/ Monday 16th January, 2023 12:00PM
We’re officially back in the UTR office and what better way to get 2023 kicking than a chat with the one and only C. J. Ramone? Bassist and sometimes singer for one of the greatest bands of all time The Ramones (inheriting the role from Dee Dee Ramone for their final three albums), and creator of five long players under his own moniker, the legendary US punk rocker returns to Aotearoa in mid-February as part of the rolling party that is Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The gold suit wearing, all-star World’s Greatest Cover Band are bringing the good times back to Auckland and Wellington in mid February, plus guitarist Joey Cape (frontman of Lagwagon) is squeezing in a concluding solo gig at Whammy Bar before they set sail abroad once more. C. J. Ramone spilled the beans to Chris Cudby about touring the world as a key member of the Gimmes’ ever-changing lineup, his own rock ‘n’ roll "retirement" and lots more…
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?! 2023 Tour
Friday 17th February – San Fran, Wellington [sold out]
Saturday 18th February – Studio, Auckland
Tickets available HERE via UTR
Joey Cape (Lagwagon) Solo
Sunday 19th February – Whammy Bar, Auckland
Tickets available HERE via UTR
C. J. Ramone: My job now is strictly to be the bass player in the Gimmes. I don’t carry gear, I don’t have to do the books at the end of the tour. I don’t have to deal with clubs and industry people, I don’t have to do anything. I’m back to where I started with the Ramones. I walk in, I pick up my bass, I play the songs and I’m done. So it’s a good retirement job.
Chris Cudby: I have heard there’s a thing that happens at Gimme Gimmes shows, where fans throw money on stage. Is that a real thing? What’s going on there?
That’s a real thing, oh boy. Spike [Slawson] is a really good entertainer. I mean, he’s a really great frontman. He knows how to entertain the crowd. It’s interesting to watch people listen to what he’s saying and then try to figure out if they should be insulted or if they should be laughing, or if he’s including them in the joke, or making a joke of them. He does one little skit in the set and people just feel inspired to throw money up on stage. I’m not talking about dollar bills — twenties, tens.
How long’s that been going on for?
It’s been going on for a little while. I keep waiting to get my cut, but it doesn’t seem to turn up ever.
What year did you become a regular member of the Gimmes? Were you guesting with them previously?
I did a couple of little things with them in 2018 and then 2019 I actually did a bunch of shows with them. And then of course 2020 and 2021 is a big zero for everybody. Then this year, we started going at it pretty heavy.
The lineup for the Gimme Gimmes that can change around a little bit depending on who’s available. Do you know who’s going to be traveling our way in February?
We do tours sometimes where guitar players will come and go multiple times, over the course of the tour. Pinch plays drums, formerly of the Damned, English Dogs. Pinch and I are kind of the two mainstays at this point. Which is nice because you want to have a solid rhythm section. You want the rhythm section to to be consistent. But guitar players… since I’ve been in the band I’ve probably played with six or seven guitar players. Including Jonny 2 Bags from Social Distortion and Stacey Dee from Good Cop, Bad Cop and Scott Shiflett from Face to Face. Of course Joey Cape who is an original member from Lagwagon. John Reese plays with us now, on this next run of dates we’re doing out here… John’s from Rocket From The Crypt. And then Jake Kiley from Strung Out, Dan Root from The Adolescents.
I’ve played with so many guitar players since I’ve been in the band. Sometimes we’ll have the rhythm guitar player for five shows and then a replacement comes in, and the lead guitar player who started the tour leaves and a different lead guy comes in. We’ve done tours with multiple lineup changes, but it’s kind of fun. Each guitar player of course plays their own style, so stylistically you get a little bit something different when other guys come in. Australia and New Zealand — I know Joey Cape is coming out and I’m not really sure who’s playing my side of the stage [this interview was conducted in late November ’22].
When you were learning all those songs for the Gimme Gimmes, was that quite a challenge? It’s in a specific style, but there’s quite a broad range of music.
Yeah and there’s also the added thing of the conversion of the songs, from what they were originally — in their pop form to punk rock style. The guys who recorded the [songs] were all high end players, so it wasn’t real easy for me. What made it easier was that it was really fun. First of all, I had to learn to alternate pick. I never alternate picked before in my life, I’ve only down strummed ala Ramones style. I had to learn how to alternate pick, and then that meant I had to position my bass a little bit higher and get used to a new playing position as well as a playing style. I went from playing mostly root note basslines, just pounding out those root notes with a fast down strumming, to suddenly riffing and playing stuff that was not familiar to me. So as much as it was work, I really, really enjoyed it. I really had a good time with it. It was the most bass playing I had done without standing on a stage in years. I hadn’t sat down and played bass that much in years.
We’re about to do we do a Christmas run, every year of the California coast. We usually start out in Southern California and work our way up north. This year we’re doing one in Arizona, and then the rest up the coast. Of course for the Christmas show, Spike transcribed some Christmas songs into punk rock songs. Spike has a really nice gift of taking something simple and making it complicated. So a Christmas song that should be three or four chords suddenly turns into a pretty intense arrangement. But it’s fun, I really do enjoy it. Especially because I can’t read or write music, I play my ear. Anytime something new comes along, the way I learn things is: if I can hum it, I can play it… I never took lessons so I taught myself how to play and that was something I worked out when I was young. If I can hum that baseline I can play it.
That’s a good handy tip for everyone.
I still use that little trick now and it still serves me well.
Will there be any Ramones or C. J. Ramone songs as part of your set?
No, there is not. There are a couple of nods to the Ramones, where there’s one song that we do in this set that starts out with a Ramones riff… the Ramones riff is used as an intro to a Beach Boys song. You know the Ramones were very influenced by the Beach Boys right. There’s that little cool connection. I’ve had friends say "they’re a covers band and they’re not doing any any Ramones songs?" And I’m like… look at the catalogue of the band, they’re not doing covers of punk rock classics. They’re not about that at all.
It’d be a bit too close to home right?
They’re mostly guilty pleasure songs. Songs that people of a certain age enjoyed when they were young, but are loath to admit that they liked them now in their cool punk rock crowd [laughs]. Nobody in the punk rock crowd goes "I really liked that Elton John song when I was young". Punk rock crowd, metal kids, they’re like, "I’ve only been into punk rock. I’ve only been into metal I never liked anything else".
When you joined the band, did they give you a custom gold shirt? And how many outfits do you have for the tour? Because you’d get pretty sweaty on stage, right?
We have so many outfits that we actually have somebody in charge of wardrobe. We have a big road case full of all the different outfits that we wear from night to night. When I first got into the band I inherited Jay Bentley’s stuff, but Jay’s on the thin side and I’m a little more spread out, so I eventually had to get my own stuff. I was just busting out of Jay’s stuff. But it’s funny to see the guitar players having to move into other people’s wardrobes. It’s one of the aspects of this band that has a lot in common with being in the Ramones. I get the hardcore Ramones fans who are like, "C. J. what the heck you’re on stage wearing those stupid looking shoes and shiny shirts and blah blah blah and this and that." I’m like — so you liked my uniform when I was in the Ramones, the high tops and jeans and leather jacket, but you don’t like the uniform of the Gimmes? To me it’s just another uniform, just another way to kind of climb into a persona, so to speak.
I really enjoy it. Not that I have anything to prove to anybody or anything like that… I’ve toured the world, I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do when I was a kid, from being in the military to children and marriages and played in a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band. I’ve done everything and I realised, I just don’t take anything seriously anymore, I just want to have fun, I just want to enjoy myself. Kind of get back to where I was in the very beginning, when I first started playing bass it was just for fun. Meet girls, play parties, have fun y’know. I guess I’ve gone full circle.