Thomas Erdelyi, better known as Tommy Ramone, who died of cancer at 65 on July 11th, was the Ramones’ manager, co-producer and original drummer. After leaving the band, he produced the Replacements’ 1985 LP “Tim” and, more recently, led a bluegrass duo. Here, he’s remembered by a longtime friend, Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz.
The first tour Talking Heads ever did was supporting the Ramones in Europe in the spring of 1977. We shared a bus, and I talked with Tommy a lot. His family had fled the Iron Curtain in Hungary. He had a seriousness about him that was different from most people in the business. The other Ramones deferred to him because he had the experience and the leadership qualities the others didn’t quite have.
Tommy played the same part on every song, either a bit faster or a bit slower – usually faster – and he boiled things down to their essence. There were no fills, except maybe on the “Hey, ho!” chant. It was sheer minimalist perfection. Tommy was a songwriter, too – he wrote “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” one of the most direct love songs in rock history.
The Ramones were a great band, but as time wore on, it was not fun for Tommy. This was the time of gobbing as a sign of approval, and they’d have to wipe down his drum set after the shows. He didn’t like the spit part at all. So I wasn’t surprised when he decided to give up his post and let Marky Ramone take over in 1978.
The Ramones didn’t always like one another very much. But Tommy was so important to the groove of that band. He was a small guy, but you never got that, listening to him play. He sounded like a big guy.