Johnny Ramone, has died at age 55. He was the lead guitarist with The Ramones, the American band that was the chief influence on the development of punk rock.
The importance of the group to punk was that they were the first to reduce music to its bare necessities of four chords, pointless lyrics and, above all, energy. What counted was attitude, not skill, although unlike the movement in Britain, theirs was a gesture principally to the disposability of pop rather than a call to arms.
They first attracted attention in 1974 when playing at a dive on the Lower East Side of New York, CBGB, that would become the centre of America's art-punk scene and the proving ground for bands such as Blondie and Talking Heads.
Outfits such as The New York Dolls had paved the way for the stripped-down sound of The Ramones, but none had played at such a speeded-up tempo before, and their gigs - at which they crashed through 20 songs in half an hour - caused a considerable sensation in the music world and landed them a contract with Sire, so becoming the first punk band to sign with a record label.
Their debut LP, The Ramones (1976), recorded in two days, enjoyed very limited success in America, where radio was then dominated by disco and progressive rock bands such as Yes, against whom the Ramones were reacting. Accordingly Sire dispatched them to London, where at the Roundhouse on Bicentennial Day, July 4 1976, they made their reputation in Britain.
Dressed in denim and biker gear, they introduced each of their songs with a simple "1-2-3-4" and proceeded to pound them out with an almost cartoon-like intensity. Watching in the audience was an entranced Sid Vicious, and thereafter The Ramones exerted a disproportionate influence on their British peers, particularly The Sex Pistols.
None of The Ramones originally bore that name. Johnny Ramone was born John Cummings, the only child of a construction worker of Irish descent, on Long Island on October 8 1948. He grew up in the Forest Hills section of Queens, New York, and soon made friends with the boy across the street, Douglas Colvin.
The pair liked the same sort of music - Elvis Presley and the Beatles and later the Velvet Underground and the MC5 - and bought their first instruments together, Cummings's being the Mosrite guitar that became his signature.
In 1974, they formed a band with what Colvin called "the obvious creeps of the neighbourhood", Jeffrey Hyman and Tom Erdelyi, and adopted the surname Ramone. Colvin - Dee Dee Ramone - was the original vocalist, but soon ceded this role to Hyman - Joey Ramone - and concentrated on writing songs and playing the bass. Erdelyi, who began as their manager, became their drummer.
Their stock was always higher in Britain than in America, where they never had a hit single or a gold album. By contrast, their LPs Ramones Leave Home (1977), Rocket to Russia (1977) and Road to Ruin (1978) all sold moderately well on the other side of the Atlantic, and they twice entered the pop charts with Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (1977) and their cover of The Ronettes' Baby I Love You, which reached No 8 in 1980.
That single was taken from the album End of the Century, produced - curiously - by Phil Spector, which marked the end of the band's glory days. Although they continued to tour for another 15 years, eventually playing more than 2,000 gigs, they had long since begun to fall out with each other.
Some of the band had problems with addictions - Joey with alcohol and Dee Dee with drugs - and members started to come and go. Johnny Ramone remained one of the few constants, although he and Joey never resolved their argument over a girlfriend dating back to 1982.
They continued to release new albums occasionally, retained a solid fan base, and were an acknowledged influence on a later generation of hardcore bands such as Blink 182 and Green Day.
In 1996, they called it a day, and Johnny Ramone moved to Los Angeles. In recent years, he had found that his income had started to increase substantially as Ramones tracks were used in television advertisements, and he had built up a collection of more than 4,000 films (The Bride of Frankenstein was his favourite).
He had always been somewhat out of step with the other members of the band, partly because he looked after his health, and partly because he was a card-carrying Republican supporter. He was a great admirer of President Reagan and in the 1980s had tried to stop Dee Dee Ramone from writing the song Bonzo Goes to Bitburg, a satire on a presidential visit to Germany.
Johnny Ramone revealed his political affiliation, somewhat unexpectedly, in 2002 when the group was being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
"God bless President Bush," he announced to a startled audience, "and God bless America." His conservative leanings brought him the friendship of, among others, Charlton Heston.
He was the third of the band to die in recent years. In 2001, Joey Ramone died from lymphatic cancer, while the following year Dee Dee Ramone was killed by a drug overdose. Johnny Ramone had been suffering from prostate cancer for five years, and he died in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
He is survived by his wife, Linda.
Meeting Johnny Ramone back in 1979 was one of my first real rock and roll encounters. I met him before their show at Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio after spotting him at the bar during the opening band, Holly & The Italians. He was super cool and signed a beer coaster for me. Ten years (and 8 more Ramone shows) later, I was lucky enough to hang with them for about an hour before a show at Citi in Boston. At this point Dee Dee was too strung out to do anything and this was the first tour with CJ - a perfect fit as he was an equally sound and down to earth dude. They were all really very normal and truly nice people. We spent an hour playing one game of pool eating greasy Pizza from Kenmore Square and drinking YooHoo Chocolate soda. (They had, like, a $500.00 pre gig food allowance and ordered pizza! These guys were the real deal.) I remember Joey had a bum foot at the time, was quiet and quick with a smile. Johnny was still the nice guy I met years earlier but the worst pool player of our little bunch. They signed some stuff, we wished each other luck and faster than you can say 1-2-3-4 they were on stage rocking as usual. That was the last time I saw them. They were truly amazing live and I consider myself lucky to have seen one of the greatest rock and roll bands at their peak. It's a sad day for rock and roll.
RIP Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey.