Anyone who has ever listened to the Ramones, will immediately recognize the famous rapid-fire shouted, “One! Two! Three! Four!” count-in for nearly every song they performed live or in-studio.
That legendary rhythmic rally cry was courtesy of Dee Dee Ramone, bassist for The Ramones from the time of their formation in 1974, until his departure from the band, fifteen years later, in 1989.
Douglas Glenn Colvin, a.k.a. Dee Dee Ramone, was born on September 18, 1951, in Fort Lee, Virginia. His father was a soldier whose military service took his family to West Berlin, West Germany, where he would live until he was 15 years old. At this time, his parents split, and Dee Dee moved with his mother to Forest Hills, New York.
It was there he met John Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi (later dubbed Johnny and Tommy Ramone, respectfully) and the trio quickly became fast friends. Johnny introduced Dee Dee to Jeffrey Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone, and at the suggestion of Dee Dee, the group decided to form a band, naming themselves the Ramones after “Paul Ramon” which was Paul McCartney’s alias he used when checking into hotels.
In the early 1970s before the band’s formation, Dee Dee worked as a printer’s helper at The Bureau of Advertising in Manhattan. It was there he befriended graphic artist Arturo Vega, who moved to New York in his early 20s to pursue an art career. Vega went on to design the band’s famous logo and was officially dubbed “artistic director” for the band, becoming known as the “fifth Ramone.”
Within the context of the Ramones, Dee Dee proved himself to be a prolific songwriter, and was responsible for composing many of the band’s best known songs, such as “Wart Hog,” “Commando,” and “Rockaway Beach.”
He expertly held down the bottom end of The Ramones until his retirement from the band in 1989, after which he continued to write songs for the band, contributing at least three songs to each of their final albums.
Interestingly, prior to his final departure from the Ramones, Dee Dee embarked on a terribly strange, ill-fated — and, thankfully, short-lived — stint as a bizarre hip-hop rocker of sorts. It was pre-Beastie Boys, but you can see faint traces of Licensed To Ill in the one album he put out under the kooky, odd moniker “Dee Dee King.”
Even as a huge fan of Dee Dee’s work with the Ramones, I cannot with a straight face pretend that his Dee Dee King schtick was anything other than outlandishly awful, but I can respect him for trying his hand at something completely new and different. However, it was blatantly obvious that this divergent career path didn’t suit him at all.
No matter how he’d try to reinvent himself, Dee Dee was a Ramone at heart, and any attempt at approaching a music career from a different angle would ultimately prove fruitless.
Some of his other projects included serving as guitar player in GG Allin’s band, the Murder Junkies, a one-off project called Dee Dee Ramone and the Chinese Dragons, and finally a group named Dee Dee Ramone I.C.L.C (Inter-Celestial Light Commune.) Ironically, he even formed a Ramones tribute band with his wife Barbara and former Ramones drummer, Marky Ramone.
In August of 1996, the Ramones would play a farewell show at the Palace in Los Angeles and Dee Dee was invited to perform as a special guest. He was also present when the Ramones were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, the first year they were eligible.
Towards the end of his life, Dee Dee would find himself drawn to Hollywood in pursuit of an acting career, though the only role he’d manage to land was one in a low-budget comedy, Bikini Bandits, which interestingly also starred Maynard James Keenan and Jello Biafra.
On the evening of June 5, 2002, Dee Dee Ramone was found dead at his Hollywood apartment. An autopsy would later reveal the cause of death as a heroin overdose.
Dee Dee is buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, not far from his former bandmate, Johnny. His headstone features the Ramones logo and the line, “I feel so safe flying on a ray on the highest trails above,” taken from his song “Highest Trails Above” on the Ramones’ Subterranean Jungle album.
The bottom of his headstone reads, comically, “OK…I gotta go now.”
Today, in addition to the thousands of humans who visit his grave to pay their respects, you’ll also find a family of resident ducks in the cemetery who visit Dee Dee’s grave daily at the invitation of L.A. musician/actor Coyote Shivers and his partner Pleasant Gehman, who have trained the ducks to come running to the graveside when they play “Duckskreig Bop,” a quack-filled version of the Ramones’ famous song, “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
The @RamonesDucks are even on Instagram, and continue to draw attention to Dee Dee Ramone and his legacy as the infamous, badass bass player for one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.