Interviews > Mickey Leigh Interview
Mickey Leigh
Interview by Athena Schaffer

Joey Ramone’s highly anticipated second solo album at long last is finally seeing the light of day, much to the delight of his throngs of fans (myself included in that). Entitled "...ya know?" (referring to the phrase that was a ever-present staple of Joey's conversation), these songs are definitely imbued with Joey’s distinctive spirit, and range from celebratory to introspective. Believe me, it was well worth the wait – this album is awesome!

These treasures were unearthed by Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh, who has worked tirelessly since his brother’s untimely death 11 years ago to keep this beloved icon’s spirit alive. Mickey also served as the executive producer for “…ya know?” (BMG Rights Management), and was one of the many illustrious musicians who lent their talents to bringing these brilliantly sparkling gems to the public. Mickey poured through a cache of demos and unreleased tracks that Joey had made at various points during the last decade and a half of his life.

Mickey explained, "It was of the utmost importance to me that these remaining songs of Joey's be finished properly and made available for the world to hear. Over the past eight years I've been getting a barrage of emails and Facebook messages from Joey's fans, wanting to know when this album would be coming out. So having it finally become a reality gives me a feeling of triumph - not for me, but for my brother, and for his fans. And there's not the slightest doubt in my mind that people are gonna be blown away by it."

Called "a riveting collection of first-rate songs that embody Joey's trademark intensity and wit that can stand proudly alongside his most beloved Ramones compositions," the CD is a fitting if belated follow-up to Joey's first solo CD, "Don't Worry About Me," which was recorded just prior to his death and released the following year (and still gets daily spins in the Crowgrrl’s personal CD player).

Among the numerous talented artists to whom Leigh and Ramone's manager Dave Frey reached out in bringing the album to fruition was veteran Ed Stasium, who was behind the board for many of the Ramones' greatest releases, including their early classics "Leave Home," "Rocket To Russia" and "Road To Ruin." In addition to producing 10 of the CD's 15 tracks, Stasium also contributed instrumentation and vocals to each.

Contributing to "...ya know?" is an assortment of musicians and producers whose prior relationships with Joey help to give the album an organic vibe that enhances its power and character. The cast of players includes Mickey Leigh, Joan Jett, Little Steven Van Zandt (who plays guitar on "Party Line" and wrote the album's poignant liner notes) along with such notables as former Ramones drummer Richie Ramone, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, Dennis Diken of the Smithereens, Richie Stotts, Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, punk survivor Holly Beth Vincent, The Dictators’ JP "Thunderbolt" Patterson, Jean Beauvoir, Al Maddy, Amy Hartman, and producers Jean Beauvoir and Joe Blaney.

The album was performed live in its entirety at the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash. Participants include: Richie Stotts, JP "Thunderbolt" Patterson, Jean Beauvoir, Ed Stasium, Al Maddy, Amy Hartman and Mickey Leigh.

The Crowgrrl caught up with Mickey to delve deeper into this awesome album.

How did this year’s Joey Ramone Birthday Bash go?

It was a very joyful occasion. Everybody had a great time, performers and audience alike. For those of us on the stage it felt like a big family reunion - but, though there was no barbeque, there was a bar.

What was the crowd response like for the songs from “…Ya Know?”

To be honest, I wasn't calculating the response from the crowd. Nobody booed, I can tell you that for certain. Of course I worked my butt off, as did the others, to present these songs in the best way possible. But, the response from the crowd at this performance of them really didn't/doesn't matter to me as much as what the response from Joey's fans will be to his record. We did film it, so I guess I'll see what the crowd response was like when I get to see the footage.

Any particular challenges to putting on this year’s event?

Surviving the multitude of challenges is the biggest challenge.

Do you start planning the “Joey Ramone Birthday Bash” for next year right after this one, or do you wait awhile? How long and arduous is the planning process?

Normally the planning of the event for May begins in Dec. but I had already planned on scaling it down after the last one, if I was even going to do it at all. It had been a huge job for me, doing it at Irving Plaza, trying to get the most high-profile acts I could- to give the event the profile I think it deserved, and that my brother deserved. But it is really difficult to get the top names in the music industry to contribute performances and still come out with proceeds to donate to lymphoma research. Hard to do that, and find sponsors, and organize the "Tribute to Joey" segment. It is a tremendously time and energy consuming job.

The guest list alone was a totally draining chore, and it was getting to the point where it was just a thankless task. If I didn't put everyone who wanted to be on the guest list on it, I'd have to suffer for that as they would tell me that Joey would want them on there etc, I'm talking about people who would write and call me saying "I had coffee with Joey several times back in the 80's and he really liked my son, he even patted him on the head, and he would want..." things like that, ya know? If it wasn't for the timing of this record coming out just at the same time, I may likely have not done it at all. But it seemed odd to not do it...considering that. This doesn't mean that someone else can't do one.

”…Ya Know?” is phenomenal! I know this has been in the works for a number of years – how hard was it to sift through all the material to find these gems?

It wasn't hard sifting through the possibilities, as there weren't all that many. There were a few that I just didn't feel were strong enough, and I had to make a decision. The quality of this record was of the utmost importance to me. I wasn't going to put out anything I felt was mediocre, just for the sake of putting it out. No one could make those decisions for me, because nobody can tell you whether you feel confident about something. People are always trying to figure out what Joey would want, but I don't have to try at all. We were part of each other, so I just know. When you go to buy flowers for your mom, you don't look at them and think "hmmm, what kind of flowers would she like? What color?" You just know those things, they become second nature.

In “I Slept With Joey Ramone”, you mentioned a tape that had a song your dad did on it, but it also had one of Joey’s songs that he had been looking for. Is that one of the songs that made it to “…Ya Know”?

No. Even though I 'd contributed to the writing of that one - which became problematic, as you seem to be aware of - I never thought it was all that great a song. If I was merely even on the fence about a song, well, that was enough for me to not include it on this record.

Is there enough material left for perhaps a 3rd or 4th Joey Ramone Solo Album?

Ya never know.

There were a lot of people involved in making this record – how did you get everyone together?

As various people produced these tracks, they were done at various periods of time over the last 11 years. So each song presented its own scheduling issues. For the ones that Ed produced we booked the studio time to coincide with the JRBBash in 2010, as many of them were going to be part of that event. But things did get backed up and a lot of people had to wait for hours in the studio to get their parts done. It was very difficult to arrange all of this.

Were they on the original recordings or did they come in as the album was being made?

The only tracks used taken from the original recordings were Joey's vocal tracks.

One of the many things I liked about your book, “I Slept With Joey Ramone” was that you shared the origins of some of the songs we know and love. Do you mind doing that with some of the songs from “…Ya Know?”, starting with the bewitching “21st Century Girl”?

Yes, that was a book. One that took me 6 years to write. If you are asking if I mind writing another book for you, I'm afraid you'd have to give me an advance and at least a year.

What about the lighthearted “Make Me Tremble”? That one reminds me of early T.Rex.

He wrote and recorded that in the early 90's with Andy Shernoff. We wound up using the original mix as Andy could not locate the master tape.

How about the optimistic and uplifting “Life’s A Gas”?

That is a revised version of a song Joey wrote for the Ramones , that appeared on the Adios Amigos album.

Who did the female vocals on “Party Line”? (Fantastic song!)

Holly Beth VIncent, along with Amy Hartman.

Both you and Joey are Jewish – so how did the “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” come about? This version, not the original Ramones version.

Joey and I made a demo recording of this slowed down version a few moments after we made a demo of the fast one, that the Ramones eventually recorded. There were indeed several moments between the recordings of those two versions. However, in those few moments, we had not converted away from Judaism.

We all know Joey’s love of the city that permeates “New York City”, but the subway FX in the outro and the announcer saying riders are coming up on Forest Hills was a nice touch. Was that in the original, or did you add that for effect on the album?

I added that when I went to mix the song with Ed Stasium. It was just a spur of the moment idea. We searched the web for train sounds, and I dusted off my acting skills to do the conductor voiceover. I took advantage of that opportunity to get in a shout out to Forest Hills.

Same with the wind chimes in “Cabin Fever”?

Ed lived in Durango Colorado, by a lake, and has a dozen or so wind chimes on the deck right outside the room he records and mixes in. I love wind chimes, so when we would take a break I'd go out there and play them.

They actually hold a special meaning for me, which I think is applicable to this record- because, when my brother was in the hospital those last months, I bought a little wind chime for him and hung it over his bed. He was sleeping when I was doing it, and though I was trying not to disturb him, the jingling woke him.. He looked up, and seeing me smiling down at him, smiled back and closed his eyes again. For me, it is reminiscent of the time when I was 3 years old and we were playing in the basement of a nearby apartment complex. Someone shouted "RUN! THERE'S A GHOST" and as we all started running for the exit I ran into a metal pole. My brother picked me up and got me home. I got 5 stitches in my head. When woke up, my brother was hanging a mobile of little paper airplanes he'd made for me over my bed. I looked up and he was smiling down at me.

What’s your personal favorite song on the album?

They're all great....ya know?

Any video plans for any of the other songs?

A video is being made for NYC. Should be out in June.

Any progress with getting your excellent book, “I Slept With Joey Ramone” to the big (or small) screen?

I signed a deal with FOX Searchlight in Jan of 2010, and am patiently waiting.

Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you want to tell our readers?

Yes. The bagels and pizza in truly are much better in New York City than Los Angeles. In fact, there really is no comparison. Oh, and don't forget to vote.