The Ramones were founded 40 years ago this year. Credit: Getty Images
In 1974, a pair of brothers in Forest Hill, Queens shared a Yamaha acoustic guitar.
But there was a problem. Mitchell Hyman was right-handed and his older brother Jeff was a lefty. So rather than restring the guitar every time they swapped it, Mitchell showed Jeff how to play on just the two bottom strings.
"I came back two days later and he's written a song called 'I Don't Care,'" said Mitchell, who these days goes by the name Mickey Leigh.
And big brother Jeff? He is more commonly known as Joey Ramone, the late frontman of revolutionary punk rock band the Ramones.
Leigh and a lineup of homegrown bands are set to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary Monday night, which also happens to be Ramone's birthday, at the annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash. Bowery Electric will host the event just a stone's throw from the intersection of Bowery and Joey Ramone Place in the East Village.
Ramone—he of the shaggy black mane, lanky frame and distinctive round glasses—battled lymphoma for seven years before succumbing to the disease in 2001. He would have turned 63 this year.
“There is never a shortage of reasons to celebrate the birthday and life of my brother," Leigh said. "This year the theme is more obvious than in all the years prior. In 1974 the Ramones were born. As such, this year, 2014, we will not only be celebrating the birthday of Jeff Hyman, we’ll be celebrating the birthday of Joey Ramone as well.”
Mickey Leigh, Joey Ramone's younger brother, co-founded the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash after Ramone died of lymphoma in 2001. Credit: Miles Dixon
This year's Bash will be smaller in scope than in previous years, when Leigh pulled out all the stops to bring big-name acts like Joan Jett and Green Day to Irving Plaza, a Union Square venue that can accommodate close to 1,000 people.
"I did that successfully for about five years," Leigh said. "I'd have to fly bands in from L.A. and England, but after 2008 ticket sales crumbled and the event wasn't selling out, we started to lose money on it. So we downscaled it and just got NYC bands."
In 2011, the bash moved to the Studio at Webster Hall in 2011 and finally this year to the even smaller Bowery Electric, which is located just down the block from where legendary rock venue CBGBs used to stand.
The scaled-back version of the event will allow undiscovered New York punk bands to shine, something that was always close to Ramone's heart.
"That was always something that my brother had done," Leigh said. "He would have these events where he would use them as a forum to get unsigned bands exposure. Mine was one of them. So I just carried on that tradition."
Headlining the Bash this year will be The Joey Ramone Tribute Band featuring Cheetah Chrome, Glen Matlock, George Tabb, and Mickey Leigh. Sean O’Sullivan’s Punk Pipers will close the show, which they have done every year since Ramone died.
"We do this to further his legacy and keep his name fresh in people's minds," Leigh said, reflecting on the life of the punk rock icon who, to him, is still "Jeff."
"It still has that same feeling, of family, friends and fans," he added. "And the reason I do it is so we all have something to do on a day that would otherwise be really sad."
Doors open at 6 p.m. Any proceeds from the Bash will go to support the Joey Ramone Foundation for Lymphoma Research.