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Demolition String Band's 'van jam' bluegrass tribute to Tommy Ramone

Monday night’s Kuntry Karaoke Mondays at the Rodeo Bar was the last one, since the venerable Kips Bay Tex-Mex eatery/music venue is shutting down its music program this month.

From left: Boo Reiners, Claudio Tienan, Tommy Ramone and Elena Skye at Banjo Jim's.
Courtesy of Elena Skye

But the final Kuntry Karaoke installment, which was packed, was also marked by a tribute to Tommy Ramone, who had died last week. Seemingly out of nowhere, Elena Skye and Boo Reiners, who front the Demolition String Band and have led the Kuntry Karaoke as the Rodeo Bar Y’All Stars, delivered a heartfelt, countrified version of the Ramones' classic “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker”; then again, DSB is known for choice covers, their recording of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” being an excellent case in point.

“As a college kid and all through my twenties I was a huge Ramones fan,” Skye said afterward.

“I went to see them probably 14, 15 times, and my band The Minx opened for them once at The Show Room in Dover, N.J.”

Skye especially loved Tommy Ramone, who later performed in the alt-country indie-bluegrass duo Uncle Monk with partner Claudia Tienan.

“The first time I met him was at the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis in 2009 when he showed up at a showcase Boo and I were playing,” Skye continued. “I almost dropped my mandolin when I saw him in the audience! Afterwards we talked and he and Claudia ended up coming down to New York and playing a couple shows with us, one of them a mandolin festival night I put together at Banjo Jim's. I was so tickled that he had started playing mandolin and he seemed truly interested in my mandolin work and especially the instrumentals I'd written on it.”

Ramone, Skye said, was “gracious and kind and very encouraging to me. He had tackled the mandolin and folk music with his usual intensity, and I loved what he and Claudia were doing with Uncle Monk. My heart goes out to her and to his family and to everyone who knew him and had a chance to work with him.”

The DSB take on “Sheena,” meanwhile, came out of a band “van jam.”

“When Boo and I are touring around as a duo, I tend to pull out my mandolin in the van and practice and we sing duets and stuff to pass the time,” Skye said. “One day I suggested we record some of the tunes we were singing together, and Boo figured out how to rubber-band the iPhone to the rearview mirror and film us--sort of a video selfie. It keeps us really occupied, and the YouTubes we put up of them got some good reaction.”

“We ended up recording a single of our van jam of [Rolling Stones cut] ‘Loving Cup’ with Eric Ambel at the helm, and it's been a really successful track for us. We did the ‘Sheena,’ one shortly after, probably about three years ago.”

At the final Kuntry Karaoke at Rodeo Bar, the Redeo Bar Y'All Stars made "Sheena" sound as fresh as it did when it was a single on The Ramones' Tommy Ramone-produced 1977 third album Rocket to Russia.

[The Examiner wrote the first book on The Ramones--Ramones--An American Band.]

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