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The Song Ramones The Same 

Local musicians to pay tribute to punk pioneers

Few bands have ever inspired the sort of fanatical following that The Ramones did.Let me rephrase that. Lots of bands have had fanatical followings — see Creed, for crying out loud — but few bands have ever inspired the sort of deep down love and affection that Johnny, Joey, Marky and Dee Dee (and Tommy, Ritchie and CJ) commanded. Sure, the band's songs are somewhat easy to play (one, two, three GO!), but that's only part of it. Dead Kennedys songs ain't the hardest thing to figure out either, but how many Jello Biafra tribute nights have you seen recently?

Hoping to raise funds for tsunami relief and raise a little hell all at the same time, a host of Charlotte acts are literally banding together to hold what they're terming a "Ramones Memorial" this Saturday at Tremont Music Hall. Featuring Jeff Clayton of ANTiSEEN, Mad Brother Ward, The Dead Kings, Mike Hendrix of the Belmont Playboys and a host of others, the show is a chance for these artists to pay their respects to a band that's recently seen more than its share of personal catastrophes, with the proceeds going to some real catastrophe relief.

Jeff Williams of the Dead Kings explains how it all got started: "Me and Russ Ward (Mad Brother Ward) tossed around the idea of doing a Ramones tribute show after Johnny died of cancer, but we realized a 'tribute' show already took place a few years earlier. We decided that I'd play bass, Russ would play guitar, and we got our friend John Marlow from the band DRAT to play drums. We were curious as to who would sing, then one of us got the idea to get several singers and just have each singer tackle a few songs. And the singers would have to be well established on the Charlotte scene. So we got Jeff Clayton, Mike Hendrix, Chris Peigler of My So-Called Band, and Brad Fury of DRAT. We were real happy with the selection of singers who agreed to sing."

Most of the performers on the bill said they weren't initially into the band but were won over by its simple philosophy: honest songwriting, a lack of flash, and the idea that the only difference between themselves and their fans was who was shouldering the guitars at the time.

"I was into KISS, Aerosmith, Nugent and stuff like that," says Clayton. "I wanted to be in a band, but to operate on the level of those heroes just seemed a dream that would never come true. When we heard the Ramones along with the Pistols, Clash, the Jam and the other punk bands of the time, we figured we could obtain that level of stardom a hell of a lot easier rather than trying to achieve KISS status. I personally loved the short songs — to the point with no useless talent displays (guitar solos and the like) — and the fact they didn't look like rock stars but they did look like a band... or a gang, which we always thought was very cool."

"I heard them when I was a kid and never cared for them," says Williams. "They weren't 'metal' enough. But about 10 years ago, I saw a video at a friend's house of them playing live and they blew me away. So simple... so pure... and so ferocious. They proved to me that good songwriting and lots of heart go a long way."

"I first heard the Ramones in 1977 — when Rocket To Russia came out — on the local radio station WROQ," says Hendrix. "I remember really digging the Sex Pistols and the Dead Boys, but liking the Ramones' more poppy, accessible, bouncy and just generally happy sound a lot less. My girlfriend at the time liked the Ramones and didn't think much of Johnny Rotten and the other snide and vicious lads; I went the other way because it suited my adolescent self-regard and stagy bitterness better. It's not that I didn't really like the Ramones, it's just that they didn't speak to the darkest corners of my soul like the others did. But that changed, and by the time Rock and Roll High School came out, they were one of my all-time favorite bands, and have remained so long after I began to care less about music that makes you feel bad and more about music that makes you feel good."

The Ramones Memorial will take place Saturday, January 22, at Tremont Music Hall at 9pm. Tickets are $5/$7, available at the door. For more information, call 704-343-9494.

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