EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2015, I had the opportunity to interview musician Chris Lamy, in advance of RR’s curating his collection of Ramones memorabilia, which sold at auction for more than $60,000. Here’s the fun result of our conversation. — KP
Granite State connection
Tell me: What were you 50-somethings doing in southern New Hampshire in 1979, 1980? Finishing high school? Working at Alexanders at the Nashua Mall? Hanging out at Hampton Beach? Chris Lamy was hanging in Manchester.
With the Ramones.
Lamy, 52, befriended John Cummings – you probably know him as seminal punk rock guitarist Johnny Ramone – in those heady days bordering the neon decade. Lamy’s incredible collection of Ramones memorabilia went on the block through RR Auction in Amherst, in their “Marvels of Modern Music Auction: The Punk Rock Collection of Chris Lamy” auction event.
Lamy played with Granite State punk rock outfit GG Allin and the Jabbers when he met the Ramones’ “Johnny.” Back then, it wasn’t as difficult to get close to the band members, if you knew how to play the game.
“They weren’t huge in ’79, ’80 – like now, when they’re dead,” Lamy quipped in a phone interview. “Playing in the Jabbers, I learned that if you just looked like you belong, you can just walk backstage. I met Johnny and we bonded right off the bat and became good friends.”
Lamy said he and Johnny had much in common as punk musicians, but that wasn’t what cemented their friendship. “It was one of those things … We were in bands, but we didn’t talk about it,” he said. “We talked about baseball and monster movies. So if they were playing in New Hampshire or nearby, and they had a few hours to kill, they’d come here to Manchester and watch TV with my old man,” he said, laughing. “Sometimes we’d go to a record store, sometimes we’d watch boxing on HBO. Just killing time until the gig.”
“Playing in New Hampshire” holds an interesting fact. The Ramones formed in 1974, and stayed snugly in their home state of New York for two years of gigs. “When the Ramones went on tour in 1976 to promote their debut (album) – the greatest punk LP of all time – guess the first place they played outside of New York?” Lamy posited. “Where would what would become the most famous punk band of all time choose to be their first stop outside their comfort zone of New York and before even Boston?”
Nashua. Feb 25, 1976. “Ringing in the Bicentennial, even before the Freedom Trail,” Lamy said.
Lamy’s collection featured memories, handwritten letters from Johnny, posters, and one incredible guitar. But this wasn’t Lamy and the Ramones’ first dealings with the auction house. If you were sharp-eyed, you might have seen Lamy driving the long-banged lads around our local towns – including trips to the Amherst showroom of RR Auction.
“We loved movie star autographs,” Lamy said. “Johnny and I had these books with celebrity addresses, and we’d send them 8×10 glossies and SASEs, asking for their autographs. It was an obsession. We’d have a contest between us as to who could get the most autographs.
“Back then, RR Auction had a showroom, with books of autographs you could flip through. So I’d drive them over there and we’d buy them. It’s cool to be closing the loop with RR” with this auction, Lamy said.
Lamy’s lot included Joey Ramone’s sweat-spattered set list from a local 1982 show incorrectly listed as “Hampton Bays, New Hampshire,” as well as scads of signed performance posters and vinyl records, Johnny’s stage-used guitar picks, and most significantly, Johnny’s early stage-used Hamer guitar [sold at auction for nearly $50k]. There were also pieces of memorabilia from punk rock’s other big names, including The Sex Pistols, Black Flag, The Clash and Lamy’s own tumultuous time with GG Allin and the Jabbers.
The Jabbers are still rocking venues, despite breaking with their late frontman decades ago. They still honor his frenetic memory with free annual concerts. “In true punk fashion, the Jabbers will only play locally if the venue that books us has free admission,” Lamy said.
When asked why it was time to offer his punk-history items for public dissemination, Lamy said the march of time and philosophical musing determined it. “To me, they were just possessions. I didn’t need the possessions to justify who I was anymore,” he said. “They’re just perpetuating what happened 30 years ago, with me and The Ramones. I felt like I really should share it. This stuff shouldn’t be in a cellar, waiting for a flood. His guitar shouldn’t be somewhere in storage.”
Lamy also knew it was important to have someone handle the sale who knew the value and worth of the items.
“I talked to my daughter, and she doesn’t want them,” he said. “And all I could think about was, if I die, I didn’t want her or my girlfriend to be taken advantage of by someone trying to buy the guitar, or the whole lot, out from under them. I mean, if you didn’t know any better and thought, ‘oh, this guitar’s been modified, forget it’ and you didn’t know it was modified by Johnny, and that it’s one of only three known pieces of gear that’s pre-1980 … You don’t want that stuff lost to history.”
RR Auction has dealt with top-name music memorabilia for decades, so that was a safe choice for the auction.
The glimpse into their friendship via the handwritten letters from Johnny is surprisingly sweet and down-to-earth. “I only shared a few of the letters that weren’t too personal, didn’t have any dirt,” Lamy said. He does have an amusing side note on the letter-writing, however.
“In one of my letters I said, ‘you gotta get a computer,’ and Johnny said he had one but didn’t know how to use it,” Lamy said. “He told me ‘the next time my friend Eddie comes over, I’ll have him show me how.’ He was talking about (Pearl Jam’s frontman) Eddie Vedder, who actually bought the computer for him.”
Lamy and Johnny remained close throughout the Ramones’ eventual breakup and Johnny’s retirement in California. Their friendship is even mentioned in Monte Melnick’s book “On the Road With The Ramones.”
“We were friends, and it’s time to get rid of the stuff my friend gave me,” Lamy said. “It gives me peace of mind that it will be auctioned for what it’s truly worth.”