21 Years Ago: Ramones Bassist Dee Dee Ramone Dies at 50
Ramone’s wife Barbara found her husband unconscious on a couch in their Los Angeles apartment surrounded by drug paraphernalia, including a used syringe. Paramedics confirmed that Ramone was dead at 8:40 PM. Toxicology results determined that Ramone died from a lethal heroin overdose. In his late '90s autobiography, Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones, Ramone wrote about his on-and-off struggle with drugs and alcohol. He died 14 months after vocalist Joey Ramone succumbed to cancer at age 49.
Guitarist John William Cummings (a.k.a. Johnny Ramone, who died in 2004) had been friends with Dee Dee since 1969. They met at a building in New York, where Dee Dee worked in the mail room and Johnny did construction. One day, they both decided to cash their paychecks and buy guitars; Johnny got a Mosrite, Dee Dee purchased a Danelectro.
After fumbling around the band with different members in different positions -- Dee Dee was originally the vocalist and Jeffrey Ross Hyman (Joey Ramone) played drums -- they officially became the Ramones in 1973. Dee Dee, who had a reputation of being the wildest member, came up with the name after learning that Paul McCartney often used the alias Paul Ramon when he checked into hotels. The band changed the spelling to “Ramone” and every member used the title as their surname to demonstrate their solidarity. The Ramones debuted live on March 30, 1974 and soon became an in-demand club act.
Using just three and four chords, the Ramones mixed their love for bubblegum girl pop with the hard rock of the Who and the MC5 and the proto-punk of The Stooges, then put the blender on full-speed, creating a wall of primal, melodic, abrasive and bouncy sound that was both visceral and infectious. The Ramones quickly became leaders of the New York punk rock scene and in 1976 released their seminal self-titled debut, which included “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Beat on the Brat,” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”
The Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop"
While the Ramones endured numerous lineup changes, Dee Dee remained with the band until 1990, playing on 11 records. After leaving the Ramones he had a short, unsuccessful career as rapper Dee Dee King, recorded a few solo albums and appeared on various collaborations. Despite serious substance abuse problems, he remained musically active until his death.
In the intro to Dee Dee Ramone’s book Lobotomy, Legs McNeil wrote, “Dee Dee was the archetypical f--k-up whose life was a living disaster. He was a male prostitute, a would-be mugger, a heroin user and dealer, an accomplice to armed robbery -- and a genius poet who was headed for an early grave, but was sidetracked by rock ‘n’ roll.”
And without him, the Ramones likely would never have existed and the history of punk music as we know it would not have been the same.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.