INTERVIEW WITH RICHIE RAMONE IN LA WEEKLY BY
STEVEN MIKULAN ON AUGUST 15, 2007
Copyrightę 2007 for everything in this page: Steven Mikulan, LA
Weekly, Ted Soqui and Jari-Pekka Laitio-Ramone.
This interview/ article was released in La Weekly by
Steven Mikulan on August 15, 2007. Here is an original
Richie Ramone does West Side Story
Golly, Moses, naturally we're
"I'm gonna jam this thing down your throat so that you're not going to
be able to breathe with your mouth open."
The speaker is Richie Ramone and, just so there's no misunderstanding,
he is discussing the West Side Story drum solo that he'll perform this
weekend with the Pasadena Pops. A big man who moves with a big man's
confidence, Richie speaks in the husky growl of the Jersey boy he still
is - there are few exclamation points at the end of his sentences and
even fewer question marks.
Perhaps the least-known of the Ramones (he penned Somebody Put Something
In My Drink), Richie joined the ur-punk group in 1983, replacing
drummer Marky, then left in 1987 in a fight over finances and respect.
The collaboration between punk and pops might seem a discordant
juxtaposition, especially given this weekend's outdoor venue - La
Canada-Flintridge's Descanso Gardens, that rustic suburban refuge whose
loudest nighttime racket comes from crickets. But the common ground is
West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein's iconic urban opera that exploded on
Broadway in 1957 prophesying that "the air is humming and something
great is coming". Today, thanks mostly to its film version, West Side
Story is as much a part of the American pop subconscious as Muzak.
Richie hadn't seen the movie when, as Richard Reinhardt, he first
encountered the score on a high school friend's stereo. What he heard
wasn't the Broadway or Hollywood cast album, however, but Buddy Rich's
famous big-band arrangement, West Side Story Medley. He was instantly
"This music is really tough at times, a little dark," Richie says. "It's
about violence, stabbing. It's not a cheery thing - I don't like that
kind of smiley stuff. I won't play it."
He was also moved by what Rich had done with it, and for him the
experience confirmed the primacy of percussion.
"I've been drumming since I was 4 years old," he says. "The drummer is
the ultimate driver of an orchestra - I don't care what anyone
Not surprisingly, when Richie eventually did see the movie version, it
wasn't the Romeo and Juliet narrative of Arthur Laurents. book that
grabbed him, but the story's seething rebelliousness.
"The film was a total connection," he recalls. "Coming from my
background of hanging out on the street with kids in Passaic, that's
what I did, and I understood it."
The Reinhardts moved around a lot. His father had a successful
landscaping business, but Richie felt suffocated in his family's strict
"They wanted to send me to West Point," he continues in his heavy Jersey
accent, coming as close to laughing as he can. "One of those schools
where they want to send you away to become a better kid."
Instead, Richie left home when he was 17.
"I threw my jewelry at my mother and left," he remembers. "At that time
we all wore onyx and turquoise and ivory."
He crossed the Hudson and on to the tail end of the Max's Kansas City
scene, where no one wore turquoise. He spent the next half dozen or so
years drumming in small bands before landing in the Ramones.
For the last 15 years, Richie Ramone has worked in corporate hotel
"I'm not into being a 50-year-old uncle playing rock," he says. "It
doesn't make sense."
Instead, for roughly the past year, he devised his own West Side Story
medley, called Suite for Drums and Orchestra, that distills several of
the musical's motifs into one 17-minute drum-dominated performance.
Working with an electronic drum kit using ProTools software, Richie
developed an early arrangement in a room of the North Hollywood
apartment he shares with his wife, the writer Annette Stark. Then he
began researching possible venues.
"Here's what you need to know about orchestras," he says today. "They
don't want to take a chance. Especially on an old punk who might show up
drunk and puke on the stage."
But then he discovered Rachael Worby, the innovative director of the
Pasadena Pops, which is currently winding down its last season before
merging with the Pasadena Symphony - an economic move that has triggered
controversy and a lawsuit from Los Angeles. Musicians Union Local 47.
Worby, whom Richie describes as "a real Leonard Bernstein freak," liked
what she heard.
"I immediately put him on to Ron Abel," she recalls, "with whom he
worked very closely. I suspect the live version will be very
Together, Richie and Abel, who is a professional composer and arranger,
produced a 250-page score of 600 bars. For this week's performance, Abel
will play grand piano, which, Richie says, makes the piece "more clubby
and [gives it] less of a traditional orchestra feel. [Ron] comes from
more of a Broadway background. I'd bring my electronic drums to his
place and we'd work on it. I told him it needs to be tough and
Richie Ramone's suite features him as the Pops' drum soloist and will
close a very eclectic two-and-a-half-hour evening, called "76
Trombones." The evening is dedicated to the year 1957 and, ironically,
will feature a tribute medley to that year's other big musical, The
Music Man. 1957 was also the year Humphrey Bogart died, and so the Pops
evening will have music from Max Steiner's score for The Treasure of the
Sierra Madre, along with Franz Waxman's music for 1957's Peyton Place,
some Lennon-McCartney tunes celebrating the 50-year anniversary of their
first meeting, along with Finlandia, marking Jean Sibelius' 1957 death,
and a reading from Dr. Seuss. 50-year-old The Cat in the Hat. Not to
mention that this month Richie Ramone turns 50 - call it his own End of
Richie Ramone hopes the Descanso Garden gig will be the first of many
and is trying to book other venues for an expanded version of his work,
along with a new suite tentatively called Ramones Meet Bond. For now,
though, he's hoping for the best this weekend.
"The percentage of punks we get will be very exciting," he says. "Maybe
they'll rush the stage, stomping over people's blankets. I'll tell you
at 10 to 10."