THE MAN WHO MOVED THE RAMONES

When you come from a band which is as legendary
as The Ramones, anything that you do is going
to be put under the microscope. I pushed the
limits of what I did.
I couldn’t have done anything better. this is really
a celebration of The Ramones, – says about
his recent album Reconquista CJ Ramone, the
last bassist of the legendary group.

What makes me very curious is the balance between “old kind” of music like punk rock and modern recording techniques. What are your needs when you’re recording an album?
I think this is the first time I’ve ever recorded an album digitally. I was always recording to tape because I like the way it sounds. Now, there aren’t many studios left where you can record on tape. There are some that use tape but
usually they are very expensive. And then when you record outside where you live, you have to pay for a hotel, meals and rent a car so it becomes really expensive. I was lucky enough that to make this record I went to Santa Ana in California to the studio called The Racket Room. A lot of big Southern Californian bands recorded there over the years. My recording process is very simple. I usually go to a studio with all the songs written and very well-rehearsed,
and I get in and out of the studio as quick as I possibly can. I think it took us a couple of days to get the basic tracks down. Then I had a whole bunch of famous guitarists and bass players from the Southern Californiaarea – Jay Bentley from Bad Religion plays bass, Billy Zoom from X played on some tracks, Dennis Casey from Flogging
Molly played guitar on a couple of tracks, Frank Agnew from The Adolescents played on a couple of tracks, we had Marcus Hollar from Street Dogs playing on a couple of tracks… Really, I like when these quick guys come down. Even with all that it took no more than three weeks to record the whole tracks down. Unfortunately, the mixing, mastering and production took another three months. I like to work quick. I like the studio, I like recording more now than I did when I was younger because I understand the process better and I enjoy working in the studio but it’s not my favorite place to be. I prefer live shows.


You come from New York City – a place known for its punk rock history – and you go to Southern California where music that comes from there has its own style, very often credited and emphasized as Southern Californian. Are there any differences in point of views – yours and the guys from the West Coast?
Right. On the West Coast music is more of a legitimate industry. On the East Coast it is not so organized. Especially in the city of New York, where I come from, music is not supported on any level except the extreme top. New York is not a music friendly town. I usually played with the guys from The Adolescents: Steve Soto and Dan Root. Now I have Jonny 2 Bags and David Hidalgo, Jr. from Social Distortion with me. This is really the first time I’m touring with and hanging out with them, also getting to know the guys from the West Coast. Our experiences are very different. Their scene is very organized, a lot of these guys grew up together and they came up in the same scene. And it’s so much legitimate out there. Southern California is very supportive of the music scene. Back home in New York, people would lay out $25 to see a band from the West Coast but they wouldn’t be willing to lay out $5 to see a
local band.

Really? It is New York City that has a rich history of bohemian, counterculture and punk rock stuff.
Yes, it has. But it’s not like that anymore.

Are there any spots that remind you of good old days?
City of New York closed down all those little clubs where I used to hang out. They are all gone. After 9/11, the mayor who was at office at that time, used an obscure law put in the books in the 1920s to close down all the smaller venues. The only place to go and see music now is in Brooklyn. There are a lot of clubs but it’s a very hipster kind of scene there and it’s not my kind of scene. The last band I went to see live in New York was Soundgarden and they played in a big venue. There is really nowhere to play in New York under 1,500 people. So if there is a new band coming to play, there is nowhere to play. They have to go to play in Brooklyn.

St. Mark’s Place has also changed?
That whole area used to be an artist community with cool little record stores and whatnot. Now it is so commercialized. You have a Kmart on 14th Street and 4th Avenue, you have high-end restaurants at store fronts that were abandoned for years. It’s good for the neighborhood but it’s terrible for music and art scene. It’s awkward.

What was the process of figuring out who should join you for the recording of Reconquista to make sure they would keep the spirit of The Ramones?
That was a struggle. I actually recorded it three times. The first few times I recorded it in New York using different musicians and I didn’t like it. It didn’t sound good enough to have the Ramone name on it – this is the first album I put the Ramone name on. I did a record as Bad Chopper with a friend of mine and I used the name CJ Ward. The same with the stuff from Los Gusanos – my first band. This time when I put the name Ramone, I wanted this record to be absolutely the best it could be. When the first two attempts failed, I called my buddy Steve Soto from The Adolescents and I said, “I’m trying to do The Ramones tribute record but I’m really having trouble finding people who understand what I’m trying to do.” Steve said: “give me a couple of weeks and I’ll put it together.” He was
absolutely right. He put it together and did a really great job. I’m really really really proud of the record. I don’t think I could have done a better job. When you come from a band which is as legendary as The Ramones, anything that you do is going to be put under the microscope. That’s always on your mind. But it wasn’t what worried me. I was more concerned on how I was gonna feel about it. And I feel it lifted up to the Ramone name. When I got the final mixes back from Jim Monroe – the guy who owns The Racket Room studio – and co-produced by Steve Soto, I was 100% happy. Like I said before, I couldn’t have done anything better. I pushed the limits of what I did, even with The Ramones. I worked really hard and I got to singing well instead of just yelling or whatever. Guitar players did killer
job. I feel like this is really a celebration of The Ramones. This is good and solid thing. I can say – “yes, it’s mine”.

Congratulations.
Thank you.

Do you remember when you heard The Ramones for the first time?
I heard The Ramones when I was really young but I didn’t really catch up. I was probably 12 or 13 and I met this girl who was a couple years older than me and she took me to her house. We went down to her room and we were hanging out, talking and she asked me if I’d ever heard The Ramones. She turned around and had the first album’s cover in her hands. I was like „yeah, I’ve heard them before”. She put it on and for some reason I was like “oh my God”. It was definitely a milestone for me. The first time I’ve ever kissed a girl was the same day I’ve loved The Ramones, so it’s pretty memorable.

Oh yes, you won’t forget it!
Yes. That was a very long time ago but it’s so clear in my memory.

All fans have a certain imagination about their idols. You also were a fan of The Ramones who later was lucky enough not only to meet them but also to work and live with them. Did your perception of the band’s members changed?
Yes, drastically! When I first found out that I was gonna be in the band I thought I was joining a gang. That was my vision of The Ramones. When I got there, I realized very quickly that it was not like that and it was very much a business. There were a lot of internal problems within the band. It was a very different situation that I had thought of. Even with all that, it was not less than totally exciting. They were like a family. Family members sometimes don’t get along, they do bad things to each other, but they don’t stop being a family. And that wasthe same with Joey and Johnny. Regardless of how they felt to each other, they stayed together for 22 years because they realized the importance of the band. They put that before own, personal feelings.

You are a part of a legend – The Ramones – a bunch of guys who are admired by many artists. Some of those are older than you, for example Lemmy and Motörhead. What are your relationships with legendary artists who are much more experienced than you but it’s you whom they admire?
I actually got to hang out with Lemmy and spent time with him. I think he saw The Ramones much in the way he saw himself and that’s like not really belonging to any specific scene. There are bands like that – AC/DC, Motörhead, The Ramones – they stand on their own, they can’t really be grouped in the metal scene or the punk scene. Realistically, they are just rock bands. I think that is the way Lemmy saw The Ramones. The Ramones, I know this from touring with them, did not have many peers – people who were on the same level as them. And that is not to say that they were amazing musicians. Everybody who ever met The Ramones – other famous bands – always walked into the room as they were about to meet the pope. It was like a religious experience. The Ramones really appealed to the teenager in you. That’s how their music is. People who had listened to The Ramones for so many years and
finally got to meet them, they were amazed. We played two shows with U2 in Spain at two big stadiums. Even U2 came into the dressing room and were amazed by Joey and Johnny.They told the story that when they were auditioned for their first TV show, they actually played three Ramones songs and told the producers that these were their songs. So here is U2, probably one of the biggest grossing bands of all times. And even they stand in awe of The Ramones. It’s such a unique thing. I think people recognize that after I got into the band they did have a resurgence in their carrier. And I think that’s the credit that I got from a lot of people. Not that I was better than Dee Dee or did a better job than Dee Dee or anything like that. When I came into the band, they had a resurgence and they were back out, they had a good record out and they were exciting on stage again. I heard Joey and Johnny saying
in the interviews that when I came in, they looked at me and said, “oh, we got to start moving around”. They didn’t want to look like old men. That was a by-product. I didn’t intentionally do that. I just did on stage what the music made me feel like doing. The fact that I made them be like “oh-oh, we’ve got to start moving” is great and I was really happy that they said that because it’s hard to know what you bring into a band like The Ramones – a legendary band. It’s hard to say: “oh, I’m gonna do this and make the band better”. I just got in and did what I felt I should do. On stage I just totally cut loose. To hear Joey and Johnny saying that, it really made me feel good and really helped me to understand better what role I played in the band to them.

You organized a drug-awareness concert for kids. Who are you for them – a buddy or a coach?
The reason why I did that concert was that I live in a really blue-collar, working class town. In our high school and the surrounding there was a bunch of kids who were o-ding on heroin. I felt like those kids are too young to do these things. My son was preparing to go to high school so I approached the local PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) and I offered to do the concert and they loved it, they agreed that was a great idea. Realistically, I was doing it more to make the parents aware. Things are economically pretty tough in the US right now and most people are working in multiply jobs, both parents work – that means less time with your kids, less time paying attention to what’s going on with the kids and this is how kids are getting in trouble. I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to make the parents aware, like: “hey, this is a teenage kid o-ding on heroine. That shouldn’t be happening”. Even now some of the kids are fans of The Ramones and some kids were impressed by the fact that I played with them. So even if it’s just a little bit of taking their attention, because I’m a musician, maybe that would help the community.

Did you help?
Yes, I think so. They had a lot of literature and different organizations with pamphlets and stuff for the parents to read: what to look for if your kids are doing drugs. Other problem is that kids are stealing parents’ medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Like I said, a lot of parents are just so busy working and trying to pay the bills, they just don’t realize. I think the event made the difference. Even if it only reaches one or two people – potentially you’re saving their kids from doing something bad. I had to remind myself to pay attention to my own kids. Sometimes you get caught up in helping other people and forget about your own home. I was trying to make sure I know what’s going on with my kids.

Do your kids follow your passion for music?
Yes. My son loves rap, he’s really into it. My daughter is more instrumentalist, she plays guitar, bass, cello, piano but she’s also a singer – this is what she likes to do. She’s already in the band. Both kids got the music bug.

Your birthday is on the same day as Johnny’s. Did you celebrate it together?
We didn’t do much celebration on the road. Probably we had a cake for us once a year. Every year on that day I put some birthday wishes for Johnny on my Facebook page and when I’m on stage I always say “Happy Birthday” to him. It’s funny – we were born on the same day.

Are you staying in music for good now?
After this tour is over I will be finishing writing music for a new record and probably in March I’m going to record new album and then get back on the road in spring. My goal is to do one album a year for another four years. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that – to put four good solid albums during next four years. I’m working on a book right now. I hope to have it finished before the next record comes out, so maybe I can release them both together. It has a form of an autobiography from the years when I was a kid all the way up to the times with The Ramones. It’s not just for The Ramones’ fans but there is a lot of The Ramones history.

Sounds good. Fingers crossed!
Thank you very much.

About Karolina Karbownik 106 Articles
Creative soul & metal music nerd. Editor-in-Chief and Journalist with 15 years of experience. Music consultant in the worldwide known lifestyle brand. Deeply interested in new media and cultural science, PhD to be. After hours enjoys horse riding and skiing as well writing novels.