TOMMY RAMONE'S AND CLAUDIA TIENAN'S BAND UNCLE MONK

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UNCLE MONK HOMEPAGE
Photo credit: Dave Green.


1) Basic information.
2) Situation with second album.
3) Debut CD (2006).
4) Reviews of debut CD.
5) Tommy's feelings from 2007.
6) Uncle Monk shows.




BASIC INFORMATION:

Tommy Ramone's and Claudia Tienan's duo band is called Uncle Monk, musical style will be a bit surprising mix for some Ramones fans, and also for many refreshing acquaintance. Uncle Monk is an alt-country punk-bluegrass and it's also featuring Claudia Tienan (ex-The Simplistics).
- There are a lot of similarities between punk and old-time music. Both are home-brewed music as opposed to schooled, and both have an earthy energy. And anybody can pick up an instrument and start playing. I want to make clear is that Uncle Monk is not a traditional bluegrass act. We are an indie-acoustic duo that has been influenced by bluegrass and old-time music as well as alternative and Americana, explains Tommy Ramone.




SECOND ALBUM

Tommy Ramone wrote to me in late November, 2012, that his and Claudia Tienan's duo band Uncle Monk are still working with their second album. Tommy wrote: "Yes, Claudia and I are finishing up the next record.
One of my latest interviews with Tommy I did in April, 2010, (
read it here) of one tour and on it Tommy also explains of second album:
- We keep coming up with new songs so we keep recording. Our new record will have some unique songs on them mostly based on our lives and philosophies. there will be indie songs, bluegrass songs, old-time songs, romantic songs, and unclassifiable songs, Tommy explained.

Photos:
Higher photo: Tommy Ramone reading my new book Ramones: Soundtrack Of Our Lives at the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash in 2009. Richie Ramone and Joey Lanz of The Bullys are standing.
Lower photo: Noah "Noki" Citrin and Tommy are discussing at Joey Ramone Birthday Bash. Noki and Tommy met after decades. Joey was Noah's best friend during their high school years. They suffered a lot but they also had a great friendship. Tommy remembered the same things that Noki had described to me. The first time Tommy met Joey was with Noki. Noah's interview is in my third book.


Tommy already told of the Uncle Monk in my second book Rock In Peace: Dee Dee And Joey Ramone, it was in 2004 before he had spoken much of current Uncle Monk.
You can find Tommy's long Uncle Monk related interview from my Ramones: Soundtrack Of Our Lives book. It also has opening text written by Tommy and in all his three interviews. Ramones: Soundtrack Of Our Lives feature Tommy Ramone interviews of the Ramones, his studio works, and Uncle Monk. Also the book contains a long discussion between Tommy and Seymour Stein (founder of Sire Records) about the early days of the Ramones.




DEBUT CD:

Uncle Monk's debut CD was released on March 16, 2006. At first it was coming out a bit earlier, but Tommy Ramone wrote then to me that they had to do some artwork changes.

You can purchase the Uncle Monk debut CD
from CDBaby.com (price was only 12,97 US$ on April 14, 2010) or from Amazon.com (15,99 US$ on April 14, 2010).
CD's were first sold-out quickly, but they were happy to say that they were back in stock again.
Also Uncle Monk record is available for digital download (to buy) from many different Internet sites including Apple iTunes. Tommy Ramone wrote to me that it's available to download (buy) from more than 20 different sites.

I also confirmed with Tommy where he and Claudia recorded an album.
- We made the record at my own studio, so it was quite comfortable. Since we were using mostly acoustic instruments, things went smooth and easy.

Tommy and Claudia both sing. Also Tommy plays mandolin, guitar, banjo and dobro and Claudia guitar and bass.
- The CD has 14 songs, and the initial pressings will be on Airday Records.

Uncle Monk also plays shows, see dates here.

Tracklisting:
1) Round The Bend
2) Emotional Needs
3) Happy Tune
4) Home Sweet Reality
5) Mean To Me
6) Airday
7) Need A Life
8) Heaven
9) Name Of The Game
10) Mr. Endicott
11) Urban Renewal
12) Walking Bandit
13) Bright Fluorescent
14) Wishing At The Moon

You can listen some clips here.




SOME REVIEWS:

Ford Madox Prefect wrote his comments/review of Uncle Monk's CD as a fan:
1) "I have been a fan of Mr. Ramone's work for years, including the music he performed with the Ramones and the music he has produced for others such as the Replacements. This album, while quite different from any of the rock, alternative or punk music Mr. Ramone (Erdelyi) has produced over the years, shows true feelings of enjoyment and love for the music itself. If you are a classic bluegrass fan, you will love this. If you are not a classic bluegrass fan, listen to the album and don't put a label to the music. Just let it wash over you and you will see what I mean. Incidentally, I have actually become a bluegrass fan from listening to this CD. It's worth an order (since you will not likely find it in a store unless you live in the Upstate New York area) and I have already listened to it enough times that if it were a cassette, it would already have been worn out.
The only complaint- I want Uncle Monk to come out to the West Coast and play a few gigs. I'll go to the gigs.)"

2) Lana Cooper wrote this review to
http://www.popmatters.com in 2007.
Although CBGBs, the late, great Bowery bastion and launch pad that showcased some of the finest New York City and American punk bands, closed its doors for the very last time in 2006, its spirit lives on. And not exactly in the way you would think. Before CBGBs became the revered institution among the rather irreverent punk scene, it was a concert venue home to Country, Blue Grass, and Blues acts.
A year after CBGB's closing, a traditional bluegrass band by the name of Uncle Monk is releasing their debut album. The kicker is, the singer/guitarist for this outfit is none other than Tommy Ramone. Yes, the Tommy Ramone of the Ramones. In doing so, Ramone resurrects the ghosts of CBGB & OMFUG and brings that attitude full-circle.
Strangely enough, until you're slapped with the idea of a former member of the original Godfathers of Punk playing bluegrass, it doesn't really register just how similar in musical theory the styles are. Both punk and bluegrass usually build their melodies around a singular riff and a spartan set of chords that chug it out in the background. Lyrically, even most of their themes are similar, espousing the philosophy of Damn The Man! - whether he be a corporate suit or railroad bull - normally taking center stage as a song's central conflict.
Bearing those similarities in mind, Uncle Monk bridges the gap between traditional, old-time bluegrass and old-school punk in the most logical way possible for modern audiences to pick up on and enjoy. Tommy Ramone (Thomas Erdelyi) got his start leasing his building to the fledgling Ramones for practice space, eventually becoming the group's manager. He would occasionally fill in on drums and instruct potential drummers in the ever-revolving line-up on how to properly play the Ramones' songs. Realizing how well he knew their material, Erdelyi was rechristened Tommy Ramone and made a member of the band.
He left the Ramones in 1978 after playing on four albums and writing the classic Blitzkrieg Bop, however, he still continued to produce several of their albums and resumed his managerial capacity with the band. Additionally, Ramone produced albums for a number of other artists, most notably Talking Heads and the Replacements, and now applies his expertise at the controls to Uncle Monk, as well.
Claudia Tienan, Ramone's lesser-known partner in crime and co-front person, is no slouch herself. Formerly of alternative band the Simplistics, Tienan contributes guitar and bass. Additionally, she sings on roughly half of the album's tracks and serves as a more melancholy counterbalance to the upbeat Ramone.
Uncle Monk kicks things off with Round The Bend and sets the precedent with a pleasant, happy sound rounded out by rambling guitar and mandolin picking. Shockingly, there are no drums whatsoever on the disc. Instead, both Ramone and Tienan create their own jangling beat with traditional bluegrass instrumentation.
Similarly, Happy Tune conjures up the earnest, hopeful spirit of Joey Ramone with Tommy on vocals translating the happy-go-lucky vibe of his former band for a bluegrass audience. If you listen really hard, you can almost hear the late, great Jeffry Hyman joining in with Tommy on the good-natured, old-timey vocals of this piece.
While Ramone's vocals are more suited to the up-tempo tracks, Claudia Tienan capably handles the gloomier material. Tienan's smoky vocals on Emotional Needs are reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich, sounding both deep and feminine and avoiding the usual harsh rasp that often accompanies a darker-toned female voice. While Tienan's vocals are somewhat monotone, her voice nevertheless conveys the proper ambience on any given song. Ramone does get his crack at longing on Mean to Me. The song's low-octane arpeggios and chords bring to mind Jim Croce, with Ramone's vocals and sad lyrics ruminating on the near-impossible nature of friendship after a failed relationship.
While things are kept rather traditional in the bluegrass vein, lyrically, Uncle Monk's repertoire covers a gamut of topics and throws in several elements of different musical genres to keep things from becoming repetitive. The instrumental Airday (a nod to Uncle Monk's record label) allows the steel dobro, banjo, and fiddle to take center stage in a hoe-down style jam. While Home Sweet Reality stays close to the bluegrass base, the track seems more country than the bulk of the album's material, with its twanging guitar notes plucking out the melody and capping things off with a gentle slide guitar solo. The duo grows more adventurous with musical arrangements on Heaven, infused with a calypso and Spanish flamenco influence. The uplifting track explores the topic of Heaven and what it means to different people, whether it be a religious concept or something that is found in the arms of a loved one.
Nevertheless, Ramone and Tienan's punk and alternative backgrounds creep their way onto Uncle Monk while still staying within the country fence. A standout track on the album, Mr. Endicott is pure punk ethos wrapped with a bluegrass bow. Uncle Monk acknowledges that while many of us are long past the stage of wanting to sniff some glue, there's still that urge to rebel and stick it to the man, whether it be through taking personal calls throughout the work day or pilfering extra rolls of toilet paper from the company bathroom. With lyrics like, "He yells at me on my coffee break / Look out, Mr. Endicott / I'm gonna get you. Don't have much work to do, Mr. Endicott / Gotta fake the whole day through, Mr. Endicott", the duo finds common ground with the common man and woman in their ode to a tyrannical boss.
Similarly, Uncle Monk tackles feelings of discontent not just towards one person, but to an entire subculture of shallow on Urban Renewal. While in theory major cities are ideally populated by open-minded, free-thinking people, urban metropolises are becoming a bastion for shallow yuppies and mindless trend-followers. In stating "Feelin a little bit bitter / A stranger in my town / I refuse to kiss the butt / Of any friggin' clown", the track expresses frustration with the current trend towards the superficial on a mass scale.
While Uncle Monk sticks to a steady diet of traditional bluegrass, the duo kicks the genre square in the dungarees and throws in enough of a punk flair to appease those fans of both Ramone and Tienan's former outfits. The result is a strong, beautifully delivered debut album that makes bluegrass palatable to an entirely new audience while still giving veteran fans of both musical varieties some common ground to stand on.

Kim wrote his comments/review of Uncle Monk's CD as a fan:
3) "You know, I love this CD. I ran into it on MySpace actually. Someone had them as a friend etc. I had no idea it was Tommy from the Ramones era. But he and Claudia just got it on this one, imho. I'm finding so many former punk or whatever you'd call it, artists are now into country and bluegrass. They bring a new idea to it I find, that I like.
I'm not a traditionalist, but I like it when they stay true to the music they play. This CD has that. It's more accessible to a guy who grew up rock n roll. I actually did go through that late 70's thing with country..., J.J.Cale, Jerry Jeff etc. Still love that stuff. But I never really got into the bluegrass. And I'm finding that Uncle Monk gets that right here as far as I'm concerned. It's something that I can immediately identify with. Good tunes, stripped down. Jon Langford fans, Graham Parker fans, they did it country. Tommy and Claudia did it bluegrass. And I like them all. It fits my sensibilities. Check it out.




TOMMY RAMONE WROTE HIS FEELINGS ON APRIL, 2007:

A whole year has gone by since our debut at the 2006 SXSW festival, and what a year it has been. We have played a lot of shows and met a lot of wonderful people, but mainly we got to play our music, which has been a dream come true for us.
Speaking of dreams coming true we just finished a show with the legendary Ralph Stanley, and that was something I could not have even dreamt about. When I was a kid listening to Ralph Stanley sing Little Maggie on my father's record player, there was no way I could have ever imagined that I would meet him, let a lone share a stage with him. It was an amazing experience.

What made it even more special was that we had just gotten back from the 2007 SXSW festival where we did our anniversary showcase at Momo's, a great club on Austin's famous 6th Street. We played several private parties including the famous Guitar Town Party at Mother Egan's, thrown by Cary Baker of Conqueroo. It was a star filled showcase with many great acts. Joining us for most of the shows was Louis Meyers on Banjo, it was great having him help us out, we sound even better as a trio. We also played the Burnside party at Threadgill's, which was a great outdoor event, and many others including a charity show at the Caritas of Austin Community Kitchen, which was especially rewarding for us. All in all we had a great time this year in Austin.