On April 15, 2001, Rock and Roll lost a true legend. On that day, Joey Ramone died of lymphatic cancer. That night, U2’s Bono told the audience at a concert in Portland Oregon how Joey and the Ramones had changed his life. He sang “Amazing Grace” in his honor, and then went into “I Remember You” from the Ramones 1977 album, Leave Home, with the crowd singing along.
The man we knew as Joey Ramone was born Jeffrey Ross Hyman, on May 19, 1951 in Queens. He started playing the drums at 13 with a snare that his mother had purchased for him with supermarket stamps, and by 17 he was playing the acoustic guitar. In 1972 he joined the band Sniper which played at Max’s Kansas City, among other places. In 1974 he co-founded the Ramones alongside friends John Cummings and Douglas Colvin, the latter of whom was already going by Dee Dee Ramone, taken from the pseudonym used by the Beatles when staying at hotels to avoid recognition; the others soon followed suit.
Originally Joey played the drums and split the vocals with Dee Dee, but later became the sole lead vocalist. His boyish demeanor belied an incredible professionalism when it came to his music. He took voice lessons from an opera coach and regularly did breathing exercises to help with his singing. He also used a vaporizer before every show to open up his vocal cords. Apparently, one night in 1977, the vaporizer blew up in his face. He received emergency treatment and then went on with the show.
The Ramones produced seventeen live and studio albums and played 2,263 shows — they toured virtually non-stop for twenty-two years until they broke up in 1996. They never achieved great commercial success during their lifetimes, but are considered one of the greatest and most influential rock acts of all time.
While their first public performance took place just north of the Village, the Ramones made a name for themselves with the East Village venue with which they were most closely associated, CBGB. In fact, after Joey died in 2001, the corner of 2nd Street and Bowery was named “Joey Ramone Place” in honor of his contributions, his connection to the nearby performance venue, and the fact that starting out, he and his fellow bandmates lived on that block.
According to friend DJ Vin Scelsa as quoted in Rolling Stone in 2001, “Everywhere we went, it was ‘Hey, Joey, how ya doing?’ Everybody knew him around the streets of SoHo, the East Village, the West Village.” He also remarked that Joey always responded appreciatively and never condescended to his fans. That same article had this to say about Joey at the time of his passing:
But he never stopped being a Ramone or believing that in rock & roll he had been given an eternal, unbeatable life – and that he had a responsibility to share it with everyone he knew. “There weren’t too many avenues for Joey to be a hero,” says [Danny] Fields. “He wasn’t going to be a fighter pilot or a trial lawyer or a senator. He found rock & roll, and it found him, his heroism.”
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