“1-2-3-4!” Those were the calling numbers of the greatest punk band of all time… The Ramones! Having toured endlessly around the world as their tour manager, Monte A. Melnick saw to it that they made it from airport to show for over 2,200 live concerts. Along with the inimitable Frank Meyer, Melnick co-authored On The Road With The Ramones, which has been reprinted in dozens of languages for fans across the globe including a bonus edition for fans and readers alike with 41 new pages. There’s no stoppin’ the cretins from hoppin’, so while I’m sitting in my room sheltering in place, record player on, and while everyone’s brains are hanging upside down with this stay at home order, we’re a happy family in quarantine. I picked up the phone and said, “hey is Monte home?” over Easter weekend. At that time the Corona Virus cases in LA County were just over 10,000, and New York City alone had ten times as many.
Life sure was a lot different when The Ramones roamed Planet Earth 1988.
“We got hit pretty bad cause of the concentration of people,” Monte begins. “We’ve got mass transit and busses. Everybody is more crunched together so it spreads around more here. Where in Los Angeles are you located?” he asks. “Long Beach,” I reply.
I grew up watching Rock ‘n’ Roll High School; that movie was my Sesame Street. And I got to see The Ramones live in concert a handful of times. I wanted to ask you about any memorabilia you have.
I had a ton of Ramones stuff but I auctioned off a lot of it, everything from posters, tour passes, itineraries, photos, T-shirts, you name it.
How important to you is continuing The Ramones legacy?
It’s an honor, it amazes me how it keeps on going and going like the energizer bunny, The Ramones just keep getting bigger and bigger.
It’s a shame they didn’t have that when they were here. They wanted to get on the radio. That’s the problem here in the United States. They couldn’t get on the radio very much, so after the first couple albums with Tommy and Ed, they decided to try different producers. They felt different producers would get them the hit, get them played on the radio. Unfortunately, they never had that. They’re so big now, it’s unbelievable.
You did over 2,200 dates with The Ramones around the world. What were some of your most favorite places to visit?
Argentina was amazing! I always liked going to Japan, that was a different experience, different culture, language, the way people look, the food, it was a different experience for me. Australia was great, and the Berlin Wall. We were there when the wall was coming down and the promoter brought us hammers and chisels and we went there to chop pieces off the wall.
True Originators of Punk Rock
When we went to England ’76 and ’77 there were groups there. The Clash, The Sex Pistols they were bubbling around, The Ramones influenced their sound, even more, when they came over there. In the United States Soundgarden, U2, Metallica, Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam all got influenced by the Ramones and they gave them credit. Of course, Bono and U2 have that song they wrote a song about Joey Ramone an album or two ago. The last Lollapalooza tour in ’96, I put the Ramones on stage, and all of a sudden I see Metallica and Soundgarden watching the Ramones from the side of the stage. They were big fans. I kind of remember Metallica coming to the show in Ohio or something. I can say they traveled around the country and the world. Kids realized you don’t have to be a virtuoso on an instrument, just play good songs, and write. Just do it like The Ramones. That’s how a lot of bands started; watching The Ramones.
If the Ramones were here today, what do you think they’d be doing?
Since they retired in ’96 they all of a sudden got on tv commercials, movie soundtracks, and commercials all over the place. It’s incredible. They couldn’t get any of that when they were around, very little. If they were all in good shape we’d still be playing I know that. We’d still be out there and they’d probably get the fame that they wanted. It’s a shame.
There’s still 3 Ramones out there, in bands, have you seen any of them?
Elvis Ramone is still out there too, ya know? He played two shows with The Ramones. He was just filling in for them when Richie left. Gary Kurfurst the manager he said, “Clem, don’t worry it’s very easy to play with The Ramones.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy, you had to work at it, cause when Tommy departed, he had to really work with Marky to get the whole style down, and actually, Tommy wasn’t a drummer he was a guitar player who developed that style. They couldn’t find anyone who would play with them at the time. They were so raw in the beginning, it was rough.
There was so much dysfunction within The Ramones, yet musically they are considered by many to be the Beethovens of our time. Let’s talk about Arturo Vega, RAMONES Creative Director whose belief was that The Ramones were more than a music band, they were a work of art.
That’s the way he worked his lighting too, it was more of an artistic style, cause he wasn’t a lighting director. He developed a whole style like Tommy developed the drums, Arturo developed the lighting for The Ramones in his own particular way, being an artist.
In your words how would you say The Ramones were totally unique?
Joey’s very unique vocal style and stage presence. The way Johnny played guitar, Dee Dee was an incredible songwriter, Tommy pulled everything together like a manager/producer, so it was a combination of all of them in there that made them unique.
The Ramones did kind of start in the glam rock era a bit, but they decided it was too expensive to buy all those clothes, so they decided just to wear what they were wearing in the street, jeans and leather jackets.
The Ramones were completely out of this world! I could talk to you forever about The Ramones.
What else would you like to know? I’m stuck in the house and I’ve got the time.
What was your favorite album and song?
It’s a song called “All the Way” on End Of The Century.
Joey wrote me into the song, plus it’s on a Phil Spector album.
“It’s Monte driving me crazy, it’s like being in the navy.“
Working with Phil Spector
What was that like, working with Phil Spector?
It was crazy, absolutely!
Did he really pull out a gun?
Yeah, he carried guns and waved them around, he didn’t point them at anybody, not that I saw. We first encountered Phil in 1977 at the Whiskey, and there’s a picture of him in my book, and he looked pretty crazy. Initially, we didn’t know how crazy he was. Phil was a brilliant producer, so it was a thrill to work with him, but being in the studio with him for a while, was nuts. He’s very eccentric. We went up to his house a couple of times. He locked us in up there, you couldn’t get out unless he unlocked it. He kept us up there for hours watching a crazy movie, a horror movie. Another time we were up there, we went in and sitting on the couch was grandpa Munster, Al Lewis was sitting in there, a good friend of Phil’s. But he was like a brilliant producer, just off the wall. He had to run a session a certain way, if you got out of line he would yell and scream. It wasn’t a pleasant fun experience.
On The Road With The Ramones – bonus edition
My book is out in 7 languages. Co-written by Frank Meyer who is phenomenal! The new edition has 41 added pages, and I talk about a lot of personal things, like how Arturo designed the t-shirts and how the pinhead originated. Danny Fields is n there, Gary Kurfurst, Linda Stein. I list all the albums in the new book and all the covers. I show pictures and talk about the awards they won, the Grammys, the murals, street signs, Arturo Vega, and his back tattoo. Did you ever see it? Now that’s dedication let me tell you! He’s got Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Arty. Mark saw it and Mark got pissed off. “How come you didn’t put my name on it?” he said. It really pissed him off.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the states re-open and government officials say it’s safe to go outside again?
I don’t know, the whole world has changed. I had a job in the theatre as an in-house manager at Queens Theatre here, who knows what’s going to happen to theatres. The whole world has changed. It’s like a nightmare, like some weird science fiction horror movie.
Like a Twilight Zone, right?
Yeah, I’m just looking outside there’s no traffic, nobody is walking around. How is it out there, the same thing?
They keep showing the same footage of the hospitals in New York, is it really that crazy out there?
I don’t see any of that, but it’s such a dense population here. There are pictures of refrigerated trucks ’cause the morgues are full. It’s pretty bizarre and it’s scary. People are dying 600, 700 a day. It really affects people out of shape, with preexisting conditions, if you’re overweight or a smoker it really gets to you. What’s it like there?
We’ve got over 400 deaths there are over 10,000 cases out here in LA country right now.
They’ve made it mandatory to wear masks now if you go grocery shopping or enter any “essential” stores, they can have you removed if you’re not wearing your mask, and everyone has to stay at least 6 feet apart.
They’re doing that out here now. Also, with the mass transit before it got crazy when you get on the subway there’s 20, 30, 40 people crammed together. LA doesn’t really have its own mass transit; everyone’s in their cars. I don’t know what’s going to happen after this.
What kinds of hobbies do you have?
I don’t have any hobbies. I try to stay healthy, eat right, and exercise.
What are you doing to stay healthy, Monte?
I walk around a little when I can, I have some weights in the house so I can work out a little and do some push-ups and pull-ups. I have a pull-up bar. There’s a park I can walk around a couple of times outside, but I have to watch it, I’m 70 years old. I’m no young chicken here, but I’m in good shape. This virus is going after anybody, not just any specific age. People in their 30’s getting it and dying, so it’s everybody.
You gotta stay safe Monte, so you can keep The Ramones legacy alive and strong. Thank you for taking my call this morning and for publishing another great book! On The Road With The Ramones , the bonus edition featuring 41 new pages. Order yours today by clicking here.. Gabba Gabba Hey!
Interview by Maggie St.Thomas