For me, few can say they’ve done cooler things.
In the seventies, Marky Ramone seems to have drunkenly happened upon arguably three of the most crucial bands of the era. Dust, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the colossus, The Ramones. Whenever someone asks him, he’s nonchalant, humble even. He’s naturally excited people still care. I’m here to say: that’s not enough, Marky.
The first time Bob Quine (The Voidoids) encountered him, he described him as a “hippie stupid-looking guy.” He walked into the Voidoids practice space not sure what to expect. He was there to play guitar with them for the first time.“I walked into the studio, and there was Marc Bell guzzling vodka in the corner. Marc had these two chicks with him…”. What a miraculous scene.
That cretin on the floor had already done so much. Playing since the late 60’s, Marc had already released two albums with Dust, 70’s hard rock beasts. Now we see them as one of the bands that were at the helm of pioneering American heavy metal. The Dust self-titled (1971) and Hard Attack (1972) are essentials for anyone claiming to have a heart of rock and roll and balls of heavy metal. There is no dispute.
Hard Attack is crushing strength. It could not have a more apt title. The drums could forge forward through rock, snow, molten lava, and a fucking glacier. Precision and finesse. Power and guided insanity. His rolls and grooves are perfect. His ability to ride the bell of a cymbal is downright nasty. Making your face scrunch up in that “oh my god” type of way.
His ride work foreshadows what’s to come in the Voidoids and Ramones. Marc is coming into his own on this record. He is separating himself. He is doing more than most 70’s rock drummers – he is pushing harder, tighter, heavier. Working his ass off. Even on the softer, ballad tracks he is firm but softly pounding out intricate, ornate fills emotionally beating you down. One fill stands alone, crystallizing his pure insanity and power. When I heard it for the first time I was stunned. Midway through the first song on Hard Attack, “Pull Way/So Many Times,” the song breaks down, and Marky does two of the most crushing rolls. Ballsy, compact and wrenching.
Dust is something that we have to be thankful for. Short-lived and essential American Rock and Roll.
There is so much to say about Richard Hell. He was mysterious, cynical, angry and didn’t care at all. About anything. He had cool friends and heroin. It was New York in the late 70’s. None of this is a surprise. He has two legitimate releases as Richard Hell and the Voidoids, following his departure from two of the most important bands in punk rock: Television and The Heartbreakers. What an obvious cool guy move. Both albums I find to be masterpieces in their own right. Somehow through the fog of his shitty attitude he crafted a mood, a style, a philosophy and a lineup of musicians that was undoubtedly noteworthy and influential.
Marc only played on one of these albums. The seminal Blank Generation. In New York City, a shift was occurring. A shift toward a simpler, faster and shorter fresh approach to rock and roll. In 72’, Dust disbanded and Marc recorded an album with the band Estus. Nothing special. In the years following, Marc tried out for New York Dolls but soon began playing with Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys, immersing himself into the sleazy new culture. After being picked from Wayne County, the Voidoids recorded and released Blank Generation in September 1977. Perfect “punk” timing.
Marc’s playing on this album, to say the least, is simpler than Dust. It’s stripped down with less flare. Straightforward yet quirky. His rolls are less up front and fewer, but his ride is still piercing. He grounds the sometimes spastic guitar work. He plays more of the same beats with less variation, fitting right in with the move away from his hard rock roots and into the burgeoning wave of stripping things down. Its traditional, its naughty, its solid, it’s still Marc. The songs are softer, looser allowing the drums to be playful. A lot of the times he’s doing a shuffle type beat, taking you forward at a procession pace. He seems to fiddle on the ride, teasing and leading you down a dirty old alley.
Every song on this album is superb for me. His mastery of control and dynamics can be heard on “Down at the Rock and Roll Club.” He goes from flirty, dirty nightclub slow ride beats, drawing you in. Then lays the heaviest crash barrage at the end. “Walking on the Water” is a propelling force of a song. Marc takes you on this journey slowly building you up. He never stops moving ahead until he lays on that ride and takes the solo to a real hard place. A real beatdown. Which gives a hint of the future. The true beatdown of a band. The pure power of The Ramones.
I bring this discourse to a close with The Ramones. So much as has been said about this era. In fact, Marky just released his own book. I want to focus on his playing. Marc deserved the Ramones. He had been playing in bands for so many years, scratching at something big, something long term. Oh and he’d been wearing leather jackets since Dust. Look it up.
In 1978 after touring with Richard Hell, he joined the Ramones. Replacing Tommy who was tired of touring, Marc was now Marky Ramone. Tommy was a solid drummer, but Marky brought something more. The Ramones could not be more straightforward, Marky didn’t rock the boat, but he carved a new path. A path of exceptionally clean and tight playing. So forthright and punishing. He brought a level of professionalism and polish musically that I think the Ramones needed to push forward. Not to mention speed. The ferocious speed he brought to the mix is undeniable. Roy Trakin from the New York Rocker described his style in comparison with Tommy: “his light, distinctive, jazz-influenced drumming is sorely missed on Road to Ruin as Marky is of the heads-down basher school.” I disagree. I love Tommy, but damn, Marky is a machine.
Road to Ruin, in my mind, stands as the pinnacle of the Ramones influence. Songs like “I’m a Against It”, “Bad Brains” and “Gone Mental” are fast, really fast for the era. They are impressive visions of the future. Hardcore. The most efficient song structure imaginable. As a whole, the album once again shows the spectrum of Marky’s playing. He stands apart but is conforming to the band. A true Ramone. He softly plays the 60’s style ballads with great control and dynamic. The up tempo songs are so smooth, so streamlined. This album hits me in the gut.
Marky, to me, means a lot to music. He started off with an amazing band and is still going hard. He is super active to this day and is candid and open about his experiences.Everything he has done musically is satisfying, giving us just what we want. He delivered to us a backbone to some of the most classic rock and roll records ever. He deserves more credit. He is a staple. He is cretin. He was necessary. He is a legend.