All four of the original Ramones are gone now, but the legacy of these Queens punk legends lived on as the annual Johnny Ramone birthday tribute returned to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery last night. Celebrating both the legendary guitarist and the event's own 10th anniversary, the show included live sets of Ramones classics performed by some of Johnny's closest musician friends, including Rob Zombie and Sex Pistol Steve Jones.
"We're here for one reason, and one reason only: to pay tribute to our good friend Johnny Ramone," Zombie told the crowd packed inside the park's Masonic Temple. "I miss him every day. He was a wonderful kind guy. There was nobody like him. There was nothing like the Ramones, so we're here for Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy."
Zombie and his band blasted through a five-song set – "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Rock 'N' Roll High School," "Beat on the Brat," "Lobotomy" and Motörhead's tribute song "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." – in under 10 minutes and were followed by a group that included Jones, Billy Idol and Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses.
"Rob and his band rehearsed for weeks," said Johnny's widow, Linda Ramone, explaining the quality of the performances. "This is a Johnny Ramone room. You have to rehearse. You can't go out there and not be good. You see how everybody here was tight and great?"
"I was freaked out by the Ramones," McKagan said during a panel Q&A that also included Jones, Fred Armisen and Stray Cat Slim Jim Phantom. "As a 13-year-old kid living up in Seattle, the Ramones were the first punk band to come play. They were like my Kiss. So 10 or 12 years later, Appetite [for Destruction] came out, I got an opportunity to meet the Ramones, and I actually didn't want to because I didn't want to ruin anything. They still remain bigger than life to me."
This was the event's first year since Tommy Ramone died of cancer at age 65. In years past, he had traveled from New York to Hollywood to attend the event.
"I have nothing but love for Tommy," said Olms singer-songwriter J.D. King, who is also Linda's boyfriend and helped organize the day. "We would talk about recording and engineering. He just had a wealth of knowledge that I mined. He knew every single mic, every single production technique. His memory was perfect. I would talk to him constantly about how to get great sounds."
The event included a display of horror memorabilia provided by Kirk Hammett, who shared Johnny's obsession with scary movies, and ended with a screening of Zombie's 2005 film The Devil's Rejects.
With nearly 3,000 fans attending the event, the Ramones' legacy only seems to be growing, and after some years of tension, the band's survivors are now preparing to guide that legacy further into the future.
"The whole Ramones family, we have falling outs and arguments and go make up. That's life," said Linda. "We've got so much stuff coming up. We have offers all the time for movies and plays and cartoons. It's been like that since the beginning, but now is the time to make it all happen because the Ramones are bigger than ever. Everybody loves them."
"Yes, there was tension. But I couldn't be happier," added Mickey Leigh, brother to Joey Ramone and guardian of the late singer's estate. "So many things amaze me – not only that this event is possible, but that things seem to keep growing. The interest seems to be perpetuating."
Next year's event, Linda said, would be a tribute to all of the Ramones, and may return to Hollywood Forever. "The Ramones legacy is really important to me," she said. "This is my life."