Monte A. Melnick talks about his book “On the Road with The Ramones” and 40th Anniversary of the band

Monte A. Melnick worked with the legendary band The Ramones since the group’s inception in 1974 and served as the group’s tour manager up until the bands last show in 1996. Monte’s book “On the Road with The Ramones” which was co-wrote with Kevin Meyer and released in 2007 garnered rave reviews and has gone on to be released in several other languages. Media Mikes had the chance to speak with Monte recently about his time with the band, the success of his book and the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Ramones formation.

Adam Lawton: How did you initially start working with the Ramones?
Monte A. Melnick: I grew up with Tommy Ramone and we went to school together. We had also played in bands with one another along with setting up studios with each other. I was there at the very beginning when Tommy first got involved with the Ramones and that’s really how I became involved with them as well.

AL: Were you still looking to be in a band at this time or were you looking to move more towards the management side of the business?
MM: By this time Tommy and I had already built Performance Studios and we were also managing it. While doing all of that we still had time for our own bands and my band Thirty Days Out put out two records on Reprise Records in 1971 and 1972. Tommy had his own stuff going on at the same time as well but he was mostly doing engineering. When it started Tommy was really only looking to produce the Ramones however after a couple showcases they couldn’t find a drummer and Tommy ended up becoming the drummer. Eventually the studio had to close down because of noise problems and the Ramones started to get jobs here and there and they asked me to go along with them. Sometimes when there’s a fork in the road you just have to take it and that’s how I transitioned.

AL: What was your first impression of the Ramones?
MM: When I first saw them I was playing in bands that did three part harmonies and had already done some album work myself. At the beginning the band was incredibly raw. I didn’t like them.  They had to develop and grow which took them awhile. That wasn’t my kind of music to start with but working with them and watching them develop I got used to it and they grew on me.

AL: What was it like dealing with Johnny and some of the other stronger personalities in the group on a daily basis?
MM: John was a difficult personality however he kept everyone in line and was very good at that. John had a very good business sense. We weren’t really friends but we were co-workers. I was more friends with Joey and the other guys as John kept to himself around me. Its part of the tour manager’s job to be able to not only handle the personalities of the band but also those of the crew as well. The tour manager has double the people he has to account for. That was a big part of the reason I wrote the book was to show both sides of what I was dealing with on a daily basis.

AL: Did you notice a big shift in the band with the addition of members like Marky, CJ and Richie?
MM: Most of the changes that happened were very good. There have been eight different Ramones but basically the members dealt with the changes and tried integrating the new members as best as possible. Guys like CJ filled some remarkably big shoes helped elevate the band to the next level. Richie was another guy that was a great addition to the band as he wrote songs and sang. It was terrific. Sadly he left on a bad note which I have the whole story about that in my book.

AL: How did the idea for your book “On the Road with the Ramones” initially come about?
MM: People kept coming to me and telling me to write a book. I’m not a writer so I didn’t think there was any way I was going to do something like this. Joey had released a solo album on Sanctuary records and at the time they were doing publishing as well. They dragged me in to this thing and gave me a ghost writer by the name of Frank Meyer. Frank was a huge fan of the band and is a great writer so when he came in things just fell in to place and I ended up giving him a co-writing credit because he did such a great job. When we started I didn’t know how things were going to turn out. I submitted around 250 images for the book and they all made it in which is very rare for a biography. I have a room full of stuff and they let me put in all of this stuff. The book had a great art director so when you look at the pages everything just flows together. I am very happy how it turned out.

AL: Do you have plans to release another update anytime soon for your book?
MM: I have done one update already so fans who haven’t got the book yet will want to make sure they get the updated version as it has everything in there. Lately I have been focusing on releasing the book in different languages. We are currently working on our 7th language right now which is going to be in Italian. It’s great to be able to spread the book out around the whole world.

AL: With a lot of the recent commercialization of the band do you feel they would still be around today recording and touring had Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey not passed away?
MM: I think it’s great that stuff like the t-shirts and what not is available. The Ramones were never against commercialization which is why they tried so many different producers. They wanted to make money. The band just tried so hard to make it through out their career. After Joey’s death, the group’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and then Johnny and Dee Dee’s deaths the Ramones have become bigger than ever. If the Ramones were this big when I was working with them I would have gotten a raise. (Laughs) They are iconic and it’s a shame that they all can’t see this.  I think if they were all around and in good health they still would be playing. They probably would have played passed 1996 just how far though I don’t know. Joey was not in the greatest of health at the time they decided to call it quits and Johnny figured if Joey wasn’t going to be in good health then he would quit also while he was ahead. They had tons of offers to keep the band going.

AL: Looking back on the bands 40 years of existence/history what is your fondest memory and have there been any talks of a 40th anniversary celebration?
MM: That’s another reason I wrote the book was to tell all of those fond and not so fond memories. There was a lot of stuff going on during 22 years on the road. I loved traveling and seeing the world. After awhile the band got big enough to where traveling became comfortable because in the beginning it was not always the easiest. I miss being out there and experiencing all of the different cultures. As for celebrations I haven’t heard of anything yet. Joey’s brother Mickey has his Birthday Bashes in New York and Linda, Johnny’s wife has her thing in Los Angeles at The Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Dee Dee is buried and they have the statue of John. I am not sure what else they could really do.

C.J. Ramone talks about playing with Ramones and his upcoming album

C.J. Ramone was the man chosen to fill the vacant bass player position in the Ramones after Dee Dee Ramone left the band in 1989. C.J. remained in that role until 1996 when the band decided to retire. Since then C.J. has been involved in a number of different bands and projects and is set to release his first album under the name C.J. Ramone later this year. Media Mikes was very fortunate to be able to talk to C.J. about his time in the Ramones and about his upcoming album titled “Reconquista”

Adam Lawton: What were your thoughts on the Ramones documentary “End of the Century”?
CJ Ramone: I like it for the most part. It is a good film but I thought there was too much time dedicated to the “I Hate Johnny” fan club. That film actually started out much differently. By the time everyone gets their hands on it and asks for things to be taken out or added it never is really the movie maker’s vision anymore. Michael Gramaglia who was one of the directors of the film is a friend of mine and I know that what was finally released had been so influenced by everyone that I am sure he would have rather done without that.  I liked a lot of the stuff in the film but I think there are some things in it that the fans don’t really need to know especially with a band like the Ramones who fought to keep their integrity intact. The band wanted fans to enjoy them for what they were which was a great rock and roll band. Some of that stuff just didn’t need to put out there or said. That stuff had nothing to do with the band. I know people who have made the argument about dynamics between band members is always what feeds the music but I just  thought there were some un-needed things in the film. I think I am in it for a total of 30 seconds. This was really funny because I remember doing about 3 or 4 hrs. of interviews. The important thing for me about the movie as far as I am concerned is what Johnny and Joey said about me and what I brought to the band. That was a big compliment. It was a great feeling to be left with and knowing that they really appreciated me. That was cool.

AL: You made significant contributions to all areas of the band however the media has really played down your involvement. What are your feelings toward this?
CJ: I get asked this quite a bit but more so in relation to not being included into the Rock Hall induction. I got out of the Marine Corp. and 5 weeks later I was playing my first show with the Ramones. I come from a very punk rock, anti-establishment background. I could care less about the media or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That goes against anything I ever believed about punk or rock and roll. I am a grunt and I have always been a grunt. I have always been the guy who takes care of the shittiest things without complaint. To me those opinions did not count. The two opinions that did count the most came from Johnny and Joey. They said both publicly and privately about what my contribution was and that’s what I left the Ramones with. I didn’t need a pat on the back from the media or from the Rock Hall. My pat came from Johnny, Joey and the fans. That’s what I hang my hat on at the end of the day. I know that even some people from the Ramones organization and even Mark have tried to minimize what I did with the Ramones. That doesn’t really mean anything to me. I wish I could say I argued my point and could tell everybody but I don’t feel compelled to do that.

AL: Johnny was always known as the tough guy. However his recent biography we see him in much different light. What was the Johnny like that you and the rest of the band dealt with on a daily basis?
CJ: Johnny was a complex dude. He wasn’t a dum-dum. He understood the dynamics of the band and of the industry. Realistically Johnny was a really smart business man. I think that is an uncomfortable role for some people to see him in being he was in a punk rock band. People want to see him as the anti-hero type. He knew how to make money and ran a tight ship. He ran things his way and there was never any doubt with who was in charge or who made the rules. If that may have caught some people off guard well that sucks. I know it caught me off guard at first but I recognized that early on and I made sure I proceeded cautiously. I wasn’t afraid of him or afraid of being kicked out of the band but I loved the Ramones. When I got into the band I wanted to make sure that I made them better. I wanted to bring something to the band and make sure that I wasn’t just a filler guy. Johnny kind of demanded that from me anyways. He didn’t want me to sit in the background. He wanted me up front entertaining the crowd and I knew that. Being I was just out of the Marine Corp. which was very mission oriented he made it clear what my mission was from the start and I tried to do that the best I could. That’s how he was. He expected from you what he expected from you and anything less was not acceptable. At the same time he wasn’t the type you could bullshit. If you said something to him and he thought you weren’t being honest or he didn’t agree he would let you know. That’s not an easy type of person to be around but he was a good business man and really a punk. He didn’t give a shit who you were or what your status was. If you were an asshole you were an asshole and he would let you know. The other thing to was if Johnny had not been in that band and it would have just been another art thing with Joey and Dee Dee they would have never went anywhere. Something would have happened where they weren’t able to keep it together long enough to make anything happen. That’s a fact. Johnny was the ass kicker and every band needs one of those. Did he take advantage of that? Sure. He felt entitled to because he made it easy enough for everyone else to just show up and do their job. He was doing all the behind the scenes stuff. Naturally you are going to feel entitled to an extra slice of the pie. No matter what it is in the world somebody has to be kicking everyone else’s ass to keep them in line and doing their job. That’s just the way of the world.

AL: You joined the band at a turbulent time in their history. What for you was the hardest part about coming into the band at that time?
CJ: I was so excited to be there and unbelievably overwhelmed to be in the Ramones that all the negativity and the other stuff you always hear about I didn’t really see it in the beginning. I was in the Ramones and everything else was secondary. Johnny was clear with his expectations and I was more than happy to make it happen. I was very motivated, focused and happy to be there. Johnny told me the stories about Dee Dee and Mark from back in the early days and I thought they were cool. I thought the stories were great because they did such crazy stuff. Mark really saved the day a lot of times because of his sense of humor. He had an unbelievably great sense of humor and could make you laugh in the worst situations. He a lot of the time made an unbearable situation bearable. It takes some smarts to know when to do that and how far you can take it. The only time it was really uncomfortable was when I would look over and see Johnny and Joey on stage being afraid that I wouldn’t live up to it. As I started to see things more I just learned I had to be smart and maintain my relationships with both Johnny and Joey. I had to be smart. It was almost like a tight rope walk.

AL: Do you think the recent Ramones marketing push will hurt the bands legacy at all?
CJ: Not really. The legacy is what it is and the Ramones history is what it is. There is no arguing it. Does it cheapen the brand name? Probably, somewhat. This is what happens though. Realistically these days’ people demand it. Ramones fans especially are manic collectors of stuff. It’s something that is just going to happen. Once you make it to that legend status which that band has then all bets are off. It’s part of the natural aging process. (Laughs)

AL: Can you tell us about your current solo project?
CJ: I have done a couple bands such as Los Gusanos and Bad Chopper. In 2009 it was my 20 yr anniversary playing with the Ramones. I decided I was going to get out on the road and celebrate with the fans by playing Ramones music. I contacted Mark but he was busy at the time and I also contacted Daniel Ray. Danny was interested and we got out there and the offers started rolling in more and more. Celebrating my 20 year anniversary resulted in two or three years of touring. It got to the point where the promoters were saying that if we wanted to come back again we were going to need new material. I had some songs that I had worked out and I decided I was going to do a tribute record to the Ramones. It is going to be a very Ramones like record. It has been together for awhile and I worked with a number of different producers and musicians. When I started to think it wasn’t going to happen I got in touch with my friend Steve Soto from the Adolescents and told him what I was doing. He said to give him some time to work on it and within two weeks he had a studio set up in Orange County and we had gotten Jose Mendeles who we had both worked with before to play drums. I flew out to Orange County and we recorded with Jim Monroe who was the owner/engineer of the studio we were using. We had a slew of Orange County musicians come in and play on this record. Jay from Bad Religion, Johnny Two Bags from Social Distortion and Billy Zoom from X all played on the album. Within 3 weeks we had the record recorded and we are now just waiting on final mixes and mastering. We are hoping to have everything done by July. It’s going to be released under C.J. Ramone and this is going to be really the first album that I did everything. It’s totally my vision. Steve Soto and Jim Monroe did a great job with the production but this is the first one I am doing as C.J. Ramone. The album is going to be called “Reconquista”. If I had to describe the sound it is like “Rocket to Russia” meets “End of the Century”. I am unbelievable proud of this album. It is the best songwriting and singing I have ever done.

AL: Will you be touring after the album comes out?
 CJ: I am not sure what heck we are going to do for this year. I have been trying to make this record for 2 years. It was just one problem after another. We are kind of hoping that once the record comes out and the word gets out that we will be able to hook up with some shows. I will actually be down in Nashville in early July to play the NAMM festival. Mosrite Guitars puts out a C.J. Ramone bass and they are throwing a big party down there that I am playing. From there I will be flying over to the Azores for a big festival and then in September I possibly have a big tour planned in Argentina.