Rock artists are always reinventing themselves, but who could have ever imagined drummer Tommy Ramone
reemerging as a bluegrass picker? For Ramone
(born Thomas Erdelyi, January 29, 1952) the stretch isn't as far as you'd think. "I've been into old time music since I was a kid," Ramone
said in a 2007 interview. "My older brother would bring string-band and folk music records home from the library. We'd make tape copies and I'd listen to them all the time. I've always been into music of classic simplicity, with basic chord structures, but great depth of meaning and emotion. There is a direct connection between genuine folk music and punk. You can hear [that influence] on songs like "Susie Is a Headbanger," "Can't Give You Anything" and the musical arrangements on the album, Road to Ruin
to name just a few."
actually started playing folk guitar as a kid, but as soon as the Beatles
appeared he got an electric guitar and started a rock band. The came the Ramones
: "What made the Ramones
so good was their musical dynamic and unique personalities. What made us so creative, our volatile and neurotic temperaments also made it hard to [work together] around the clock. I eventually thought it would be better for my well being if we brought in another drummer, but I continued to write songs and produce the records and be a creative influence on them."
met Claudia Tienan
, a folkie who hails from Minneapolis, MN, a long time before the Ramones
broke up. In the early '90s, Ramone
had an electric jam band also called Uncle Monk
played bass and Ramone
was the lead guitarist.
created the current acoustic Uncle Monk
to be a folk band with alternative and indie rock sensibilities. He took the musical instrumentation and song stylings of old-time and bluegrass music and blended them with modern themes and lyrics. "I bought a banjo about 15 years ago and soon after got a mandolin. I fell in love with both instruments and worked hard learning how to play them. I loved the music so much that I wanted to play the other string band instruments too, so one by one, I taught myself to play them."
In the Uncle Monk
sings lead and harmony vocals and picks mandolin, banjo, dobro, fiddle and guitar. Tienan
sings lead and harmony vocals and plays guitar and acoustic bass. Both write songs. "I've always loved acoustic music," Ramone
said. "[In Hungary] every restaurant and many other establishments had live bands playing all the time -- gypsy music, swing, jazz and folk music." When he came to America, the soundtrack of Blackboard Jungle embedded Bill Haley
's "Rock Around the Clock" into his DNA. Hearing the Weavers
do "Wimoweh" on their Live at Carnegie Hall
album is another early memory. Pete Seeger
's voice and the arrangement of the song made a big impression on his early musical taste. The easy, relaxed feel of the Weavers
was a big influence on Ramone
's plans for Uncle Monk
The duo start writing and arranging songs in 2004 and spent the next year recording and mixing their first album. They launched their website and started selling their album digitally the same year the played their first live gig at South by Southwest in 2006. Their eponymous album was officially released in 2007 and they've been on the road ever since.
creates a joyful noise that's fun and funky, but they work hard to appear spontaneous. "It's part of our aesthetic to keep things loose and comfortable," Ramone
said. "We work hard to keep things free and easy. Songwriting and arranging are very much connected and part of the same process. We feed of each other when it comes to final arrangements."
's rough and tumble spirit share much with the anarchic style that made the Ramones
so much fun. Since they started touring, they've gotten a good reaction, partially due to Ramone
's name recognition and the jarring contrast between the music he's been doing most of his life and this new, mellow acoustic sound. "Uncle Monk
is about the love of music and the opportunity to express ourselves. We hate the hype and artificiality that's a big part of what's out there in the music world. We try to keep what we're doing as natural as possible. We take the music seriously and think that what we're doing has real meaning and substance."