Personalities | Johnny Ramone | Doyen of the Downstroke | Guitar Heroes

Johnny Ramone (1948–2004) was born John Cummings in Long Island, New York. As a teenager, Johnny played in a band called The Tangerine Puppets alongside future Ramones drummer Tamás Erdélyi (better known as Tommy Ramone).

Johnny worked as a plumber with his father before The Ramones became successful. He also attended military school and briefly attended college in Florida. He met future bandmate Douglas Colvin, later to become Dee Dee Ramone, in the early 1970s. Together, they went in January 1974 to Manny’s Music in New York City, where Johnny bought a used blue Mosrite guitar and Dee Dee bought a Danelectro bass. They collaborated with future bandmate Jeffry Hyman, later to become Joey Ramone, and formed The Ramones. Erdélyi joined the band in the summer of that year. Although Johnny Ramone wasn’t as prolific a songwriter as his bandmates, his guitar style was a key part of The Ramones’ sound and would become a major punk-rock influence.

Ramone was known for his fast, high-energy guitar playing. His style almost exclusively consisted of rapid downstrokes and barre chord shapes. This unique playing style, combined with heavy gain on his amp, created the bright, buzzsaw-like sound his guitar parts were known for, and it was highly influential on many early punk-rock guitarists. This technique was also very influential on the new wave of British heavy-metal bands such as Iron Maiden. His style has also been an influence on many alternative-rock bands, as well as on thrash-metal performers such as Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert has cited Johnny Ramone as one of his influences.

It has been suggested that Jimmy Page’s fast downstroke guitar riff in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ was an inspiration for Ramone’s guitar style. Ramone, who described Page as ‘probably the greatest guitarist who ever lived’, stated in the documentary Ramones: The True Story that he improved at his picking style by playing the song over and over again for the bulk of his early career. ‘I guess that before me,’ he said, ‘people played downstrokes for brief periods in a song, rather than the whole song through. It was just a timing mechanism for me.’

Essential Recordings

The Ramones: Ramones

The Ramones: Road To Ruin

The Ramones: End Of The Century

The Ramones: Brain Drain

Personalities | Django Reinhardt | Gypsy Guitar Giant | Guitar Heroes


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