TO ROCK fans the world over he is Tommy Ramone, drummer with the legendary New York punk band the Ramones, but to his family he is Erdélyi Tamás.
Erdélyi Tamás was born to a Jewish family in Budapest in 1949 and spent his early years living inside the newly-established Eastern Bloc. Following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and it’s brutal suppression by the Soviets, Erdelyi’s family decided to leave their home and start a new life in America.
The family settled in New York and their son changed his name to Thomas Erdelyi. From an early age Thomas showed a keen interest in music and it soon become the dominant force in his life. At Forest Hills High School in Queens he met John Cummings and Douglas Colvin and they formed a garage band called Tangerine Puppets.
“I used to meet John and Douglas in our high school cafeteria and there was an affinity there from the very start,” Tommy tells me. “I had just arrived from Hungary and Douglas was from Germany and John was a proud Irish-American.
“We were all big music fans and were into weird and wonderful bands. We were kind of the geeky guys in school but I found them an incredibly interesting bunch of fellows to be around. We formed a band together to play at school dances.”
Around this time Tommy found part-time work as a studio intern at the Record Plant and was involved in the production of Jimi Hendrix’s album 1970 live album Band of Gypsys. “I was very young and that was my first introduction to rock‘n’roll” he says. “It was a wonderful experience and a very special time in my life.”
Tommy would frequent gigs around the New York scene and when he saw The New York Dolls perform he decided to form his own punk band.
The Ramones took shape in 1974 as drummer Erdelyi (who became Tommy Ramone ) was joined by his schoolfriends Cummings (Johnny Ramone ) and Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone ) on guitar and bass, along with Dee Dee’s friend Jeffrey Hyman (Joey Ramone ) as vocalist. Throughout the late 1970s the band built up a devoted following playing clubs such as Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. They were also a huge influence on the emerging British punk scene.
Erdelyi remembers seeing the dandyish figure of the late Malcolm McLaren around at that time.
“We ran in to Malcolm a couple of times,” Tommy says. “He and I were around at the same time when the New York Dolls were happening and I guess we were both inspired and got similar ideas from it. I got together with The Ramones and Malcolm saw us play before he went back to the UK and put together The Sex Pistols. He was a very unique person and a brilliant, troubled, individual.”
What set The Ramones apart from their contemporaries were their fast and furious songs and their black leather-clad image. They had limited chart success in the US but after a whistle-stop tour of the UK in 1976 they increased their popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. However, in 1977 Tommy decided to leave the group.
“It was hard touring with those guys after a couple of years,” he says. “They all had very unique and oftentimes very volatile personalities and that was part of their talent as a group and what made them great. Eventually though, they just wore me down. I decided it’d be much better if I just kept producing their records and writing songs for them.”
Tommy co-produced hit albums such as Ramones, Rocket To Russia, Leave Home, Road To Ruin, and Too Tough To Die and recruited Marc Bell (Marky Ramone ) and Richard Reinhardt (Richie Ramone ) as his replacements on drums.
“All the drummers The Ramones had were really good,” he says “Marky and Richie - and even Clem Burke (from Blondie ) who was there for like a day - are very talented drummers. Marc came at a really good time and we utilised his talents to get a harder and a bigger sound. Then you had Richie who came in with more of an improvisational style and that brought the band on to another level.”
In the early 1980s Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend and for over two decades the duo did not speak to each other. Dee Dee quit the group as he battled bipolar disorder and drug addiction and Marky left for four years in the mid-80s to receive treatment for alcohol addiction.
During this time Tommy continued his work in the studio and produced albums by The Replacements and Talking Heads.
“I’ve never solicited stuff but I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some really talented people,” he states. “I like to work with people who’ve great ideas and then to combine those with my ideas. That’s really how I’ve always worked.”
The latest project Tommy is involved in is a bluegrass/old-time duo with Claudia Tienan called Uncle Monk. They play The Crane Bar on Friday April 30.
“I’ve been into this type of music since I was a child,” he says. “Every Hungarian restaurant you went in to when I was young there was some kind of string band or gypsy music playing in the background. My father was a big country music fan and my brother was into old-time music. It was always around,”
Given that CBGB’s (the club where The Ramones made their name ) stood for Country, Blue Grass and Blues it seems that Erdelyi has come full circle.
“I guess it’s one of those strange coincidences in life,” he laughs. “I’m going back to my long-lost musical roots.”
For tickets contact The Crane on 091 - 587419 or see www.thecranebar.com