Three years after the dissolution of his famed pioneering punk band the Ramones, Joey Ramone has finally decided to venture out on his own with a solo record.
It's not as if the lanky punk godfather hasn't been keeping busy since the 1996 dissolution of the group; it's just that he's finally decided to make a go of it himself.
"I think I'm finally ready to do this now," Ramone, 47, said from his New York apartment. "I've got some good new songs and I'm just looking for a label that will be supportive of me."
In addition to co-producing music by his favorite new punk bands and by his idol, former Ronettes singer Ronnie Spector, Ramone says he's been performing sporadic live cameos and accumulating material for an envisioned Joey Ramone disc.
With 14 songs written -- and many of them demoed with longtime collaborator and former Ramones producer Daniel Rey -- Ramone said he is preparing to enter a New York studio to begin recording.
Ramone (born Jeff Hyman) said he's assembled a band for the sessions that includes bassist Andy Shernoff of the punk group the Dictators, Cracker drummer Frank Funaro and Rey on guitar.
The towering singer said he feels good about the new songs, some of which deal with subject matter that may seem odd for a man who previously made his living singing about pinheads, pet cemeteries and punk rockers named Sheena.
"One of my hobbies is the stock market," Ramone said somewhat sheepishly. In fact, not only does Ramone follow the stock market, he said he has developed an obsession with the host of a daily financial analysis program on the CNBC-TV business news network.
"I watch this show 'Squawk Box' every morning and they have this host named Maria [Bartiromo] who is really hot and feisty," Ramone said. "When I stopped drinking, I started getting into the stock market, because it's sort of like a mosh pit down there."
Ramone said he became so enamored of Bartiromo that he penned a song in her honor entitled -- what else? -- "Maria Bartiromo."
The demo of the song, which Ramone recorded with Rey, mixes the British Invasion sound of the Who's early material with a touch of the Ramones' career-long fascination with Motown girl vocal groups. "I watch her every day/ I watch her every night/ She's really out of sight/ Maria Bartiromo," Ramone sings on the track, his vocals reminiscent of such Ronette's-inspired Ramones songs as
"I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" (RealAudio excerpt).
"My thing is that I can't be too concerned if people can relate to it," Ramone said of the unusual song subject. "I know [the stock market is] not really a rock 'n' roll thing, but I don't care."
Other intriguing titles of new solo songs include "I Feel Like I'm on a Drug I've Never Done Before," "Mr. Punchy," "Don't Worry About Me," "What Did I Do to Deserve You" and "There's a Spirit in My House and I Know It Ain't No Mouse."
Reprise Records president Howie Klein, a longtime supporter of Ramone, applauded the singer's source of inspiration. "I don't watch much TV," said Klein, who was the general manager of Sire Records for a period in the early '80s while the Ramones were signed to that imprint. "But she's on the only show I do watch, and she's an idol. Anyone who writes a song about her has got to be awesome. I can't wait to hear the song [and the album]. I think he's great."
Ramone's bandmembers don't seem to care what the punk icon croons about, just as long as he's singing. "I think he's totally underrated as a singer," said Funaro, who, in addition to spending a decade with the Dictators, also backed the roots punk band the Del Lords and, briefly, '50s singing sensation Dion.
"When people talk about the Ramones, they usually are talking about the band," Funaro said, "and their effect on music was pretty big. I know it changed my life, because they gave me a blueprint for how to write songs, the blueprint to rock 'n' roll. But I really feel Joey's voice is a beautiful instrument."
Funaro said he's looking forward to entering the studio with Ramone in late March to record the new songs. "I've looked at the backs of a few great frontmen," he said, "and Joey's definitely one of them."
Ramone said he doesn't yet have a label on which to release the album, though he has received a number of calls from record execs interested in working with him. "I just want a label that's supportive of what I'm trying to do," he said.
And although the singer has, for the most part, been laying low on the live scene since the Ramones' dissolution, he said he's eager to get back onstage. "I like playing live," Ramone said. "I really miss it."