By Michael Goldstein of RockPop Gallery
Subject – “Too Tough To Die” – a 1985 recording by The Ramones on Sire Records featuring a cover photograph by George DuBose.
Main personnel – The Ramones – Joey (vocals), Johnny (guitar), Dee Dee (bass), Richie (drums)
After “suffering” through three albums of music that was more slickly-produced hard pop than the straight-ahead punk rock, Ramones fans were rewarded with a return-to-form production titled “Too Tough To Die”. After firing drummer Marky (due to his diminished abilities brought about by alcoholism) and replacing him with the newly-christened Richie Ramone, original drummer and now producer Tommy (Erdelyi) headed the band into the studio and, with the help of Dave Stewart, brought the band back to playing what they played best – short, fast, and smart punk tunes, with 9 of them written or co-written by bassist Dee Dee.
Critics have said that the was the “last great Ramones” recording, and it certainly showed that the band was ready and able to hold its own in the emerging early-mid 1980’s hardcore punk scene. The album features two classic Ramones tracks – “Wart Hog” and “Endless Vacation” (sung by Dee Dee), as well as the Stewart-produced “Howling at the Moon”.
The cover for “Too Tough To Die” was one of nine covers George shot for the Ramones. The song “Durango 95” bears the same name of the car driven by Alex in the Kubrick film “A Clockwork Orange”. Why is that important? Read on…
In the words of the photographer, George DuBose –
“I met the Ramones when Tony Wright asked me to shoot the cover for ‘Subterranean Jungle’. A year later, a call came from His Rockin’ Royal Highness, Johnny Ramone himself. He told me that he definitely wanted me to shoot another cover for them, but he asked me if I knew any other art directors, as they were not happy about the way the cover of ‘Subterranean Jungle’ looked.
‘What was wrong with Tony Wright?’ I asked. ‘The graffiti on the cover he did for ‘Subterranean Jungle’ really looked fake – we didn’t like it,’ Johnny said. Having worked with Tony on many projects by this point, I knew the range of his talents and capabilities. ‘Don’t write Tony off so quickly. Tony is extremely versatile. He will design the cover any wan you want – you just have to be clear and tell him what you like and what you want.’ I felt an allegiance to Tony. After all, I would never have shot ‘Subterranean Jungle’ – or probably even met the Ramones – if Tony had used another photographer.
At the following creative meeting with Johnny and Joey about the upcoming cover session for “Too Tough To Die”, Johnny asked me if I had ever seen “A Clockwork Orange”, the Stanley Kubrick film. ‘Not completely’, I said, not elaborating that I found the film kind of boring and didn’t appreciate the excessive sadism that the film projected. Johnny told me that, in the film, there was a scene of a mugging in a tunnel in London and that the band wanted to recreate that scene – or at least the feeling of it.
I asked my now ex-boss and mentor, professional fashion photographer Lane Pederson, where in NYC could a small pedestrian tunnel be found. Lane told me that there were lots of tunnels in Central Park and suggested one near the Children’s Zoo. I checked that tunnel – as well as a dozen other tunnels in Manhattan – but Lane was right; the small diameter of the tunnel at the zoo lent a scale to the shot that would be perfect. The tunnel was small and would make the guys in the band look bigger in relation…and more imposing.
As this was a job for Warner Bros. Records and the budget was quite substantial, we rented a Winnebago to use as a dressing room. I asked the band what they wanted in way of refreshments and they said ‘pizza and beer!’ This time, I felt like I was in charge of quite a big production. I had two assistants, a valid location permit, and the Winnebago we rented had an on-board electric generator to supply us with electricity for the lighting. We sealed of one end of the tunnel with clear plastic sheeting to control the smoke that would come from the smoke machines. We had several powerful studio strobe lights with blue-colored filters or gels outside the far end of the tunnel to backlight the blue smoke background and white light from the front of the tunnel to illuminate the group.
After shooting a couple of Polaroids to test the exposure, then several roles of 2-1/4 slide film, all the while listening to Johnny complaining about why the Polaroid pictures took so long (one minute!), I changed the Polaroid film pack from color to B&W for quicker developing time (30 seconds). Johnny was now looking at a B&W Polaroid and asked me ‘I thought we were shooting this in color!?’ I then let the band take a pause and asked them if they wanted to eat some pizza and beer. They ate the pizza, but I noticed that the full case of beer was untouched. After the pizza break, we resumed the session and I took another color Polaroid, but this time the white front lights didn’t flash for some reason…and wow!
It was clear from the image on the Polaroid that the silhouette of the band in the tunnel against the blue and smoky backlights was really powerful. Tony asked me to shoot a whole roll with no front lights. I then called a ‘wrap’, although I wasn’t quite convinced about the potential masterpiece that had just been created. The band quickly disappeared into the dark night without so much as a ‘good bye’.
After my assistant broke down all of the lighting and camera equipment and loaded everything into the Winnebago, I wanted to offer my hard-working crew their well-deserved first beer of the evening. When I looked into the Winnebago’s icebox, the whole case of beer had disappeared.
The following evening, I showed the developed film to Tony. It was clear that the backlit shots were by far ‘the bomb’ and since this was the seventh LP for the band – most of which had their faces on the cover – we thought that it would be easy to convince the group to use the silhouette shot. A couple of days later, when we met with the band to show them a mock-up of the cover, the band immediately agreed upon our choice. Tony added some simple block white type to the cover design which read ‘RAMONES’ and ‘TOO TOUGH TO DIE’ and one of the most powerful and classic rock’n’roll LP covers of all time was created.”
About the photographer, George DuBose –
Originally apprenticed to commercial and fashion photographers, George DuBose first became associated with New Wave music after he began speculative work with the fledgling B52s from Athens, Georgia. He has photographed and designed over 300 album covers, collecting 18 gold and platinum albums for groups as diverse as the REM, The Go-Gos, Melissa Etheridge, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane. The Ramones have commissioned him to photograph or design their last nine covers and it is his shot for their only gold record (“Ramonesmania”) that he treasures most. He continues to provide creative guidance, art direction, computer graphic design, photography, manufacturing assistance for major record companies and up-and coming artists that want to produce their own albums.
Du Bose’s professional experience includes staff positions as art director and photographer for Island Records and Cold Chillin’ Records, the first photo editor for SPIN magazine and The Image Bankbook division and staff photographer for the original Interview magazine. His company, PopEye Designs International lists Island Trading Company, The New Music Seminar, PolyGram, Warner Bros, Island Records (since 1978), Sony, MCA, Playboy Enterprises, Thirteen/WNET and others among its clients.
SENIOR ART DIRECTOR/PHOTOGRAPHER
ISLAND RECORDS, N.Y.C. 1988-1991
IMAGE BANK 1987-1988
SPIN MAGAZINE 1984-1987
ASSISTANT PRODUCTION MANAGER
WESTSHORE PUBLISHING CO. 1975-1978
Read George’s new book, titled “I Speak Music – Ramones” – This book is 104 pages of text and colorful photos (many unpublished) that document the 10 year relationship between the Ramones and their “official” photographer, George DuBose. Stories about how the various concepts came about and how these remarkable photos were executed. This book is a “must have” for any serious fan, old or new.
To see examples of Mr. DuBose’s work in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click on the following link:
About “Cover Stories” – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.
Every Friday and syndicated the following Monday on The Rock and Roll Report, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.