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Henry Rollins, Pete Yorn, Priscilla Presley Pay Tribute to Johnny Ramone in L.A.

His band's music 'changed my life,' says Chris Cornell

Johnny Ramone
Gus Stewart/Redferns
August 20, 2012 3:15 PM ET

Johnny Ramone was remembered Sunday by a crowd of friends and punk rock contemporaries that X guitarist Billy Zoom called "a class reunion" at the annual tribute to the Ramones guitarist at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Hundreds of fans lined up for autographs from the likes of Henry Rollins, Sex Pistol Steve Jones and Rock 'n' High School actress P.J. Soles.

"For a cemetery it's very pleasant. Johnny would have loved this," said Tommy Ramone (né Erdelyi), the last surviving original member of the band. Every year, he attends tributes to both Johnny and Joey Ramone.

"We were innovative," he told Rolling Stone. "What we did was very unique and very original. Also, there was nothing like these guys. They were so different and so unusual. It was one of a kind."

Nearby was a large statue of the Ramones guitarist and leader, frozen in mid-riff and surrounded by a red velvet rope, standing among tombstones of ancient Hollywood stars and bandmate Dee Dee Ramone. Jones joked that he planned to build his own pyramid at the cemetery.

It was the ninth event in Johnny's honor since the unveiling of the statue in 2005, just months after his death. Among the guests were Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, actress Rose McGowan, artist Shepard Fairey, model Dita Von Teese, Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom, Rock 'n' Roll High School co-writer Richard Whitley and Priscilla Presley (who was there to introduce a screening of Elvis Presley's favorite film, King Creole, which closed the night). It is organized annually by the guitarist's widow, Linda Ramone.

"Linda is cool. She is such a character," said singer-songwriter Pete Yorn, who first met the guitarist and his wife after recording "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" for the 2003 tribute album We're a Happy Family, which was executive produced by Johnny Ramone. "She reminds me of Johnny so much. She's like a bridge to him in a weird way. Her persona's very similar. She has a strong Queens accent. I feel like his spirit is surrounding her all the time."

Waiting in line for autographs, fans young and old carried copies of Johnny's posthumously published autobiography, Commando, along with vintage albums and guitars. Soles, whose career enjoyed a run of popular and cult movies, including Stripes with Bill Murray and the horror classics Halloween and Carrie – still hears from fans about her role as No. 1 Ramones fan Riff Randell in Rock 'n' Roll High School. It wasn't a hit at the time.

"It took a long time, and it's the same kind of thing with the Ramones' career – and it's lasted and lasted," she said. "If the Ramones were not in that movie, I don't think Rock 'n' Roll High School would have lasted. It was a perfect blending. It's brought a lot of joy to a lot of people."           

Mingling with his family in the VIP section was Cornell, who first met Johnny Ramone while on tour in Australia. The guitarist had heard Soundgarden's cover of the Ramones' "I Can't Give You Anything," a version "that he actually liked, which apparently was rare," Cornell told Rolling Stone. "We were friends ever since."

The two bands also toured together as part of Lollapalooza in 1996. Their friendship was especially meaningful for Cornell, who first discovered the Ramones when he was 16, years before the band was recognized as an essential influence on the generations that came after.

"Some things are ahead of their time. The greats are always eventually understood to be that," Cornell said. "I went from AC/DC to them. Before that it was prog-rock. It was AC/DC that led me to understand what good music was, and then it was the Ramones. It changed my life."

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