Street buzz says that the hottest punk rock reunion ticket in months is happening at the Stick this Saturday. Yes, the storied Ramrods — a band that imploded before the scene-defining venue Bookies had even fired up — are taking the stage. “The tree fell in the forest 27 years ago and it took until now to hear it,” laughs Ramrods shouter Mark Norton (né Ivan Suvanjieff).
It should be noted that Norton is the guy laboring behind the Detroit Punks documentary, a work-in-progress that has seen him invest substantial time and cash — he’s shot hundreds of hours (207 hours to be exact) of interview footage with everyone from Wayne Kramer to Don Was to Dave DiMartino and so on. (Norton is also co-founder of the PeaceJam organization, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization that brings Nobel laureates to high school-aged kids around the globe.)
Anyway, the Ramrods debuted in 1977 on the night Elvis died. The last official Ramrods show was January 28, 1978, at the Red Carpet. The quartet was done days before the Sex Pistols expired. When the band was breathing, they had serious interest from Ramones manager Danny Fields (who dug the band’s pinup punk Teen Beat looks) and from Sire’s Seymour Stein.
After the split, guitarist Peter James (who was also in early Romantics incarnations) and drummer Bob Mulrooney (aka Bootsey X) joined Nikki Corvette and the Convertibles (Mulrooney later split and joined the Sillies, and eventually formed Bootsey X & the Lovemasters). Basssist Dave Hanna and Norton formed the 27.
Well it’s nearly 27 years later and it wouldn’t be a rock ’n’ roll reunion without the drama — in fact, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Ramrods had earned platinum plaques and hefty royalty checks, which is hardly the case. They were a worthy punk band together less than a year. They didn’t even release a 45.
Well, now James is miffed that the band is reuniting without him, saying they are stealing his tunes and ideas, and he’s chirping lawyerly threats (a move that can only help to mythologize the band further and do wonders promoting said reunion). And there is a squabble over ownership of the band’s limited recordings, a squabble that has squashed at least one other possible release of the band’s material.
A CD comp of the Ramrods’ demos and live bits, Gimme Some Action, is just out on Young Soul Rebels records (see review page 31).
Norton and Mulrooney chortle at any accusations and say James was, and is, impossible to work with.
“I thought after 27 years we could have managed to work things out,” says Norton.
“The Ramrods have been one big lie since day one,” counters James. “That band was a dictatorship; I made every decision on the band … it was my concept, my idea … basically they were working for me. So how can they be doing a reunion without me? I call it the Milli Vanilli Ramrods.”
Norton: “In the spring of 2003 we tried to put the Ramrods back together. Pete didn’t want anything to do with Dave or Bob, and he said to me, ‘Me and you are like Keith and Mick, we don’t need those guys …’ I said, ‘No way — we all play or forget it.’”
James: “No, no, no — he’s twisting the truth. I never would have cut anyone out of it. It’s not like it’s the MC5! He didn’t try to work it out with me.”
Norton: “So I called Dave and Bootsey and said, ‘Screw it — let’s put the band back togther without Pete.’ They said ‘Hell yeah!’ … We voted Pete off Ramrods Island.”
Lines were drawn. It’s one man’s war on one’s former band mates — it’s the time-honored stuff of rock ’n’ roll yarns, full of personal insults, accusations and mud-slinging.
Then there’s the tunes.
Norton and Mulrooney agree that James wrote a lot of the material. But James claims he wrote all the Ramrods songs aside from two that featured lyrical input from Norton. And remember, this is a punk band from 1977 whose songs weren’t even copyrighted until James did so after the band had split up — so it’s a bit hazy to know who wrote what exactly. And we’re only talking a handful of songs.
“Pete loves the illusion that he wrote everything, but that’s simply not true,” says Norton. “And he can’t say in good conscience that he wrote everything.”
The ownership of the masters (hence the rights to the recordings) is unclear too — the guy who actually recorded the band’s songs is dead. James claims Norton stole the master tapes, which would make the new record a bootleg.
Norton scoffs at the implication. “Me and Dave had 7.5 IPS copies made for us. Dave had a job, I had a job, we saved our money and had bought 4-track reel-to-reel TEACs. We didn’t steal anything — we were members of the band and we were allowed to make those copies to take home and keep. Sorry, Pete.”
Mulrooney says that James doesn’t own any master tapes. “It sounds like we’re doing something wrong to this guy, but people don’t know the real story,” Mulrooney says. James says the exact same thing about the rest of the Ramrods.
Anyway, James is sore and Norton and the boys just want to, in a word, rock. Norton says that James will receive 25 percent of whatever money the band earns from the CD sales, after expenses.
“I don’t want their money,” says James, who tells us that he might show up for the reunion and stand directly in front of the band. “Anyway, the Ramrods are an amoeba of a flea compared to the MC5 or the Stooges!” flaps James.
In the end Norton and James both snicker separately at how ridiculous this whole snafu sounds, but they are, at the same time, serious with their beefs.
“It’s not a controversy, it’s a nontroversy,” Norton says emphatically. “For us it’s a labor of love. We’re just happy to be playing.”
For the show Saturday, Hanna has switched from bass to guitar and Danny Doll Rod — an old Ramrods fan —is on bass. The show is not to be missed.Send bitch-slaps, quips and rants to firstname.lastname@example.org