were major influences on the punk movement globally, and the act managed to score four top-40 singles in the United Kingdom between 1978-1980. Its biggest commercial success came with the Phil Spector-produced “End of the Century” and its cover of the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You” in 1980.
Despite declining record sales and several line-up changes, the Ramones recorded 13 studio albums and issued several live sets. The act also continued to tour globally until it finally split in 1996. However, personal differences between Cummings and Hyman found the pair refusing to communicate with each other for several years, despite continuing to record and perform together.
“John kept things in control when they could have spun out of control very easily,” says drummer Marky Ramone, who joined the band in 1978. “His legacy will live on in every band that has, is and always will be trying to duplicate the Ramones sound.”
The guitarist was too ill to attend a tribute concert and cancer research fund-raiser held Sunday in Los Angeles to celebrate the Ramones’ 30th anniversary. It featured performances by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Henry Rollins and Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder.
A similar event is on tap for Oct. 8 at New York’s Spirit club, featuring the Strokes and Blondie.
Along with his wife, Linda, Cummings was reportedly surrounded on his deathbed by Vedder, Rob and Sherrie Zombie, singer/songwriter Pete Yorn and film stars Vincent Gallo and Talia Shire.
In recent months, he was said to have been working on his memoirs with Washington Times reporter Steve Miller.