Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hey Johnny, hey Dee Dee, Little Tom and Joey

PERFORMANCE STUDIOS--23 E. 20th Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South. At this rehearsal/recording studio-cum-punk rock laboratory, the Ramones were invented and unleashed on the world. The facilities were designed and built by Tommy Erdelyi and Monte Melnick, as explained in Monte's On the Road With the Ramones (London: Sanctuary, 2003):

[M]y cousin Ivan...was a locksmith and had installed a lock in a loft for this lesbian couple on E. 20th Street. One girl was a musician and the other had lots of money. They wanted to make some money by turning it into a hip studio and asked him if he knew anyone who could do it. My cousin asked me about it since I was in the music industry, and I called Tommy since he had the studio experience [He had worked at the Record Plant and other studios in the late '60s.--Ed.]. We built that place by hand; designed it and everything. We had a main stage, a separate booth with a glass wall for a four-track recorder, a rehearsal studio, offices and a lobby. We provided much of the gear ourselves, so we got all the free studio time we wanted in return. Unfortunately, we were in a residential neighborhood and kept on getting dragged into court due to noise complaints...Eventually they shut us down, but we managed to make a name for ourselves in the meantime.

The book includes reprints of the floor plan and business card, which extols the studio's many virtues: "Quality sounds, creative environment, baby grand, Hammond, Marshall, Sunn, Ludwig, Shure P.A, Wurlitzer, Peavey, 4-2 track TEAC, air conditioning."

People like Blondie and the Dolls were rehearsing there. I was working with a group called Smiley. We'd make flyers, charge a coupla bucks at the door, get a crowd, talk some label people into coming down and made our own little scene. I was doing the sound and lights at the time, which Tommy taught me how to do. On the side, Tommy was working on this unknown group, the Ramones. They were terrible...I thought it was a joke. I was a musician. I had two albums out. I was into four-part harmonies. I played with a symphony orchestra for chrissakes! I came from a different world. I thought, "What is this? What the hell is going on? Forget about it!"

Famous last words--he'd go on to spend the next two-decades-plus as their long-suffering tour manager. Tommy, who had initially served as the band's advisor/musical director, was also recruited into the fold--but not until after their first gig. The original line-up, which began practicing at Performance in January '74, consisted of Johnny on guitar, Dee Dee on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Joey on drums, and a fellow named Ritchie Stern on bass, who quit after just a couple of sessions. Dee Dee took over bass duties, but had some trouble singing and playing simultaneously. He also a tendency to get hoarse after just a couple of numbers, so Joey would sing a few from behind his kit. Their first public appearance, and their only one as a trio, took place at a Performance Studio showcase on March 30, 1974.

Johnny, quoted in On the Road With the Ramones: We took ads in the Village Voice and we played one show for our friends around March 30, 1974. We were awful. We didn't have the image down yet. Our friends didn't even want to talk to us anymore after that.

Tommy got the bright idea that Joey should be the frontman--which necessitated a search for a new drummer. The cats who came to audition tended to play in a busy Bonham or Appice-like manner, as was the style at the time. Though not a drummer himself, Tommy would try to demonstrate a simpler, Slade-like way of playing to these prospects. They just couldn't seem to grasp proper Ramone technique, though--and so Tommy eventually realized he was the only logical choice to join the brudderhood. The first show with the new complete line-up was at CBGB on August 16, 1974--but they continued to do showcase gigs at Performance throughout '74 and '75, sometimes sharing the stage with Blondie.

It's unclear exactly when Performance closed down or what replaced it. Monte Melnick of course went on to be the Fifth Ramone, and in mid-1978 Tommy conceded his Fourth Ramone status to Marc Bell when he decided to re-devote his energies to sound engineering. The address is currently occupied by the Trixie + Peanut Pet Emporium, a purveyor of pricey pet paraphernalia.

1 comment:

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