Rocker Joey Ramone Dies

Joey Ramone, the punk-rock icon whose monotonous yelp melded with the Ramones' three-chord thrash to launch an explosion of bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols, died Sunday. He was 49.

Ramone, the gangly lead singer with the leather jacket, tinted glasses and permanently torn jeans, was hospitalized in March 2001 with lymphoma. His death was confirmed Sunday by Arturo Vega, the Ramones' longtime artistic director.

The Ramones — the four original members adopted the common last name after forming the band in 1974 — came out of Forest Hills, Queens, a motley collection of local losers with limited musical skills. Joey became the lead singer only after his drumming proved too rudimentary to keep up with his bandmates' thunderous riffs.

While British bands such as the Sex Pistols and Clash received the media attention once punk rock exploded, both were schooled by the Ramones' tour of England that began on the U.S. Bicentennial — July 4, 1976.

"They changed the world of music. They rescued rock and roll from pretentiousness and unnecessary adornments," said Vega.

Their "do-it-yourself," garage-rock influence still echoes today in bands like Green Day and the Offspring. The low-tech Ramones spent just two days and $6,000 recording their 1976 debut album.

"They're the daddy punk group of all time," said Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash, in a recent Spin magazine interview.

Despite their influence and critical acclaim, the Ramones never cracked the Top 40.

Bruce Springsteen, after seeing the Ramones in an Asbury Park, N.J., club, wrote "Hungry Heart" for the band, but his manager convinced The Boss to keep the eventual hit single.

The Ramones' best-known songs reflected their twisted teen years in Queens: "Beat on the Brat," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," "Teenage Lobotomy," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker."

Joey Ramone was born Jeffrey Hyman on May 19, 1951. His career started during the early 1970s glam-rock era, when he played in several New York bands, occasionally under the name Jeff Starship.

But his collaboration with Dee Dee (Douglas Colvin), Johnny (John Cummings) and Tommy Ramone (Tommy Erdelyi)was something special. They became fixtures in downtown clubs like CBGBs and Max's Kansas City, joining fellow punkers like Patti Smith and Richard Hell.

The scene eventually produced commercially successful bands like Blondie and the Talking Heads.

The Ramones recorded their first album of two-minute, three-chord blasts in February 1976. The band then earned a loyal cult following with a seemingly endless string of tours where they would crank out 30 songs in 90 minutes.

In 1979, Joey and the band appeared in the Roger Corman movie Rock N' Roll High School, contributing the title song to the soundtrack. They also did the title track for the film Pet Semetary, based on the book by Ramones fan Stephen King.

Their last real stab at commercial success came in a bizarre 1980 collaboration with producer Phil Spector — a session that bassist Dee Dee Ramone recalled most for Spector's pulling a gun on the band inside his Beverly Hills mansion.

Joey eventually wound up singing a syrupy version of Spector's classic "Baby, I Love You" — the strangest recording of the band's 22-year career. The Spector-produced End of the Century did become the Ramones' best-selling record, hitting No. 44 on the charts.

Five years later, the band released "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" — Joey Ramone's angry rant about President Reagan's visit to a German military cemetery.

The Ramones disbanded in 1996 after a tour that followed their final studio album, Adios Amigos. A live farewell tour album, We're Outta Here!, was released in 1997.

After the band's demise, Joey Ramone kept a fairly low profile, occasionally popping up to perform or host shows at Manhattan clubs, making occasional radio show appearances, and working on a solo album that was never released.