Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour
Denmark - June 25, 1994
Interview by Devorah Ostrov
When the Ramones first got together in 1974 rock 'n' roll was, if not dead, at least comatose. The great one-hit wonder garage bands of the mid-sixties were a fading memory, the late-sixties heavy metal attack of the Stooges and MC5 had never caught on in America, and the early-seventies promise of a glam future with the Dolls, T. Rex and Slade had waned.
In '74 turning on the radio was something to think twice about. On the phone from New York, Joey Ramone runs down the list (within a year or two) of what you might have heard...
Radioactive Records publicity pic
Joey continues: "We wanted to save rock 'n' roll. We stripped it down to the bone and put the excitement back into it — the attitude, the guts, the fun, the spirit, the raw energy and emotion!"
This year the Ramones — Joey, Johnny, Marky, and newest recruit C.J. — celebrate the group's 20th anniversary with the release of Acid Eaters, an all-covers CD showcasing their love of rock 'n' roll. And with a successful world tour underway, they find themselves in the enviable position of being more popular than ever.
* * *
Not only is Joey Ramone the coolest person on the planet, he's also a huge rock 'n' roll fan and he gets super excited when we talk about his favorite bands. I ask him what it was like the first time he saw the Who...
"It just blew me away!" he exclaims. "I saw them when they first played America in 1966. They were so charismatic and exciting and wild, all this aggression and excitement and great songs!"
Poster for Australia's Big Day Out - January 21, 1994
"After the party, me and [noted rock photographer] Bob Gruen went to see Dylan at Budokan. We went backstage and Dylan said 'Hello' to me. I freaked out! He said, 'Hey, Joey, how ya doin'?' I gave him a copy of Acid Eaters and said, 'This is for you. We covered one of your songs.'"
Acid Eaters CD
Radioactive Records (1993)
After two decades of inspiring — by Joey's calculation — millions of bands themselves, the guys get to pay homage to some of their own rock 'n' roll heroes.
And maybe it'll give the MTV generation a rock history lesson to boot. (Although that could be a chore since the liner notes only list who wrote the songs, not who performed them — and how many kids are gonna know what band Reg Presley fronted?)
The Ramones have always been known for choosing the perfect songs to cover — "California Sun" from Leave Home, "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Surfin' Bird" from Rocket to Russia, "Indian Giver" on the B-side of the "Real Cool Time" single — but the idea for Acid Eaters came about when the band recorded "Take It as It Comes" (a lesser-known Doors' tune) for 1992's Mondo Bizarro.
|Acid Eaters - All Access pass|
Understandably, with so much material to choose from, the journey from five-song treat to full-length CD didn't take long.
As well as Dylan's 1964 ode to discontentment, many garage-punk nuggets are featured amongst the 12 tracks: the Amboy Dukes' "Journey to the Center of the Mind," Love's "7 and 7 Is," the Seeds' "Can't Seem to Make You Mine," the Troggs' "I Can't Control Myself," and the Animals' "When I Was Young."
And almost everything makes perfect sense within the framework of what one imagines the Ramones listened to as teenagers.
However, the freakish inclusion of an over-played classic-rock standard like the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" begs for speculation. Since it's hard to believe that anyone in the band was ever a big Airplane fan, I have to wonder if some nervous record company executive asked, "Don't you guys like anything people might have heard of?"
Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour & the Ramones' 2000th show
Tokyo, Japan - February 9, 1994
While we're on the subject, "Somebody to Love" also features one of three special guests who pop up on the album. In this case, it's a former porn star who isn't normally associated with the Ramones (or rock 'n' roll).
|"7 and 7 Is" promo CD single|
He laughs and says, "I'll leave it at that."
Luckily, the two other guests are saner choices: Skid Row's Sebastian Bach does something I haven't yet figured out on "Out of Time" and Pete Townshend joins in on his own "Substitute." Let's talk about Pete first...
Q: So, Joey... recording "Substitute" while Pete Townshend looked on — you must have just died!
Joey: I was in total awe! I mean, Pete Townshend is my HERO! He'll never know just how significantly he's influenced me, how he's enhanced my life. The Who were such a big influence on me as far as song writing. You can't really tell someone that stuff. The best thing was just watching him sing the backing vocals. And I think the song sounds great! It's really exciting!
|Japanese advert for Acid Eaters|
Q: I have to mention your cover of "7 and 7 Is." Somehow your version is played even faster than the speed-of-sound original! But I wish you'd put in the trippy ending.
Joey: We're not gonna do that shit! It was too psychedelic for us. But I do think our version is exciting and powerful. As a matter of fact, it's gonna be the next single off the album.
Q: I've heard that [Love vocalist] Arthur Lee has written a song especially for the Ramones...
Joey: He wrote a song and he gave me a cassette of it. It was good... it was called... I dunno what it was called. I dunno where I put it. I'm sure it's around here somewhere. Uhmm...
Lux Interior has a starring role in the video for "Substitute"
Joey: Yeah, I would've liked to have done a Kinks' song, and we listened to "I Had too Much to Dream Last Night" [by the Electric Prunes], but a lot of people have done that song. We also mentioned doing "It's Cold Outside" [by the Choir]. Stiv Bators turned me on to the original and I used to love it. But it didn't sound that great when I went back and listened to it.
|Chrysalis advert for Acid Eaters|
Joey: Y'know, you might think it's easy to just cover someone else's song, but it really isn't — especially the way I went about it. I wasn't just trying to cover the songs. I wanted to bring my own style to them. Some of them I stuck a little closer to, like "Can't Seem to Make You Mine." I love Sky's voice and his mannerisms, the way he utilizes his voice. But then a song like "Out of Time"... I wanted to give that one more of an R&B feel.
Q: Do you hope that kids will be inspired to check out the originals after hearing your versions of these songs?
Joey: Hopefully... I mean, there's so much great music out there. Especially if you're a musician yourself, it's totally inspiring to delve into the past. You have to go backwards in order to go forwards. Y'know what I mean?
Q: It's sad that kids don't know anything about rock 'n' roll history.
Joey: It's really pretty pathetic, people's knowledge of music. They haven't got the slightest idea — especially kids in America for some ridiculous reason.
Saint Joey painting by Vicki Berndt
Q: C.J. is such a young kid, did he know any of these songs beforehand?
Joey: He knew some of them. His father listened to a lot of that stuff.
Q: Great, my dad likes these songs!
Joey: Haha! I know! Things are so different from when I was a kid. My dad listened to Frank Sinatra records.
Q: I noticed that C.J. is making some sneaky inroads into your territory. He sang lead on two songs from Mondo Bizarro and three more on Acid Eaters ["The Shape of Things to Come," "My Back Pages" and "Journey to the Center of the Mind"]. His vocals are great and fit right in, but what gives?
Joey: He's pushing me out. I'm gonna let him be the singer!
Radioactive Records publicity photo
Joey: Nah... I'll get a job at Wendy's, or something. No, actually I think it's great. Initially, I was supposed to sing "My Back Pages," but C.J. was doing it at the rehearsals and it was so perfect. He gave the song so much attitude. I just told him, "You should sing it."
Q: Is it true that Dylan was rehearsing next door while you guys were learning "My Back Pages"?
Joey: I wasn't there, but I called the rehearsal studio and Monty [longtime Ramones' tour manager] told me that Dylan's tour manager was on the phone next to him. Later on, I found out that they were back-to-back rehearsing! Apparently, when John heard that Dylan was right next door he said, "Uh... let's move on to something else."
Q: I know you've only been back home for a few days...
Joey: Yeah, we just got back from a big tour of Australia and Japan. We were co-headlining [with Soundgarden] this major festival that goes all over Australia called Big Day Out. It's something like Lollapalooza, but much larger — a 12-hour day with 50 bands and five stages! There were some really great bands on the show: the Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins, Teenage Fanclub, Urge Overkill... all the new alternative bands.
|Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour - Uruguay 1994|
Joey: Not really... I came home to find that the album's been #1 for 3 weeks straight on CMJ [a "what's hot" industry report] and it's #1 on all the major college charts. The single ["Substitute"] was #1 the first week too! And this week it went to AOR radio. We've always had a problem with AOR radio, but everybody's playing it. It's really exciting! It feels like something's happening here.
|"Substitute" CD promo single|
Photo: George DuBose
Q: How did the Ramones' sound come about?
Joey: Our sound came about... it came from scratch! At least as far as John and Dee Dee [original bassist] and Tommy [original drummer]. Tommy wasn't even a drummer. He was an advisor and a producer; he was just helping us out. When we were auditioning drummers Tommy would show them what to play, and he'd never played drums in his life! In those days everybody was very, let's say, self-indulgent. Everybody was trying to impress us with their flashiness. But what we wanted was a basic drummer, like a Charlie Watts. So, Tommy just wound up sitting down and playing the drums.
Q: Could you tell me a little about the Resistance, your politically-oriented sideband?
Car 54, Where Are You? starring David
Johansen & John C. McGinley
Then I was asked to play a benefit for Jerry Brown's campaign. I had just seen a debate between Brown and Clinton, and I was really impressed by Brown; he seemed to be on top of it. So, I said I would do it. It felt really good to do something constructive in support of someone I believed in.
I got together with Andy Shernoff [ex-Dictators] and Daniel Rey [ex-Shrapnel and writer of cool songs] and did one show in Washington Square Park. Then we played uptown on one of those flatbed trucks for about 50/75,000 people! The last thing we played was a benefit for Rock for Choice on the 20th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
The Resistance was a stimulating project and it was a lot of fun! I liked getting behind some causes that were important to get behind, like the cause of censorship. The song "Censorshit" [from Mondo Bizarro] was inspired by the Resistance. And I wrote a song for the Rock for Choice benefit called "Fascists Don't Fuck They Just Screw."
Promotion for the Acid Eaters tour
Santiago, Chile - May 16, 1994
Joey: No... John's a Republican! Musically the Ramones are united, politically we're not. We share some views, like John's for a woman's right to an abortion. But we're not in sync with everything.
Q: I understand you've cleaned up your lifestyle lately. Is it true you're a vegetarian these days?
Joey: Yeah, and I stopped drinking and using drugs about four years ago. It was time for a change. I saw the light when I hit...
Joey: Ground zero! It wasn't hitting 40. I just got disgusted with my lifestyle, it was becoming a big bore.
The Ramones eat cake and promote Acid Eaters on
Space Ghost Coast to Coast
Joey: Y'know, Japan has the best record stores! They've got everything! Most places you're lucky to find one or two records, but over there I had to choose from like five or six! I got the Best of T. Rex — it has everything on it, all the early stuff. I also found this rock 'n' roll video store. The whole store was just tapes, rare collectable stuff from shows all over the world. I was flippin'! They had a tape of the Who from '66. Pete Townshend's about 18, he's like a rail with a big nose! It's so great!
Promotion for the 1994 Acid Chaos tour
featuring Sepultura and the Ramones.
Joey: Did you see it?
Q: Er… no. Entertainment Weekly gave it an "F."
Joey: Haha! I never saw it either. I'll wait for it to come to cable. I just heard that "Rockaway Beach" is going to be used in the new Martin Scorsese film, Naked in New York, and there's a film coming out in March or April called Airheads — we have the title track in that. It's about a band that takes over a radio station. It sounds like it has the makings of a good movie; it's something I've thought about a few times myself!
Q: Did you guys go to, or play at, CBGB's 20th Anniversary party?
Joey: No, we were on tour. We were in Germany at the time. I was kind of pissed off because there were a lot of shows I wanted to see, and we were talking about playing but it didn't come together. Now that it's our own 20th anniversary, we might do something like an off-the-cuff show at CBGB's. It would be an event!
|Promo poster for Acid Eaters|
Joey: When you care about something... What other people think doesn't really matter to us. Y'know what I mean? We work hard. We've always worked our asses off and stuck to our vision!
* You can read my other interviews with Joey here: