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Remember when the Ramones rocked the Reno Livestock Events Center in 1978?
The Ramones played the Reno Livestock Events Center in 1978 during their Road to Ruin Tour. Local band Harbinger had been booked to open for the Ramones, and I had been drafted to serve as roadie. Harbinger was KOZZ disc jockey Matthew Metner’s band with Bill Goldie on bass guitar and Dave Ducette on drums. At that time KOZZ was Reno’s premier rock station, but I don’t think they ever played Ramones records except maybe the single “Needles and Pins” in the week leading up to the gig.
We arrived that afternoon to set up our equipment in front of the Ramones’ equipment, which had already been set up. The Ramones had lots of Marshall amps, which seemed to stretch from one end of the stage to the other. The Livestock Events Center was Reno rock fans’ version of the Cow Palace. The pungent perfume of cow plop permeated the pavilion. We got the drums and amps duly set up.
At this time Metner had long blond hair past his shoulders and had written a song they performed that night called “Eventide,” which was about his effects pedal of the same name. In short, they were a hippie band and couldn’t have been more of a stark contrast to the Ramones. If you were a disc jockey who had a band at the station that sponsored the concert, you could get a prestigious gig whether you were any good or not. You didn’t even have to be popular—that’s how it worked back then.
When we finished, we stood backstage and looked around. Goldie nudged me and said, “Check out the Ramones’ girlfriends.” They were sitting on the north bleachers, overlooking the backstage area, and dressed in black leather jackets, short black skirts, fishnet stockings, and dyed blond hair with black roots showing. They sat smoking cigarettes, chewing bubble gum, talking amongst themselves, and looking very bored.
I was onstage, plugging in guitar pedals, when I noticed Joey looming above me. I hadn’t heard him approach and was startled that he had kind of materialized before me. He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket, black T-shirt, torn jeans, and black Converse tennis shoes—the standard Ramones stage uniform.
“Hey man, do kids here dig rock and roll?” he asked. He peered at me over the dark lenses of his glasses. “Yeah, kids in Reno really dig rock and roll,” I replied. “Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley just played here last week, and it was packed.” Which was true, Chuck and Bo had played a triumphant gig at the convention center, and I had gone to the lip of the stage and pounded my hands on it until they were swollen, screaming “Chuck baby!” in delirious rock-and-roll ecstasy.
I noticed that Joey had blackheads on his face. Usually I associated blackheads with a lack of personal hygiene, but on Joey, I found it oddly endearing. He didn’t seem that much different from me in that respect.
“Well, how do you think we’ll go over?” he asked. “I think you’ll go over like gangbusters,” I said. He seemed to consider this for a moment and said, “Cool,” and then went back to sit with the girlfriends. We didn’t shake hands or anything. I think he must have been worried that his band was in a town of cowboys who would take them all out and kick their skinny New York asses—and really, if you think about it, who could blame him?
The night fell, and they let the crowd in. The place filled up. Finally, the lights went down, and Harbinger went on. Unfortunately I had plugged the Eventide into the wah-wah pedal instead of the other way around. So instead of the fiery lead guitar inspired by Clapton and Hendrix that Harbinger prided themselves upon, all that came out of the amp was a limp “Bleah, bleah.” They played their three songs, and then I had to hustle to tear down the equipment and get it off stage in a hurry. After we had the equipment packed and loaded, we went back and stood by the side of the stage to watch the Ramones.
After they were introduced, it was “1, 2, 3, 4!” and the Ramones were on. Every song sounded the same but played with the blistering heat and passion of a jet engine. Johnny didn’t play any leads at all but kept hammering the crowd with his splay-legged buzz-saw Mostrite rhythm guitar. After the first three songs, Dee Dee and Johnny shucked off their leather jackets, but that was the only respite from the relentless pounding.
“Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” all careened along. No song lasted more than two and a half minutes. Joey did the, “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” thing, and the audience played along. He did the “Gabba Gabba Hey” bit, and the audience got that. He briefly introduced their new single, and they launched into “Needles and Pins” at the same tempo they played the preceding 12 songs. That was how the Ramones killed their audiences, by clobbering them over the head.
After an encore they were off and gone. I looked at my watch. They had played for no more than 28 minutes. For the Ramones it was probably a paid rehearsal for their West Coast gigs. I don’t think any radio station in Reno ever played their records after that—not until the late 90s anyway.
Did the crowd that night know they were witnessing history in the making? I don’t think the crowd had even a vague idea of what the Ramones were about. I think they just liked rock and roll. There wasn’t a punk rock scene until about 20 years after the Ramones played Reno; the crowd just wanted to party on a Friday night. I can’t say the Ramones changed my life, either. I never bought any of their records. I do know, however, on that night the Ramones were cool.