Ramones play Essex’s Seagull Inn (2/4/1979)

Ramones at the Seagull: Stripped-down, honest rock is their stock in trade

By Tom Basham (Baltimore Sun 2/9/1979)

The Ramones came to town this week.

They drove down from New York city Sunday in a window van. Their guitars, drums, amplifiers, microphones, speakers, mixers and “Gabba Gabba Hey” sign traveled separately, in a rented truck that broke down twice before reaching Baltimore.

So the show was running a little late. The 350 people in attendance had plenty of time to soak up the comfy ambiance of the Seagull Inn.

seagull-cropped500

To reach the Seagull, you drive down Back River Neck and bear left at Middleborough. A mile or so on, turn left on Nanticoke. You travel down a boat-lined road until you reach the edge of Middle River.  (The Seagull Inn is now The River Watch. –BML)

The Seagull sits on the water’s edge, lowering the wind chill index a few notches.

Inside, pool balls clicked and our shoes stuck to the rug as the Ramones’ road crew hustled the gear into place.

The Ramones, from left to right, Johnny, Marky, Joey and Dee Dee.

The room was perfect for the Ramones. The stage was at the far end, beyond the dance floor ringed with tables and chairs. A large fishnet was fastened to the ceiling, and fake lifebuoys dotted the walls. A stern sign announced that anyone breaking the pool tables would be barred.

The Ramones have just a slight touch of an image problem. Because they play no-frills rock music, wear black leather jackets and hail from the Big Apple, they have been labeled punks.

Say punk rock to your average American citizen and you set of a chain of ugly visions: Sid Vicious slashing his wrists or stabbing his girlfriend: fights breaking out in audiences; wild passions burning out of control.

The Ramones aren’t like that. They are, as their guitarist Johnny Ramone likes to say, “a rock and roll group.” They have released four albums and their latest, “Road to Ruin,” has been lavishly praised but little bought.

“We break even on our albums,” Johnny said. There is talk of having the legendary Phil Spector produce the next one.

“Sometimes we think of doing a sick album,” he adds. “Everytime we write a Rock City good song, like ‘Sedated,’ they say, ‘It’s too sick. We can’t put it out as a single.’

But they can play them live. It Is past midnight when the Ramones take the Seagull stage. Dee Dee Ramone straps on his bass. Joey Ramone steps up to the microphone and Marky Ramone plows into his drum set. Johnny starts wailing on his guitar and the band is into “Rockaway Beach,” one of more than 25 tunes they will perform over the next hour.

They attack their simple material with energy and determination. The songs last about two minutes each and the group hardly pauses between them. By a quarter to one, when they pause briefly, they have run through seven numbers.

By show’s end, they have covered such “sick” material as “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Cretin Hop” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.” They also do some rock classics like “Needles and Pins,” “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Surfin’ Bird.”

Johnny is the mainstay, pumping out a barrage of barre chords, those awkward-looking jobbies where you hold down all the strings with one finger.

He blows out his cheeks and grits his teeth as his right hand swings relentlessly across the strings. Dee Dee staggers across the small space between his microphone and amplifiers. Joey bends the mike stand backwards, balancing on it as he leans toward the audience.

The effect is like having a rhythmic locomotive driving through your blood vessels. The music hits with physical force in this small room, inspiring listeners to jump in the air or rock their heads in time.

At 1:35, the band hits the final chords of “We’re a Happy Family” and retreats briefly to a small, cluttered room behind the stage.

Edith Massey, local movie star and thing shop owner, pays a visit. So do a few writers and radio types. The place has been sprinkled with local media people tonight, with The Sun, News-American, City Paper and WCVT-FM all represented.

What’s all the interest about? The Ramones play a stripped-down, honest brand of rock which is credited with influencing a generation of bands in England and New York city. They sold out the Back Room of the Varsity Grill in College Park two nights earlier and their visit to the Seagull was a rare chance to catch one of America’s most exciting bands in an intimate setting.

As for the image problem, there was once another musical quartet who wore black leather jackets and played raw rock and roll in dark clubs.

It worked for the Beatles and it’s working for the Ramones.

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