Joey Ramone (c.1980)
|Birth name||Jeffrey Ross Hyman|
|Born||May 19, 1951
Queens, New York, USA
|Died||April 15 2001 (aged 49)
New York City, New York, USA
|Years active||1974 - 2001|
|Associated acts||The Ramones|
Joey Ramone (May 19, 1951 – April 15, 2001), born as Jeffry Ross Hyman, was a singer and songwriter, lead vocalist of the legendary punk rock group The Ramones. A member from their inception in 1974, until their retirement in 1996 (he and bandmate Johnny Ramone were the two original members to never leave the band), he was an iconic figure in Rock and Roll history. As the voice of the Ramones, he played a pivotal role in the establishment and formation of punk rock, and thus in the creative revitalization and flowering of musical styles that followed from it. His quest to bring out the soul of punk rock created a form of music which more clearly portrayed a personal and intimate transformation of himself and his band.
Hyman was born and grew up in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York, of Jewish heritage. In his youth, he was something of an outcast and a non-conformist. His parents divorced in the early 1960s, and he struggle to relate to several father figures. His mother, Charlotte Lesher, remarried and encouraged an interest in music in both him and his brother Mitchell (a.k.a. Mickey Leigh, who became a musician of his own).
Joey met the other future members of the Ramones growing up together in Forest Hills, and knew them as fellow members of the same general music scene, interested in the more primitive rock sounds of bands like the New York Dolls and the Stooges. Joey was also a big fan of The Who, among other bands (particularly pre-Beatles rock groups and the Phil Spector produced "Girl Groups"). His first instrument was the drums, which he played throughout his teen years, and he was actually the original drummer of the Ramones.
Joey had actually been lead singer for a glam rock band called Sniper before joining Tommy, Johnny, and Dee Dee in forming the Ramones in 1974, and playing their first gig on March 30, 1974, at a rehearsal facility in Manhattan. Dee Dee Ramone was actually the Ramones' original vocalist, but proved to be unsuited for the position, losing his voice after only a few songs, so upon Tommy Ramone's suggestion, Joey switched to vocals. They united around their mutual distaste for what they perceived as the bloated and over-blown brand of rock music popular at the time (embodied by bands like Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Led Zeppelin). In response, they created a strikingly stripped-down, simple, and extremely energetic brand of rock and roll, devoid of guitar solos or drum fills. Rolling Stone magazine noted: "the Ramones shaped the sound of punk rock in New York with simple, fast songs, deadpan lyrics, no solos, and an impenetrable wall of guitar chords."
Every member of the band took a stage name with Ramone as their last name, and adopted the unified visual aesthetic of black leather jackets, long black hair and ripped jeans. Despite the general perception of the band as somewhat primitive or simple-minded due to the subject matter of songs like, "I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," "The KKK Took My Baby Away," and "Teenage Lobotomy," and the simplicity of their instrumentation, the band actually carefully crafted their image and approach. As David Byrne of the Talking Heads (one of the Ramones' fellow bands in the New York punk scene) remembers:
The whole image was dress-up rebellion… They were the only band I knew of that had an art director. Joey and Arturo [Vega] worked very closely together. There was a loft right around the corner that we could all visit and hang out. Arturo had these giant pop-art posters of supermarket signs. I thought, "This is much more planned out than it appears to be." Recently, I read an interview where they said, "We figured out what we would look like before we figured out what to play." This was like a high-concept packaged-band thing, but they did it to themselves. It was brilliant.
Joey Ramone's vocal style was unorthodox in that he had no formal training in an era where vocal proficiency was a normality for most rock bands. His signature cracks, hiccups, snarls, crooning, and youthful voice became one of punk rock's most recognizable voices. Allmusic.com claims that "Joey Ramone's signature bleat was the voice of punk rock in America."
Despite limited commercial success, the Ramones would prove to be massively influential. Their simple yet effective brand of music inspired the formation of countless bands, and they are generally considered the first true "punk" band. Many of the most successful bands of punk rock, including The Clash and The Sex Pistols, have credited them as a massive influence and a direct inspiration. Over the course of their twenty-plus year career, they released nearly two dozen albums, and toured relentlessly, playing 2,263 shows.
Their early material, and particularly their first three albums, The Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia, are widely considered punk rock classics. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked The Ramones and Rocket to Russia at number 33 and 105 respectively on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Despite the tough guy image he cultivated with his on-stage persona, off-stage, Joey was known as a soft-spoken and gentle person. Joey stood at six feet six inches tall, with a long shock of black hair that almost completely obscured his face, and an ectomorphic form (a result of being born with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that produces a gaunt body structure, with elongated limbs and distorted facial features).
Joey had a falling-out with guitarist Cummings (Johnny Ramone) in the early 1980s, when Joey's girlfriend, Linda, left him for Joey (she later married him as well). The love triangle purportedly prompted Hyman to write "The KKK Took My Baby Away" for the Pleasant Dreams album. Joey and Johnny also had strong political differences, Joey being a liberal while Johnny was a staunch conservative. The pair never truly resolved their grievances before Joey's death in 2001.
Joey was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 1995. He died of complications from the disease at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on April 15, 2001.
Joey had been working since 1997 on his first solo album. Eventually entitled Don't Worry About Me, it was released posthumously in 2002, and features the single "What a Wonderful World," a cover of the Louis Armstrong standard. On November 30 2003, a block of East 2nd Street in New York City was officially renamed Joey Ramone Place. It is the block where Hyman once lived with bandmate Dee Dee Ramone, and is near CBGB, where the Ramones got their start. Hyman's birthday is celebrated annually by rock'n'roll nightclubs, hosted in New York City by his mother and brother. Joey was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst, NJ.
Joey Ramone provided the human face and voice at the forefront of the Ramones' relentless musical assault. A large part of the Ramones' appeal was their inclusive, down-to-earth approach to music, one that was embodied by Joey himself:
Joey had a hippielike thing about being inclusive, about inviting everyone to be part of the scene. The song "Pinhead" was funny, but he meant the chorus, "We accept you." […] Joey Ramone knew we were all poseurs and soldiered on, inviting geeks everywhere to recast themselves in whatever identity they wanted.
MTV News claimed: "With his trademark rose-colored shades, black leather jacket, shoulder-length hair, ripped jeans and alternately snarling and crooning, hiccoughing vocals, Joey was the iconic godfather of punk."
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