MY OLD FRIEND Stiv Bator died in early June of 1990 and, as soon as I heard about it straightaway began to put together a benefit for his parents, who had spent a ton of money to get an emergency flight to Paris. Stiv had always been very cool to me and we’d done a couple of interviews over the years and I had spent a lot of time backstage with the Dead Boys and Lords of the New Church, so I wanted to do something special to pay him back – hence the benefit. And we raised a pretty good chunk of change to give to Steve and Marian and it made me feel real good to have been able to pull together this major event in the space of a couple of weeks.
The reason I mentioned this is because one of the things that I set about to do was to collect comments from his friends and colleagues in the music business and Johnny Thunders was on the list. Cheetah Chrome, whose best friend was Bator, was to have written an obituary for us to read at the benefit, but he was such a mess about the loss of his good friend that it wasn’t getting done, so I turned to Thunders – and I’m glad I did, because he sent an eloquent piece (reprinted below). Unfortunately, however, within a year – almost to the day – Thunders himself was dead in New Orleans of a drug overdose, and it was a tragic loss because, judging from the video I got from the tribute he and Cheetah held at the Continental Divide club in New York City, Thunders was in great musical form.
[What can you say about a friend that dies?
I know bureaucracy will say he was a sweet and really lovely guy, but why couldn’t they say that when he was alive?
To me it’s a real BITCH to write an obituary about a good friend. I guess the meaning we’re alive is to leave something behind, and Stiv left us all something in his words that we can all share.
He recorded a brand new LP just before he died, and thank God I was lucky enough to play on it. So he left me with the impression, if I could have any of his traits, it would be his personality and goodness toward others. I wish I could be as kind as Stiv was toward others.
‘When the saints come marching in, When the saints come marching in …’
With all my love, respect and honour,
Anyway, I met Johnny in Detroit after a show on his ‘La Cosa Nostra’ tour around 1980 or ’81, and I got to talk to him at a small party after the show. This article is the result of that conversation.
In the beginning, Thunders had been ‘drunk and desperate,’ no girlfriend and, ‘All I had was guilt,’ he told me. He’d started listening to music rather heavily and, hearing greats like Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Howlin’ Wolf and even the Shangri-Las, he realized how much he liked it and decided that this was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. And he did.
Within two weeks he had assembled an all-instrumental Ventures-type group. He knocked around for some time and then he met a bunch of musicians that shared his love for the same kind of music and he began to assemble what would become one of the most seminal underground bands of all time – The New York Dolls. He picked Syl Sylvain, David Johansen and Richard Hell out of the people that he auditioned ‘because they looked the best.’
However, due to pressures and conflicts between strong egos within the band, they only recorded two albums, ‘New York Dolls’ and ‘In Too Much Too Soon,’ (though there have been several compilation albums and bootlegs, the best-known probably being ‘Red Patent Leather’) before disbanding and basically splitting up into several different groups. Johansen went off on his own as an alter-ego named Buster Poindexter (rumour has it that he developed this Sinatra-like crooning act after seeing a local artist called Jimmy Armstrong who was doing the same thing here in Cleveland prior to Poindexter’s arrival on the music scene). Disaffected kids in the States were discovering punk rock through bands like the group put together by Thunders with Jerry Nolan, Richard Hell and Walter Lure, calling themselves The Heartbreakers (coincidentally Tom Petty was also starting a group with the same name in Gainesville, Florida as an outgrowth of an earlier project he called Mudcrutch – but they were two very different kinds of bands), Blondie and the ‘Art Rock’ of Talking Heads and Patti Smith.
So Dee Dee Ramone got the idea for a song and, according to Thunders, Dee Dee came up with the idea, Johnny wrote the music and Dee Dee and Nolan helped with the lyrics as well. The Ramones didn’t want it because, even though they were singing songs about sniffing glue and carbona and wanting to ‘be sedated,’ a song about heroin was a bit much for their style, so The Heartbreakers did it and released ‘Chinese Rocks’ on the Heartbreakers’ infamous ‘L.A.M.F. album (Thunders told me the initials stand for ‘Let’s all make friends’ but more people believe that they really mean ‘Like a mother fucker’). The song has since gone on to become one of the most notorious punk songs that have ever come out of this side of the Atlantic and even became somewhat of an ‘anthem’ for the Heartbreakers, more than one of which, including Johnny Thunders, were using heroin at the time of its release.
Just over a year – and that one official album – later Hell left to form his own band, The Voidoids, who also became one of the seminal early American punk bands and who named the band’s first album ‘Blank Generation,’ coining a phrase that would go on to represent the generation of American punk kids who were disaffected and believed they had a bleak, blank future. The media picked up on the term and ran with it. (In the '80s, the kind of kids who would have been part of the ‘blank generation’ were called ‘slackers.’) This caused the Heartbreakers to disband and Thunders went on to release a few solo albums, the most popular and by far the best being his debut as a solo artist, ‘So Alone,’ a brilliant record that opens with the instrumental ‘Pipeline,’ hearkening back to his love of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and his early instrumental band, before going into a collection of new originals and a few former Heartbreakers and Dolls tracks.
Thunders disappeared for a time – something that would happen on more than one occasion before his untimely death. At one point we had considered trying to get Thunders to come in for the Stiv benefit, but various circumstances prevented us from getting him – not the least being the short space of time we had to promote the show. Some – well, many – believed that his disappearances were due to Thunders sinking into heroin addiction, but in reality he had just taken time away to write songs. There are a number of official and semi-official albums that Thunders released as a solo artist – many more than he had recorded with either of the two groups he had previously assembled.
The Heartbreakers would periodically reunite for a series of shows around the New York club scene, playing CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, Continental Divide and The Mudd Club. The last time they got together was the impromptu show for the Stiv tribute that Thunders and Cheetah put on, which I mentioned above. They had got a new drummer and released a live album, ‘Live at Max’s Kansas City,’ most of which contained Dolls and Heartbreakers songs. A series of reunion concerts had been put together to promote it.
Thunders disappeared again shortly thereafter, once again causing rumours of heroin addiction, only to resurface in the early ‘80s with a brand new band, La Cosa Nostra. At the time I had my conversation with him, negotiations had been underway for a new recording contract – that may or may not have ever come to fruition. He did, however, have an extensive discography at the time of his death and is probably one of the most bootlegged of the early punk bands.
The record was supposed to have a dozen songs, written and produced by Johnny, and was to have major label distribution. The band consisted of Luigi Scorcia, Billy Rogers and the only two ‘permanent’ members of the band, Thunders and bassist Tony Coiro. Scorcia and Coiro had previously played with a group called The Knots before joining Thunders. A single was to have been released on Assassin Records, a label out of the Detroit/Ann Arbor area. ‘Everything will be new material from this point on,’ he assured me at the time.
I asked him about his most memorable moment. ‘I wrote a song called ‘Where Am I Now That I Need Me?’ Joe Cocker took me to his house in Malibu. I was drunk. We played a tape of the song and I fell asleep. He started tearing the tape out like it was spaghetti. Later, I woke up and my producer came running into the room. He says, “Why’d you let him do that? That was the master.” Later, Joe gave me a case of tequila and a limo ride. Next time I saw him, Joe said he had a good time.’
A few final words from Johnny:
‘I don’t like the world as it is. If people do drugs, it should be for a purpose. Not to avoid the world because it’ll still be there. Take them to accomplish things, further your life, write songs, cook hamburgers or whatever.’
So Alone (1978)
In Cold Blood (1983)
Diary of a Lover (1983)
Hurt Me (1983)
Que Sera Sera (1985)
Copy Cats (1988)
Official live and compilation albums:
The New Too Much Junkie Business (1983)
Stations of the Cross (1987)
Bootlegging the Bootleggers (1990)
Live in Japan (1991)
Have Faith (1992)
Saddest Vacation Act 1 (1993)
Saddest Vacation Act 2 (1993)
Chinese Rocks: The Ultimate Thunders Live Collection (1993)
Add Water and Stir (1994)
Stations of the Cross (Revisited) (1994)
The Studio Bootlegs (1996)
Belfast Rocks (1997)
Born to Lose: The Best of Johnny Thunders (1999)
Live at Leeds (1999)
Play with Fire (2000)
Endless Party (2000)
Panic on the Sunset Strip (2000)
Live and Wasted: Unplugged 1990 (2001)
Eve of Destruction (2005)
Official singles and EPs:
‘Dead or Alive’ 7-inch (1978)
‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’ 7- and 12-inch
’Twist And Shout’ c/w ‘Boys’ 7-inch live at Max’s Kansas City (1981) 
‘In Cold Blood’ 7-inch (1983)
‘Hurt Me’ 7-inch (1984)
‘Crawfish’ 7- and 12-inch (1985)
‘Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)’ 7- and 12-inch (1988)
Hey Man, Where is my Guitar? (1983)
So All Alone (1983)
Wanted: Dead or Alive Reward $10 (1983)
Cosa Nostra Never Sleeps (1984) 
Play with Fire (1984)
There’s a Little Bit of Whore in Every Girl (1984)
Lucky Strikes Back (1987) 
Diary of a Gypsy Lover (1996) 
Johnny on the Rocks (1996)
Live Crisis (1996)
Fuck Off Marquee (1997)
Countdown Love (Demos & Unreleased Live) (1999)
The Party Ain’t Over Yet (2005)
Unofficial/Bootleg singles & EPs:
Proud to be Pirate EP (1983)
‘Ain’t Superstitious’ 7-inch (1987)
‘Critic’s Choice’ 7-inch (1992)
‘Daddy Rollin’ Stone’ 7-inch (1996)
‘Life Goes On’ 7-inch (1996)
‘Countdown Love’ 7-inch (1997)
The Fireball EP (1999)
The Thunderbolt EP (1999)
It’s Great When You’re Straight, Yeah EP (2000)
‘The Reign’ 7-inch (Norton Records 2000) 
 With Jimi Lumia & the Psychotic Frogs
 Recorded June 1983, Folkets Park, Södertälje, Sweden
 Recorded 7.8.1986 at Nihon Seinenkan, Tokyo
 Alternate takes from the ‘In Cold Blood’ studio session; ‘Critics Choice’ - Japanese 7-inch; ‘Live at the Rat,’ Boston 1983; 1991 radio show
 'Zippered Up Heart' (Recorded in 1967)