Do you remember that feeling you had when you fell in love with music for the first time? It was the physical feeling of magic that seemed like home – that felt like family – where suddenly everything made sense in the world. We have all had those visceral moments, but very few of us get to make a whole career out of that feeling. Even fewer of us get to ride that feeling out alongside one of the most influential rock n roll bands in the world. Enter CJ Ramone who joined his favourite band The Ramones in 1989 – when original bass player Dee Dee Ramone quit – and who continued on to play with the group for 7 years (and 3 studio albums) until their retirement in 1996.
Born Christopher Joseph Ward, CJ Ramone served in the United States Marine Corps until he landed the dream job of playing bass for the Ramones, where he was widely credited with injecting a much needed youthful energy back into the group. Going into his first Ramones audition (the first of many), CJ had no expectations of getting the gig. He just wanted to meet his idols and have a cool story to tell his friends. The audition process was gruelling and CJ credits the focus and drive he had learned in the Marines with helping him to land the gig that would change his life forever. Hearing him talk about his days with The Ramones, who are often cited as the first band to define punk rock music in the late 1970’s, we appreciate that CJ never took anything for granted, that he knew how very lucky he was and that every show he played with The Ramones was an absolute gift. 23 years later CJ Ramone continues to proudly carry the legacy that was passed down to him by his idols with a successful solo career of his own. Following the releases of ‘Reconquista’ (2012), Last Chance to Dance (2014) and American Beauty (2017), CJ Ramone released his fourth solo album ‘The Holy Spell’ this past May.
‘The Holy Spell’, whose title refers to the magical feeling that music gives us, is loaded with the requisite high-energy Ramones-esque hooks we expect from a Ramone while still managing to sound uncontrived and new. With this newest album it feels like CJ Ramone is giving the listener a little peak inside his heart as he reminisces about the last 30 years of his musical career. Catchy, solid, straight forward rockers like ‘One High, One Low’, ‘This Town’ and ‘Stand Up’ have come to be expected from CJ Ramone, but this latest studio effort seems a bit more personal and intimate. With fresh sounding cover versions of “Crawling from the Wreckage” (by Dave Edmunds) and ‘There Stands the Glass’ (by Webb Pierce) CJ pays homage to his musical roots as a child growing up. ‘Hands of Mine’ is an unexpected and tender country ballad full of hope that reflects on CJ’s life as he grew into a father, husband, former Marine and as a touring musician. ‘Rock On’, the final song on the album is a heartfelt and wistful tribute to punk rock pioneer, long-time friend, collaborator and band mate Steve Soto who passed away suddenly last summer. There is an earnestness and vulnerability that comes through on The Holy Spell which is perhaps magnified by the announcement that this album tour will also be CJ Ramone’s last. While CJ still plans to write, record and release music as well as play occasional shows and special events, he is taking a step back from the rigorous touring schedule that he has kept up with for the last few albums.
The Holy Spell reminds fans that even though life and circumstances will always change, the magic feeling that keeps us all hungry, excited and young at heart is always just a song away. CJ Ramone is finishing off the last few dates of his North American tour this summer with sister punk two-piece, Dog Party. Don’t sleep on these shows, you will regret it.