Songwriter Interviews

Marky Ramone

by Greg Prato

Share this post

It's quite impressive how many subsequently influential rock groups Marky Ramone (aka Marc Bell) played in over the years. In the 1970s alone, he could be spotted in four notable groups - one that helped shape the sound of heavy metal (Dust), and three that helped trailblaze punk rock (Jayne County, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, and of course, the Ramones).

In 2015, Marky put pen to paper and issued his autobiography, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone, which recounts his entire career and pulls no punches when it comes to his memories, thoughts, and observations concerning his former Ramones mates, recording with the unpredictable Phil Spector, and overcoming alcoholism.

Speaking with Songfacts, Marky discussed all four aforementioned bands he kept the beat for, as well as memories of several Ramones classics, the pros and cons of recording with Mr. Spector, and the importance of getting a good education.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Is Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone the definitive book about the Ramones?

Marky Ramone: Definitely. It sounds like I'm bragging or patting myself on the back, but it is - I've read all of them. There were some good points brought up in a lot of them, but this one, being in the band for 15 years and observing everything, I guess just time has proven that it is the most legitimate one, because I was there for that many years.

I've seen a lot, I've recorded nine studio albums, five live albums, being in [the film] Rock 'n' Roll High School, working with Phil Spector, being on "I Wanna Be Sedated" - there's a lot of heavy stuff in that book. It's coming from one of the Ramones, so that's important. And as sure I'm sitting here, if there's anything false in it, may God strike me dead now.

Songfacts: After reading the book, is it safe to say that the making of the End of the Century [1980 Ramones album produced by Phil Spector] was one of the strangest and potentially dangerous recording sessions ever?

Marky: Well, it was a potential danger. Phil Spector, my buddy, never pointed a gun at us in the studio - that's just hearsay. There is a video where Johnny Ramone says, "Phil, what are you going to do? Shoot me?" And he was talking about Phil Spector. But he wasn't there pointing the gun at him. He knew he had guns on him, so that's really what he was alluding to.

But the thing is that Phil had a license to carry, and he would take them off and put them down. You're not going to wear them the whole day in the studio. So that probably intimidated him and Dee Dee. Me and Joey loved him - we got along with him great. But it turned out the way it did - it was an experiment, and that's the result. But I never was intimidated by Phil. I always admired his production as a little boy, and I just realized that we worked different - that's all it was. He worked very slow, we worked fast. And that's probably what caused some of the animosity in the studio.

Songfacts: Looking back, I am surprised that a big arena rock band didn't offer the Ramones an opening spot on a tour.

Marky: Not at that time, are you kidding? We would have blown them away.

Songfacts: I think the only big band that took the Ramones out was Black Sabbath.

Marky: Yeah. In those days, there weren't hardly any punk bands that had the acclaim we had. Really, there was Blondie, the Talking Heads, Television, Patti Smith, us, the Pistols, and the Clash.

But in reality, metal was around seven years longer than punk. So it was a strange combination and a lot of the metal fans just wanted to see Black Sabbath. So after about five or six songs, we got booed, we got every kind of coin tossed at us, and any other thing you could imagine, and we just said, "Fuck you," and we left the stage. We gave them the middle finger and walked off. But then we realized that it's very important to be paired with people in the right genre, y'know?

Songfacts: I'm surprised, because something that I've always felt is if you take a Ramones song and slow it down, it could potentially sound like a Black Sabbath song, and if you took a Black Sabbath song and sped it up, it could sound like the Ramones.

Marky: Yeah, but I don't think they could play as fast as us, but we could play as slow as them!

Songfacts: How different was it writing and recording in the Ramones compared to the Voidoids?

Marky: Well, the Voidoids is a different kind of band altogether. We were very influenced by say, Miles Davis, John Coltrane - especially our guitar player, Bob Quine. We were into the Velvet Underground, we were into all that stuff. And then we put out the Blank Generation album, which [the album's title track] was a major anthem in New York City on the punk scene in '76.

The difference between the Voidoids and the Ramones is that in the Voidoids, there was different time changes, the songs were longer, the subject matter was different, and there were a lot of stops, a lot of different things that the Ramones couldn't even do. So that's why the Ramones always stuck to the 4/4, 2/4. But that was really the difference. The Voidoids were a lot more intricate.

While Richard Hell's unmistakable vocal delivery and poetic lyrics were major ingredients to the Voidoids' sound, Robert Quine's slashing/unpredictable guitar playing was also a driving force to the band's sound - as heard throughout the group's two classic albums, 1977's Blank Generation and 1982's Destiny Street.

And while the Voidoids' recorded output was frustratingly diminutive, Quine's playing could be heard on other artists' recordings, including Lou Reed's The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, and Live in Italy, as well as recordings by Matthew Sweet (including one of Sweet's more popular efforts, Girlfriend), Lloyd Cole, Material, and John Zorn, plus collaborations with Jody Harris (Escape) and Fred Maher (Basic). Sadly, Quine would die from a heroin overdose in 2004, at the age of 61.
Songfacts: You just mentioned Robert Quine, who I feel was one of the most underrated rock guitarists of all time.

Marky: Unbelievable. He was very influenced by the early jazz guys. He especially loved Miles Davis, and he liked Roland Kirk - he liked all these jazz greats, and he just put it into his guitar playing. But he knew rock, too, and that was important. So he just integrated the two, and that was the style Bob Quine was known for.

Songfacts: If Richard Hell didn't have such a drug problem at the time, is it safe to say the Voidoids would have continued on and become more popular?

Marky: Oh yeah. Unfortunately, he succumbed to heroin, and it definitely got him off the path. It's like me with the alcohol - the booze. I said, "I had enough," so I straightened out at an early age. But I just wish he would have stopped and continued, because he could have been somebody. Definitely.

Songfacts: Also in the book, you discuss being a member of two other influential rock acts, Dust and Jayne County.

With Andrew W.K.
Marky: Dust, we were one of the first metal bands in America. We formed in '69/'70. Black Sabbath's album hit our shores in 1970 on Warner Brothers. In England, I think the album came out five or six months before. So, we already wrote the first album by then.

We were an American heavy metal band - I can count them on my fingers. Who was there really in 1970 that you would consider metal? Not too many. We did make a little indent in the genre of heavy metal in America, but we were too young. We were naïve. Our manager really didn't know who to pair us with at that time, because we just came out.

So I had to finish high school, and I had to go to night school and summer school, because I was busy rehearsing with the group. So to me, I knew what my calling was - the music business. Being in high school, I really didn't learn anything. But education is important, and back then, it was different - you could get away with just a high school education. Today - and this is very important for all you young readers - stay in college, go to college, no matter what you have to do, because it's a different world now.

But yeah, we broke up, and then I did an album with Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones' producer, and then I started hanging out in New York and I started playing with Jayne County, who was the most outrageous act on the punk scene at the time. And I auditioned for the New York Dolls, but Jerry Nolan got it - they all knew him better than me. We all knew each other, but they kind of grew up together - which was a good thing, because if I'd have joined the Dolls, I might not have gotten that opportunity to be with the Voidoids and the Ramones. So, it all worked out.

In addition to writing his book, releasing music, and touring (with Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg, which features Andrew W.K. on vocals), Marky has several other successful endeavors, including his own tomato sauce, Marky Ramone's Brooklyn's Own Pasta Sauce. "Well, I'm not a Wall Street Journal reader - I respect the newspaper to check out finances and see what's going on in the world of finance, but they rated it #2 against Rao. So hey, I'm not going to argue with that," he says.

"It's still going, and I didn't want to put it out on a major distribution situation, because I wanted it to be more special. So what most people do and have done and still do is go on markyramone.com and order it. Daniel Boulud, one of the Top 5 chefs in the world, serves it as his restaurant - DBGB. Tony Bourdain loves it. You get all these kudos, and you go, 'Hey. I guess I did a pretty good thing here'."

Also, Marky hosts his own show on Sirius XM. "I'm on my tenth year on Sirius XM, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg. It's great, because I play my own stuff and I play only punk - three hours, three times a week, and it's a #2 show on Faction. It's funny, everything is #2 - the sauce, the show on Faction [channel 41]! I can't believe it. I'm just very grateful that people are really digging it."
Songfacts: Let's discuss some specific songs, starting with your new song/video, "I Wanna Win the Lottery."

Marky: Let me just say this - the first song as a Ramone that I recorded was "I Wanna Be Sedated." That was my first song ever with them - just to get that out of the way, because it was in the new Terminator movie, with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I Wanna Win the Lottery," I wrote in 1998. When me, Johnny, and Joey decided to retire in '96, I had all these songs written, so I put out two CDs. Me and Dee Dee were the first ones to have solo projects.

And I wrote the song because my friend won the lottery - a scratch-off lottery. He won $50,000. A lot of people want to win the lottery, obviously, so I thought it was a popular subject to write about, and I was thinking more about a young teenager when I was writing it, so he could just live his dreams without having to think of what he has to confront in the future.

My friend won the lottery, I saw the look on his face, and it was just something very "Americana." That's what gave me the inspiration. Not to write a commercial - just to write a song.

Songfacts: And you just mentioned "I Wanna Be Sedated" - what do you remember about that?

Marky: Well, we were in the studio, and we always loved the '60s groups: The Kinks, The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, Dave Clark Five, etcetera. And we loved what was done by The Searchers, a band from the '60s from part of that British Invasion. So we attempted to do our way of doing it, our style, which came out great.

That was the first song that I did, and I just did my drum track - it took two takes. And then Johnny did the rhythm over it, and then Dee Dee the bass, and Joey did the vocals, and that was it. Very simple, very quick, very short - to the point.

Songfacts: And what do you recall about "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School"?

Marky: That was in LA at Gold Star Studios, and Phil Spector was at the helm. He was the producer. We did our basic tracks to "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School," then, again, John would do his rhythm, Dee Dee the bass, and then Joey the vocals.

Then, Phil would add about 30 more instruments onto these songs! Especially "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" - the saxes, the strings, the keyboards, the percussion. It's mountainous the way that song is. He had a lot of great studio musicians playing on that album just to create a wall of sound, which he was known for. That song took a while. There's a lot of parts in it.

And "Rock 'n' Roll High School" was our second time doing it, so that was Phil Spector's version, which I like a lot more than just the regular version that was on the Rock 'n' Roll High School soundtrack.

That was it - we just did our thing, and that album took longer than I think three Ramones albums put together.

Songfacts: Does anything stick out the filming of the videos for those two songs? Because I remember in the early days of MTV, they were shown quite a bit.

Marky: Yeah, they did - until they got better productions from other bands, and they stopped playing us for a while. But they really liked "Rock 'n' Roll High School," so they played that a lot. I was the teacher in it, dressed up as a woman - I was "Miss Togar," who is in the movie Rock 'n' Roll High School, but we had to make a video of the song, and it was played a lot on MTV and helped us out a lot.

It was a very important time - considering the fact that nothing happened before that. So we were lucky to put out "I Wanna Be Sedated," we were lucky to be in Rock 'n' Roll High School, we were lucky to work with Phil Spector - it got us a lot of attention, and definitely broke us out of the "CBGB era," because the place was getting too small to play. A lot of the youth could relate to "Rock 'n' Roll High School" - that's why they picked up on it.

Songfacts: Lastly, what is a Ramones fact most people don't know?

Marky: Dee Dee Ramone used Fender basses, but he really liked ESP basses the best. ESP gave him two basses that he loved - one had a black widow spider on it and it was orange, and the other was yellow with red stripes. And he loved those basses so much. He loved the sound better than the P Bass, and he loved the feel of it better.

July 22, 2015.
For more Marky, visit markyramone.com.
Photos: Martin Bonetto (1), Bob Gruen (2).
More Songwriter Interviews
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 1

  • Jim from North Billerica, MaI read his book, it is refreshingly honest. Especially about himself.
see more comments