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Memory road with Monte A. Melnick

This is SFL and we’re interviewing Monte A. Melnick, tour manager, for the Ramones. How are you Monte?
Monte Melnick: I’m doing good, considering what’s going on around the world.

SFL Music: I much would have rather had done this in person, but things are not working like that right now. So first, let’s talk about your book. So I see the updated version came out in May of 2019. I believe you’ve done a few updates.
Melnick: The last one’s called the BONUS EDITION, I did an updated edition before that and of course, the original book came out late 2004, so it’s been in publication for a bit. So 2010, I did an updated version and this one that just came out, is the BONUS EDITION, which I added 40 more pages to my book, so it’s more extensive than the older versions.

SFL Music: Well, I’m glad I got the new version. I thought the book is really well written, I liked the style in which it was written with the quotes.
Melnick: Thank you. An oral history really.

SFL Music: So how do you obtain those quotes? Were you already doing the book and you started to get quotes, or were you jotting things down? Specifically there are quotes from Joey in the book, I don’t know how long he was still alive when you were writing the book.
Melnick: Yeah. Most of the book we did interviews with people and then some of the people like Joey, we used other information on him, quotes from other sources. Most of them we did, Frank and I, by the way, Frank Meyer, my co-writer, is a great person, I’ve given him a lot of credit. We sat down or on the phone and in live interviews with most of the people in the book. Most of them, of course, few of them, we had to use other sources.

SFL Music: So now let’s go to the early days, that ’74, ’75, ’76. I was very surprised to read that you were a successful musician prior to this, and you had two albums out and had played quite a bit in bands, other than with Tommy and various Ramones.
Melnick: Yeah. ’71 ’72, I was in a recording act called Thirty Days Out. We had two albums out on Reprise Records, and we toured a little bit with the Beach Boys, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Tom Rush and bands like that.

SFL Music: Then it just came to an end, the band didn’t work out?
Melnick: Yeah. Two years there, management didn’t work out very well and we broke up.

SFL Music: So at that point, you’re back in New York and Tommy’s looking to open a studio.
Melnick: What happened was my cousin was a locksmith and he was installing some locks in a loft on 20th Street. And the lady there had some money, she said, “Do you know anybody? I would like to do a rehearsal studio here, maybe a little recording.” And my cousin recommended me and I brought Tommy into the venture with myself and we designed the place and then we actually built a lot of it and then we got a chance to manage it and do our own projects. I had my own band at the time and Tommy was engineering and doing other things and he brought the Ramones as a three piece group, into the studio at the time. So he was working with them, that’s how he got involved in the Ramones, through the studio there. Performance Studios it was called, on 23 East 20th Street.

SFL Music: Tommy, well actually all of you guys had somewhat grown up together?
Melnick: Well, yeah. I grew up with Tommy, I went to junior high school with Tommy, I went to high school with Tommy. I was actually in a band in 1968 with Tommy called Triad, a three piece group, along the lines like Cream, heavy, hard rock, the Cream type of band, three piece. So I was playing with him well before the Ramones.

SFL Music: So when they started forming the Ramones, why weren’t you in the Ramones?
Melnick: Well, as I said, I had my own bands at the time, I was managing the studio there, I got my own band involved in there and I had a different music taste. I mean, Thirty Days Out, was a country rock band and we could play our instruments and sing in three point harmony. So seeing the Ramones raw in the beginning of their three piece group, wasn’t my cup of tea, really. They had showcases there, so I was working the sound for them. That’s how I got involved with them.

SFL Music: In your book, you have a list of all of the shows, including all of those shows at the Performance Studios, six months before even playing CBGBs if I’m not mistaken.
Melnick: Well, yeah, they started out there and got their chops together in Performance Studios. I mean, they were a three-piece group initially, Joey was on drums, Johnny guitar, Dee Dee bass and singing, and Dee Dee wasn’t hacking it with his singing and playing bass, Tommy just wanted to produce and manage them, he didn’t want to be in the group. He heard that Joey had a great voice, pulled him off drums, and they started looking for drummers. At that time, the Ramones were so raw and nobody could understand what they were doing. But Tommy being a great musician, he was a guitar player basically, sat down and developed that whole Ramones style. And they said, “Oh, join the group.” He said, “Okay, I’ll join the group.” So he joined the group. Initially, he didn’t want to be in the group, he just wanted to produce them and manage them.

SFL Music: So you mentioned before, what were you listening to at that time, that you didn’t hear the Ramones?
Melnick: Well, I was into Quicksilver Messenger Service, Poco, Flying Burrito Brothers. I was a country rock fan. But then, after they split up, I was in a band with Tommy called Butch, which was between glam rock and punk rock. It was right around the time of the Dolls, I was playing bass and Tommy guitar and the other guitar player was Jeff Salen, from the Tuff Darts. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that group.

SFL Music: That brings me to all of those other bands from that time, of which basically my record collection is stuck in that time. So the Ramones, their relationships with those other New York bands, Blondie, Talking Heads, Heartbreakers, Tuff Darts, Mink DeVille, what was their relationship with those bands?
Melnick: Well they all hung out at CBGBs. And basically in the early years, the only people at shows at CBGBs, were other bands hanging out, like Blondie and a couple of other groups. The Dolls and other people, did rehearse at Performance Studios. Basically hanging out at CBGBs, we met them all there and at Max’s Kansas City. The CBGBs thing, Hilly was great because most clubs at that time, they just wanted you to play top 40, so it was hard to get jobs if you had original material. So all these groups with original material, Hilly said, “Come on, play, no problem.” And they all hung around there at the same time and then they became friends.

SFL Music: So at that point, you basically taught yourself how to be a tour manager.
Melnick: Yeah. I mean, in the beginning I was just doing the sound, Tommy being great, he knew a lot about sound and engineering, that’s kind of how I worked with him initially. Then when they started working out in other cities, I was in the crew doing everything. So I worked my way up. I learned from setting up the equipment, driving, tearing down the equipment, running sound, blah, blah, blah. The bigger they got, the more people they decided to hire, so they decided to hire a real professional sound man and a monitor man, and of course, Arturo was doing the lights and they needed a drum roadie and a guitar roadie. So I learned from the bottom up on all those things.

SFL Music: So every time you moved up, somebody else got a job.
Melnick: Yeah. Exactly. Because they got paid more, they could afford to bring more people.

SFL Music: So at what point did the Ramones feel success, if ever? Meaning, were they driving down the road and they hear their song on the radio and pull over.
Melnick: That didn’t happen for a while.

SFL Music: That’s what I’m curious about. So when their album came out, was that a measure of success?
Melnick: Yeah, of course. Everybody that’s in a band, wants to get signed to a label and record an album, put it out, sure, they felt great about that.

SFL Music: I know that they didn’t have a lot of radio success, pretty much.
Melnick: Yeah, in the States, that was a problem.

SFL Music: At some point, was End of the Century, their most successful album?
Melnick: I think the first successful one was the Ramones Mania and then the first album just went gold a couple of years ago. They never really sold a lot of albums, that was the pity about it. Now they’re selling, it’s a shame, because the four originals are not here to see all this fame they have, they’re bigger now than they were when they were together.

SFL Music: Well, that’s what made me curious about had they ever felt a measure of success?
Melnick: Of course, we did headline a lot of shows in Europe and in the U.S. They were basically a touring band. So in Argentina, they were huge down there, they felt the success down there. In Europe and the U.S. we’ve played a lot of festivals, headlining and stuff. It took a while, we worked our way up through the clubs. I mean, my line now is, “if the Ramones were this big when I was working for them, I would have gotten a big raise.” They’re huge now, it’s unbelievable.

SFL Music: You mentioned in your book about being at Lollapalooza, and about how Metallica and Soundgarden and all of those guys were on the side of the stage, watching the Ramones and revering them.
Melnick: Well, I think that’s the legacy of the Ramones. They were like the Johnny Appleseed of rock music, when they first started, they just went everywhere, played all these small clubs and little dingy places. And these kids said, “Hey, look, they’re not virtuoso people on the guitars and their instruments. They’re playing good music, simple music, easy stuff.” They said, “Hey, we can do that too.” And all these groups formed, and all these huge bands gave the Ramones credit for seeing them first and saying they inspired all these groups. That’s why I was surprised when I put the Ramones on stage. Suddenly Metallica is there, Soundgarden is on the side of the stage, they’re all big fans and they become good friends with them. They came about and said, “Look, we saw you guys when we were kids and you influenced us.” The same with Bono and U2, they wrote that song, “The Miracle of Joey Ramone”, for God’s sakes. Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder, everybody loved them. The Ramones are, like I said, the Johnny Appleseed of rock music, they spread their musical form out, it was easy, anybody could do it if you have good songs and you’re fairly competent.

SFL Music: It seemed that way. It’s kind of like the Beatles simplicity, in that part of their appeal is their simplicity, but not everybody can do it.
Melnick: I wouldn’t call the Beatles simplistic, man.

SFL Music: Well, early Beatles.
Melnick: I guess so, yeah.

SFL Music: And I felt the same way about the Ramones and as well, the whole punk movement in England, basically was based on their first appearance there, from what I understand.
Melnick: They were an influence to a lot of people. As I said, they went around the world influencing everybody. Basically, in the beginning, when they went to England, all these groups were hanging out with them, they knew a little bit about The Clash and the Sex Pistols and stuff. But these people wanted to hang out with them, so they knew they were doing something that was influencing people.

SFL Music: So now, in around 1980 or so, you guys do the End of the Century album with Phil Spector, I’m also a fan of Ronnie Spector
Melnick: Yeah. I worked with Ronnie Spector after the Ramones.

SFL Music: Yes. Come to find out you had managed her at one point.
Melnick: Yeah. I did a little bit of tour managing around 97’ 98’, a couple of dates with her because she became very good friends with Joey. She’s spectacular. She’s unbelievable. Great singer. I only worked with her after the Ramones retired.

SFL Music: Did the Ramones have any financial success?
Melnick: Yeah, they did. They were a touring band, so they made a lot off of merchandising.

SFL Music: Okay. Now what’s the deal with, I think Arturo did their merchandising originally.
Melnick: Yeah. He started from the beginning. If he was still alive, Arturo and myself would be the only people alive today that were with the band from the beginning to end. He passed away a couple of years ago and I’m the only one that’s alive, that was there from the beginning to end with the band. He started off right away. I mean, he was at the studio when they were rehearsing and loved the band and started saying, “I love you guys.” And then initially he printed up tee shirts himself, went on the road with us, he was also doing the lights, but they couldn’t afford to pay him in the beginning. So the tee shirt money was right there from the beginning and he knew, he was right on top of that. He had a loft downtown and he printed tee shirts up there and then took them on the road and sold them to pay the band and pay himself.

SFL Music: So the band did get some of that money at that time?
Melnick: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Johnny was numero uno financial guy, he watched over the finances.

SFL Music: But in those days, band shirts weren’t as available as they are now. So reading that, I understand where that went and how I’m sure that became a major infusion of money at some point, when everybody started wearing Ramones shirts and their merchandise.
Melnick: It was always an infusion of money for them. They were right on top of the ball with their merchandising, they knew what they had there. And Arturo really realized that, that’s why he got a piece of that. I wish I could’ve gotten a piece of that in the beginning, put my finger on that. Boy, they made a fortune on the merchandising.

SFL Music: Now, bands no longer make their money from albums, they make their money from the tours and merchandising. So the Ramones were doing that, what is it, 35 years ago.
Melnick: Yeah. That’s where they were making the money. They wouldn’t sell all the albums, let me tell you, that’s where they made the money, touring, merchandise.

SFL Music: You weren’t just a tour manager and from reading the book, I also know that you were very instrumental in how they got around in their day to day.
Melnick: It was a lot of different things I had to do, not just tour managing, I also had to be a diplomat, and help Joey out and other things, it’s a big job tour managing and other things along those lines. I worked with them on videos off the road, on the road, I was in the movie, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, I helped them with that and all that stuff. So I mean, it was a full time job for 20 years.

SFL Music: Yes. And that part of it too, the full time, how did you do anything else and have a personal life? Everything was always about them.
Melnick: Yeah. And that’s the only thing, I mean, I love traveling and touring a lot, which they certainly did tour a lot. The only downside is having a steady relationship was very difficult because you go on the road and you meet girls on the road and then you have a girlfriend at home and they say, “Oh, you’re going on the road. Take me.” I couldn’t take a girlfriend on the road with me. I mean, bigger bands probably could do that. And then I get, “You’re out there having a party.” I said, “No, I’m not partying, I’m working every night.” But you can’t explain this to women that, I’m not partying, drinking, having fun every night, I’m working. But, “Oh you got to take me on the road.” So it was difficult having a steady relationship. But of course, I did it because I love working, traveling and seeing the world and I liked what I was doing.

SFL Music: Right. I got the impression from your book, that you were a lot more involved, you seem to be understating that to me, that you were more involved in their personal lives as well. Getting them to the shows, getting them to photography stuff and whatever.
Melnick: Well, that’s all part of a tour manager, getting people to shows, getting people doing interviews, photography sessions, dealing with the record companies, dealing with promoters, that’s a huge job, people don’t realize. That’s why I wrote the book, give an insight on what it’s really like behind the scenes.

SFL Music: 20 straight years, 2200+ shows- that’s a lot of time. Also, I read in the book about how you compartmentalized the tours after a while, and you would go out and do two weeks where you might do the East Coast and then go out West and do three weeks out there and then go home, rest for a month or whatever, and then go do it again.
Melnick: Yeah. Actually, they developed that after a number of years because initially, we tried all sorts of different transportation. We had buses, but buses are very, very expensive and you had to sleep on the bus and stuff. We didn’t like to sleep on buses. I mean, they weren’t a huge band, who can afford taking the bus out and you have hotels on top of that, so they’d rather have hotels. And so we developed a little system, in the United States, of course, when we went overseas, we took buses, I didn’t do any driving overseas, but here in the States, they decided after a number of years, let’s do sections of the country with a van.

SFL Music: So there’s the West Coast, couple of weeks up and down, take the van out there, have the van driven out there, we’d fly out there and then go up and down. It’s easy for them to get around in a van and have hotels every night. And then come back and take a week or two off and then do maybe the Midwest and then maybe it’s south after that. And so it was compartmentalized.
Melnick: Yeah, they decided to do it that way and you can take a couple of weeks off and then do sections. The funny thing about it is at the end, the crew had buses, because they had to get there early, they had to stay there, they had to break down after the show, they had to drive hundreds of miles and then sleep on the bus. So we pull up to these festivals, this huge bus would pull in, the crew would walk out and then I drive up in the van and the band would walk out and people were laughing.

SFL Music: So you made a mention of something in there that struck me because I personally have one, there’s a letter opener, I went to a record show one time, and this guy was selling Ramones letter openers. He had two of them and he had all kinds of Warner Brothers paraphernalia, obviously he had worked there. So I picked up the two letter openers, I gave one to Roger, my friend and then I see it in your book. You said it in a sense of, yeah instead of getting a bonus, they got letter openers.
Melnick: It actually was a promotional thing, the record company put them out and gave them to a bunch of people that they wanted to promote the album. They give a letter opener and promotional stuff that they make like little trinkets and hand them out, that was one of them. I forget which album that was for, Leave Home, I think.

SFL Music: Leave Home. And then there was the bat, which I just recently found out evidently there’s two baseball bats, I only knew about one, but just found out there’s a second one that came with either the first album.
Melnick: The mini bat you’re talking about?

SFL Music: Yes, the mini baseball bat.
Melnick: Yeah, yeah. There’s was a black one, I think there was a regular colored one.

SFL Music: Yeah. Yeah. I’m a little crazy for stuff like that. So yeah, I know about that.
Melnick: They gave me one, but I auctioned it off, I got a nice price for that.

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