On September 4, 1989, Christopher Joseph Ward would don a black leather jacket and a black-and-white bandana, throw the wide, studded strap of a cream-colored Fender Precision over his left shoulder, and play his very first show under the moniker that would come to endear him to a legion of fans and followers over the next three decades: CJ Ramone. It was during the legendary Ramones‘ appearance on that year’s Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon and it was a few days before my tenth birthday, which is a thing I remember because my birthday always brought with it two things that I always tried to find forgettable: the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon and the first day of school. In just a hair over five minutes, the band blazed through “I Believe In Miracles” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” and provided a pretty awesome and unexpected change of pace from the standard pledge pitches and Don Rickles jokes and WWF wrestler appearances.
Fast forward the tape thirty years, and yours truly had the opportunity to sit down with CJ Ramone back stage at Maggy’s Lounge in Quincy, Massachusetts. The venue is essentially a mid-century single-family house with a 125-capacity ballroom jutting out from what probably used to be the living room, and it marks the only New England stop on his US tour supporting his fourth full-length album, The Holy Spell, released last month on Fat Wreck Chords. But what’s more than the fact that it’s the tour for what’s probably his best album to date is that it also marks only local stop on his last North American tour as CJ Ramone. A fairly lengthy Australia tour next month will be followed by stops in South America and Japan next year, and then it’ll be on to what comes next. Sure, there’ll still be music made and the occasional show played, but the years of getting in the van for months at a time will have come to a successful close.
Ramone and I chatted for just about half an hour in the venue’s outdoor green room area (basically a 15×15 pop-up tent and a few food-and-beer filled folding tables on the gravel lot behind the old house) as his band members for this run — Street Dogs/The New Darkbuster colleagues Lenny Lashley and Pete Sosa and jack-of-all-trades Nate Sander — prepared and the sisters of tour-opener Dog Party geared up. In hindsight, it was a remarkably quick half hour that found Ramone perhaps a little tired from a late arrival on this particular night but more realistically from what has been roughly three straight months on the road, but introspective and engaged and thoughtful in his reflections on his own place in rock and roll history, and about what else he wants to do while, at fifty-three years old, he’s still got the opportunity. The appreciation that Ramone shows for the opportunities he’s had over the last three decades is palpable, as is the reverence for both the Ramones as an entity and his bass playing predecessor Dee Dee specifically.
I thought about different ways to format this piece, and different ways to turn it into a story. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a time and a place for a longer career retrospective piece in the future. Maybe this is a bit self-serving, but I decided to just let our conversation be the story. We covered a lot of ground, most of it involving family and music of course. Ramone has stories in spades, and it’s admittedly a bit surreal to know that when he talks about Lemmy or Johnny or Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, he’s talking about HIS experiences with THAT Lemmy and THAT Johnny and THAT Pearl Jam/Soundgarden. But then again, though his thirty-year run on the road is coming to an end and life as Christopher Ward will be resuming, he’ll always be THAT CJ.
Head below to read our conversation, and keep on scrolling to see our pictures from the night, featuring CJ and his band of luminaries and Dog Party accompanied by kick-ass local openers Duck & Cover and COB. Ramones forever.