The Ramones’ bass player from 1989 to 1996, Christopher Joseph Ward, aka CJ Ramone, has granted to Rock Rebel Magazine an exclusive interview before the show in Rome on October 18th. Met on the tour bus, Cj told us about the collaboration with Social Distortion, about the autobiography and the new album he is writing, and about when he was called to replace Metallica’s Jason Newsted.
by Amelia Tomasicchio
RRM: Hello CJ, thank you very much for the interview. It's an honor to meet you. How is going the tour, so far?
CJ: Hi, thank you! The tour’s been really good. We’ve been doing probably about 150 kids at night. We were in Germany, Belgium, Austria, Russia and Italy. So it’s been good. You know, fans seem to like it, a lot of people is asking to hear songs from my new record, which is good. It’s been a fun tour.
RRM: Do you still feel the same emotion of the past, when you play?
CJ: Yeah, yeah. The emotions are still the same. I still love to do it every night. I still enjoy being on the stage and playing the songs, traveling and all of that. It’s all different now because I have a family so being on the road for a long period of time isn’t fun because after a month I start to miss my children and my wife. But I still love to do it, it’s still my favorite thing to do.
RRM: How did the collaboration with Johnny and David of Social D start?
CJ: Steve Soto and Dan Root from The Adolescents usually come out with me and David has come with us for a little while, but Johnny came out with me this time because Steve and Dan had just started a big tour with The Adolescents, so Johnny was cool enough to step in and feel available for me, which was good. But it really started from when I was recording “Reconquista”, my solo record. I recorded it two times in New York and I didn’t like it, it didn’t sound good. And then when I was going to record it for the third time I got in touch with Steve Soto from The Adolescents and I told him what my dilemma was: I have a great album and I want to record it, but I just wasn’t get what I wanted, so Steve said “Come on here, we’ll do it here”, so I met David and Johnny. Johnny actually plays on two tracks on the record. It’s nice to get work with guys from band I’ve been a fan of, guys that are professional and that I respect.
RRM: I know you've been asked many times, but few people know it, so I wish you talked again about it. Is it true that Metallica called you two times to replace Jason Newsted?
CJ: Yes, that’s true. I didn’t say no because I don’t like Metallica. I really like Metallica and I was a huge Metallica fan as a kid. But I have children and my older boy had been diagnosed with autism and it was no way I could do it. It would be impossible for me to be fully dedicated on the road and it was impossible for my son to come out on the road with me, so I stayed at home, I took care of my son and now if you meet him you would never know he was diagnosed with autism. So I didn’t say no because I didn’t enjoy Metallica, but I think that if was not there maybe he would not be healed as well as he did. That was a big thing to turn down.
RRM: When did you start playing bass? Did you play other instruments before?
CJ: When I was a kid I played drums a little bit and I took violin lessons when I was really young. But I was really into sports. I played baseball, ice hockey and football. But I had a problem: I grew a lot in one summer and all the ligaments in my knee broke for two years and I couldn’t play any sports. My friends had a band and they didn’t have a bass player, so I said “Maybe I’ll try bass”.
RRM: What is the equipment you’re going to use tonight?
CJ: My bass is a Cj model. I use a Cj Ramone bass now, my signature series with strings from a company called SIT. Because I pick so hard and I play so heavy I always had problems to stay in tune, but this company has really good strings. I use extra heavy picks from Pick World, and that’s it, it’s everything.
RRM: A few years ago you said you were writing your autobiography. Is it still a work in progress?
CJ: Yes, I’m still working on it. It’s funny because I didn’t realize how difficult is to write a book. I start writing before my daughter was born, my youngest, and since she was born it was difficult find time. So she’s just started school and I’ve got back writing the book and I hope to finish it for the next year. I’m really close now. They are probably 300 pages.
RRM: Are you writing a new album? What can we expect from the following of "Reconquista"?
CJ: Yes. I have about a half of a new record written and in January/February I’m gonna finishing to write it and in hopefully in March I’m gonna be recorded it with Ed Stasium, who did the early Ramones records. Probably the sound would be like “Reconquista”, maybe with some songs sounding more like Bad Chopper, but pretty much the same.
RRM: Do you think you will publish it on Pledge Music as "Reconquista"?
CJ: I don’t know if I will. I mean I wouldn’t have problem doing the Pledge Music thing again. I really enjoy being in direct contact with the fans. I edited the evolution, I stuff a lot of packages myself and mailed them out. But for the next record I would like to release on a bigger skill. I don’t know, I have to work at it.
RRM: I know your mother’s family lives here in Italy. What’s your relationship with our country?
CJ: My mom’s mom family is from the South, my mom’s dad family is from the North, from Torino. My mom is very crazy. Because so many generations live in the States, I’ve never met my relatives from Italy. One of my cousin actually start to see who relatives are here. It would be fun to come and to meet family here. My mom’s family spoke Italian in the house, so she grew up in an Italian speaker house in Boston, Massachusetts. I heard Italian spoken a lot when I was a child, but in the States many of the immigrants still don’t want to teach their children the native language, because they want to be Americans. We’ve never learned Italian. My dad’s mom speak fluent French, but we’ve never learned it too.
RRM: Do you think it still makes sense today talking about punk? Is it still alive?
CJ: I don’t really hear a lot of what we can consider punk rock anymore. It seems punk is more about fashion. Because of the way politics are in the world right now, things are very unbalance and usually that’s when you start to get a good punk rock movements again, when there are political strife. This tour I actually saw a couple of younger bands, who have a sound close to what I consider punk. Punk is a different thing for different people. In the States punk was not really political with bands like Ramones and Blondie. We were street kids and not political activists. In Europe it really was more a political thing. I think as long as we have frustrated teenager we’ll have punk rock. It seems to be a good way for kids to get their emotions out. It’s a different world now. I grew up in a poor family, we didn’t have a lot and the area was very depressed, so punk was a very natural thing for me to find. For my kids punk is more about style, not a thing they really feel because they have a much better life, which is not a bad thing, I prefer this.
RRM: What was the reaction of your parents when you started to dedicate yourself to the music?
CJ: My mom and dad were very proud, but they also felt very vindicated because a lot of their friends use to say: “Your son is a fucking looser with long hair”, so my mom and dad heard a lot of talk from their friends, I think. So when I got into Ramones they had their revenge.