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Punk rocker Tommy Ramone turns to folk, and Carbondale

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Shana Novak/Special to the Vail DailyUncle Monk, an acoustic duo featuring Claudia Tienan and Tom Erdelyi (a.k.a. Tommy Ramone) performs Thursday at Steve's Guitars in Carbondale
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CARBONDALE – Tommy Ramone remembers rock ‘n’ roll radio – he helped redefine it – but his love of bluegrass goes back even further.

These days, Tom Erdelyi, better known by his stage name with the iconic punk band that holds a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is happily unplugged, performing in an indie-acoustic duo with good friend Claudia Tienan (formerly with The Simplistics). The twosome take the stage Thursday at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.

Uncle Monk began as an electric jam band in the ’90s with a third member, a drummer. “We started incorporating bluegrass elements into that,” said Erdelyi in a phone interview from Boulder Wednesday, after a Tuesday night show in Lyons. “We ended up dropping the drummer and going acoustic because we loved it.”



A native of Hungary, Erdelyi, 58, remembers his brother bringing home string-band recordings from the local library, and the country music that his father enjoyed. He grew up playing guitar.

“I’ve been into this music all my life,” Erdelyi said.



Fast forward to 1974, in Queens, N.Y., where Erdelyi was working as a sound engineer and managing a group of chums who had all adopted the same last name, though they were unrelated. The group’s original drummer, Joey Ramone, was the best choice to sing lead, recalled Erdelyi, who wound up behind the drums as Tommy Ramone.

“I kind of came up with my own unique style – I didn’t know what I was doing,” Erdelyi said.

The Ramones – four impossibly thin hoodlum types, dressed alike in ripped jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets and sneakers – also had their own unique style. They would help revitalize rock ‘n’ roll and launch a new genre with their manic, infectious, stripped-down, power-pop songs and often hilarious lyrics.



The jump from punk to folk (toss in elements of old-time and bluegrass) wasn’t a big leap, Erdelyi insisted.

“The two types of music are very compatible,” he said. “There are similarities between bluegrass and punk rock. It’s just that punk rock is electric and loud.”

The influence of folk music is discernible in various Ramones tracks and in the musical arrangements on the band’s fourth studio album, 1978’s “Road to Ruin,” according to Erdelyi.

The ballad “Questioningly” and “Don’t Come Close,” both off “Ruin,” sound a lot like Uncle Monk, he added.

Though he left the Ramones in 1974 (replaced by Marky Ramone), Tommy co-produced both “Road to Ruin” and the band’s 1984 release, “Too Tough to Die.” He holds co-production and/or engineering credits on much of the group’s earlier work as well, and solo songwriting credit for “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Dee Dee and Tommy co-wrote another Ramones classic, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” and the band collaborated on the “Rocket to Russia” tracks, Erdelyi said.

Uncle Monk has released one, self-titled CD – 14 tracks co-written by Erdelyi and Tienan.

Rabid Ramones fans (are there any other kind?) have, by and large, been generously accepting of Uncle Monk’s music, according to Erdelyi.

“A lot of them have never ever heard this type of music before. When they hear it, they like it – they don’t quite know why,” he said.

Still, Erdelyi admitted, the Tommy Ramone legend is something of a double-edged sword. It is an audience draw, but it evokes preconceived notions from Ramones fans who don’t wanna be sedated.

For those who show up at Steve’s looking for a nod to the past – “We might have a surprise for them,” Erdelyi said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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