John William Cummings (October 8, 1948 – September 15, 2004), better known by the stage name Johnny Ramone, was the guitarist for the seminal punk rock group The Ramones. He was a founding member of the band, and along with vocalist Jeffry Hyman, aka Joey Ramone, he remained a member throughout their career. He was placed #16 on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and listed on Time magazine's 10 Greatest Electric-Guitar Players.
He was raised in the Forest Hills, Queens neighborhood of New York City, where he grew up absorbing rock music. As a teenager, Cummings played in a band called the Tangerine Puppets alongside future Ramones drummer Tomás Erdélyi (better known as Tommy Ramone). When he was older, he was known as a "greaser," though was later described as a tie-dye-wearing Stooges fan. Also, he was a big New York Yankees fan. Johnny Ramone also worked as a plumber for his father before the Ramones was official.
He met future bandmate Douglas Colvin, later to become Dee Dee Ramone, in the early 1970s when he was delivering dry cleaning. They would eat lunch together and discuss their mutual love of bands like the Stooges and MC5. They went to Manny's Guitar Emporium in New York City in January 1974. Johnny bought a used blue Mosrite Ventures II for $54 and change, including tax. On the same trip Colvin bought a Danelectro bass. They collaborated with future bandmate Jeffry Hyman and formed the Ramones, with the almost-unknown Richie Stern on bass, who left after a few rehearsals. Erdelyi joined the band in the summer of that year, after failed public auditions for the position of Ramones drummer.
Although Johnny Ramone wasn't as prolific of a songwriter as his bandmates, especially Dee Dee Ramone, his guitar style was a key part of the Ramones sound and was a major punk rock influence.
Cummings later commented on working with Phil Spector on the recording of the 1980 album, End of the Century, "It really worked when he got to a slower song like 'Danny Says'—the production really worked tremendously. For the harder stuff, it didn't work as well."
Cummings was responsible for initiating one of the major sources of stress for the band when he started dating Hyman's ex-girlfriend, whom he later married. Allegedly, this incident prompted Hyman to write the song "The KKK Took My Baby Away", although it has been speculated that the song was actually written before the founding of the Ramones in 1974. Though the band remained together for years after this incident, relations between the two remained frosty and verbal communication was almost non-existent. Years later, when Hyman was in the hospital dying of cancer, Cummings refused to telephone him. He later discussed this incident in the film End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, saying an attempt at such a reunion would have been futile. He did add that he was depressed for a week after Hyman's death, and when pressed, acknowledged that this was because of the bond forged by the band. In their road manager, Monte Melnick's, book on the band Johnny is quoted as having said "I'm not doing anything without him. I felt that was it. He was my partner. Me and him. I miss that."
Alongside his music career, he appeared in nearly a dozen movies (including Rock 'n' Roll High School) and documentaries. He also made television appearances on such shows as The Simpsons (1F01 "Rosebud", 1993) and Space Ghost Coast to Coast (Episode 5 "Bobcat").
Infamous in the punk community as one of relatively few conservatives, Cummings made his political affiliation known to the world in 2002, when the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After thanking everyone who made it possible — clad in his trademark T-shirt, ripped blue jeans and leather jacket — he said "God bless President Bush, and God bless America. He said in an interview, when questioned on his conservatism, "I think Ronald Reagan was the best President of my lifetime." This was evident at least in the mid-1980s; when the band released the UK single "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" in 1985, Cummings pressed for a name change, finding it insulting to Ronald Reagan, and the song was retitled on American releases to "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)" after a line from the song's chorus. In this same interview he claimed that "Punk is right wing".
Cummings is quoted as by The Observer as saying: "People drift towards liberalism at a young age, and I always hope they change when they see how the world really is."
As noted in tour manager Monte Melnick's book "On the Road with The Ramones," Johnny's father was a strict disciplinarian. "My father would get on these [tangents] about how he never missed a day's work. I broke my big toe the day I had to go pitch a Little League game and he's going, 'What are you - a baby? What did I do, raise a baby? You go play.' And even though my toe was broken I had to go pitch the game anyway. It was terrible. It would always be like that. I'm glad he raised me like that but it would always be, 'What are you - sick? You're not sick. What did I raise - a baby? I never missed a day's work in my life.' Then I went to military school, and in military school you couldn't call in sick."
Further, Johnny's early childhood was marked with bouts of delinquency to which he attested were inexplicable at the time,
"I didn't become a delinquent until I got out of high school. I had a two-year run. I'd go out and hit kids and take their money and rob everybody's pocketbooks. Just being bad every minute of the day. It was terrible. I don't know what my problem was. Things that were funny to me at the time were horrible. If I found a television set sitting in the garbage, I'd take it up to the rooftop, watch for someone walking down the block and drop it in front of them on the sidewalk. It was funny watching them see a TV set come crashing down 30 feet in front of them. To me it was hysterical, but it was also a mean and terrible thing to do. I also found a way of stopping the elevator. I could open up the door and stop the elevator. I would wait for an old lady to get in and stop the elevator. They'd be yelling and pushing the alarm, and I would keep them there. At about 20 years old, I stopped drinking and doing drugs, got a job and tried to be normal."
On September 15, 2004, Cummings died in his Los Angeles home at age 55 after a five-year battle with prostate cancer. Many of his friends came to pay their respects. After his death, his remains were cremated. A cenotaph was built in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, near the gravesite of former bandmate Dee Dee Ramone.
In 2006, the remake of the horror film The Wicker Man was dedicated to Johnny Ramone's memory, as he was a close friend of the film's producer and star, Nicolas Cage. The lyrics for Pearl Jam's 2006 single "Life Wasted" were written by Eddie Vedder while driving home from Cummings' funeral.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked Johnny Ramone 16th on their list of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
In 2009, Time magazine included Johnny Ramone on its list of the 10 best electric guitarists of all time.
An annual Johnny Ramone memorial is held every October in Hollywood Forever Cemetery Hollywood, California. The event which has taken place 5 years now, has included appearances by Tommy, Marky, and C.J Ramone. Many other celebrity guests regularly attend.
His friend, Lisa Marie Presley did a cover of his song, "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" on her 2005 album Now What. She stated in the jacket of the CD that: "Five years ago, Johnny Ramone picked me to sing Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. He wanted me to sing it on a Ramones tribute record where many of his friends and other artists were covering his songs. Johnny was one of my best friends, and I promised him before he passed away that I would sing that song on my record. He was very sick but wanted to play guitar on it as long as he was sitting down. Unfortunately, while we were recording the basic track, he died."
Cummings was known for his fast, high-energy playing style that consisted of rapid down stroked barre chords, often in a simple I-IV-V progression. Called "buzzsaw", this technique was highly influential on first- and second-wave punk. This technique was used in New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands like Iron Maiden, and Def Leppard. It's also used in alternative rock bands, as well as thrash metal performers such as Kirk Hammett of Metallica. Guitar Virtuoso Paul Gilbert has cited Johnny Ramone as one of his influences. Cummings was strictly a rhythm guitarist, as evidenced by live recordings. Johnny played very few leads on the studio albums (including "Time Has Come Today", "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", and "California Sun" amongst others); guitar solos on the group's studio albums were overdubbed by Erdelyi, Ed Stasium, Daniel Rey, Walter Lure and other uncredited guests.