Joey Ramone, leader of the legendary New York punk innovators, the Ramones, died on Easter Sunday of lymphatic cancer. Ramone was forty-nine. “Our beloved Joey Ramone passed away this afternoon at 2:40 p.m., in a hospital in New York City where he was being treated for cancer,” reads a statement on the Ramones official Web site. “Joey’s loving family was at his bedside.”
Born Jeffrey Hyman on May 19, 1951 in Forest Hills, New York, Ramone, inspired by the Who’s Keith Moon, took up drums at thirteen. Ramone began the band in 1974, along with three other high school friends, John Cummings (Johnny Ramone), Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone) and Tom Erdelyi (Tommy Ramone). Erdelyi was later replaced by Marc Bee, who became Marky Ramone.
The Ramones got their start at the country and bluegrass bar CBGB’s, hitting the audience with a barrage of two-minute songs played fast and furious for twenty-minute sets. The Ramones were an antidote to the disco era. “When we started up in March of ’74,” Joey Ramone once told Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, “it was because the bands we loved, the rock & roll that we knew, had disappeared. We were playing music for ourselves.”
With no support other than CBGB owner Hilly Kristal, the Ramones became the first of the New York punk rock and New Wave bands to land a major-label record deal. Their first four records, The Ramones, The Ramones Leave Home, Rocket to Russia and Road to Run are widely considered the blueprint for punk rock. The band’s legacy was further assured with its starring role in the Roger Corman cult-film, Rock and Roll High School in 1979. A year later the band wore their Sixties pop influences on their sleeves when they enlisted Phil Spector to produce their fifth studio album, End of the Century. The album featured a cover of the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You,” their biggest hit in either the U.S. or the U.K.
In the late Eighties the Ramones faced personnel changes, including bassist Dee Dee, who departed after 1989’s Brain Drain. The band continued with three more studio recordings: Mondo Bizarro (1992), the covers album Acid Eaters (1993) and the aptly named Adios Amigos, their 1995 swan song. The band spent the remainder of the year on a lengthy farewell tour behind the album before signing on to play the Lollapalooza festival in the summer of 1996, before calling it quits for good. In their twenty-year run, the Ramones recorded twenty-one albums.
Joey Ramone had worked recently with Ronnie Spector, performing on and producing her 1999 EP, She Talks to Rainbows, and performing with her in New York City. Ramone was also at work on his own first solo album.