Thunders in 1979
Performing at the VFW Post in Ann Arbor, Michigan in July 1979. He was then collaborating with Wayne Kramer of MC5, as 'Gang War'.
|Birth name||John Anthony Genzale|
|Born||July 15, 1952|
Queens, New York, US
|Died||April 23, 1991 (aged 38)|
New Orleans, Louisiana, US
|Genres||Rock, punk rock, glam rock, glam punk, protopunk|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, guitarist|
|Instruments||Guitar, bass guitar, vocals|
|Associated acts||New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers|
John Anthony Genzale (July 15, 1952 – April 23, 1991), better known by his stage name Johnny Thunders, was an American rock and roll/punk rock guitarist, singer and songwriter. He came to prominence in the early 1970s as a member of the New York Dolls. He later played with The Heartbreakers and as a solo artist.
Early life and career
His first musical performance was in the winter of 1967 with The Reign. Shortly thereafter, he played with Johnny and the Jaywalkers, under the name Johnny Volume, at Quintano's School for Young Professionals, around the corner from Carnegie Hall, on 56th Street near 7th Avenue.
In 1968 he began going to the Fillmore East and Bethesda Fountain in Central Park on weekends. His older sister, Mariann, started styling his hair like Keith Richards. In late 1969 he got a job as a sales clerk at D'Naz leather shop, on Bleecker Street in the West Village, and started trying to put a band together. He and his girlfriend, Janis Cafasso, went to see The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden in November 1969, and they appear in the Maysles' film, Gimme Shelter.
In London, after the Isle of Wight Festival, the following summer, his girlfriend Janis fell sick and they flew home. Back in NYC from the UK, toward the end of 1970, he started hanging out at Nobodys, a club also on Bleecker Street in the West Village. It was near there that he met future Dolls Arthur Kane and Rick Rivets. He joined their band Actress, which later, after firing Rivets and adding David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia, became the New York Dolls. It was then that he adopted the stage name "Johnny Thunders", inspired by a comic book hero.
Dolls bass guitarist Arthur "Killer" Kane later wrote about Thunders' guitar sound, as he described arriving outside the rehearsal studio where they were meeting to jam together for the first time: "I heard someone playing a guitar riff that I myself didn't know how to play. It was raunchy, nasty, rough, raw, and untamed. I thought it was truly inspired...", adding "His sound was rich and fat and beautiful, like a voice."
The New York Dolls were signed to Mercury Records, with the help of A & R man Paul Nelson. Thunders recorded two albums with the band, New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon. They were managed by Marty Thau, and booked by Leber & Krebs. Subsequently, they worked with Malcolm McLaren for several months, later becoming a prototype for the Sex Pistols.
In 1975 Thunders and Nolan left the band, though Johansen and Sylvain continued playing, along with Peter Jordon, Tony Machine (an ex-assistant agent at Leber & Krebs) and Chris Robison, as the New York Dolls until late 1977.
Post-New York Dolls
Thunders formed The Heartbreakers with former New York Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan and former Television bassist Richard Hell. Walter Lure, former guitarist for the New York City punk band The Demons  was soon added. After conflict arose between Thunders and Hell, Hell left to form Richard Hell and the Voidoids and was replaced by Billy Rath.
With Thunders leading the band, the Heartbreakers toured America before going to Britain to join the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned on the now-legendary Anarchy Tour. The group stayed in the UK throughout 1977, where their popularity was significantly greater than in the U.S., particularly among punk bands. While in Britain they were signed to Track Records and released their only official studio album, L.A.M.F., an abbreviation for "Like A Mother Fucker". L.A.M.F. was received positively by critics and fans alike, but was criticised for its poor production. Displeased with the production, the band members were soon competing with one other, mixing and remixing the record, culminating in drummer Jerry Nolan quitting in November 1977. Shortly thereafter, the Heartbreakers officially disbanded.
Thunders stayed in London and recorded the first of a number of solo albums, beginning with So Alone in 1978. The notoriously drug-fuelled recording sessions featured a core band of Thunders, bassist Phil Lynott, drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones, with guest appearances from Chrissie Hynde, Steve Marriott, Walter Lure, Billy Rath and Peter Perrett. The CD version of the album contains four bonus tracks, including the single "Dead or Alive" and cover of the early Marc Bolan song "The Wizard". Soon afterwards, Thunders moved back to the US, joining former Heartbreakers Walter Lure, Billy Rath and sometimes Jerry Nolan for gigs at Max's Kansas City. Around this time Thunders played a small number of gigs at London's Speakeasy with a line up including Cook and Jones, Henri Paul on bass and Judy Nylon and Patti Palladin (Snatch) as back up vocalists.
In late 1979 Thunders moved to Detroit with his wife Julie and began performing in a band called Gang War. Other members included John Morgan, Ron Cooke, Philippe Marcade and former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. They recorded several demos and performed live several times before disbanding. Zodiac Records released an EP of their demos in 1987. In 1990 they also released an album titled Gang War, which was credited to Thunders and Kramer.
During the early 1980s, Thunders re-formed The Heartbreakers for various tours; the group recorded their final album, Live at the Lyceum, in 1984. The concert was also filmed and released as a video and later a DVD titled Dead Or Alive.
In the 1980s Thunders lived in Paris and Stockholm with his wife and daughter.
In 1985, Thunders released Que Sera Sera, a collection of new songs with his then band The Black Cats, and "Crawfish", a duet with former Snatch vocalist Patti Palladin.
Three years later he again teamed up with Palladin to release Copy Cats, a covers album. The album, produced by Palladin, featured a wide assortment of musicians to recreate the 1950s and 1960s sound of the originals, including Alex Balanescu on violin, Bob Andrews on piano, The Only Ones John Perry and others on guitar, and a horn section.
From August 1988 until his death in April 1991, Thunders performed in The Oddballs, with Jamie Heath (saxophone), Alison Gordy (vocals), Chris Musto (drums), Stevie Klasson (guitar) and Jill Wisoff (bass).
From April–May 1990, Johnny performed an acoustic tour of the UK and Ireland joining up occasionally with John, Sam & Peter of The Golden Horde, whom he had met and played with previously in 1984 at the TV Club, and were concurrently on tour (of the UK & Ireland) at that time also, for full-band electric performances and TV appearances.
On May 8, 1990, recording sessions in London for a joint EP-single cover version with The Golden Horde of "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies, and original material, had to be cancelled when Johnny experienced "health problems" following his performances in Wakefield, UK while on tour.
Many rumors surround Thunders' death at the St. Peter House in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 23, 1991. He apparently died of drug-related causes, but it has been speculated that it was the result of foul play. According to his autobiography Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones, Dee Dee Ramone took a call in New York City the next day from Stevie Klasson, Johnny's rhythm guitar player. Ramone said, "They told me that Johnny had gotten mixed up with some bastards... who ripped him off for his methadone supply. They had given him LSD and then murdered him. He had gotten a pretty large supply of methadone in England, so he could travel and stay away from those creeps – the drug dealers, Thunders imitators, and losers like that."
Singer Willy DeVille, who lived next door to the hotel in which Thunders died, described his death this way:
I don't know how the word got out that I lived next door, but all of a sudden the phone started ringing and ringing. Rolling Stone was calling, the Village Voice called, his family called, and then his guitar player called. I felt bad for all of them. It was a tragic end, and I mean, he went out in a blaze of glory, ha ha ha, so I thought I might as well make it look real good, you know, out of respect, so I just told everybody that when Johnny died he was laying down on the floor with his guitar in his hands. I made that up. When he came out of the St. Peter Guest House, rigor mortis had set in to such an extent that his body was in a U shape. When you're laying on the floor in a fetal position, doubled over – well, when the body bag came out, it was in a U. It was pretty awful.
An autopsy was conducted by the New Orleans coroner, but served only to compound the mysteries. According to Thunders' biographer Nina Antonia as posted on the Jungle Records web site, the level of drugs found in his system was not fatal. According to the book Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon by Pamela Des Barres, who interviewed Thunders' sister, Mariann Bracken, the autopsy confirmed evidence of advanced leukemia, which would explain the decline in Thunders' appearance in the final year of his life. This also sheds light on the interview in Lech Kowalski's documentary Born To Lose: The Last Rock and Roll Movie, where Thunders' brother-in-law says, "Only Johnny knew how sick he really was."
In a 1994 Melody Maker interview Thunders' manager Mick Webster described the family's efforts to get New Orleans police to investigate the matter further: "We keep asking the New Orleans police to re-investigate, but they haven’t been particularly friendly. They seemed to think that this was just another junkie who had wandered into town and died. They simply weren’t interested."
Thunders was survived by his ex-wife Julie and four children: sons John, Vito, and Dino, and daughter Jamie Genzale by Susanne Blomqvist.
- So Alone (1978)
- In Cold Blood (1983)
- Diary of a Lover (1983)
- Hurt Me (1983)
- Que Sera Sera (1985)
- Copy Cats (1988)
Official live albums and compilations
- 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 & Stir (1994)
- Stations of the Cross (Revisited) (1994)
- The Studio Bootlegs (1996)
- Belfast Rocks (1997)
- Born Too Loose: The Best of Johnny Thunders (1999)
- Live at Leeds (1999)
- Play with Fire (2000)
- Endless Party (2000)
- Panic on the Sunset Strip (2000)
- Live & Wasted: Unplugged 1990 (2001)
- Eve of Destruction (2005)
Official singles and EPs
- "Dead or Alive" 7" (1978)
- "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" (1978)
- "Twist And Shout/Boys" ( live at Max's with Jimi LaLumia & The Psychotic Frogs; 1981)
- "In Cold Blood" (1983)
- "Hurt Me" (1984)
- "Crawfish (1985)
- "Que Sera Sera (1988)
- Story Of A Junkie directed by Lech Kowalski 1987
- Mona et moi (1989), directed by Patrick Grandperret, Prix Jean Vigo 1990
- Born To Lose - The Last Rock'n'Roll Movie (1999), directed by Lech Kowalski
- Looking For Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders (2014), directed by Danny Garcia
- "Thunders" (2018), directed by Vicente and Fernando Cordero
Thunders has had numerous bands paying tribute or mentioning him in their songs, while he was alive and after his death.
- Ronnie Spector recorded a version of "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory", duetting with Joey Ramone, for her EP She Talks to Rainbows.
- Sand Rubies (The Sidewinders) on their 1997 release, "Return of the Living Dead" covered "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" as the final track on the album.
- The Clash mentioned Thunders in the lyric from their song "City Of The Dead", singing "'Don't you know where to cop?'/That's what New York Johnny said/'You should get to know your town/Just like I know mine'"
- Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks covered "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" on his first solo LP called Nights Are So Long.
- Alison Gordy of Blonde and Blue (and former backup singer for Johnny) recorded "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" on their CD Mad As Hell.
- Giant Sand covered "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" on their 1986 album Ballad Of A Thin Line Man.
- Recently, Gibson.com ranked Thunders #2 on its "Punk Rock's 10 Mightiest Guitar Gods" list.
- Then-Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan wrote the song "So Fine", which was dedicated to Thunders. The song appears on the album Use Your Illusion II. In 1993, Guns N' Roses also covered Thunders' song "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" on their cover album, "The Spaghetti Incident?", with McKagan performing vocals and playing all instruments.
- Willy DeVille wrote a song called "Chemical Warfare" which appeared on his 1992 album Backstreets of Desire. "Chemical Warfare" was dedicated to Johnny Thunders with whom DeVille shared a long-time friendship. DeVille was first to arrive at the hotel the day of Johnny's death.
- Screaming Bloody Marys guitarist and vocalist Dave Dalton wrote a song called "Dead n Gone" about Johnny Thunders. (Dr Dream/Die Laughing Records).
- At their reunion shows, the New York Dolls performed "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory", with member Sylvain Sylvain singing the lead vocal and sometimes changing the title lyric to "I can't put my arms around you, Johnny."
- German band The Comics recorded several of Thunders' songs with German lyrics in the early 80's, e. g. "I Wanna Be Loved" (as "Warum schaust du so traurig?") and "Let Go" (as "Wolken").
- On the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds double album, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, Johnny Thunders is mentioned in the song "There She Goes my Beautiful World", singing "...And Johnny Thunders was half alive when he wrote 'Chinese Rocks'"(although Johnny performed and recorded 'Chinese Rocks' it was written by his friend and fellow punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone).
- English rock band the Dogs D'Amour released a song about Thunders titled "Johnny Silvers" on their ...More Unchartered Heights of Disgrace album.
- The Replacements included a song about Johnny Thunders, "Johnny's Gonna Die", on their first album. The group also recorded a track entitled "Dose of Thunder" on their later album, Tim.
- Alex Chilton in his song "Bangkok" sings the lines "I'm not living on Chinese rocks, I'm in Bangkok." A small tribute and allusion to Johnny Thunders.
- Die Toten Hosen paid tribute to Johnny Thunders by including the line "So lange Johnny Thunders lebt, so lang bleib ich ein Punk" ("As long as Johnny Thunders lives I'll stay a punk") in their song "Wort zum Sonntag". After his death Die Toten Hosen changed the lyrics to "Hey, Johnny kannst du uns grad' seh'n, wir vergessen dich nicht – wir werden überall von dir erzählen damit dein Name ewig weiterlebt." ("Hey, Johnny can you see us right now, we won't forget you – we'll let everyone know about you so that your name lives on eternally.")
- The Murder City Devils named a song "Johnny Thunders" on their album Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts.
- Iggy Pop wrote a tribute song for Johnny entitled "Look Away" on the album Naughty Little Doggie. It also involves his love affair with Sable Starr.
- "Everything I Wanted" by Australian band Wallspace features the line "Don't you wish you had a name like Johnny Thunder".
- Spanish label Munster Records released Again ... This One's For Johnny in 2001, a tribute record which includes bands as Ramones, Ronnie Spector, Nikki Sudden or Atom Rhumba
- Vic Godard & the Subway Sect had a single titled "Johnny Thunders" which was released in September 1992 by Rough Trade Records.
- Napalm Beach played on at least two bills in the 1980s with the Heartbreakers in Portland in Seattle. Three days before Thunders died, the band had breakfast with Thunders in a Berlin hotel, where Thunders autographed bandleader Chris Newman's passport "all my love and admiration." In 1993 Napalm Beach released a cover of "Chatterbox" for a Johnny Thunders Tribute compilation put together by Tim Kerr Records. The single featured a photo of the autograph next to a photo of a guitar Napalm Beach bassist Otis P. Otis had gotten from Thunders in an earlier trade. The last meeting with Thunders was alluded to in the Napalm Beach song "Longtime Johnny" on their 1993 album, Curiosities.
- Slaughter & the Dogs had a track titled "Johnny T" allegedly about Thunders which was the b-side to their single "Dame to Blame".
- In the "Call of the Yeti" episode of "The Mighty Boosh" Naboo tells Vince "Vince, you're a punk, stay punk! Think of Johnny Thunders, Mick and Keith!" when they are threatened to be raped by Hippy yetis.
- Paul Westerberg released an album in August 2008 entitled "49:00" which contains a track about Johnny entitled "Devil Raised a Good Boy".
- Anarcho punk band Kronstadt Uprising became more influenced by Johnny Thunders (and glam rock generally) later in their existence.
- Chinese punk rock band Joyside's "Neptune Child" is in tribute of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders.
- When doing their cover of The Rolling Stones song "Dead Flowers", JB Beverley and The Wayward Drifters substitute the line, "and another girl to take my pain away", with, "with my Johnny Thunders records taking all this pain away".
- American label Skykrebs Records Limited  released Born To Lose: A Tribute To Johnny Thunders in 2009, a 3CD Boxed Set of various artists featuring 51 songs and a 36-page full color booklet. Guest stars include Richie Cannata (saxophone player from Billy Joel), Steve Holley (drummer from Wings), Buddy Bowzer (saxophone player from The New York Dolls), Andy Shernoff (bass player from The Dictators) and Jeff Magnum (bass player from The Dead Boys).
- John Waite references Johnny in his song "Downtown" from his Temple Bar CD. In the song, the lyric "Johnny Thunders on the Radio, ah You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory".
- The Schizo's, an infamous Dutch punk-rock band played several covers from Thunders. For them Thunders was one of their main influences
- Backyard Babies reference Johhny in their songs "Stars" with the line "Nevermind that Rotten Johnny Thunders New York Dolls. In Too Much Too Soon Too Late he know he had to fall".
- The Subsonics reference Johnny in their song "Heroin Addict's Beach Party" with the line "They're all so high, well it's no wonder, only music that they played was Johnny Thunder".
- The 69 Eyes reference Johnny and Stiv Bators in their song "Stiv & Johnny" from their 2016 album Universal Monsters.
- Kevin Rowland pays tribute to Johnny Thunders by playing Born To Lose on his DJ sets/shows, Kevin then sings the song in his own unique style after the original is played, a very special tribute to this great artist.
- Nina Antonia, Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood, Cherry Red Records, archived from the original on 25 January 2010, retrieved 1 August 2010
- Nina Antonia. "Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood". Cherry Red Records. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010. Retrieved 18 April 2010.
- Arthur Kane; Barbara Kane (1 August 2009). I, Doll: Life and Death With the New York Dolls. Chicago Review Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-1-55652-941-2. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Rutledge (2011-04-26). "Dirty Sheets: The Demons - self titled (Mercury Records, 1977)". Dirtysheetszine.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
- Dee Dee Ramone (2000). Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones, pp. 232-33. Thunder’s Mouth Press; ISBN 1-56025-252-9. Originally published as Poison Heart: Surviving The Ramones.
- http://elvispelvis.com/heroin.html. Retrieved September 9, 2009. Missing or empty
- "Jungle Records - Nina Antonia's introduction to her update of the official biography of Johnny Thunders, Johnny Thunders - In Cold Blood". Jungle-records.demon.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
- "Rock Bottom by Pamela Des Barres". Thunders.ca. 1999-09-06. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
- "Storm Clouds". Melody Maker. 1994-11-26. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
- "Johnny Thunders, 40, Hard Rock Guitarist". New York Times. 1991-04-25. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
- "Punk Rock's 10 Mightiest Guitar Gods". Gibson.com. 2008-06-24. Archived from the original on 2010-01-09. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
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