NEW YORK – Johnny Ramone co-founded and led the most influential punk rock group of all time, The Ramones.
Getting his start in a dive bar called CBGBs on New York City's skid row, amid the chaotic mid-70s art scene, Johnny was different: a working class guy from Queens with an intense work ethic, and a plan.
Johnny was also one of the few Republicans in the anarchic world of punk rock (he would later say Ronald Reagan was his favorite president), but his wife, Linda Ramone, said that never got in the way of Johnny hanging out with whoever he wanted to hang out with, regardless of their political persuasion.
“All our friend were Democrats, but it didn’t matter,” Linda told Fox411.com in an interview supporting Johnny Ramone’s autobiography, “Commando.” “Because Johnny couldn’t sway them, and they couldn’t sway Johnny.”
Johnny Ramone died in 2004 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer. His posthumous autobiography, written from scores of interviews Linda did with him in the years before his death, paints the picture of a man not often swayed. Not even when the woman he has fallen for (Linda) is already dating the lead singer of his band (Joey Ramone).
“[He said] you’re going to leave Joey,” Linda laughed. “And Johnny always gets what Johnny wants.”
"Johnny always gets what Johnny wants"
- Linda Ramone
Johnny Ramone, born John Cummings, had always been a fan of rock and roll, but didn’t start The Ramones, or even learn to play guitar, until he was 26, when he was laid off from a long-term construction job.
Johnny and three friends all changed their last name to Ramone, and in 1974, The Ramones were born. They went on to lead a popular music movement, influencing English bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols, who took punk to a whole new level of popularity and notoriety.
But The Ramones, though as big as The Beatles in some parts of the word (especially, interestingly, in South America), never caught on with mainstream American rock stations.
“Once Johnny figured out they would never have a hit single, he stopped trying,” she said. “That was it.”
The Ramones continued produce albums and tour, however, as Johnny, the conservative businessman, worked to build a nest egg he felt he could comfortably retire on.
In 1994, he and Linda moved to Los Angeles, where he spent the final decade of his life among the next generation of hard rockers, some of who, like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam and Kirk Hammett from Metallica, became his best friends.
With the book “Commando,” an annual Johnny Ramone festival, and several other projects in the works, Linda continues to keep her late husband’s music alive and build his legacy as one of rock's most influential guitarists.
Today, the old CBGBs is a John Varvatos clothing store. The shop held a book party for “Commando” last week, but the space has changed so much, Linda said she couldn’t even picture where the legendary punk club’s stage had been.
“Now it’s clean, it smells great, it looks great, it has great chandeliers,” she said. “[CBGBs] was a hole. But it was a great venue to see bands, and it was such an exciting scene.”