The New York scene that sculpted Blondie was drowning in talent, and for drummer Clem Burke, there was nobody better than The Ramones, a band who he described as “The Beatles of my generation”. He even joined the group for a brief stint, although it only lasted for a handful of days before he made a swift exit.
In 1987, Ritchie Ramone became dissatisfied with his role in the group and threw the band into turmoil by making his shock departure. They were forced to cancel a pair of hometown shows as they searched for a replacement, and eventually, Burke answered their prayers. However, the Blondie founder only played two shows under the moniker of ‘Elvis Ramone’, and it soon became evident that it was for the best if his tenure was a fleeting one.
There were no harsh feelings between the band and Burke, with him later telling The Washington Post in 2014: “I came to The Ramones with the attitude and mandate that I wasn’t necessarily interested in being in The Ramones. Although, in retrospect, I did enjoy it. I might not be here today if I had continued to be in The Ramones. The best idea they had was to get Mark Bell, AKA ‘Marky Ramone’, back in the band when I left. He’s a great drummer.”
The experience for Burke was never intended to be a long-term one. He knew that the Ramones were dysfunctional, however, he still couldn’t resist getting a taste of their life.
As they both made their name playing the same streets of New York, Blondie and Ramones were understandably regularly mentioned in the same breath. Despite their vast sonic differences, Burke recognises how the punk attitude and shared experiences of both bands aligned them.
“Our role models were Bowie and The Beatles,” Burke explained to The Sun about his band. “You never really knew what to expect from them. The Ramones had their sound and identity and they stuck to it. That’s not what we set out to do. We have a broader musical palette but the punk attitude prevails!”
Delving into his time as Elvis Ramone, the drummer commented: “They are The Beatles of my generation and one of the most influential bands of all time. They were our friends and we all hung out in the same places in mid-70s New York. I was with them briefly at a very acrimonious time. Johnny and Joey didn’t speak and I had a dedicated seat on the tour bus, sitting between them.”
He added, “Dee Dee would be in the very back in his own little world. It was a microcosm of life with The Ramones and their trusty tour manager, Monte A. Melnick, was at the wheel at all times. Their impact is huge and they get bigger and bigger… it’s crazy!”
Burke spent most of his time in the group as a mediator, and the flawed interpersonal relationships between the Ramones made it a tense time for everybody. However, his dismissal from the band was strictly for professional reasons, and Joey Ramone later said, “His drumming style wasn’t right. It was very loose, like in Blondie, not as rigid as we need. Double time on the hi-hat was totally alien to him.”
Stylistically, Burke and The Ramones clashed from the off-set which made his departure inevitable. Even the regrettable way things ended didn’t stop the drummer from admiring their greatness, and if anything, his spell in the band only added more to the mystique surrounding them.