Johnny Thunders, the guitarist who rose to fame as a member of the New York Dolls and ascended to legend leading the Heartbreakers, claimed a unique corner in New Orleans rock history when he died under mysterious circumstances in April 1991 at the St. Peter House, leaving behind rumors of foul play and the inevitable ghost sightings.
On March 30, Siberia will feature Johnny’s Heartbreakers sidekick, guitarist Walter Lure. Walter leads the magnificent, bleeding ear rock extravaganza the Waldos and will be joined for this gig by guitarist Joey Pinter.
Lure was the perfect match for Thunders, having cut his teeth as the stunt guitarist in the anarchic Bronx hard rock group Bloodbath in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He was famous in those days for being able to replicate the strangest guitar solos ever recorded more or less note-for-note, and for establishing lurching rhythm patterns that were literally slabs of feedbacking blurts played in no known time signature. Lure did time in local aggregations like the Demons before Thunders asked him to join the Heartbreakers in 1975.
“I used to see Johnny every weekend at the Fillmore,” recalls Lure, “So when I saw the Dolls I realized who he was. The singer in the Demons used to sell drugs to the Dolls so we knew them, and we shared the same rehearsal space on 23rd St. I didn’t know the band was breaking up but Johnny and Jerry Nolan formed the Heartbreakers as a trio with Richard Hell. Then Johnny asked me if I want to join and of course I said yes.”
The Heartbreakers played a series of notorious performances at Max’s Kansas City but were largely overshadowed by the more goal-oriented artists on the burgeoning downtown Manhattan scene. The band’s true notoriety came in England, where they played on the Anarchy tour with the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Damned, an experience that led to cover stories and rave reviews for the Heartbreakers in New Musical Express and Sounds.
“[Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren asked David Johansen to do the gig but he turned it down,” Lure recalls. “I didn’t know what to expect. When we got there the Sex Pistols were on the front page of the newspapers. We would go to play a gig and it would be canceled so we’d sit around and get drunk.”
The Heartbreakers recorded the studio album, L.A.M.F., highlighted by the great single “Chinese Rocks,” for England’s Track Records. That tune was covered by the Ramones, for whom Lure later ghosted some guitar in the studio. Thunders and Lure continued to play together sporadically, and the Heartbreakers inspired a following as fanatic if not as large as the Dolls’. After Thunders died the Heartbreakers played a memorial concert with Pinter replacing Thunders. That lineup went on to make the album Rent Party.
“Johnny was a unique guitarist,” says Lure. “They called us punk, but we were a rock band.”