Flashback: Blondie’s Clem Burke Lasts Two Days as the Ramones’ Drummer
By the summer of 1987, Richard “Richie Ramone” Reinhardt had had enough of the Ramones. The New York punk group hired him as their drummer in 1983 when Marky Ramone’s drinking problem became a massive liability, but after a grueling four years of touring, recording and even singing lead on a few songs he felt completely under-appreciated by his bandmates.
“I was Richie Ramone when you wanted me to be,” he said in the 2003 documentary End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones. “And then I was just a hired guy when you wanted me to be. When it came to T-shirt money, I wasn’t a Ramone. This is after five years. I felt I was due. I wasn’t asking for the world. I was asking for a little bit of that T-shirt money. What’s the big deal? Joe especially, I loved him to death, but he’d tell me one thing as we hung out at night and then it wouldn’t happen. I said, ‘That’s it. I’m finished.’ I had a gig or two that I bailed on and nothing was going to change my mind.”
He picked a particularly precarious time to bolt. The band had just finished work on its new album, Halfway to Sanity, and had a world tour on the books to promote it. Richie left so suddenly they had to postpone a pair of shows at the Ritz in New York, and with the clock ticking before they had to take the stage at the Living Room in Providence, Rhode Island, the group reached out to former Blondie drummer Clem Burke to see if he’d be willing to come aboard as “Elvis Ramone.”
“They asked me on a Monday when they had a gig on a Friday,” Burke recalled years later. “It was the hardest work I ever did in a band.” They took the stage at the Living Room on August 28th, 1987, with very little rehearsal, and you can hear a fan recording of the night right here. “We haven’t done this song since Richie left,” Joey told the crowd before “I Don’t Care.” “Well, he didn’t leave. He sucks.”
But it was Elvis Ramone that proved to be a problem that night. “It was a disaster,” Johnny said. “His drumming style wasn’t right. It was very loose, like in Blondie, not as rigid as we need. Double time on the hi-hat was totally alien to him.” They played one more show with Elvis Ramone the next night in Trenton, New Jersey, but with a week off after it ended they had time to gently fire him and find someone else. They wound up re-hiring Marky Ramone since he had finally kicked his alcohol problem and was back in primo playing shape. He’d stick around through their final gig in 1996.
The two-day saga of Elvis Ramone may be little more than a footnote in Ramones history, but in October of 2004 he made his glorious return when Clem Burke took the stage with Tommy Ramone, C.J. Ramone and Daniel Ray for the Ramones Beat on Cancer concert. And now that the entire original lineup of the Ramones is gone, he’s one of just four people living that can claim to have been in the band, even if it lasted for literally two days.
Richie Ramone kept a very low profile after he left the group and even worked as a golf caddy for a period, but he tours clubs these days with a set heavy on Ramones classics and he’s got a memoir coming out soon titled I Know Better Now: My Life Before, During, and After the Ramones where he’ll finally tell his complete story about his time in the band. If Clem Burke ever feels like writing It Was a Disaster: My Two Days in the Ramones, we’d happily read it.
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