CJ Ramone has an impressive and unique musical history. He was the bassist for one of the greatest bands of all time, the Ramones, from 1989 until their final show in 1996. He has also formed the bands Los Gusanos and Bad Chopper. And on top of that, he has now teamed up with Dan Root and Steve Soto of the Adolescents and David Hidalgo, Jr. of Social Distortion in a collaborative effort for his upcoming solo record, Last Chance to Dance on Fat Wreck Chords. I spoke with CJ about everything from the new record to his time in the Ramones to Black Flag and everything in between!
Alex Obert: What made you decide to learn how to play bass as opposed to other instruments?
CJ Ramone: I was actually really into sports when I was a kid. I played soccer. I picked the high school that I was gonna go to because they had the best soccer team on Long Island. I signed up for that school, but what happened was in between eighth and ninth grade, I had a six inch growth spurt that destroyed all the connective tissue in my knees. Just tore everything right off the bone. I was in pretty bad shape, I had to wear knee braces for two years. So that squashed that whole thing. I was just sitting around and doing nothing. My father said, “You can’t do nothing. You gotta find something to do.” I had some friends that had a band and they didn’t have a bass player. So I said to my dad, “I guess get me a bass and I’ll learn how to play.” I had always liked the bass. When I listened to punk rock, Dee Dee was always my favorite. When I met up with the band, I just sat down with it and figured it out. I didn’t take any lessons or anything. To this day, I can’t read music. (laughs) I don’t even know all the notes on the neck. I’m completely musically ignorant. But I just had the will and the drive and determination to learn and have something new to do.
Alex Obert: I understand that you are teaching your son how to play bass.
CJ Ramone: (laughs) I try! It’s really hard to give your kid lessons. I actually lined him up with a teacher and he was starting lessons. You know what’s funny is that my son is actually turning out to be the exact opposite of me. Since he was a kid, he’s played everything. He learned to play guitar, played that for a little while. He took drum lessons for a little while. He’s really tried all the different instruments, but his first love is running. He’s a cross-country runner. He actually went in the opposite direction. I went from being an athletic guy to a musician, he’s going the other way. It’s totally cool for me. I’m totally fine with it. I give my kids the opportunity to do anything they have even a minor interest in. And whatever sticks, sticks. I always tell them, “I don’t care what you do, just try to be the best you can absolutely be at whatever you pick and I’ll be happy with that.”
Alex Obert: How do you and your son bond over music? Do you two ever go to concerts together?
CJ Ramone: Yeah. We were recently in Baltimore visiting some friends of ours and Primus was playing. I took him to see them, he loved it. It’s my daughter that is most likely to be an artist or a rockstar. My son goes with the flow, he likes all types of music. I can put on classical and he digs it. I can put on Sabbath and he digs it. I can put on Social Distortion and he digs it. He likes everything. My daughter’s a little more rigid in her musical tastes.
Alex Obert: How do your kids view the Ramones?
CJ Ramone: They’re just not all that impressed with the fact that I was in the Ramones. (laughs) They like the Ramones, but they’re not huge fans or anything.
Alex Obert: What do you feel separates the Ramones from any other band in existence?
CJ Ramone: The Ramones just had a really unique approach to music. You had four guys who were not musically trained and did not have any type of musical experience. They got together and they just played music that they wanted to hear. Tommy Ramone invented that drum style. Nobody played like Johnny, nobody played all downstrokes. Nobody played like that before with that sound. And nobody played pop music in the way that they did. Realistically, that’s what the Ramones were. They were like the evil Bay City Rollers. Really super infectious with their melodies and beats. They just really found their niche and nobody’s ever been able to come along and do it better then they have.
Alex Obert: It’s very true. I would like to get your thoughts on a couple Ramones songs from your time in the band. The first one is a song that you weren’t a part of for the recording, but you played it live the band and it was released shortly before you joined. What are your thoughts on I Believe In Miracles?
CJ Ramone: That’s a great one. The music is really powerful. It’s got a great riff to it. Dee Dee’s lyrics in that just really speak to you and everybody. As crazy as Dee Dee was and as messed up as his life was, he always would attempt to reinvent himself or do something different. He would do something to get him excited again. That song just really captures that whole mindset.
Alex Obert: What really got me was the music video for that song.
CJ Ramone: Is that the one with the scrolling text of other bands and current events?
Alex Obert: Yeah.
CJ Ramone: I forgot all about that video, man! They had a couple of videos that were real stinkers, but they had some really good ones.
Alex Obert: She Talks To Rainbows.
CJ Ramone: Not a favorite of mine. I just felt like it should’ve been on Joey’s solo record rather than a Ramones record. The whole mood of it and the style of it and everything, I just didn’t think it belonged on a Ramones record. When we were voting which songs get on the record, I told that to Joey. It’s definitely didn’t sound like a Ramones song to me.
Alex Obert: The Spider-Man theme.
CJ Ramone: I actually picked that one! (laughs) When we got offered to do the Saturday Morning: Cartoon’s Greatest Hits record, Johnny told me to pick it. There were only two songs that I would’ve picked. It would’ve been Spider-Man or Batman. And of course, Batman would’ve been impossible to sing. So I picked Spider-Man and had to teach it to Johnny. I do that little bass riff in there. I really like the way it came out in the end. I thought we probably had the best song on that record, although Helmet did a really good cover of the Gigantor theme. Our Spider-Man theme was better than most of the cover songs we did on Acid Eaters, that’s for sure.
Alex Obert: What surprised me was that Guitar Hero picked that Ramones song for their final game.
CJ Ramone: (laughs) Did they really? Well it’s probably because that was the only one they could get permission to use. Unfortunately the management of the Ramones estate has had some strange business decisions made over the years. But I think recently, they changed managers. Hopefully it’ll open up a bit. But that’s funny.
Alex Obert: That definitely makes sense about why they picked that song. I know you have your differences with Marky Ramone at the moment, but taking him out of the picture for a minute, what do you think of Andrew W.K. fronting Blitzkrieg?
CJ Ramone: I think it’s cool, that’s a totally legit move on Mark’s part. I got Dan and Steve from The Adolescents to come with me. I think we’re more of a band type thing though, I work with them and we write songs together. But that’s totally legit for Mark to do that. Mark’s not a singer and he’s gotta have somebody good up front. Andrew W.K. is definitely an entertaining guy to watch. I didn’t see them or hear them, but I could totally understand that decision. He had Michale Graves from the Misfits up there for a little while too. I think it’s a good on his part.
Alex Obert: A place that the Ramones helped to make iconic, have you ever been to Trash and Vaudeville?
CJ Ramone: (laughs) Probably in 1981 or ’82 or something. I haven’t been there in years and years. I had a friend back in the day who had an apartment right over there, so I was in that place a couple times.
Alex Obert: It’s really the only place in that area still reminiscent and authentic to that time period.
CJ Ramone: I go down to that part of town and when I get lost, I have no landmarks to work off of anymore. Everywhere I hung out is all gone. I think my friend paid five or six hundred a month for a one bedroom apartment on that block back then. Now you can’t even rent a parking space for that much a month, let alone an apartment.
Alex Obert: Moving on to your solo music, you covered Rise Above by Black Flag for your recent 7″. What did you think when you first heard the original version?
CJ Ramone: To me, it was an instant anthem. I was like, “Holy shit!” When you’re a teenager and you hear that song, it’s like your head just wants to explode. It sums up so much for you in a really simple way. I actually recorded that song during the Reconquista sessions. I recorded Reconquista three times before I released it. I just didn’t dig it the first two times. I thought we got it right the third time. But when we were looking for a B-side, the entire song was done in one take, aside from the vocals. Dez Cadena of Black Flag actually played guitar and did background vocals for the cover. I thought it was so awesome that we nailed it like that. I had considered putting it on Reconquista, but I already had Aloha Oe and Waitin’ For The Man on there. I had two covers and I didn’t want to put another on there. I just shelved it. We were trying to come up with a B-side for the 7″ and Fat Wreck Chords asked if we had anything that isn’t on the record that they can use. I thought of that immediately. It almost sounds like the original. There’s some songs that you can cover and make it your own and make it cool. There’s other songs that you can’t. That’s one of the ones you can’t. What are you gonna do with it? (laughs) What could you possibly do with that song that’s gonna make it better? But I felt like we nailed that song, the mood and the vibe. We nailed all the parts. I was glad we were able to put it on there.
Alex Obert: Have you ever met Henry Rollins?
CJ Ramone: Yeah, of course!
Alex Obert: What do you think of him being such an influential Renaissance man?
CJ Ramone: I love it, I think it’s great. He’s so not the cliché meathead hardcore rockstar type guy that everyone assumed he was in the beginning. He really is a super intelligent guy with real knowledge and important stuff to say. To me, that’s good.
Alex Obert: How did you connect with David Hidalgo, Jr. of Social Distortion to play drums on Last Chance to Dance?
CJ Ramone: I struggled to keep drummers. This goes all the way back to Los Gusanos, my first solo band back in the early nineties. I’m not really sure why I struggled, I don’t think I’m a hard guy to work with. I always play to the drummer, I always lock in with the drummer. I got introduced to Dave through Steve Soto, who plays guitar and sings with me. Dave’s playing speaks for itself and on top of that, he’s got a great work ethic. He shows up, he knows all the songs backwards and forwards. He’s not a whiner when we’re on the road. He’s not a rockstar demanding stuff. He’s a great guy to work with and he’s an awesome drummer, that’s a home run to me. I’m not looking for a guy who is flashy and has great star quality or anything like that. I like the workhorse drummer, the guy who comes in and just pounds it out the way it’s supposed to be played. That’s what I look for when I work with drummers. And it doesn’t hurt that he plays with Social Distortion, they’re a great band. Dave, he’s a real solid guy and a real solid drummer.
Alex Obert: What you think of the guitar work on the new record?
CJ Ramone: That’s Dan Root. Dan plays in the Adolescents. He played in One Hit Wonder, that was actually his band. Guy’s an incredible guitar player. I really got lucky with him and Steve. Steve’s such a solid rhythm player and Danny is a really, really good solo player. He’s got great sound, he’s great on stage and he’s got an unbelievable voice. That’s one thing I’m really lucky with, Dan and Steve make me sound so much better because they both sing so well. The harmonies live are done exactly like they are on the record, it’s a beautiful thing.
Alex Obert: You’re very active on your Facebook page. What do you get out of connecting with your fans on there?
CJ Ramone: You gotta remember that I was a Ramones fan too before I was in the band. Like I said, I still listen to the Ramones every day. So it’s really cool to talk to other people who are into the Ramones. And I have a lot of fans from overseas. I’m always posting videos from YouTube and stuff and people will comment saying, “Hey, I never heard that before. Thanks a lot!” I recently posted a video from Sepultura, they’re a really great band from Brazil. I’ve been a fan of them for a long time. I got a couple people commenting like, “Holy shit! That’s a great band!” A lot of the people on there into the same things that I’m into. I try to stay in touch with the fans and let ’em know what I’ve got going on. I put pictures up of my wife and my kids every once in a while and pictures of our chickens and growing vegetables and that type of stuff. People are looking at the real behind the scenes of what I’m doing when I’m not on the road. I connect with a lot of different people over that type of stuff. It’s just cool, man. I just dig the whole thing.
Alex Obert: You also showcase your tattoos. What are a couple of your favorites?
CJ Ramone: On the left side of my chest, I’ve got a big sacred heart with the names of my first two kids on it. I’ve gotta get my other daughter’s name on there. And on the right side, I’ve got a giant alien. Those are probably the two coolest ones I have. I’ve got the Ramones logo from Ramones Forever on my leg. I got it done by Hanky Panky in Amsterdam on our last tour over there in ’96. On my stomach, I have a giant Native American design that I got done up in Canada by Paul Jeffries in ’93 or ’94 or something like that. And then I’ve got a big one on the left side of my ribs that I had done in Japan, hand poked method. I got that done in the early nineties. That’s another favorite. They’re all cool and they all mean something, but those are probably my favorite ones.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, do you have any plugs you’d like to share for readers?
CJ Ramone: The new record, Last Chance to Dance. Coming out on Fat Wreck Chords, November 25th. The prerelease single, Understand Me?, Is already out. The B-side is Rise Above. There will be a video coming out for the first single on the record. I’m hoping to finish up my book and maybe have it together by next summer.
Alex Obert: Sounds awesome! Thank you so much for your time.
CJ Ramone: Thanks, man.