20 years ago, Christopher Joseph Ward was given the opportunity that any fan of any band can only dream about. Ward would become known and loved by fans as CJ Ramone and for seven years injected some youthful energy and fun into the Ramones. CJ also became a huge part of the heart and soul of the Ramones.
I was lucky enough to talk to CJ from his home in NYC and we talked about his opinions on the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, his love for metal and reggae music and how it is being back on the road after many years of absence from the scene. This was a real treat for me and I just know you all will love this one. Sit back and enjoy it! Hey Ho Let’s Go!
CJ, Thanks for doing this man! How are things in NYC today?
Man, not too bad. It’s a little overcast today but it’s not too bad!
Are you loving this cool weather or what? Time to bust out the leather.
Oh yeah. This was a pretty brutal summer [laughs].
You just wrapped up your “American Punk” tour and and the show here in Atlanta was so much fun. How much fun was it to get back out there on the road after so long?
Thanks a lot. This tour was a long time coming. I had kind of sworn off doing any kind of Ramones thing for the longest time. 2009 was my 20th anniversary of joining The Ramones and I just wanted to go out and do some shows just to celebrate that and celebrate the music of The Ramones. It turned out to be a really good time and people dug it a lot and after we did those first couple of shows the requests for more shows started rolling in. We kept it rolling and it just took on a life of its own so I’m just going with it at this point.
You brought back the spirit of The Ramones but you did it in your own way and made it a really cool experience. I’ve heard a lot of mixed emotions from fans. What kind of feedback did you get from the fans on this tour?
For the most part it’s been really positive as far as the fans that I’ve talked to and the reviews that we’ve been getting. I know there have been some comments from within the Ramones organization saying that we were just a cover band or something but ya know what? I really don’t care. I love The Ramones. I was a huge fan before I ever joined the band. People can call it whatever they like but I’m just trying to keep the legacy going and give some of the fans who weren’t even born or were old enough to see The Ramones the opportunity to hear these songs live. I feel like we really capture the energy of The Ramones. I’m not saying that in any way, shape or form that we sound or look just like The Ramones. I sincerely believe that we’ve done a good job capturing the energy. Realistically every show is just a celebration. It’s just me celebrating with the fans how great The Ramones were. That’s really how I look at it. They were one of the greatest, if not thee greatest, rock n’ roll band of all time. To me it’s just a shame for all the fans now to not get an opportunity to get to at least hear some of what The Ramones were like live.
As a long time fan I thought you did it right CJ. I also have to say that as a fan, I get frustrated and even jaded over all the negative press, litigations and lawsuits so it was nice to see you just out there reminding everyone that it’s about the music and those timeless songs.
Thank you man. Since the Ramones retired there has been so much negative stuff going on. There are all these books and documentaries about how Johnny and Joey hated each other and who has control now and who’s part of the organization and who’s not. There’s been so much drama and bullshit. For a band that was so awesome and made so many people happy and to have all that greatness reduced down to a soap opera to me is just so pointless. What made the Ramones great had nothing to do with their personal relationships between each other and the people around them. It had to do with the music and the scene. That’s just another reason for me to get out there and keep doing this to remind people that all that stuff doesn’t mean anything. What counts is what they put down on vinyl and gave to their fans musically and in the live show. Everything else is just bullshit.
I actually have been working on a book for a long time. I’m in no way an author so it’s taking me a really long time [laughs]. I tried writing it with somebody else but it didn’t sound good to me in somebody else’s words so I just sat down to write it myself. Life being what it is, I have three kids now so I write when I can so I’ll finish it when I finish it. I was all concerned about deadlines and worrying about a book deal but then I just realized I just have to put all that stuff to the side and concentrate on writing. My experience with The Ramones was totally different than everyone elses. My experience was awesome. I went from being in the Marine Corps to being in The Ramones. It was a great experience but it definitely wasn’t all candy canes, sunshine and the Easter Bunny [laughs]. There were some negative things about it. My book will just be my take on it and my take on it was awesome. It was really really fun. It will be more of the lighter side of touring than everything else. Most of the things I’ve seen on the Ramones are either bashing Johnny or talking about Joey being OCD. The two most ridiculous, meaningless things and I’m like really? C’mon.
CJ, you pretty much lived the dream of any fan of a band by getting to be a member of The Ramones. Can you tell me about how you felt when you got the call that they wanted you in the band?
Oh man. Well, I got the call while I was in military jail [laughs]. It was pretty interesting. Just to have Johnny Ramone calling you while you’re in jail alone was surreal to say the least. The only way I can really describe it is imagine if you got that phone call and were told that you got the gig. That’s what I always try to get across to everybody. I was a fan just like you and every other Ramones fan so to get the opportunity to be in the band, I’m sure you can relate just how that would feel it would have been you. It was nothing I could ever dream of happening in my life.
In 2002 The Ramones were inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. You were not present for the ceremony and it left some of us fans scratching our heads. What happened?
Ya know, I’ve been asked about that before and honestly, I don’t give a shit about the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame [laughs]. It’s just a bunch of fat old men in suits. I don’t need a pat on the back from them. Johnny and Joey told me what my contribution to the band was and what I meant to the band. The fans have told me me what my contribution to the band was and what I meant to the band and I’m comfortable with that. That’s all I ever really gave a shit about. I was never into gold records and all that horseshit. That’s the stupid end of the music business that feeds people’s egos. I’m totally comfortable and happy as hell to have been part of The Ramones legacy, doing what I did with them and getting to be friends with guys I used to idolize. The last thing I need is a pat on the back from anybody. I appreciate what the fans have to say and I appreciate it when I hear it from my peers. That means the world to me but the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame? Who gives a shit? Look at the bands they induct. It’s not even the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame anymore. It’s the Music Hall of Fame [laughs]. They put shit in there that has nothing to do with Rock N’ Roll.
Speaking of your former band mates, on this last tour, you played a new song called “3 Angels on My Shoulder.” It was a really great and touching dedication to Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. What else can we expect from the album?
Thanks man. The album really is a tribute to The Ramones. I didn’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write Ramones sounding songs.” I wrote it as a tribute to Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy. It was my moment of thanking them for everything they did before I came along and for all the great times I had in my life as a fan. It’s a lot like a Ramones record. It has everything from the Joey and Dee Dee type of pop love songs to more of the hardcore style stuff. These are songs that I’ve written over the course of the last couple of years and I’m really excited to get it finished up and get it out. It’ll be called “Reconquista.” That’s kind of how I see this album. It’s me kind of taking back a little bit of my musical life. I haven’t liked any new music for a long time. The stuff that’s considered punk rock for a long time just hasn’t moved me. The bands look like punk rock but they don’t sound like it. The Ramones music started a revolution once before so I’m kind of hoping by me going out and playing these songs that maybe I can get something fired up again with these kids who are kind of getting re-schooled on what punk rock really is.
Yeah, I agree. To me punk rock was more than just mohawks, piercings and leather. Punk rock was more attitude than anything. The Ramones songs were just good solid rock n’ roll songs but with that attitude. I mean, even the Rolling Stones could be more punk than most punk bands out today.
Absolutely. I always say that if you look back in music, Elvis Presley was a punk. Jerry Lee Lewis was a punk. They were just guys who said, “Fuck You” to everybody and to what everybody thought about music or what was appropriate. They just went out there did their own thing and that’s what a real punk is.
When the Ramones called it a day back in 1995, you guys really called it a day. How do you feel about bands who reunite with only a few and in some cases zero original members?
It really depends on what they’re doing and how they’re putting it out. The New York Dolls just went out this summer with Motley Crue and Poison. I was thinking to myself, “Holy shit. How the hell could the New York Dolls ever be considered in the same category as Motley Crue and Poison?” I understand the marketing concept of it. Get the New York Dolls in front of a crowd of people who like that glam thing and maybe they’ll gain a couple of fans out of it. Some bands like them get back together and they’ve got a couple of new guys and a couple of original members or they bring in a couple of guys from that same time period and scene. To me there’s nothing wrong with that.
As a member of The Ramones, you did three great studio albums and the live album “Loco Live.” My personal favorite was “Mondo Bizzaro.” That album gets hated on a lot and I just don’t get it. What was your personal favorite Ramones album that you were a part of?
It’s funny because I really like that one. The only album that I completely hated that I was a part of was “Loco Live.” I thought that one was terrible [laughs]. I liked all of the albums that I played on. The fact that I got to sing some songs that Dee Dee (Ramone; former bassist/songwriter) wrote and a lot of the songs, particularly Joey’s songs and Dee Dee’s songs I really liked them a lot. I liked the records I played on but when I think of my favorite Ramones records they’re the first 4 for 5 records. Those are the records I grew up with. I meet fans all the time that tell me that they’re favorite album is “Mondo Bizzaro” or that their favorite song is “Scattergun.” As they’re telling me this I’m thinking, “Jesus. Have you heard the first couple of albums?” [laughs] It really depends on what you hear and where you are in your life.
That’s so true. The first Ramones album I ever heard was “Road To Ruin.” That will always be my favorite Ramones album but I really loved those later albums you were a part of. I also loved that as a metal head I could connect with them, especially on “Mondo Bizzaro” where The Ramones were almost crossing into that world a bit. It was such a heavy album. Speaking of metal, I heard that you were approached by Metallica to replace Jason Newstead.
I was approached about joining Metallica not once but twice [laughs]. When Jason first left the band they approached me. A while had gone by and they were having a hard time finding someone so they approached me again. At the time my son had been diagnosed with Autism and there was just no way I could leave him. Johnny (Ramone) was actually the one who hooked me up with the audition because he was friends with Kirk Hammett. I talked to my son’s doctor and explained the opportunity and that I could bring my family out on the road and even hire a nurse. The doctor just told me that my son needed to wake up in the same place every day, he needs to have meals at the same time every day and he needs to go to school everyday and be around other kids. He said that anything other than that could be a detriment. I was honored that they asked me but there was just no way I could do it. The beautiful part about it all is that now my son is in regular classes at school. He’s on the high honor roll and he’s even starting his own band now with a couple of friends of his. The change in him from when he was a kid is amazing. I’m not taking credit for it all. There were a lot of people who helped him along the way. If I had not been here, I don’t know that the outcome would have been as good and that totally justifies my decision. I have no regrets. It would’ve been great to play with Metallica after being in the Ramones. Jesus, that would be just like a too perfect life [laughs].
One can only imagine what that sound would have been!
Oh yeah. Believe me, it would’ve been great. I would’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve always been a huge metal fan. Black Sabbath is absolutely my favorite band of all time. I loved all that really dark stuff. Playing in Metallica would have been a second dream come true but like I said, things worked out really good for my son and I have no remorse and no regrets.
Kudos to you man. I’m glad your son is doing awesome and ready to rock out [laughs].
[laughs] Yeah. That’s funny because my daughter is a cellist and a piano player and he’s also a major punk rock fan. She’s wanting me to teach her how to play bass. It’s just funny that my kids who were completely uninterested in the fact that I ever played music when they were younger are now totally enamored with it and are looking to be rockstars themselves at some point. It’s actually gratifying for me. The fact that the first time they saw me play live was on stage at MSG with Pearl Jam in front of thousands probably had something to do with it [laughs].
How did your son’s battle with autism change your life for the most part?
I would like to say that there was some big moment where the clouds parted and the sun came out and knowledge fell on me. Honestly, I approached that situation the way I approach most things in my life. When he was diagnosed, there was no mourning process or tears or sorrow. I was actually relieved and my first question was, “What do I need to do to give my son the best shot that he’s going to have?” In my life, that’s just how I approach everything. I would like to say that there is some big spiritual lesson in there but for me it’s just a lot of hard work. Any situation you come to in your life can be overcome by just blocking out all of the emotional “whoa is me” and felling sorry for yourself and just concentrate on the work part of it. Instead of looking at the problem so hard, look for the solution and while it may not be spiritually fulfilling, the gratifcation you get at the end knowing that your hard work paid off is worth it. That’s really how I do most thing whether it was auditioning for The Ramones or learning that my son was autistic or the military. I know that’s probably not the best sounding answer but really for me it was just about hard work and doing what needed to be done.
CJ, let’s have some fun bro. I always try and ask some fun questions to mix things up because I know you probably get asked the same ones a million times. What is the one question that you makes you want to scream every time you get asked it?
There’s really nothing that I hate getting asked. There are questions that I’ve been asked a million times but they are questions that everybody wonders about. Like “How did it feel when you got asked to join The Ramones?” [laughs] The only questions I really dislike are when people ask about personal relationships with Johnny and Joey and how did I feel about it. That’s people’s personal lives ya know? They say, “When you become a public person, you then make your personal life public.” To me that’s a media created thing so that they have this opportunity to ask whatever the hell they want. In my opinion, I don’t think the fans really care about that. Me, as a fan, I don’t care about that stuff. If I like their music, that’s all I care about. Do I care if they have a thing for transvestite prostitutes? No. That’s not my business and I don’t care about that. Do I really care about Angelina Jolie adopting a kid from Africa? Does that make me think that she’s a great person? No. It makes me think that she has a good PR person who makes sure she’s doing the right thing [laughs].
CJ, at what point did you know you wanted a life in music?
The bands that made me say, “I wanna play bass and be a rock star” was Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. It was those two bands that made me want to do it. I started wearing knee braces because I had a growth spurt and it tore up all the connective tissue in my knees so I couldn’t play sports any more. I told my dad that I wanted a bass guitar. The first band I ever played in I was like 13 or so. It was just some friends of mine who got together and had a band and needed a bassist. We played everything from The Beatles to Black Sabbath. Whatever we could technically handle, we played. We would do The Cars, Joe Jackson. We did the craziest mix of music [laughs]. We did a bunch of Rush songs, and even did some Yes. If we could play it, we played it. When you’re first starting out like I was, you just play what everyone else is going to play and that’s what I did. We didn’t even have a name [laughs]. I loved it and that’s when I realized I really loved playing.
That is awesome. I’m a huge Maiden fan.
Oh yeah. Most people don’t believe I’m a metal fan. When The Ramones were on tour with White Zombie back in 95 or 96, one day their guitar player J (Yunger) came into our dressing room. We were talking and I told him I was a huge metal fan. He didn’t believe me so I told him, “Name any Iron Maiden song off of the first three albums.” He started naming them and I just started playing them. I probably hadn’t played a lot of them since I was 18 or 19 years old [laughs]. He was going for the really obscure older ones like “Genghis Khan” and what not and I was just busting them out one after the other and he says, “Alright. You’re a metal head” [laughs].
Honestly, I don’t blame them and I’ll tell you why. What’s happened in the music business is because of the free download thing it’s basically turned bands into t-shirt salesmen and entertainers. A huge part of the market has been cut out. When the digital download thing came around it completely gutted the marked. It really did. Now everyone is trying to find a way to make up for lost profits. Do I think it’s cool to charge the fans? Not particularly but it also depends on what you’re giving them. To sit down at a table and charge people for autographs is kind of eh, ya know? I sign autographs on the way out to the van and if I stop and sign an autograph for free, why should I come in and stand across a table from them and charge them? If they’re doing something where the fans pay to come in to sound check and go out to dinner with the band and get backstage passes and stuff like that, I think that’s ok. It’s still kind of weird though because you’re charging people to hang out with you. If you’re charging people just to come in and get autographs, no way. You owe that to your fans but something like having them at sound check or to have a meal with you, then you’re sacrificing your personal time. On the road you have very little time where you just get to relax and I’m not talking about the time you sit in the van traveling. That’s not personal time. Meal time, hotel room, that’s personal time so when you start sacrificing that, I can see charging people for it because now you’re making your entire day work. Your gut reaction to hearing something like that is always like, “Oh man, what a scumbag. The fans make your career possible.” That’s absolutely true and I totally understand that but at some point, you have to draw the line.
Aside from being a metal fan, are there any bands or styles of music that we would be surprised to hear that you are a fan of?
Oh man, I listen to everything. I’m a huge reggae fan. At home I listen to a lot of reggae. I’m also a huge country western fan. I’m a music fan. I’m don’t just dig one thing. I’m a music fan and I love music. I love classical music. I listen to a lot of old country and one of my all time favorite artists is Johnny Cash. I love all that old stuff. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline. I totally love it. I love rockabilly. I just love music and that’s why I keep playing because it’s what I love.
I’m the same way. I don’t really like specific genres of music. I just like good music. If it’s good then I’ll love it and listen to it.
That’s what I try to teach my kids. It doesn’t matter what music you listen to. There’s always someone that does it really well. There are certain types of music that I don’t like. Like I don’t like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. I don’t dig that stuff at all [laughs]. It’s mindless music that people who aren’t so deeply into music can listen to, it’s unoffensive and they dig it. I understand that there’s a place for it but personally, I can’t stand it [laughs]
If Hollywood were to call you and tell you that they were making a movie about your life, who would play you?
[laughs] Ah man. [laughs] Oh that’s a tough one. Let me think. Man, this is a good one [laughs]. Maybe Ed Norton. That’s the best one I can come up with [laughs].
CJ, if you could do it all again, is there anything you would do differently?
I wish that I would have learned to read and write music. I wish I would’ve got more into the theory side of it. I also wish I would’ve written more songs while I was with The Ramones. That would have been cool. Not for the money or anything but because I feel like the stuff I put out like the Bad Chopper record and my new record, I wish I would’ve had some of these songs while The Ramones were still together because I think it would have made the albums that I played on even better. For the most part, I don’t really have any regrets though.
So what can we expect from CJ Ramone in the rest of 2011 and into 2012?
I’m going to get this new CD finished up and recorded and get that out and I’m going to hit the road early next year and start touring again. There’s one thing that we didn’t really talk about and I never really had a chance to explain it to the fans as to where I was all these years and why I wasn’t out touring. My personal life just got super complicated for a long time. I was caught up in a lot of stuff and it was difficult. Just as of late things have cleared up some. Things have got a lot less complicated and I’m hoping that 2012 will be the year that I get back to doing music as much as I’d like to. With my luck, 2012 will be when the world ends [laughs]. I really am hoping that I will be able to take it on full on. I just want to be able to do this as much as I want to.
CJ, I can’t thank you enough for doing this. This has been a real honor and a treat. I’m really looking forward to the new album and we’ll have a beer next time you get to Atlanta!
Absolutely man. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.
For more on CJ Ramone, go to http://www.cjramone.com