Erdélyi was Jewish, and was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1949, to parents who had survived the Holocaust by being hidden by neighbors, though many of his relatives were victims of the Nazis. The family emigrated to the US when Ramone was aged four and he grew up in Forest Hills, New York. Tommy and guitarist John Cummings (later to be dubbed “Johnny Ramone”) performed together in mid-60s four-piece garage band the Tangerine Puppets while in high school. In 1970, Erdelyi was an assistant engineer for the production of the Jimi Hendrix album Band of Gypsys.
When the Ramones first came together, with Johnny Ramone on guitar, Dee Dee Ramone on bass and Joey Ramone on drums, Erdelyi was supposed to be the manager, but was drafted as the band’s drummer when Joey became the lead singer, after realizing that he couldn’t keep up with the Ramones’ increasingly fast tempos. “Tommy Ramone, who was managing us, finally had to sit down behind the drums, because nobody else wanted to,” Dee Dee later recalled. He remained as drummer from 1974 to 1978, playing on and co-producing their first three albums, Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia, as well as the live album It’s Alive. In a 2007 interview with the BBC, Ramone said the band had been heavily influenced by 1970s hard-rock band the New York Dolls, by singer-songwriter Lou Reed and by pop-art figure Andy Warhol. He said, “The scene that developed at CBGB wasn’t [for] a teenage or garage band; there was an intellectual element and that’s the way it was for The Ramones.”
Tommy Ramone was replaced on drums in 1978 by Marky Ramone, but handled band management and co-production for their fourth album, Road to Ruin; he later returned as producer for the eighth album, 1984’s Too Tough to Die. Tommy Ramone wrote “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and the majority of “Blitzkrieg Bop” while bassist Dee Dee suggested the title. He and Ed Stasium played all the guitar solos on the albums he produced, as Johnny Ramone largely preferred playing rhythm guitar. In the 1980s he produced the Replacements album Tim, as well as Redd Kross’s Neurotica. On October 8, 2004, he played as a Ramone once again, when he joined C.J. Ramone, Daniel Rey, and Clem Burke (also known as Elvis Ramone) in the “Ramones Beat Down On Cancer” concert. In October 2007 in an interview to promote It’s Alive 1974-1996 a 2-DVD set of the band’s best televised live performances he paid tribute to his deceased bandmates:
They gave everything they could in every show. They weren’t the type to phone it in, if you see what I mean. Ramone and Claudia Tienan (formerly of underground band the Simplistics) performed as a bluegrass-based folk duo called Uncle Monk. Ramone stated: “There are a lot of similarities between punk and old-time music. Both are home-brewed music as opposed to schooled, and both have an earthy energy. And anybody can pick up an instrument and start playing.” He joined songwriter Chris Castle, Garth Hudson, Larry Campbell and the Womack Family Band in July 2011 at Levon Helm Studios for Castle’s album Last Bird Home.
Ramone died at his home in Ridgewood, Queens, New York on July 11, 2014, aged 65. He had received hospice care following unsuccessful treatment for bile duct cancer.
In The Independent, Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith wrote that “before Tommy left the line-up, the Ramones had already become one of the most influential punk bands of the day, playing at the infamous CBGB’s in the Bowery area of New York and touring for each album incessantly.” In response to Ramone’s death, the band’s official Twitter account had been tweeting previous quotes from band members, including his own 1976 comment that New York was the “perfect place to grow up neurotic”. He added: “One of the reasons that the Ramones were so unique and original was that they were four original, unique people.”
Writing in Variety, Cristopher Morris said “Tommy’s driving, high-energy drum work was the turbine that powered the leather-clad foursome’s loud, antic sound.” Biographer Everett True told the BBC “there are hundreds, there are thousands, there are millions of melodies happening in Ramones songs… You hear their influence stretch across all of rock music from 1975 onwards… you just hear it everywhere.”
- January, 29, 1952
- Budapest, Hungary
- July, 11, 2014
- Ridgewood, New York City, New York