BORN as John William Cummings on October 8, 1948 in Queens, New York, USA, as the only child of a construction worker, of Irish descent. He grew up in Forest Hills, Queens neighboring New York City, where he grew up and absorbed rock music.
As a teenager, Johnny played in a band called the Tangerine Puppets along with future Ramones drummer Tamas Erdelyi (better known as Tommy Ramone). As a teenager, he was known as a “greaser”, although he was later referred to as a Stooges fan with a tie. He was a loyal New York Yankees fan. He also worked as a pipe fitter with his father before the Ramones found success, and at some point went to military school and then college in Florida.
He met future bandmate Douglas Colvin, later to become Dee Dee Ramone, in the early 1970s while delivering laundry. They later had lunch together and discussed their shared love for bands like the Stooges and MC5. Together they went to Manny’s Music in New York City in January 1974, where Johnny bought a used blue Mosrite Ventures II for US$54.
On the same trip, Dee Dee bought a Danelectro bass. They collaborated with future bandmate Jeffrey Hyman, later to become Joey Ramone and form the Ramones, with Richie Stern, it is known, on bass, who left after a few rehearsals. Tommy Erdelyi, later Tommy Ramone entered the band in the summer of that year, after general auditions failed to find a satisfactory drummer.
Johnny was responsible for starting one of the main sources that made the band famous as he began dating and later married Linda Daniele. Who had previously dated Joey. She later became Linda Ramone. Interestingly, this incident prompted Joey to write songs such as, “The KKK Took My Baby Away”, and “She Belongs To Me”, although it is speculated that they were written before the formation of the Ramones in 1974.
Although the band stayed together for several years after this incident, the relationship between Johnny and Joey became strained. A few years later, when Joey was in hospital dying of cancer, Johnny refused to call him. He later discussed this incident in the movie End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, saying that a reunion would be ridiculous. He also added that he was depressed for a week after Joey’s death.
During his musical career, Johnny appeared in almost a dozen movies (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School among others) and documentaries. He also appeared on TV on shows such as The Simpsons and Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
Johnny is known for his fast and high-energy guitar playing. His style is consistent in downstrokes and barre chord shapes. This unique style of playing combined with the heavy gain of the guitar amplifier creates a chainsaw-like sound that characterizes Johnny’s guitar playing, and became an influence on many early punk rock guitarists.
This technique greatly influenced New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands such as Iron Maiden. His style of playing became an influence on many alternative bands, and also thrash metal performers such as Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert cites Johnny Ramone as one of his influences.
Johnny Ramone, referred to Jimmy Page as “the greatest guitarist” and as a guitarist who influenced him greatly. Johnny was exclusively a rhythm guitarist, as seen in live recordings. He was not a fan of long guitar solos, and never wanted to achieve high skill in this playing technique. Nevertheless, Johnny played simple lead guitar parts on some Ramones songs, such as “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” and “Califronia Sun”.
A few guitar solos can also be found in the live version of “I Can’t Make Ut On Time”, where Johnny uses the minor pentatonic scale and string bending. However, the rare guitar solos on the group’s studio albums are usually provided by Tommy Ramone, Ed Stasium, Daniel Rey, Walter Lure and some unlisted guest musicians. These few guitar solos are only added to give the songs a bit of commercial appeal, and are usually not frequent on most albums.
On September 15, 2004, Johnny Ramone died at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 55 after a 5-year battle with prostate cancer, less than a few months before his 56th birthday. Most of his friends and fellow musicians came to pay their respects. After his death, his body was cremated with his wife Linda keeping the ashes. Before Johnny’s death in 2004, he and Linda oversaw the erection of an 8-foot bronze statue of Johnny Ramone’s memory at Hollywood Forever Cemetary in Los Angeles.
Shortly after Johnny’s death, Linda Ramone unveiled a statue of Johnny at Hollywood Forever Cemetary in Los Angeles on January 15, 2005. The statue was designed by Wayne Toth. Several friends of Johnny and Linda made speeches at the event including Nicolas Cage, Rob Zombie, Eddie Vedder, Tommy Ramone, Vincent Gallo, John Frusciante, Seymour Stein, Pete Yorn, and others.
Rolling Stones magazine placed Johnny at No. 16 on their list of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time. In 2009, Time magazine included Johnny Ramone on its list of “10 Best Electric Guitarists of All Time”. [sources/photo special]