Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy were four kids from Queens, dressed in torn-up jeans and black leather jackets who took the same surname and crafted three-chord, two-minute songs unlike anything the world had heard before. Touring constantly for the next 20 years, the Ramones overcame personnel changes — Tommy left in 1977 and was replaced by Marky — infighting and a lack of mainstream success to still become one of the most influential bands of the past 50 years.
The Bowery Electric will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band’s first show on the Bowery on Sunday, Sept. 14. Among those expected to take the stage to belt out some punk classics are Handsome Dick Manitoba (The Dictators), Walter Lure (Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers) and former Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome.
Chrome remembers the first time he and his bandmates met the Ramones: It was July 20, 1976 at the Tomorrow Club in Youngstown, Ohio. Dead Boys frontman Stiv Bators struck up a friendship with Joey Ramone, who urged the band to come out to New York City and play. He said he could get them a show at famed punk club CBGBs.
The main Ramone lied to the club’s owner and booker: “He said he’d seen us play,” recounts Chrome. “He hadn’t heard us. He was going strictly on the way we looked and personality. He figured we’d be good.”
So the Dead Boys got on stage without having to audition first, a rarity at CBGBs. And to help support the new out-of-towners, Joey Ramone brought a bunch of his friends out to the show.
“They brought a lot of support for us,” says Chrome. “It made the first gig there a lot less nerve-wracking. After the show, we all went out and hung out with all these people and made some friendships.”
It’s no mystery to Chrome why the Ramones remain popular 40 years after they came together.
“They’re like the punk Beatles,” he says. “The thing was their songs were really good. They were written really good. They were funny. They had good lyrics.
“They were very accessible to people. … You can play them for a toddler. You put a Rolling Stones record, a Beatles record and they’re like, ‘Um, OK.’ You put on a Ramones record and they start dancing. They just get happy and start dancing when they hear the Ramones. They just strike a chord.”
Chrome’s favorite song? “The KKK Took My Baby Away.”
“It’s just a great song,” he says.
All proceeds from Sunday’s show will benefit Love Hope Strength, a foundation that focuses on building and supporting cancer centers around the world, boosting awareness of global cancer needs and expanding international bone marrow databases. For more info visit www.theboweryelectric.com.