The late Joey Ramone is clearly held in high regard. He still inspires a celebration in his memory, one that's held every year on his birthday: May 19. Sadly, it's been eleven years since he passed away, only a month prior to what would have been his 50th birthday. Yet, for those who came of age in the heady days of the '70s, Joey Ramone will remain forever young.
Born Jeffry Ross Hyman and raised in a Jewish home in Forest Hills, New York, he became wholly obsessed with rock 'n' roll in his early teens. With the Beatles, the Who, David Bowie, and the Stooges as prime influences, he initially joined a glam group called Sniper, allowing him to hone his stage skills prior to forming the Ramones in 1974. The group took their name from a pseudonym once used by Paul McCartney, and in due order Jeffry and his original band mates John Cummings and Douglas Colvin acquired the aliases Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, and Dee Dee Ramone respectively. Joey was the band's original drummer, but he soon switched to vocals when the group's manager, Tommy Erdelyi, took over the traps and assumed the nom de plume Tommy Ramone.
The rest, as they say, is history. With their torn jeans, leather jackets, and geeky personas, the Ramones became the poster boys for primal American punk. From the mid '70s through the early '90s, their rapid-fire songs, simplistic lyrics and obvious lack of reverence for showbiz norms made them a worldwide phenomenon and the very essence of rock 'n' roll rebellion.
Both loved and loathed by the critics, but consistently adored by their fans and followers, they finally gained real respectability after parting ways in 1996, earning placement on numerous lists notating the greatest artists and albums of all time. The culmination of that recognition came in 2001 when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, the seminal members of the Ramones -- Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee -- have all passed away since.
Joey himself had begun carving a solo career after the band's break-up, making guest appearances on albums by other artists and completing a solo effort of his own, Don't Worry About Me, which was exceedingly well received. He died of lymphoma after a seven year struggle on April 15, 2001, reportedly listening to U2's "In a Little While" when he died. Don't Worry About Me was released posthumously a year later, and its single "What a Wonderful World," a cover of the Louis Armstrong standard, served as a lovely postscript to a life lived on its own terms.
MTV News saluted him thusly: "With his trademark rose-colored shades, black leather jacket, shoulder-length hair, ripped jeans, and alternately snarling and crooning vocals, Joey was the iconic godfather of punk." In addition, a block of East 2nd Street in New York City, where Joey once lived and where CBGB once sat (a places where the Ramones got their start) was officially renamed Joey Ramone Place.
Joey's second solo album is scheduled for release May 22, 2012. Titled Ya Know?, it's patched together from leftover demos and outtakes, and fleshed out by an all-star ensemble that includes simpatico souls like Joan Jett, Little Steven, Bun E. Carlos, Lenny Kaye, and Dennis Diken among them. Its title is taken from a phrase that was a constant fixture of his conversation, but surprisingly, the album not only reflects and refines his seminal punk posture, but also finds deep introspection ("Waiting For That Railroad") as well as full anthemic mode ("What Did I Do To Deserve You?," "New York City," "Rock 'n' Roll Is the Answer"). Ed Stasium, who was behind the board for many of the Ramones' greatest releases, including their early classics Leave Home, Rocket To Russia and Road To Ruin, produced ten of the CD's fifteen tracks and also contributed instrumentation and vocals to each of those tunes.
"It was of the utmost importance to me that these remaining songs of Joey's be finished properly and made available for the world to hear," Joey's brother and the album's compiler Mickey Leigh commented in a recent press release. "Over the past eight years, I've been getting a barrage of emails and Facebook messages from Joey's fans, wanting to know when this album would be coming out. So, having it finally become a reality gives me a feeling of triumph - not for me, but for my brother, and for his fans. And there's not the slightest doubt in my mind that people are gonna be blown away by it."
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This year's 12th Annual Joey Ramone's Birthday Bash will take place at the Studio at Webster Hall in Manhattan and will culminate in a live performance of the entire Ya Know? album in advance of its actual release. The set will feature a number of renowned punk musicians, all under the direction of Mickey Leigh. As always, proceeds from the bash go to benefit the Joey Ramone Foundation for Lymphoma Research.
The only thing left to say is, "Hey ho, let's go... "