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Johnny Thunders: Daddy Rollin' Stone, by Otto Luck

Photo © Marcia Resnick
August 1996

The first time I met Johnny Thunders was a few years back in Peter Crowley’s office at the New York City nightclub Max's Kansas City. I didn't know who Thunders was at the time but he made a distinct impression from the get-go. His face was mottled with some brownish-green substance that I took to be either fungus or sea algae and his hair was tangled in an unruly nest that only years of neglect could have produced.

At the time, Crowley was the manager of Max's. A band-mate and I had come to the club on that particular day to beg for a gig. I was new in town and fairly unacquainted with the local animal life. I knew who Thunders was – that he'd played in the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers and so on – but wasn't aware that he spent most of his days and nights in local rock clubs removing himself as far from a sober existence as humanly possible. In other words, I didn't know who the fellow was seated next to Crowley, rolling the largest, most misshapen spliff I'd ever seen outside of Kingston, Jamaica.

Thunders had just come off his disastrous Anarchy in the U.K tour with the Pistols where he'd spent the most of his time shuttling from canceled gig to canceled gig across the English countryside. He'd spent the remainder of his time applying himself to the task of being an extraordinarily bad influence on the other members of the troupe.

Inside the confines of Crowley's office, louder-that-life sounds resonated within the four walls. A couple of guitars slashed back and forth from the catty-cornered speakers while adenoidal vocals crooned with the ferocity of a black cat at midnight. It was a hell of sound: big and tough, full of attitude, fast and furious and slightly out of tune – perfect, in a word.

The fellow with the misshapen joint asked me what I thought of the music. I answered that it was, "pretty good. Who is it?"

At this point, I felt an elbow poke me in the ribcage. "That's Johnny Thunders, you're talkin' to," my friend whispered. I considered this and upped my opinion to "very good." Johnny kicked his feet up on Crowley's desk. He lit up his humongous joint and took an extremely large puff.

Thunders & Patti Palladin
Born to Lose

Born John Anthony Genzale, on July 15, 1952, Thunders hit the New York rock scene in the late sixties. In the early seventies, he founded the New York Dolls with Syl Sylvain and Billy Murcia (whose heroin-induced demise preceded Johnny's by approximately 20 years). The Dolls rocketed to cult-status fame soon thereafter but came crashing back to earth with equal velocity. Their prophetic second album entitled, Too Much Too Soon, said it all; they broke up the following year.

After the Dolls, Thunders formed the Heartbreakers, the original lineup consisting of Walter Lure, Richard Hell and Jerry Nolan, who had replaced Murcia as the drummer for the Dolls. The Anarchy tour served as the undoing of the Heatbreakers, and it was at this point that Thunders went solo and recorded his most heralded album So Alone which contains such classic cuts as "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" and his searing cover of "Pipeline."

Goodbye, Johnny Thunders

I bumped into Thunders on various occasions throughout the years and he never ceased to amaze me. On one occasion, I walked into my dressing room late one night only to find him shooting up inside. "Don't mind me," I said. As requested, he didn't seem to notice me at all. He had a buddy with him at the time who was somberly watching the proceedings. He shook his head and said, "Johnny Thunders, look at you. Coulda been a contender. Coulda been somebody. You gotta get clean, man. You gotta clean up." I wondered who the guy was. Tell Thunders to clean up? Why not tell it to the walls.

The last time I saw Thunders, I was jogging around Stuyvesant Park. I was a little embarrassed by the fact that I was engaged in something so plebeian and healthy as exercising and hoped he didn't notice me. He gave me one of those squinty-eyed stares that said, "Who are you? I know you from someplace." I jogged past before he made the connection and Thunders continued on his way downtown. A couple of weeks later, I read that he had OD'd in a hotel room in New Orleans (on April 23, 1991, age 38), leaving only his legend behind. At long last, Daddy Rollin' Stone had played his final show.

Johnny Thunders Tribute at CBGB on
the Ten-year Anniversary of His Death

NY Rock would like to thank the
Johnny Thunders Cyber Lounge
for its support over the past several years.

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More Johnny Thunders:

- Johnny Thunders Tribute at CBGB in Memory of the Ten-year Anniversary of His Death

- Knowing Johnny Thunders – Stevie Vayne

Related Artists:

- Sylvain Sylvain
- Joan Jett
- Sex Pistols
- Lou Reed
- Iggy Pop
- Blondie
- Henry Rollins
- Ramones
- LES Stitches
- Suzi Quatro
- Patti Smith
- Keith Richards
- Rolling Stones
- Richard Hell
- MC5/Wayne Kramer
- Jayne County
- Slash

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