Punk who changed the face of rock music

 

It is no exaggeration to say that when Douglas Colvin changed his name to Dee Dee and formed the Ramones, he changed rock music forever. They were the quintessential punk band, an inspiration to everyone from the Sex Pistols to current chart regulars Green Day.

Douglas Colvin, who died on June 5th aged 49, was born on September 18th, 1952, in Fort Lee, Virginia, and spent his early childhood in Germany: his father was in the US army. The family moved to Forest Hills, a middle-class New York suburb, when he started high school. He became addicted to heroin in his teens, dealing drugs and working as a prostitute to fund his habit.

The Ramones' oft-copied image - ripped jeans, tight T-shirts, leather jackets - was based on the clothes worn by New York's teenage "hustlers", while the harrowing song 53rd And 3rd was based on Douglas Colvin's experiences at a notorious Manhattan pick-up intersection.

Inspired by the basic, high energy rock of the Stooges and the New York Dolls, Douglas Colvin formed a band with his Forest Hills neighbours, guitarist John Cummings, singer Jeffrey (Joey) Hyman and drummer Tommy Erdelyi in 1974.

To the Stooges's proto-punk blueprint, they added a love of unfashionable bubblegum pop and lyrics reflecting aimless suburban adolescent lives: comic books, glue-sniffing, horror films, boredom.

Douglas Colvin named the band the Ramones, a misappropriation of Beatle Paul McCartney's original stage name, Ramon. "We were trying to recapture the innocence of rock and roll," Douglas Colvin later noted.

The Ramones' music opposed everything mainstream 70s rock stood for. At a time of extended progressive opuses, their songs, largely written by Douglas Colvin and Hyman, were short, fast and reductive, utilising only three chords and no guitar solos.

Their early live sets at New York's renowned rock club CBGBs lasted 20 minutes, their eponymous début album managed 14 tracks in under half-an-hour, a startling achievement in 1976.

Where most 70s rock bands were aloof and remote, the Ramones were cheerfully dumb and warmly inclusive, reaching out to an audience of "geeks", "runts" and "punks". Packed with loud, insistently catchy songs, the Ramones' first three albums - Ramones, and 1977's Ramones Leave Home, and Rocket To Russia - were thrilling and innovative records. The quartet's ability to make propulsive, exciting music with the most rudimentary abilities and superb live shows were inspirational to a generation of punk musicians.

The definitive Ramones' single, 1977's Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, was banned by US radio but reached number 22 in Britain.

They starred in a film, Rock'n'Roll High School (1979) and a year later achieved their biggest sales with End Of The Century, a flawed collaboration with legendary 1960s producer Phil Spector.

The limitations of their style nevertheless became apparent with a succession of lacklustre 80s albums, although they remained a big live draw. Estranged from the other members by his heroin habit and the pressures of constant touring, Douglas Colvin quit in 1989.

He attempted to restyle himself as a rapper, Dee Dee King, but seemed unable to escape his past as a Ramone. He formed a band, Chinese Dragon, their name a reference to his famous song about heroin abuse, Chinese Rock, wrote several songs on the final Ramones' album, Adios Amigos! and performed at their farewell show in August 1996.

More recently, he published his autobiography and claimed to have quit drugs.

Once mocked and reviled, never commercially successful, the Ramones' music has become an integral part of America's cultural heritage. A New York Times poll voted their début one of the 20 most influential albums of the 20th century. In March this year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"I'd like to congratulate myself and thank myself and give myself a big pat on the back," remarked Douglas Colvin at the time. He is survived by his wife Barbara.

Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone): born 1952; died, June 2002