Helped forge one of the most influential sounds in history.
By Fred Mills
Words escape me (and pretty much anyone who cares about modern music): Tommy Erdelyi, aka Tommy Ramone, passed away yesterday, July 11, apparently from bile duct cancer. Variety reports that the co-founding drummer of the Ramones (and the last surviving original member) died at his home in Queens following a stint of (ultimately unsuccessful) treatment and then hospice care. He was 62.
Erdelyi was preceded in death by singer Joey Ramone (2001), bassist Dee Dee Ramone (2002) and guitarist Johnny Ramone (2004); the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. In recent years he’d performed as one-half of the folk-grass duo Uncle Monk, but of course he secured his place in history as the Ramones drummer for the first three studio albums, 1976’s Ramones, 1977’s Ramones Leave Home and 1977’s Rocket to Russia, along with the ’79 concert album It’s Alive. In 1978 he “retired” from the band to do production work (among his projects were Ramones, Replacements and Redd Kross) and sundry Ramones management duties, although he returned briefly in ’84 for the Too Tough to Die album. Born in Budapest, Erdelyi emigrated to the States in 1957 and formed his first band, the Tangerine Puppets, in high school during the sixties with his future Ramones bandmate John Cummings.
With news of the death getting out late last night and even making the NPR news this morning, tributes to the man and his band have been flowing. Even industry pundit/gadfly Bob Lefsetz, who has rarely (if ever) had something positive to say about punk rock, appeared to be shocked and saddened by the news, writing this morning in his most recent blog post, “They say that everybody who bought the first Velvet Underground album started a band. I won’t debate that, but I will say that many more bought “Ramones” and picked up instruments and formed groups. Because if the Ramones could, so could they. Especially in England, where punk flourished first, after being started in NYC by the Ramones and getting no traction in the USA. So most people in the hinterlands were first exposed to punk via the Sex Pistols, but Johnny Rotten, et al, were inspired by the Ramones. The Ramones were a constant reinforcement that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, that two minutes was enough for a song, and that first and foremost rock should be fun, you remember fun, don’t you?”
That pretty much sums it up. Watch for a special BLURT tribute to Tommy and the Ramones next week. Meanwhile, let’s have some fun in his memory: