Book Excerpt: On the Road with the Ramones

In "I Know Better Now: My Life Before, During and After the Ramones," Richie Ramone recalls his brief, tumultuous period with the punk greats.

His name was Richard Reinhardt when the Ramones — coming off a streak of indifferently received and poorly selling albums — recruited the unknown 26-year-old club drummer, rechristening him Richie Ramone. “I think he saved the band, as far as I’m concerned,” Joey Ramone said, shortly after Richie’s addition. “He’s the greatest thing to happen to the Ramones. He put the spirit back in the band.” Over the course of three albums, he sang, drummed, and wrote (including one of the band’s few late-period hits, “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”) before leaving the band in 1987. After that, he all but disappeared — until now.

His new book, I Know Better Now (out now from Backbeat Books), delves deep into, per the subtitle, “my life before, during, and after the Ramones.” In this exclusive excerpt, Richie explains some of the day-to-day (and night-to-night) logistics of playing with one of the great punk bands.

FROM “I KNOW BETTER KNOW: MY LIFE BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER THE RAMONES”:

Backstage at every show, there was a wardrobe case. One of those heavy-duty rolling Anvil road cases that opens up like a closet, with “RAMONES” stenciled on the sides. And the onlythings that were in that case were four leather jackets. The ones we wore onstage.

The jacket. That was another thing I had to get used to when I got in the band. Just as you’d expect, playing the drums with a leather jacket on is not exactly easy or comfortable. Especially when you’re doing shows in July or August—which we did a lot of, because that’s when all the concert festivals are happening, and those shows paid well. But what made it really tough were the stage lights. These days, most bands use all LED lighting, which hardly gives off any heat. At that time, though, the lighting rig we toured with—which was run by Arturo Vega, the artist who designed the “screaming eagle” Ramones logo you see on T-shirts all over the place today—used all these PARCAN lights. The PARCANs we had were, like, 200 watts each, and they just got insanely hot. So, when we were playing, I’d be sitting there on the drum riser, way above everyone else, with these burning-hot lights just a couple of inches from my head. It didn’t matter if the club was air-conditioned or that we had electric fans onstage. It was still ridiculous, how hot it was.

But, y’know, the jackets were the Ramones’ uniform. That was the image, and that’s what the fans expected to see. So, of course, just like Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee, I had to play with mine on. Thankfully, though, I didn’t have to do it for the whole show. There was a plan we followed every night. The other guys would keep their jackets on for longer, but I got to take mine off after the fourth song. We’d take a break then, just for a couple of seconds, for me to take it off. Man, I couldn’t wait to get to the end of that song. It was “Blitzkrieg Bop” on the first tour. The thing was, though, if I didn’t get my jacket off in time—I think I had, like, five or six seconds, while Joey asked the crowd how they were doing or whatever—the band was still going to start the next song. And, no matter what, I still had to go along with them. I couldn’t hold up the show. And the next break wouldn’t be for another eight songs.

Usually, I could get the jacket off in time on my own, but sometimes I’d have to have one or two roadies help me with it, because I’d be all sweaty and it would be stuck to me. There were a few times, though, when it didn’t come off quick enough, and—bam!—right away I had to jump back in and play those eight extra songs with the coat on before I could finally get rid of it. That was rough. Those were the times I was really happy the Ramones had short songs. But that’s also the kind of stuff that makes you stronger as a performer: if you can get through things like that on the road, you can get through most of the other pain-in-the-ass crap that comes your way.

Speaking of pain-in-the-ass crap, there was another weird Ramones rule I had to get used to early on. The rule was this: if we were playing anywhere within a five-hour drive of New York, we drove back home after the gig. Always. Always. Always. That was another one of John’s things. Mostly it was because he wanted to save money. We were already paying for the road crew’s hotel rooms, so they could go ahead to the next town and get the gear set up for the next show, but he refused to pay for rooms for Monte and the band if we could be back in New York in five hours or less. And I guess I got that, sort of; rooms for the five of us could easily add up to $500 or more. But, mainly, this rule of John’s seemed to be because he hated being away from New York, and he wanted to sleep in his own bed at night unless it was literally undoable. And that I didn’t get. I mean, I stayed quiet, and I went along with it—what was I going to do?—but I always thought it was totally insane.

We’d have a gig in, say, somewhere in Vermont. We’d leave around 10 or 11 a.m., drive up there—what is it, five, six hours?—eat dinner, do the gig, and then get right back in the van. Then Monte would do a couple of lines of coke and drive all the way back to New York, with John sitting up front and hassling him the whole way, and Joey, Dee Dee, and me crashed out in the back. It didn’t matter if the gig the next night was in someplace close to Vermont, like maybe Albany or Boston. It could be the middle of winter, with snow coming down, ice on the road, and no streetlights outside; didn’t matter to John. Instead of getting a decent night’s sleep at a Holiday Inn close to wherever we’d just played in Vermont, or maybe heading on to wherever we were playing next and getting a hotel there for the night, we’d drive back down Route 7—this crazy, two-lane highway through the mountains that always has a lot of car accidents—and get to New York right when the sun was coming up. And then, just a couple of hours later, we’d all get back out of bed and go do it all again. Even if we were playing in Providence the night after Boston—those two towns are about an hour apart—we were still going to drive way the hell back to New York from Boston, and then get up and go do Providence, and then go back to New York that night.

There were so many nights when I was sure we were going to get in some horrible crash somewhere, just because everybody was so tired. Everybody had assigned seats, and mine was all the way in the back; I called it the “death seat,” because I was really afraid of us getting rear-ended. I’m still amazed we never had an accident. Yeah, we were saving some money on the hotel rooms. But how much were we spending on gas and wear and tear on the van?

Like I said, I thought it was a crazy way of doing things. But it was a way of doing things that had been around since way before I was in the band. I was the new guy. I was supposed to play the drums and that was it. What did I know?

I talk about this stuff now—the hot stage lights and the crazy driving and all that—as being hard. And, yeah, it was. But at that point, when I was first experiencing it, it really didn’t bother me as much as maybe I make it sound. I was in a real band that was doing real stuff. With roadies, and even my own drum tech. The music was awesome, and I was getting laid and partying a lot. Plus, now I always had some money in my pocket. If I wanted a cheeseburger and a beer, I could walk into any restaurant and order them, or whatever it was I wanted. If there was a break on the tour and I had a day off to visit my folks back in Jersey, I could take Lenny and Eddie Slivka and some of my other old friends out for hot dogs and beers at Rutt’s Hut in Clifton. So, overall, I was feeling great, and it was still a whole new adventure.

From “I Know Better Now: My Life Before, During and After the Ramones” by Richie Ramone with Peter Aaron, available now from Backbeat Books. All rights reserved.