By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
A Ramone playing bluegrass and old-time string-band music? If it sounds like a joke, stop laughing. Original drummer Tommy Ramone (known to the DMV as Tommy Erdelyi) was always the professional one in the band — according to Dee Dee Ramone, he was the only one capable of cooking himself dinner — and he later moved on to produce classic albums by the Replacements and Redd Kross. So it's no surprise that the last Ramone standing has made the switch to banjo, mandolin and dobro with such ease. He assures B-Sides that, all along, inside that leather jacket beats the heart of a mountain man.
B-Sides: So how does a Jewish, Hungarian American kid from Queens wind up playing bluegrass?
Tommy Ramone: This is music I've been interested in since I was a kid. My father was a big country-music fan, and my brother would bring home records from the library of string band music, folk music. It's music I grew up on. And there was the big folk scene in New York before the Beatles and the British Invasion. I was too young to be in that scene, but you started to hear a lot of that stuff on the radio, and my brother was nine years older, so I had a connection to it through him.
Ludo, Without a Face, Ha Ha Tonka, Meese
8 p.m. Thursday, October 22.
The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard.
Then about fifteen years ago, I bought a mandolin and a banjo for a band I had at the time, also called Uncle Monk — it was kind of a jam band, and I wanted to incorporate string-band sounds into that. I absolutely fell in love with playing them, and the current Uncle Monk just evolved from there.
I like that you don't try to sing with a drawl, that your New York accent is still audible in there sometimes. Was that a conscious decision to avoid trying to sound too hokey-hillbilly?
We definitely didn't look at this as something humorous, except when it's supposed to be humorous. We have a lot of respect for old-time music, bluegrass music. Everything fantastic in American music has come out of that. There are a lot of bands out there who sort of have fun with the genre, but that's not what we do. We use traditional music and instrumentation with modern lyrics, modern themes. We take it seriously and just love the music.
What's it like being in an acoustic duo like Uncle Monk as opposed to an electric rock band like the Ramones?
What [singer-guitarist] Claudia [Tienan] and I are doing is singing very personal songs. With the Ramones it was four very — very — different individuals. With Uncle Monk, it's a much more unified, personal thing. Claudia maybe has a darker vision, I have a more optimistic kind of thing, but with the Ramones there were four very different things going on.
Is the Ramones legacy a blessing or a curse for Uncle Monk?
You know, it's great because it opens doors. Some people might be confused, expecting something punky, but it usually works out once we clear up what exactly we're about. Sometimes we introduce people to string-band music and they're surprised they like it, which is an interesting phenomenon. And what's great is that these old-time genres aren't that big right now, so you can go see acts at smaller places, get close to the artists, things like that. It's exciting.
— Jason Toon
No Rest for the Weary
Although Ludo has been taking it easy with touring in recent months, the Moog-rock quartet is still working hard. For starters, the band has been demoing songs for the followup to its major-label debut, You're Awful, I Love You, with plans to record it early next year.
In the meantime, Ludo recently reissued its self-titled debut and 2005's Broken Bride EP on its Redbird Records label (with widespread distribution via Universal Records). To celebrate the re-release, Ludo has been performing Broken Bride in its entirety on nine shows, including this St. Louis gig.
Although locals are familiar with these releases, Ludo has been mastered for the first time, and producer Jason McEntire (who has worked with the band for years) remixed it. The band also added a bonus track ("Elektra's Complex") and included a live recording of its first birthday show, which took place at Mississippi Nights in August 2004.
Moog player Tim Convy says that the band wanted its newer fans — who learned about the act from Awful and its single "Love Me Dead" — to be able to hear these records.
"There's a whole lot of people out there who [knew us from] 'Love me Dead' [or] just a music video or just that song or just that record," Convy says. "The idea, particularly before our next record comes out, is to let people know that there's a whole lot more going on. We had these other things before — we didn't just show up [and] make a record. There's this history to it, and we do these different things that maybe aren't in 'Love Me Dead' and aren't a part of that record so much."