Obituary: Tommy Ramone / Drummer and catalyst for punk rock's Ramones

Jan. 29, 1949 - July 11, 2014

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Tom Erdelyi, better known as Tommy Ramone, the founding drummer and last surviving original member of the Ramones -- the New York City band whose dizzyingly short blasts of melody codified the sound of punk rock -- died Friday at his home in New York. He was 65.

The cause was cancer of the bile duct, his family announced. Of the original band, Joey Ramone (the singer) died in 2001, Dee Dee (the bassist) in 2002 and Johnny (the guitarist) in 2004.

Mr. Erdelyi played only on the band's first three albums, "Ramones" in 1976 and "Leave Home" and "Rocket to Russia," both from 1977. And he cut a much more easygoing figure than his bandmates, who despite their fraternal stage names were notorious for internecine feuds. Yet Mr. Erdelyi played a crucial role in the sound and early development of the band, which originated among high school friends from the city's borough of Queens.

When the group first came together in 1974, Mr. Erdelyi, who had some experience in the music business as a recording engineer, was the manager. Equally in love with hard rock's buzz saw guitar and the sunny clarity of 1950s and '60s radio pop, the four men dressed in leather jackets and ripped jeans like B-movie juvenile delinquents, and opposed the mellow singer-songwriters and opulent progressive rock that then dominated pop.

In the band's earliest incarnation, Joey -- real name Jeffrey Hyman -- was the drummer. But once it was discovered that Joey had the most capable singing voice, he moved to lead vocals.

"We started auditioning drummers, but they just couldn't grasp the concept of the band -- the speed and simplicity," Mr. Erdelyi said in a 2011 interview with the website Noisecreep.

"So I'd sit down and show them what we were looking for and the guys just finally said, 'Why don't you do it?' So I gave it a try and that's when the sound of the band sort of solidified."

In songs like "Beat on the Brat" and "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," the nascent Ramones compressed nursery-rhyme chords into adrenalized blares, and seemed to satirize the very ideas of teenage boredom and cheap kicks. Playing regularly at the CBGB bar in the borough of Manhattan, the band charged through every song, pausing only long enough between them for Dee Dee to shout, "One, two, three, four!"

Official songwriting credits were shared by the full band. But Mr. Erdelyi was the primary author of several of its early classics, including "Blitzkrieg Bop," which opens the first album with the chant "Hey ho, let's go!" and features lyrics that boil teenage angst down to its most basic and kinetic ("What they want, I don't know/ They're all revved up and ready to go")

Erdelyi Tamas was born Jan. 29, 1949, in Budapest, Hungary. His parents were professional photographers. Most of the rest of Mr. Erdelyi's family died in the Holocaust, he recalled in Steven Lee Beeber's 2006 book, "The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk."

Mr. Erdelyi immigrated with his family to the U.S. in 1957, and while in high school in the Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills played guitar in a band called Tangerine Puppets with a schoolmate, John Cummings -- the future Johnny Ramone.

Later Mr. Erdelyi trained as a recording engineer and worked at the Record Plant studio in Manhattan. He was associate producer of the Ramones' first album, which was produced by Craig Leon, and he co-produced the band's next three records. Mr. Erdelyi left the band after "Rocket to Russia" to concentrate on producing, and was replaced on the drums by Marc Bell, who took on the name Marky Ramone.

Mr. Erdelyi produced the Replacements' "Tim" in 1985 and Redd Kross' "Neurotica" in 1987. With Ed Stasium, he also produced the Ramones' 1979 live album, "It's Alive" -- recorded in 1977 when Mr. Erdelyi was still with the band -- and the 1984 album "Too Tough to Die."

The Ramones, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, remain one of the quintessential rock groups, whose influence far exceeded its original record sales.

The group's debut LP, which Rolling Stone magazine has ranked the 33rd greatest album of all time, peaked at No. 111 on Billboard's album chart. In April, 38 years after its release, it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, after it finally sold 500,000 copies.

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