Heartbreaker for life
Interview by John Wisniewski
After jumping ship from the soon-to-dissolve New York Dolls in '75, guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan created an even-more-extreme version of their proto-punk music that same year alongside bassist/songwriter/fashion plate Richard Hell and a guitarist named Walter Lure. Because of the Dolls and Voidoid connections, the other band members usually get more recognition but that's bullshit- alongside Thunders, Lure was not only the other singer in the band but also wrote a number of HB songs with Nolan. The Heartbreakers themselves would dissolve after only a few years, leaving behind 1977's L.A.M.F. (a controversial mixed album alongside Raw Power) and their first set of reunion/farewell shows immortalized on '79's Live at Max's Kansas City. After a few more reunion gigs in the '80's and '90s, Thunders died in '91 and the rest of the band only reunited as a memorial show the following year, with Nolan passing away the year after that. With bassist Billy Rath passing away in 2014, Lure has been the one to keep the HB torch going with his band the Waldos as well as doing L.A.M.F. and Max's memorial shows this coming summer. Thought the magic of email, Lure reflect on the HB's, their aftermath and legacy and how they figured into his later work.
PSF: What was the first band that you were in?
WL: It was called Bloodbath and we formed it in my senior year at college. We did mostly covers and played around NYC for 2 or 3 years. This was around 1970-1972.
PSF: How did you meet Johnny Thunders, and later become one of The Heartbreakers?
WL: I had sort of known john for years from a distance. I used to see him at every concert I ever went to in NYC in the '60's and early '70's. I guess he had the same taste in music but he would always be at the same shows I went to; mostly the British pop and blues bands. He was always dressed up in the latest British rocker clothing. I saw him at Woodstock, Atlantic City rock festival, many Fillmore East shows and God knows how many other venues including Madison square Garden. So I sort of knew him for years but never really spoke to him.
When I finally discovered the New York Dolls at the Mercer Arts Center in the early '70's, I said to myself "Holy shit, there is that same guy I've seen for years and now he's in a great band!" So now I saw him at every Dolls show that I went to for the next year or two.
Meanwhile, I was starting to look to get into a band of my own, doing original songs rather than covers as the New York scene was starting to take off. I answered some ads in the local papers and got into a Brooklyn band called the Stray Cats (way before Brian Setzer's band) that had Mark Bell's twin brother Freddy on guitar. Freddy soon left and this guy Marty Butler joined. We did a few gigs in the local bars before Marty introduced me to a singer, Elliot Kidd, who was starting his own band and asked us both to join. He was based in Manhattan and knew the Dolls well because he used to deal cocaine to them. They even let us use their rehearsal space when they were out of town. When they would stop in to say hello was when I actually first got introduced formally to Johnny and the other Dolls.
So I'm in this band called the Demons with Marty and Elliot and we're getting ready for our first gig at the 82 club in the East Village. Just before the show, we heard that the Dolls had broken up in Florida and Johnny and Jerry had come back to NYC and started a band with Richard Hell. Word was out that they were also looking for another guitarist. Anyway, we did the first Demons show and both Johnny and Jerry turned up in the audience. After the show, Johnny pulls me aside on a stairwell and asks me if I want to join his band. I obviously said 'yeah' and he told me to come to an audition the following week. I went and we rehearsed a few of the new Heartbreakers tunes they had been working on and I felt it all went well. When I didn't hear from them for a month or so, I just figured they had found someone else for the gig. The Demons then opened up for the 3 piece Heartbreakers at a small club in Queens across the river from Manhattan. They sounded OK but they definitely needed another guitarist to fill in the gaps. That night after the show, I was sitting at the bar and Jerry sits down and asks me if I liked any of the songs that I auditioned for. I told him 'yes, I thought they were great.' Then he asks if I want to join their band and the rest is history. A month or so later, I played my last Demons gig at a CBGB July 4th festival on a Friday night around 2AM in front of maybe 20 drunks and the next night was my first HB's gig to a packed house of some 300 screaming punks and rockers. That was my musical intro to the Heartbreakers!
PSF: How did you and the rest of the Heartbreakers write songs?
WL: Johnny usually wrote his own songs and sang them. I wrote mine on my own but would collaborate with Jerry on songs that he had partially started but would ask me to write lyrics for, so in the end, we decided to be a team of Lure/Nolan for all of my songs and his. The only song Jerry and I wrote together was "All By Myself." Jerry and I were in a rehearsal studio waiting for Johnny and he just started playing a drum beat and I came up with some chords and then he started singing "all by myself" in the chorus part. I took it home and finished the lyrics myself. "Junkie Business," "One Track Mind," "Get off the Phone" etc. were mine alone. "Can't Keep My Eyes On You" and "Take a Chance" were pieces that Jerry had written chords and choruses for but I wrote the lyrics.
PSF: What was your greatest moment with The Heartbreakers?
WL: There were quite a few of them. Probably the show at the end of the LAMF release tour in London at the Rainbow theater was probably one of the best nights as well as the Village Gate shows in NYC, summer 1977. Also in Paris, at the Bataclan- when I started speaking French to the audience, they all went crazy.
PSF: What did you think of the LAMF mix? Was the original version not what you wanted and did later versions get it right?
WL: Yes, this was a problem with the original LP release, however, to me, it was always the pressing from the master onto vinyl that was the issue. We remixed that thing 100 times in 4 or 5 different studios and remastered the final mixes several times in different mastering studios including Abbey Road. In the studio, the tapes and masters always sounded great whether we played them on big speakers or small ones. The sound was fine and the mix was fine. It was only when the masters were sent to the pressing plant to be put on vinyl did the sound come back as muffled and lifeless. Jerry and Johnny always swore the problem was in the mix but they both tried doing it themselves and still could never get a good sound. In the end, the record co(mpany) forced us to release the record so it could be in stores for the upcoming holidays. They would have cancelled our contract if we didn't OK it. Jerry then quit the band over it and a year or so later, Johnny decided to go solo. Bad studio LP's seemed to be a curse on Johnny and Jerry- the NY Dolls LP's never sounded as good as the band did live.
Later on in the '80's, they remastered and released it again on cassette and CD and later on vinyl again. Those versions sounded great and might have kept the band together longer if they came out like that in 1977. C'est la vie.
PSF: When you were with the Heartbreakers, touring the US and UK, how do you think the punk scenes compared in each place?
WL: To me, it was like night and day- completely different but with a few basic similarities. The New York scene was older and more diverse than the UK scene- there were various different types of music in the NY scene. Hard speed punk like the Ramones, beatnik punk like Patty Smith and Television, arty punk like Talking Heads, pop punk like Blondie and fast rock punk like the Heartbreakers and others. However, most of the songs were about drugs or alienation or bad love affairs. Mink Deville had a great bluesy feel as well. The audiences were also fairly tame and laid back on most occasions. I don't remember any songs about politics at all.
However, when we landed in the UK it was a totally different atmosphere. The bands were younger and way more energetic and the clothes and hairstyles were way more crazy than the NY scene. Granted, most of the bands didn't know how to play that well yet because they were still in their teens and early 20's but what they didn't know technically, they made up for in energy and wildness. They were a lot more politically oriented over there but that was understood because the UK had been in a bad recession for years. Most of the band members were living in squats or council flats (govt. housing) and people didn't have much hope for their futures.
Another plus was that (UK) record companies were giving out great deals to sign these bands and spending good money to get them up and running. New York was only offering lousy deals with no advances and bad royalty rates. It took Punk a lot longer to go mainstream in the US than in the UK. So to me, the UK was much more fun and energetic than the hipster NY scene and the kids were a lot more fun there.
Our only problem was that we were all junkies and the UK punk scene was only doing pot, speed and acid. The older rockers like the Stones and Led Zeppelin were all junkies but we didn't know how to contact them. Obviously, we did manage to find a way in the end and were probably responsible for introducing heroin into the punk scene there- a very dubious distinction.
PSF: How did being with the Heartbreakers prep you for the Waldos?
WL: The Heartbreakers gave me the confidence I needed to believe in myself and think that I could start a band that would have instant creds on the street, to be able to attract fans and get gigs. Starting a band in those days, or any days for that matter, takes a lot of work and dedication especially if you're unknown to the public. The Heartbreakers made me a star of sorts that guaranteed anything I put together would generate buzz and attention. Of course, nothing went smoothly- I started the Hurricanes with Barry Ryan in the early '80's and the Heroes in the mid-'80's, that didn't really go anywhere. Of course, I was still a junkie then so that also might have played a part. After I started the Waldo's with different people than the ones I have now, I cleaned up and we got record deals and more attention.
PSF: Are there any Heartbreakers' songs that you feel different about now, with some time/perspective?
WL: Not really. I still play a lot of LAMF songs and I still think they go over well. Maybe we had a bit too many love songs about drugs but that was what we were doing then, unfortunately. It was considered shocking at the time and we wanted that shock image. I rarely play some of Johnny's songs like "Baby Talk" or "I Love You" because they just don't stand out as much as the others and I also have a mess of newer material to fill the sets with.
PSF: Do you think that there's any recent bands that carry on Heartbreakers' tradition?
WL: None that I am that familiar with. There are a few bands that have released great recent albums like Ming City Rockers for one but I haven't seen any that really sound like the Heartbreakers. It's also possible that I don't go out that much to clubs anymore so I might be missing some of the action.
PSF: What are you working on these days otherwise?
WL: Well, I just released another Waldos album last August. I also just finished an 8 shows in 10 days tour of the US West Coast from L.A. up to Vancouver in late February/early March. That tour was with Mick Rossi from Slaughter and the Dogs and his band doing LAMF songs. I'm also headed to the UK in August for the Rebellion Festival and Japan in November. Live gigs are still in my blood and happening constantly.
PSF: Are there any upcoming Heartbreakers' releases, perhaps of unreleased material?
WL: Cleopatra Records is ready to release another batch of old Heartbreakers live gigs and studio out takes sometime later this year.
PSF: Do you have any favorite bands and albums?
WL: Hard to say as I have so many different faves. Probably my favorite punk band was the Sex Pistols who I first saw on the Anarchy in the UK tour. The Ramones were also great but could get tiring at times. We did a lot of shows with Siouxsie and the Banshees, who were also great. I mentioned the Ming City Rockers, who got an incredible drum sound and (are) a great sounding band. There's hundreds of others as well.
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