Clem Burke has been a mainstay in Blondie’s lineup since he joined the icons in 1975 shortly after their formation, but, in a remarkable turn in his career, he was also part of The Ramones family going under the pseudonym of ‘Elvis Ramone’—even if it was just for two days only.
Tensions between the New York punks had reached boiling point with drummer Richie Ramone by the summer of 1987 who, at the time, felt greatly underappreciated by his bandmates and abruptly threw in the towel. “I was Richie Ramone when you wanted me to be. And then I was just a hired guy when you wanted me to be,” the Ramones drummer said as part of the 2003 documentary End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramone.
Adding further, Richie continued: “When it came to T-shirt money, I wasn’t a Ramone. This is after five years. I felt I was due. I wasn’t asking for the world. I was asking for a little bit of that T-shirt money. What’s the big deal? Joe especially, I loved him to death, but he’d tell me one thing as we hung out at night and then it wouldn’t happen. I said, ‘That’s it. I’m finished.’ I had a gig or two that I bailed on and nothing was going to change my mind.”
This departure put The Ramones into turmoil as they needed to replace Richie, and fast. Having already been forced to postpone a pair of hometown shows at New York’s Ritz, the band were desperately aiming to avoid more concert cancellations when they made the call to Clem Burke, calling in a favour and join inventing ‘Elvis Ramone’. Despite being an offer that Burke couldn’t refuse, he was immediately thrown straight into the deep end with little to no rehearsal time to help integrate him into the Ramone family.
Recalling years later, The Blondie drummer described his first live show with fellow New Yorkers a disaster: “They asked me on a Monday when they had a gig on a Friday,” Burke explained. “It was the hardest work I ever did in a band.” Burke would only ever do one more show with the Ramones, the band deciding in the days between their next show that his style wasn’t the perfect fit.
The following weekend, as the drumming revolving door turned once again, the band made the call to re-appoint Marky Ramone who, of course, was their original drummer before Richie took up the sticks. Marky, it’s well documented, originally left the band due to drink problems which, thankfully, he was able to curb and he would stay in the band until their final show as an outfit in 1996.
Years later, while reflecting on the turbulent years, Joey Ramone explained why Burke and the Ramones styles didn’t quite work out: “His drumming style wasn’t right,” he said. “It was very loose, like in Blondie, not as rigid as we need. Double time on the hi-hat was totally alien to him.”
Speaking to the Washington Times in 2014, Burke held no bitterness in regards to his short time as Elvis Ramone, admitting: “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.”
He also added: “I wasn’t interested in staying in The Ramones for a couple of reasons. Joey Ramone was a pretty good friend of mine; Johnny Ramone was kind of a taskmaster. I didn’t like the fact that he and Joey didn’t speak to each other. Dee Dee Ramone, although he was a great artist, I think had a few mental problems, walked the tightrope between manic and depressive and was a heavy drug user. Although I think he died because he stopped using heroin and tried going back. Supposedly that’s what happened to Sid Vicious too. Not to be morbid, but it’s a perfect circle that all four of them are dead now. It is really completed.”
Listen to this bootleg of Elvis Ramone’s debut show with The Ramones, in full below.