Tom Erdelyi, better known as Tommy Ramone, the founding drummer and last surviving original member of the Ramones - the New York City band whose dizzying, short blasts of melody codified the sound of punk rock - died Friday at his home in New York. He was 65. The cause was cancer of the bile duct, his family said. Of the original Ramones, Joey (the singer) died in 2001, Dee Dee (the bassist) in 2002 and Johnny (the guitarist) in 2004.
Erdelyi played only on the band’s first three albums, “Ramones” in 1976 and “Leave Home” and “Rocket to Russia,” both from 1977. And he cut a much more easygoing figure than his bandmates, who despite their fraternal stage names were notorious for internecine feuds. Yet Erdelyi played a crucial role in the sound and early development of the band, which was started by the high school friends from Queens.
When the group first came together in 1974, Erdelyi, who had some experience in the music business as a recording engineer, was the manager. Equally in love with hard rock’s buzz saw guitar and the sunny clarity of 1950s and ‘60s radio pop, the four men, dressed in leather jackets and ripped jeans like B-movie juvenile delinquents, opposed the mellow singer-songwriters and opulent progressive rock that dominated pop at the time.
In the band’s earliest incarnation, Joey - real name Jeffrey Hyman - was the drummer. But once it was discovered that Joey had the most capable singing voice, he moved to lead vocals.
“We started auditioning drummers, but they just couldn’t grasp the concept of the band - the speed and simplicity,” Erdelyi said in a 2011 interview with the website Noisecreep.
“So I’d sit down and show them what we were looking for and the guys just finally said, ‘Why don’t you do it?' So I gave it a try and that’s when the sound of the band sort of solidified.”
In songs like “Beat on the Brat” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” the nascent Ramones compressed nursery-rhyme chords into adrenalized blares, and seemed to satirize the very ideas of teenage boredom and cheap kicks. Playing regularly at the Manhattan bar CBGB, the band charged through the set, pausing long enough between songs only for Dee Dee to shout, “One, two, three, four!”
Official songwriting credits were shared by the full band. But Erdelyi was the primary author of several of the Ramones’ early classics, including “Blitzkrieg Bop,” which opens their first album with the chant “Hey ho, let’s go!” and features lyrics that boil teenage angst down to its most basic and kinetic (“What they want, I don’t know/ They’re all revved up and ready to go”).
He was born Erdelyi Tamas on Jan. 29, 1949, in Budapest. His parents were professional photographers. Most of the rest of his family died in the Holocaust, he recalled in Steven Lee Beeber’s 2006 book, “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk.”
He immigrated with his family to the United States in 1957, and changed his name to Thomas Erdelyi. In high school, he played guitar in a garage band called Tangerine Puppets with a schoolmate, John Cummings - the future Johnny Ramone.
Later Erdelyi trained as a recording engineer and worked at the Record Plant studio in Manhattan. He was associate producer of the Ramones’ first album, which was produced by Craig Leon, and he was a co-producer of the band’s next three records. Erdelyi left the band after “Rocket to Russia,” released in 1977, to concentrate on producing. He was replaced on the drums by Marc Bell, who took on the name Marky Ramone.
Erdelyi produced the Replacements’ “Tim” in 1985 and Redd Kross’ “Neurotica” in 1987. With Ed Stasium, he also produced the Ramones’ 1979 live album, “It’s Alive” - recorded in 1977 when Erdelyi was still with the band - and the 1984 album “Too Tough to Die.”
In the 2000s Erdelyi and his longtime companion, Claudia Tienan, performed bluegrass-style music as the duo Uncle Monk, releasing a self-titled album on their own label, Airday. Tienan survives him, as does a brother, Peter.
The Ramones, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, were a quintessential rock group, whose influence far exceeded record sales.
The group’s self-titled debut which Rolling Stone magazine has ranked the 33rd greatest album of all time, peaked at No. 111 on Billboard’s album chart. In April, 38 years after its release, it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, recognizing that it had finally sold at least 500,000 copies.