During his youth, he was by general accounts something of an outcast and had a dysfunctional family life, which inspired the song "We're A Happy Family." His parents divorced in the early 1960s. His mother, Charlotte Lesher (1926-2007), encouraged an interest in music in both him and his brother Mitchell (a.k.a. Mickey Leigh).
Rock & roll gave the teenaged Joey Ramone an escape from his parents' divorce and he began playing in glam-influenced bands in the early '70s. He co-founded the Ramones in 1974 with friends John Cummings and Douglas Colvin, upon which point all three adopted Ramone as their stage surname. Joey Ramone initially served as the group's drummer before switching to vocals and having his former spot taken by manager Tommy Erdelyi.
He was a fan of The Beatles, The Who, among other bands (particularly "oldies" and the Phil Spector-produced "Girl Groups"). His hero was Pete Townsend of The Who. He took up drums at 13, playing throughout his teen years, and was originally the drummer for the Ramones, while Dee Dee Ramone was the vocalist. However, Dee Dee proved to be unsuited for the position as he could not play his bass guitar and sing at the same time, so on Tommy Ramone's suggestion, Joey switched to vocals.
The Ramones were an American rock band often regarded as the first punk rock group. Formed in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, in 1974, all of the band members adopted stage names ending with "Ramone", though none of them were actually related. They performed 2,263 concerts, touring virtually nonstop for 22 years. In 1996, after a tour with the Lollapalooza music festival, the band played their final show and then disbanded. A little more than eight years after the breakup, the band's three founding members—lead singer Joey Ramone, guitarist Johnny Ramone, and bassist Dee Dee Ramone—were dead.
The Ramones were a major influence on the punk rock movement both in the United States and Great Britain, though they achieved only minor commercial success. Their only record with enough U.S. sales to be certified gold was the compilation album Ramones Mania. Recognition of the band's importance built over the years, and they are now regularly represented in many assessments of all-time great rock music, such as the Rolling Stone lists of the 50 Greatest Artists of All Time and 25 Greatest Live Albums of All Time, VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, and Mojo's 100 Greatest Albums. In 2002, the Ramones were voted the second greatest rock and roll band ever in Spin, trailing only The Beatles.
In 1985, Joey joined Little Steven Van Zandt's music-industry activist group Artists United Against Apartheid which acted against the Sun City resort in South Africa. Joey and forty-nine other top recording artists, including Bruce Springsteen, U2, Bob Dylan and Run DMC, collaborated on the song "Sun City" in which they pledged they would never perform at the resort.
His last recording as a vocalist was singing backup vocals on the CD One Nation Under by the Dine Navajo rock group Blackfire. He appeared on two tracks, "What Do You See" and "Lying to Myself". The CD, released in 2002, won "Best Pop/Rock Album of the Year" at the 2002 Native American Music Awards.
Joey also produced the Ronnie Spector album She Talks to Rainbows in 1999,It was critically acclaimed, but did not perform too well with the public and went virtually unnoticed. The Title track was previously on The Ramones last studio album, ¡Adios Amigos!.
He was listening to the song "In a Little While" by U2 when he died. This was during U2's Elevation Tour, and from that point on during shows Bono would introduce the song as a tune that was originally about a lovestruck hangover but that Joey turned it into a gospel song.
His solo album Don't Worry About Me was released posthumously in 2002, and features the single "What a Wonderful World", a cover of the Louis Armstrong standard. The song was featured in a 2001 episode of Gilmore Girls and is included on Our Little Corner of the World: Music from Gilmore Girls, the show's official soundtrack. The recording was also used for the closing credits for the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine. It also features "Maria Bartiromo," a tribute to a financial-news broadcaster. More recently, his cover of "What a Wonderful World" has been used in a 2007 advertisement for the PS3 iteration of Ratchet & Clank and was also used to open the release celebration for Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007.
MTV News claimed: "With his trademark rose-colored shades, black leather jacket, shoulder-length hair, ripped jeans and alternately snarling and crooning, hiccoughing vocals, Joey was the iconic godfather of punk."
On November 30 2003, a block of East 2nd Street in New York City was officially renamed Joey Ramone Place. It is the block where Hyman once lived with bandmate Dee Dee Ramone, and is near the music club CBGB, where the Ramones got their start. Hyman's birthday is celebrated annually by rock 'n' roll nightclubs, hosted in New York City by his brother and, until recently, his mother. Joey was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
Joey died the year (2001) the Ramones were named as inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, prior to the actual ceremony held early the following year (2002).