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BACKGROUND AND THE BACKBEAT

Clem Burke discusses his Ramones, Empty Hearts experiences

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Over the past 40 years, Blondie drummer Clem Burke has played with various other bands, and his latest is The Empty Hearts, whose self-titled debut album is due Aug. 5 via 429 Records.

August also marks the anniversary of a notable Burke experience with another group: his short tenure with The Ramones.

Following the sudden departure of Richie Ramone in August 1987, Burke was approached about taking over drum duties.

“I only wanted to do it temporarily,” recalls Burke. “I had just come off two years of working with Eurythmics, and I didn’t have much interest being in a band like The Ramones at the time. But Joey [Ramone] and I were friends, and after we started talking, it seemed like it might be something I’d be more interested in doing.”

Burke’s stint with The Ramones only lasted for two gigs: Aug. 28, 1987, at the Living Room in Providence, R.I., and the next night at City Gardens in Trenton, N.J. He’s still amused by the notion that his dismissal had anything to do with him not being able to keep up with the band. (Audio clips from both shows seem to support Burke’s assessment that the incarnation of The Ramones including him “wasn’t fully formed.”)

“It was too regimented for me,” Burke adds, “and it was trial by fire. I never rehearsed with The Ramones; I was never in the room with them until we got on the stage.”

As for The Empty Hearts, Burke says recording together in the same room with Wally Palmar (The Romantics), Elliot Easton (The Cars) and Andy Babiuk (The Chesterfield Kings) contributed to building musical and personal bonds over the course of making their debut album. Recorded last year at Babiuk’s studio in Rochester, N.Y., with producer Ed Stasium, The Empty Hearts also features former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan on a handful of songs.

“It was definitely done in the aesthetic of a different time and place in a lot of ways,” Burke says. “We used some modern recording technology, but other than that, we were doing it as if we were operating in some kind of void that ProTools technology didn’t come into it.

“We’re having fun with the band. We’re going to tour [in the fall], and hopefully that will be fun. One thing will lead to another. We want to try and keep it going and make another album. We just have to see how it fares when [the first album] gets out there.”

— By Chris M. Junior
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At top: Clem Burke in Austin, Texas, during SXSW 2009. Photo by Chris M. Junior
Above: The Empty Hearts, clockwise from top left: Clem Burke, Elliot Easton, Andy Babiuk and Wally Palmar