Gabba gabba, we accept you, one of us: A history of The Ramones in Ann Arbor

MUSIC BOOTLEG WASHTENAW

Flyer for the first Ramones concert in Ann Arbor, March 28, 1977.

The flyer for that first Ramones' first concert in Ann Arbor, March 28, 1977.

[Updated February 9, 2021, with photos and reviews from The Ann Arbor News].

The Blind Pig is a favorite club of many rock musicians, and the venue has hosted so many legendary bands over the years.

But The Ramones' love lay elsewhere in Ann Arbor.

Between 1977 and 1983, the New York City punk godfathers played Tree Town seven times—and every show was as headliners at The Second Chance, which is now Necto, 516 E. Liberty St. The Blind Pig was still a blues bar back then while The Second Chance was hosting numerous rockers, from Bob Seger (when the club was known as Chances Are) to Bow Wow Wow. In fact, during that period The Ramones headlined nearly as many shows in Ann Arbor as they did in Detroit (nine).

The first time they played Michigan was as the opener for Flamin' Groovies, October 17, 1976, at the Royal Oak Music Theater.

But The Ramones' first show as headliners in Michigan was a little over five months later in Ann Arbor on March 28, 1977, with Sonic's Rendezvous Band opening. There doesn't appear to be any audio or video of this show, but here are two excellent photos by legendary Detroit Rock City and Creem magazine photographer Robert Mathieu of Tommy and Johnny Ramone backstage with the Fred "Sonic" Smith, Ron Asheton, and Scott Asheton:

Tommy Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Fred "Sonic" Smith, Ron Asheton, and Scott Asheton backstage at The Second Chance, Ann Arbor, 1977; photo by Robert Mathieu.

From left to right: Tommy and Johnny Ramone, Fred Smith (MC5, Sonic's Rendevous Band), Ron Asheton (The Stooges, Destroy All Monsters), and Scott Asheton (The Stooges, Sonic's Rendevous Band) backstage at The Second Chance in Ann Arbor, March 28, 1977. Photograph by Robert Mathieu.

But Mathieu wasn't the only person taking photographs at the show, as noted in Dave Keeps' review for The Michigan Daily: "The Ramones mounted the stage to a hysterical onrush of photographers ... ."

Those shutterbugs had ample opportunity to shoot the band because The Ramones played two sets that night, even repeating a few songs, Keeps wrote. The photographers then presumably stuffed their pix in private photo albums, never to be seen again since the only other documentation of the show is the flyer at the top of this post.

The band returned to The Second Chance a mere three months later on June 26 and at least one song from the show, "Rockaway Beach," was recorded on video. It's not great quality, but just marvel at the speed and precision of Johnny Ramone's all-wrist guitar strums as singer Joey keeps his familiar slouched-statue pose:

There doesn't seem to be a recording of The Ramones next Ann Arbor show on March 8, 1978, but Robert Mathieu was there:

Robert Mathieu photo of The Ramones at The Second Chance in Ann Arbor, 1978.

Over on the Rock Paper Photos site, which sells Mathieu's work, the caption reads: "Ramones return to Ann Arbor for their 3rd gig at the infamous Second Chance Saloon. This image was chosen by Johnny to be featured as the centerfold in the Rhino Records Reissue of Rocket To Russia. It is also on permanent display at the Ramones Museum in Berlin, one of their first acquisitions." (It's unclear what Rock Paper Photos means by "centerfold"; there's no gatefold edition of the album, so it's likely a part of the accompanying booklet.)

And here's the flyer from that concert:

Flyer for The Ramones' March 8, 1978 show in Ann Arbor.

Also, I spotted a poster in Ann Arbor for The Ramones' July 17, 1978, show at Dooley's—the one in East Lansing, not the notorious underage drinking spot that was on Maynard here in town. Check the flyer promoting the band's concert in MSU-land, posted in the window of a now-demolished dwelling/business that was at 305 E. Liberty near the corner of Fifth Avenue: 

Godin, Ann Arbor News, 1978

Photo by RJ Godin, AADL's Old News.

But Ann Arbor was so hungry for The Ramones at that time, The Michigan Daily sent a reporter to East Lansing to review the show. Just as football fans do every year for the U-M vs. MSU game, writer R.J. Smith threw down the gauntlet and busted some regional chops: "[T]he 'punks' in East Lansing don't know how to pogo." He also described then-new drummer Marky as looking like a "coneheaded Donald Fagen." Solid stuff.

Smith was also present for The Ramones' return to The Second Chance on February 26, 1979, which is the most well-documented of the band's Ann Arbor concerts. He begins his review with a grand quote from German expressionist painter Max Beckmann before getting down to the heart of the matter:

"The Ramones are the best fucking group in the world."

Smith also wrote that after the band played "Rock 'n' Roll High School," a "hulking sixties type [roadie], with a frosty glint in his eye" took the mic and yelled at the rowdy crowd to move back from the stage. You can hear that in the bootleg below starting at 15:05:

The incident goes on for almost three minutes, and a little past the midway point the restless crowd starts yelling the familiar Ramones chant "Hey, ho! Let's go!"

"The whole episode made the band very upset," Smith wrote, saying it seemed to spark The Ramones into playing with "an unusual crackle." Still, Smith's unnamed buddy told him the group sounded less "loud and raw," offering up a theory that The Ramones were mixed through "some sort of harmonic enhancer." 

While the WCBN-FM concert recording was never released commercially, it's been bootlegged numerous times under at least three different names:

Bootlegs of The Ramones' February 1979 appearance in Ann Arbor

Four bootlegs of The Ramones' February 26, 1979, concert in Ann Arbor from WCBN-FM's broadcast of the show. While none of the cover images are from the concert, the photo on Ann Arbor shows original drummer Tommy Ramone, second from right, who left the band in 1978. The Ramones who played this show are Joey, Johnny, Marky, and Dee Dee.

The Second Chance even ran an ad in The Michigan Daily for the gig, and Sonic's Rendevous Band put up telephone flyers promoting the concert:

Ad for The Ramones at The Second Chance, 1979, in the Michigan Daily

Second Chance ad in The Michigan Daily, February 22, 1979. Image via The Michigan Daily Digital Archives.

Telephone pole ad for The Ramones' February 26, 1979, show in Ann Arbor.

Telephone-pole flyer designed by Sonic's Rendevous Band manager Freddie Brooks.

And of course, Robert Mathieu was at the February 26, 1979, show, too:

The Ramones at The Second Chance, Ann Arbor, February 26, 1979; photo by Robert Mathieu.

In the foreground, Johnny of The Ramones at The Second Chance in Ann Arbor on February 26, 1979, via Rock Scissors Photo.

In addition to the concert, The Ramones made an appearance at Schoolkids' Records to sign albums and "anything else they could get their hands on," as made clear in this Michigan Daily photo featuring Dee Dee "Ramne":

Dee Dee Ramone at Schoolkid's Records, 1979

Last October, Michigan music archivist and longtime WCBN DJ Frank Uhle, who hosts Radio Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa, posted an interview The Ramones did the radio station's then music director Michael Kremen. (Download the interview here.) Uhle also played the interview in full on his October 26, 2020, show, announcing it with a Facebook post containing unpublished Michigan Daily photos of The Ramones in Schoolkids' and in The Second Chance before the concert, likely shot by Paul Engstrom:

Dee Dee Ramone at The Second Chance, Ann Arbor, 1979

The Second Chance, Ann Arbor, February 26, 1979: Dee Dee Ramone during soundcheck and just after The Ramones' promo appearance at Schoolkids' Records. Photos likely by Paul Engstrom for The Michigan Daily.

Previously unpublished photos of The Ramones in Ann Arbor by The Michigan Daily

The Ramones in Ann Arbor, February 26, 1979, clockwise from top left: Johnny makes a purchase during The Ramones' promo appearance at Schoolkids' Records, with Dee Dee and Joey behind him; Johnny being interviewed before the concert, likely either by WCBN-FM's then music director Michael Kremen or Michigan Daily writer R.J. Smith; Joey, Marky, and Dee in the alley behind The Second Chance, with their backs facing toward Thompson Street (you can see the front of that house here). Photos likely by Paul Engstrom for The Michigan Daily.

The April 8, 1979, edition of The Michigan Daily published an interview R.J. Smith. conducted during The Ramones' February visit, along with a concert photo credited to the newspaper's Lisa Udelson, though it's unclear which show the snap is documenting. After a long wind-up full of college-age ranting, Smith finally gets to his chat with The Ramones, but the most interesting thing about the article is the writer's ongoing fascination with Marky Ramone's head. What Smith once compared to a "coneheaded Donald Fagen" has morphed into saying Marky "looks sufficiently dense by way of an expression that suggests he caught hockey pucks head-on for too long without the benefit of a goalie's mask ... ."

The Ramones returned to The Second Chance on December 4, 1979, but R.J. Smith let two other Michigan Daily staffers, Lorenzo Benet and Steve Hook, handle the review this time—and they do not disappoint (or they wholly disappoint):

To compare the music of the Ramones to lovemaking: there is no foreplay, no caressing of the breasts, no romantic nibbles on the earlobe. All there is is a three-minute orgasm, climax from beginning to end. For the crazed fans pogoing on the dance floor, this beats foreplay out and out.

It took two of them to write those sentences.

The review also mentioned a "late afternoon radio interview," presumably with WCBN. Perhaps it's still in the archives?

Here's a flyer for the show:

Flyer for The Ramones and Nikki and The Corvettes at The Second Chance, Ann Arbor, December 4, 1979.

One last bit from The Ramones' 1979 visits to Ann Arbor, this time from a Local Wiki entry written by Margaret Clare, who was a waitress at The Second Chance that year: "Worked the night the Ramones played. They spent the afternoon of the show playing pinball with their girlfriends across the street." (Where was there pinball across from The Second Chance back then?)

After the December 4, 1979, concert, The Ramones then went nearly two years without playing Ann Arbor, making their return to The Second Chance on October 5, 1981. The Ann Arbor News ran a short interview with the band on October 3, though the story's biggest revelation didn't apply to The Second Chance show, which happened at night: The Ramones played several concerts during this tour as alcohol-free matinees so their youngest fans could see the gigs. 

The full 68-minute concert was bootlegged on audio and video, though the full-edition clip on YouTube is in rough shape whereas the time-stamped, 11-minute excerpt is halfway decent. If you're feeling adventurous or bored, you can check out assorted uploads of this show, all from the same camera source, all in various levels of completeness and quality.

The next day, The Michigan Daily published a photo by Brian Masck of The Ramones in that alley behind The Second Chance, mentioning another autograph session at Schoolkids' Records, where Johnny seems to have bought something once again:

The Ramones in the alley behind The Second Chance, 1981

The Ann Arbor News was also at the Schoolkids' signing and it ran two Robert Chase photos from the event in the October 6 edition. But the AADL archives team dug up a treasure trove of 17 unpublished photos by Chase from the in-store, including several that show most of Schoolkids' Records' interior, which will ping some nostalgia among older readers (like me).

The Ramones' Joey signs autographs at Schoolkid's Records in this unpublished Ann Arbor News photo from October 5, 1981.

The Ramones sign autographs at Schoolkids' Records in this unpublished Ann Arbor News photo by Robert Chase from October 5, 1981.

The Ramones sign autographs at Schoolkid's Records on October 5, 1981.

The Ramones' sign autographs at Schoolkids' Records in this unpublished Ann Arbor News photo by Robert Chase from October 5, 1981.

Interior of Schoolkid's Records' on October 5, 1981, during The Ramones' in-store.

Fans line up at Schoolkids' Records to get autographs from The Ramones in this unpublished Ann Arbor News photo by Robert Chase from October 5, 1981.

The Ramones' final show in Ann Arbor was on June 12, 1983. The Michigan Daily's C.E. Krell did a head-scratching preview of the show, though it did explore a theme the newspaper's writers really wrestled with over the years: The Ramones are really dumb ... or are they?!

The Ann Arbor News also previewed the show on June 11 and the newspaper's pop writer, Bill Brown, wasn't gonna let a college kid out head-scratch him, so he put this howler in the opening paragraph of his write-up: "[The Ramones] couldn't write or sing catchy melodies." Yes, he wrote that about The Ramones, who wrote the catchiest melodies IN ALL OF PUNK as proven by science. Also, Brown is very fond of "air quotes."

The News skipped reviewing the show, but the Daily's Krell went and wrote something that reads like one of those old newspaper columns by Larry King (R.I.P.), but the bullet-pointed article did have a funny observation about what was taped to Joey Ramone's monitor: "Audience Ann Arbor. Opening act — Cult Heroes."

Here's the flyer for the show, found on an antiques website:

Flyer for The Ramones and The Cult Heroes concert at The Second Chance, Ann Arbor, June 5, 1983.

In 1984, The Second Chance became The Nectarine Ballroom, and while the club still booked national punk, new wave, and rock shows once or twice a month, as the decade progressed, the space became known primarily as a popular spot for dance nights. (The long-running and long-hectoring Not Bored political 'zine was not happy with the club's transformation into a DJ joint.)

While The Ramones stopped performing in Ann Arbor after 1983, always opting for Detroit instead, that wasn't the last time one of the band members spent time in town playing music.

The December 11, 1991, issue of The Michigan Daily posted a story about bassist Dee Dee Ramone living in Ann Arbor. He said he came here to escape the "rat race" of New York City and to concentrate on playing guitar. Why Ann Arbor, of all places, the piece doesn't say, but Dee Dee ended up hooking up with the local band Monster Bait after he arrived. It's unclear how much Dee Dee played with the group—he didn't record on Monster Bait's 1991 demo, which was the band's lone release—or how long he stayed in Ann Arbor.

But as a college town, there are always creative folks passing through the city as they get their educations. Even though The Ramones proclaimed on "Rock 'n' Roll High School" that they "hate the teachers and the principal / don't want to be taught to be no fool," maybe Dee Dee, then 38 years old, had developed a loftier view of continuing higher ed—and thus, had a deep appreciation for Ann Arbor and all its offered.

That's cool, Dee Dee—we accept you, one of us.


Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.


Out of the five Ramones who played Ann Arbor, only Marky is still alive. Joey died in 2001, Dee Dee in 2002, Johnny in 2004, and Tommy in 2014.

If you enjoy this sort of deep dive into Ann Arbor's musical history with legendary artists, perhaps you'll be interested in this article:
"Highway I-94, M-14 & US-23 Revisted: A Comprehensive History of Bob Dylan in Ann Arbor" [Pulp, September 16 , 2019].

Comments

Thank you for an enjoyable article. I attended two of those shows: Dooley's East Lansing in July '78 and Second Chance the following February.
The business at 305 E. Liberty with the band poster in the window was vintage clothing store Fantasy Fashions - they were about to move next door to Pizza Bob's on S. State St.
DeeDee's tenure as a resident of Ann Arbor was, I've read elsewhere, occasioned by his girlfriend living here, probably as a student.

Thank you for this! Definitely bookmarking so I can explore all the lovely links at leisure. Especially dig the SKR pics!