August 16: The Ramones At CBGB

ramones cbgbEvery year, about this time the American media make a minor to-do about the anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair which was held from August 15 to 18, 1969.

However, rather than bask in the glow of the hippies’ last shining moment, I thought it would be more interesting to look at an event that wasn’t the culmination of a movement, but the beginning of one. An event that, unlike Woodstock, actually changed the shape of popular music. I’m talking of course, about the Ramones’ first public performance, held on this date in 1974 at New York’s legendary CBGB. The Ramones and CBGB are as associated with each other in rock history as the Beatles are with The Cavern Club.

Before forming the Ramones, Jeffrey Hyman, John Cummings, Thomas Erdelyi and Douglas Colvin were just four high school friends from Queens. Each had been in a band or two, and in early 1974, they decided to get together and form a group. As the at-the-time unnamed band was getting started, Colvin began calling himself Dee Dee Ramone, a reference to “Paul Ramone,” the pseudonym Paul McCartney used when signing in to hotel rooms during the Beatle years. He soon convinced the rest of his bandmates to adopt similar stage names and so Jeffrey Hyman, John Cummings, Thomas Erdelyi and Douglas Colvin became Joey, Johnny, Tommy and Dee Dee Ramone. The band played a few small concerts for friends and invited guests, but their first public gig was at CBGB.

Now, back in December 1973, Hilly Kristal opened a club in New York City called CBGB and OMFUG, named after the styles of music he expected the club to host: Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers (A gormandizer traditionally refers to a ravenous eater, and in this case, Kristal employed the term to refer to one who enjoys music.). The first band to play the club was a country act from Maine named the Con Fullum Band. However, the club’s focus soon changed, as Krystal started booking the occasional rock act and in April of 1974, the experimental New York rock band Television taking the CBGB stage for the first time. At the time, very few New York clubs would book unsigned bands and allow them to play original music, so when word got out amongst New York’s rockers that CBGB was not only booking unsigned bands, but in fact requiring them to play mostly original compositions, the club quickly became the the heart of the Big Apple rock scene.

And so, on August 16, 1974  the Ramones hit the CBGB stage with Dee Dee’s quick yell of “One! Two! Three! Four!” and Johnny’s buzzsaw guitar, the new sound of punk rock was born. As music journalist Legs McNeil would describe it, “They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song…and it was just this wall of noise,” For the crowd at CBGB that night, the Ramones’ raw sound (which drew influence from the likes of Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls and the MC5) was a call to arms saying “Anyone, even you, can be in a band! So, go form one today.” In the following years, the Ramones continued to frequent CBGB and after their debut record was released in 1976, they went on tour and inspired bands in not just America, but British acts like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. The Ramones enjoyed great success before calling it quits in 1996. Sadly, with Tommy Ramone’s death earlier this year, all four original Ramones have passed away, though their influence is still heard wherever music is played.

CBGB continued to serve as a launch pad for new bands, and many future rock legends got their start at CBGB, including Blondie, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, AC/DC, The Beastie Boys, The B-52s, Sonic Youth, X and Sleater Kinney. The club also hosted performances by relative veterans Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, and the first American show by the Police. Sadly, as the years went on, CBGB started to lose its luster and eventually closed in 2006 with a final performance by Patti Smith. Today, the old CBGB space is a high end fashion boutique, though the club’s legend lives on in the form of the annual CBGB music and film festival held in New York City.

Now, the idea of pairing punk rock with a cocktail may seem a bit odd, but in the 1986 Ramones song “Somebody Put Something In My Drink,” Joey sings “Tanqueray and tonic’s my favorite drink,” so it only seems right that we make a Gin & Tonic.

Gin & Tonic

  • 2 ounces Gin (use Tanqueray if you’re honoring the Ramones)
  • 5 ounce tonic water

Pour the gin and the tonic water into a highball glass almost filled with ice cubes. Stir well and garnish with a lime wedge.

Tomorrow: We stay in New York City, but go back to 1959 for another game changing moment in music history.

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