Arturo Vega: Designer who became known as 'the fifth Ramone'

Despite their status as one of the most influential rock groups of all time, the Ramones sold more T-shirts than records during their 22 years together. A popular accoutrement with many teenagers who weren't even born when the New York punk pioneers broke up in 1996, their distinctive merchandising bears the emblematic logo designed by Arturo Vega, the band's artistic director, lighting director and friend.

In the mid-1970s Vega welcomed bassist Douglas Colvin – who had taken up the alias Dee Dee Ramone – and vocalist Jeffrey Hyman (Joey Ramone) into his loft on the Bowery as they joined forces with guitarist John Cummings (Johnny Ramone) and drummer Thomas Erdelyi (Tommy Ramone) and began performing short, sharp, simple songs like "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Beat On The Brat" at Hilly Kristal's nearby CBGB club. Vega provided the stark photo of the belt buckle with an American Eagle used on the back cover of the Ramones eponymous 1976 debut and incorporated the eagle into the design of the group's first run of T-shirts.

He began selling them at their gigs to pay for his travelling expenses, including the group's first trip to London, when they appeared at the Roundhouse on Independence Day. After accompanying the Ramones to Washington, DC in October 1976, Vega created the Johnny-Joey-Dee Dee-Tommy logo used on the back of Leave Home, the band's second album.

"I saw them as the ultimate all-American band," he recalled. "I thought The Great Seal of the President of the US would be perfect, with the eagle holding arrows – to symbolise strength and the aggression that would be used against whomever dared to attack us – and an olive branch, offered to those who want to be friendly. But we decided to change it a little bit. Instead of the olive branch, we had an apple tree branch, since the Ramones were as American as apple pie. And since Johnny was a baseball fanatic we had the eagle hold a baseball bat."

The Ramones logo has proved a remarkably flexible design, able to incorporate the "Hey Ho, Let's Go" chant from "Blitzkrieg Bop", withstand tweaks to incorporate the arrivals of Marky, Richie and CJ, or be recycled for compilations and the packaging of the 2003 documentary End Of The Century: The Story of the Ramones.

Born in Chihuahua in northern Mexico, Vega was enthralled by the voice of Elvis Presley he heard coming out of a radio when he was eight. In his late teens he travelled to California to see live bands and attended the Monterey Pop festival in 1967. He moved to New York, intending to get involved in musical theatre, but was hampered by his lack of musical ability and his dislike of theatre people. He worked as a messenger and started painting large supermarket-style signs and swastikas in fluorescent colours, a provocative move that would endear him to Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone, the two non-Jewish members of the group who occasionally collected Nazi insignia and made gratuitous references to the Nazis in their songs.

He painted several eagle backdrops for the Ramones as well as the trademark "Gabba Gabba Hey" sign Joey would brandish during "Pinhead". Vega was a scene-maker par excellence, but also a steadying influence, able to cope with Dee Dee's drug-induced mood swings, Joey's myopia and dietary needs and Johnny's right-wing politics. He was sometimes called "the fifth Ramone", along with engineer/producer Ed Stasium and tour manager Monte Melnick. He missed two of the group's 2,263 concerts, and claimed he had "the police records" that accounted for those. "How could I pass up touring with a rock and roll band around the world to stay at home painting?" he said of their long association and his subsequent role as Ramones archivist and historian.

His recent work continued to blend words and images, while a series of paintings, Porn Is The New Rock, proved he had lost none of his ability to shock. Following Joey's death in 2001 Vega campaigned for the Junction of East Second Street and the Bowery to be renamed Joey Ramone Place. The street sign was unveiled in 2003. When I met him at a 2007 music industry convention in Norway, where he gave a talk on "Designing the Ramones", it was obvious he still embodied the group's punk spirit. Vega had mixed feelings about teenagers wearing Ramones T-shirts as a fashion statement. "That is the sorry state of rock and roll," he observed. "It's a product used to sell other products."

Eduardo Arturo Vega, artist: born Chihuahua, Mexico 13 October 1947; died New York 8 June 2013.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices