Left us on this day (April 23rd) in 1991: American rock’n’roll/punk rock guitarist, singer & songwriter Johnny Thunders (believed to be drug-related causes, age 38), who came to prominence as a founding guitar player of influential, proto-punk band, The New York Dolls (1971-75); born John Anthony Genzale, Jr., he renamed himself after a comic book of the same name; the Dolls released the seminal albums ‘New York Dolls’ (1973) & ‘Too Much Too Soon’ (1974); Johnny left & formed The Heartbreakers in 1975, recording on & off until 1984 (including the essential 1977 album ‘L.A.M.F.’); he also recorded solo, including the 1978 considered classic LP ‘So Alone’, featuring a rock & punk celebrity cast & arguably his greatest composition, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”; he also formed Gang of War with MC5’s Wayne Kramer for one album in 1990; his final recording was a version of “Born To Lose”, with German punk rock band Die Toten Hosen less than two days before his passing in New Orleans; in 1999, veteran documentary filmmaker Lech Kowalski released ‘Born To Lose: The Last Rock ‘N’ Roll Movie’; Danny Garcia’s featured documentary, ‘Looking for Johnny’, was released in 2014…

My admiration of Johnny Thunders stems from my huge love of his tenure with the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers. I’ve just started listening to his solo catalogue again. And I started off with what are identified as his three true studio albums, “So Alone”, “Que Sera Sera”, and “Copy Cats”. Does anyone recommend listening to specific other releases of his that are floating around out there? There are so many titles live albums, compilations, bootlegs, Love to get your recommendations please.

“DTK live at the Speakeasy” often included in some LAMF reissues. “Live at the Village Gate” is good. If you can get your hands on one, “LAMF Heartbreakers definitive edition” box CD set. It includes 4 CD’s (and badges!), LAMF lost ’77 mixes, LAMF the restored Track LP, LAMF demo sessions ’76, ’77, LAMF alternative mixes (21 in total for that disc), deluxe booklet by Nina Antonia including a comprehensive interview with Walter Lure. You should still be able to find one on EBay probably. “Belfast nights” has pretty good sound quality. “The Yonkers demos” often included in some comps. “Madrid memory”, “The Heartbreakers live at Max’s” great sound quality. Walter Lure’s Waldos have a couple CD’s “Rent Party” and the still pretty new “Wacka Lacka Loom Bop A Loom Bam Boo” on Cleopatra Records.

‘Johnny Thunder lives on water, feeds on lightning.
Johnny Thunder don’t need no one, don’t want money.
And all the people of the town, They can’t get through to Johnny, they will never, ever break him down.
Johnny Thunder speaks for no one, goes on fighting.
And sweet Helena in bed prays for Johnny.’
“Johnny Thunder”—R. Davies

In the late summer of 1980, the remains of what was Giant Sandworms went in an exhaustive road trip to find our place in NYC’s post-punk rock whirlpool of unsigned bands. We were unprepared for this mythic belly flop into the catacombs of both the Lower East Side and the herculean task of day-to-day advancement of spinning our wheels just to play CBGB for 16 people, 15 of them being our friends.

New York City was a harsh, smelly, tinderbox of sorts. The Hell’s Angels block on First Avenue and Third Street held an obit on the west side of the street, sprayed on the brick wall in memory of Big Vinny “When in doubt, knock ’em out.” .The building was like any other building in 1981, serving as Alphabet City’s 24/7 narcotics market and shooting galleries. It wasn’t always a pleasant interaction and even Johnny Thunders was just another mark.

Back then, everybody had a story about Johnny Thunders, everybody. Way back in the early ’70s, rock had become listless. With a few exceptions, groups made the same record again and again, then a live album, with audience applause engineered to sound like panzer divisions. But the onset of change would begin in small camps, garages, and basements, by like-minded kids that didn’t fit. New York City had become dangerous, abandoned and for the taking. Beneath the Brill building, Warhol’s Factory, Manny’s Music (“try it, you buy it”), record companies furnished with mahogany and leather and maybe a faint trace of Birdland and, more recently, The Fillmore, offered up stagnation. The industry and its product were stamped in Billboard Magazine, in self-congratulatory pages, while raw, young talent went unfostered. It became near impossible to break into the machinations of this music machine.

In 1973, one band The New York Dolls almost got through. They were representing their city with driving blues rock, and hard-luck tales of youth punching back at the disorder of war, technology, urban renewal and the luckless stars of a time where nothing was forbidden. It was unapologetic, dirty, loud, and fast. The cover of their debut album found the quintet in full drag and unwashed long hair with more swagger than the Rolling Stones could muster on their best night.

Todd Rundgren produced it and it sounded as they did—no whiteout on this term paper. David Johansen was a lead singer with the goods. Lead guitarist, Johnny Thunders’ sound was driven, mangy, loud, and original. “Trash,” “Vietnamese Baby,” and “Subway Train” were unforgettable titles. There would’ve been no Sex Pistols without them and that’s just for starters. It was pure from-the-streets commentary on the times.

CREEM magazine awarded the Dolls the No. 1 best new band and No. 1 worst band in their yearly poll in 1973. Love ’em or hate ’em, they made a huge impression. The record peaked at paltry No. 119 on the Billboard album chart , and they toured in the U.S. supporting Mott The Hoople and went back to London for a short tour as well. They could inspire from an audience a chorus of boos, or offer truly compelling performances that left people gasping, saying it was the best rock show of their lives.

The band was schizophrenic and the media found them authentic if nothing else. Bowie had referenced Billy Murcia in song (“Time” from Aladin Sane), the original Dolls drummer who OD’d in a London bathtub in ’72 just before the band signed to Mercury. By ’74 the quintet made Too Much Too Soon with Shangri-Las’ producer Shadow Morton. It held “Babylon,” “Human Being,” and Thunders’ first lead vocal on “Chatterbox.” It was camp but cool, choosing mostly great covers like Philadelphia’s “Gamble and Huff” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talking.” Record sales were even worse than the first outing, and the tours were hampered by bassist Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane’s alcoholism and the heroin habits of Thunders’ and drummer Jerry Nolan. Infighting and a lack of new material found them waning, they dropped by Mercury.

In ’75, Thunders and Nolan quit the band. But along with the MC5, The Stooges, and The Dictators, the Dolls were the American precursor to a punk-rock movement that found its place in every city young, reckless, and hungry.

Johnny Thunders forms The Heartbreakers, Thunders might have been without a band or a steady gig for a week before he formed The Heartbreakers, which, for a downtown minute, included Richard Hell. But the group would be ex-Doll Jerry Nolan, guitarist Walter Lure, and Billy Rath on bass. They worked and developed a devil-may-care harder rock sound and, planned or not, they were synonymous with heroin. You wouldn’t find The Heartbreakers pictured with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” slogan above their heads. What I did see on every other pole and telephone booth after moving to New York City with a post-Heartbreakers pic of Johnny sideways in a hat, syringe sticking out of the brim, pimping his next show, trading street cred for self-parody by 1982.

The Heartbreakers played around New York and then overseas as be part of the historic Sex Pistols’ Anarchy Tour. Four dates in and things imploded. London was not used to a group like this, unafraid to play a guitar solo, yanks dressed big-city junkie cool with enough ego and stage presence to be long remembered. They stayed and recorded the record L.A.M.F. , a very good journal of a rock & roll band with antisocial bravado and American conceit and big dirt-sugar pop hooks. But the record was muddy and poorly mixed and has by now a remixed version or two, but you don’t get them when you need them and Nolan left the band because of it.

They became an apparition of sorts, who would through the years get back together for a payday, but in their time, they were the house band at Max’s Kansas City and took on all contenders. (Their swagger-y ’79 live album, Live at Max’s Kansas City, smokes).

Thunders stayed in London and the next year put out his debut record “So Alone”, one of ’78’s best by anyone. He had Paul Cook and Steve Jones hot to play from The Pistols’ demise and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott on bass, some Peter Perrett (Only Ones) on guitar, and it opens on a cover of The Chantays’ “Pipeline” and it don’t quit. The ultimate in blood-on-the-page ballads is “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and covers Otis Blackwell II’s “Daddy Rolling Stone” with Thunders on the first verse, Lynott emotive second, and Steve Marriott, the white blues-boogie screamer, who turns the final verse into sulfur, striking fire, holding nothing back.

The studio is said to have been an all-day and all-night den of vice and electricity, where all involved saw a success in its making and a fortune cookie that read “Your Time is Nigh.” So Alone was helmed by a young (pre-U2) Steve Lillywhite. It earned some good press on both continents, sold better than expected and is a rock ‘n’ roller’s album. Johnny’s vocals were as good as they got and his playing was tough, sincere and even tender. It has aged well. But and he never hit that high again. In fact, all three of the voices heard in “Daddy Rolling Stone,” would be dead within a decade.

After returning to the States, Thunders became more difficult, more undisciplined, and toured to survive and make his bones with mostly sub-par bands, or worse. Thunders and Wayne Kramer were in that storied, short-lived combo Gang War. The few songs I’d heard were reggae influenced, but with no real direction. The band was more like a ghetto timeshare for two very talented men. It was a project that brought no record deal and no new respect for the future rock ‘n’ roll legends. Lots of time-wasting though.

Fighting with his band, fighting with his roadies, and with the audience. Trolling the faces to call down: “hey douchebag, pussy, come suck me off!” as if he was waiting on something or someone to take the weight off, to just be John again, or someone else completely. The shows might have been sloppy the first week, but you end up floating downstream letting a last power chord float when he didn’t know the bridge or when the band did one out of thin air he didn’t know. Thunders would look back, frown, turn up a notch before doing standards like “Can’t Kick,” “Chinese Rocks” or a cover he still found a friend in.

May be an image of 4 people, people standing, people playing musical instruments and guitar

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