Johnny Ramone Dies at 55

Johnny Ramone, Signal Guitarist for the Ramones, Dies at 55 (NYT)

Johnny Ramone, the stone-faced guitarist of the punk band the Ramones, whose fast, buzzsaw blasts of noise laid the foundation for a school of rock guitar, died on Wednesday afternoon at his home in Los Angeles. He was 55. The cause was prostate cancer, said Arturo Vega, the band’s longtime artistic director and spokesman.

Mr. Ramone, born John Cummings, is the third member of the Ramones to die in three years, following Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), the singer, who died of cancer in 2001, and Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), the bassist, who died of an apparent drug overdose the following year. Of the original band, only Tommy Ramone (Tom Erdelyi), the drummer, survives.

By stripping rock guitar of its ornamentation and playing almost every note in a violent, accelerated downstroke, Mr. Ramone helped create the sound of punk. His style — fast, repetitive and aggressive, though always tuneful — influenced, directly or indirectly, almost every punk guitarist since, from the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and contemporary players like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Tom Delonge of Blink-182. Though the members of the Ramones often cited as influences the hard rock of the Stooges and the primal power of MC5, as well as the 1960’s girl-group productions of Phil Spector, as paragons of melody and brevity, the band’s sound had scant precedent when its first album was released in 1976. The songs were head-spinningly short and fast — the shortest, “Judy Is a Punk,” was just 1 minute 32 seconds — and yet had a raw elegance that has made many, like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Beat on the Brat” and “I Wanna Be Sedated,” punk-rock standards.

Mr. Ramone’s guitar style was basically sui generis, though he did not use those words to describe it; it was “pure, white rock ‘n’ roll, with no blues influence,” he once said. “I wanted our sound to be as original as possible. I stopped listening to everything.” Seldom lightening the scowl on his face, Mr. Ramone performed with a determination that mirrored his role in the band. Each member had a clearly defined role, musical and otherwise, and Johnny’s was the taskmaster. He conducted the band’s business affairs and led the group in details ranging from its sound to its mode of dress — in leather jackets, ripped jeans and scruffy sneakers, the band always presented a unified visual front of a punk army in uniform. “He was the leader of the band,” Danny Fields, the group’s first manager, said. “He was the boss and you worked for him. He was very demanding but very right.”

Via Dodd Harris

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