Johnny Ramone was a founding member of one of the most influential bands of all time, the Ramones. Hailing from Queens, NY, Johnny invented the relentless down-stroke guitar style that defined not only the groundbreaking sound of the legendary Ramones, but the guitar voice of the punk rock movement in general. One of the most influential guitarists in rock history, his impact resonates to this day, and he was listed in Time magazine’s “10 greatest electric guitar players” and named #16 in Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists of all time.
Johnny kept the Ramones focused and moving forward, ultimately securing their place in rock history. The band formed in NYC in 1974 and quickly distinguished themselves from the bland pop-rock of the time. The tight, fast and aggressive quartet were immediately established as a live concert tour de force, helping establish New York City—and C.B.G.B. in particular—as the center of a new breed of rock.
“Johnny Ramone was a living legend,” said his close friend Kirk Hammett, guitarist for Metallica. “A true enigma. One in a million. I reveled in his ironclad, piss-and-vinegar sort of temperament toward everything and life in general. Long live Johnny Ramone!!!” Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, another close friend, proclaimed that “Johnny produced a sound so brutal and direct it has influenced all rock since. He approached his music and his life with a legendary tenacity, making him one of rock’s most indestructible icons.”
Soon after their first C.B.G.B. gig, the Ramones–Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy–were signed to Sire Records by its respected impresario Seymour Stein. Their debut, self-titled album hit stores in 1976 and was an immediate hit. Featuring 14 songs (with the longest being two and a half minutes), the Ramones made their point quickly. The group hit the road and toured essentially non-stop for 22 years, performing a reported 2,263 shows.
The Ramones–with original members Johnny and Joey there from the very beginning–broke up in 1995 but their certainly legacy lives on. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and nearly a decade later, the seminal band was awarded a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award. The band has been cited as a major influence by some of music’s most respected players, including (but certainly not limited to) Green Day, Black Flag, Ministry, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Bad Brains, Motorhead and Metallica.
Despite his ultimate success with the Ramones, Johnny never really strayed from his working-class roots and attitude. He evolved from the tough guy on the streets to the tough guy in the band who kept the Ramones focused and moving forward. Johnny was a huge baseball and horror movie aficionado, and the Los Angeles home he shared with his beloved wife Linda still showcases all of his passions, including Elvis and Disney movies. In Johnny’s autobiography Commando, he shares some of the cherished top 10 lists he wrote, including Best Ballplayers, Best Republicans and Favorite Elvis Books.
Following Johnny’s death in 2004, an 8-foot-tall bronze memorial statue was set up at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA. The base of the statue includes inscriptions from some of Johnny’s closest friends (many of whom are quite famous in their own right, yet cite inspiration from Johnny). The aforementioned include Eddie Vedder, Lisa-Marie Presley, Rob Zombie, John Frusciante, Vincent Gallo and Johnny’s wife Linda Ramone, who oversees Johnny’s estate and works diligently to help preserve and protect the music of the Ramones.
In the 10 years since his passing, the statue has become a place for fans to gather and remember the rock icon and the birthplace of the yearly “Johnny Ramone Tribute” event. Linda Ramone built the event throughout the years with the 2014 event featuring an all-star Ramones jam featuring Rob Zombie, Duff McKagan, Steve Jones, Fred Armisen and Billy Idol, while past attendees have included Johnny Depp, Rob Zombie, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, Chris Cornell, Nic Cage, Kirk Hammett, Steve Jones, Rose McGowan, Henry Rollins, John Waters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shepard Fairey, Dita Von Teese and Billy Zoom, among many others. Johnny’s strength endures and his popularity with young and old alike remains timeless and immortal along with the music and aesthetic he created with the legendary Ramones.