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|Also known as||Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers|
|Origin||New York City, United States|
|Years active||1975–1980, 1984, 1990|
|Past members||Johnny Thunders|
Johnny Thunders (vocals/guitar) and Jerry Nolan (drums) gained fame in the pioneering proto-punk band the New York Dolls. By early 1975, the Dolls were disintegrating amid poor record sales and tensions within the band, and Thunders and Nolan quit during a tour of Florida in March 1975. Coincidentally, that same week that Richard Hell (vocals/bass) left Television. After returning to New York, Thunders and Nolan invited Hell to join their new band, and Hell agreed. As Hell said, "I was fed up with Television because it was getting so pretentious...so I thought, this is perfect - we'll make a really good rock & roll band that's dealing with interesting subjects." The three dubbed their new band the Heartbreakers. Their first gig was on May 30 of that year, at the Coventry, a rock club in Queens. (Tom Petty's backing band was also named the Heartbreakers, but they did not begin gigging until 1976.) The trio auditioned several candidates for a second guitarist, and soon added Walter Lure to the lineup. Lure, who had previously played with a glam-punk band called the Demons, played his first show with the Heartbreakers on July 4, 1975 at CBGB.
The band quickly became one of the most popular and well-known underground bands in New York City, headlining shows at CBGB, Mother's (located across from the Chelsea Hotel), and Max's Kansas City. In the band's early days, each member took turns on vocals, with Hell bringing in songs (such as "Blank Generation") originally written for Television, and Thunders contributing new material as well. Lure began singing lead on some songs and co-writing with Nolan. The combination of the style-conscious Nolan and Thunders with the beatnik Hell and gangly Lure made for a visually arresting and musically powerful group. As Blondie's Clem Burke said, "You could call them the punk rock Beatles. Each person really stood out." Although popular, the early lineup could not get a recording contract, in no small part due to the band's well-known heroin use - as vividly described in their best-known song, "Chinese Rocks" (which was actually written by Dee Dee Ramone with contributions from Hell). Live recordings of the Thunders/Hell/Nolan/Lure lineup were eventually released on the LP Live at Mother's, and studio demos were released in 2019.
Although initially the band members shared songwriting and singing, Hell increasingly imposed his will on the band. At a rehearsal in early 1976, Hell laid down an ultimatum - he would sing most of the songs in the set, with Thunders relegated to one or two songs per set. Thunders walked out, and Nolan and Lure followed; with all three united against him, Hell wound up leaving the band. His final show was on May 14, 1976 at the Rathskeller in Boston. After auditioning several bass players, the band settled on Boston transplant Billy Rath; Rath's first gig with the band was on July 23, 1976 at Max's Kansas City. Hell then went on to form his own band: Richard Hell and the Voidoids.
The Sex Pistols invited the band to open for them on the ill-fated Anarchy Tour (the Sex Pistols at this time were managed by Malcolm McLaren, who had previously managed The New York Dolls). Arriving for the tour just as the UK punk scene was building momentum, the Heartbreakers developed a following in and around London. The band's members and image were widely associated with drug use, specifically heroin. The Heartbreakers briefly signed with Track Records. Their debut, and only studio album, L.A.M.F. was poorly received (the title represents a phrase from New York street-slang and graffiti, "Like A Mother-Fucker"). The release of the album created conflict within the band, due to the poor quality of the recording and difficulty in the mastering process, the blame for which rests with producer Speedy Keen. Jerry Nolan left the band in the fall of 1978 because he did not like the mix of the album (Nolan had had a go at re-mixing the album himself, but was not satisfied with the results). The band reformed in 1979 for a few farewell shows at Max's Kansas City with drummer Ty Styx sitting in for Nolan. These shows recorded and released under the title Live at Max's Kansas City '79. The Heartbreakers' 1977 song, "London Boys", is a swipe at the Sex Pistols, in response to the Pistols' "New York", a put-down of the New York Dolls..
After their initial break up, the band reformed occasionally to play at New York clubs. Live shows often consisted of songs performed with the New York Dolls or taken from Thunders' solo career. Billy Rath left the band in 1985 and was replaced by Tony Coiro.
Johnny Thunders died in April 1991. His body was found in a hotel room in New Orleans. While Thunders' death may have been drug-related, there is some controversy surrounding the facts of his death as the level of methodone in Thunders' body may not have constituted a fatal dose.
The last time the Heartbreakers played was at the Johnny Thunders Memorial Concert, with Walter Lure, Jerry Nolan, Tony Coiro and Joey Pinter, the latter playing in place of Thunders. This line up, together with Jeff West, released Rent Party in 1994, as The Waldos.
Jerry Nolan died in 1992 following a stroke he suffered in hospital, whilst being treated for meningitis and pneumonia.
Richard Hell rarely plays music live, concentrating instead on writing and spoken-word performances.
Walter Lure works as a stock broker on Wall Street but still performs in NYC with his current Waldos lineup. He also travels around the globe playing when his day job allows the time for it. In 2007, Lure teamed up with Belgian punk rocker Dee Jaywalker and went on a short European tour which resulted in a live album, released on Nicotine Records. Lure played three UK concerts in August 2013.
Billy Rath disappeared from the music scene after leaving the Heartbreakers in the mid-1980s, and he undertook a period of rehabilitation to recover from the effects of sustained abuse of drugs and alcohol. Rath then went on to study for a degree in psychology and a postgraduate qualification in theology. He has also embraced religion and has worked as a counsellor for people with drug and alcohol problems. After being persuaded to attend the Max's Kansas City reunion gig in September 2010, Rath went on to form a band, The Street Pirates, with Joey Kelly on lead vocals (Buddy Love / Joey Kelly Allstars / Magic Tramps), Johnny Rao on guitar (David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain & Helen Schneider), Joy Ryder on background vocals (Avis Davis) and Bill Tello on drums (Hudson Dusters). Drummer Sesu Coleman (The Magic Tramps / Alan Vega) was Rath's first choice for the Street Pirates however Frankie Dell (Dead Cowboys / Trash Mavericks) was called in last minute to quickly replace Bill Tello on drums. After a few gigs in the New York City area with the current line up, Rath then moved up north to Massachusetts and formed a totally different band. He died on 16 August 2014, aged 66.
- Johnny Thunders - vocals, guitar (1975–1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1990)
- Walter Lure - vocals, guitar (1975–1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1991)
- Jerry Nolan - drums, backing vocals (1975–1978, 1990, 1991)
- Richard Hell - vocals, bass (1975-1976)
- Billy Rath - bass (1976–1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1991)
- Terry Chimes - drums (1977, 1984)
- Ty Styx - drums (1979, 1982, 1984)
- Tony Coiro - bass (1990)
- Joey Pinter - guitar (1991)
- Studio albums
- L.A.M.F. (1977)
- L.A.M.F. Revisited (1984)
- L.A.M.F. The Lost '77 Mixes (1994)
- Live albums
- Live at Max's Kansas City (1979)
- D.T.K. Live at the Speakeasy (1982)
- Live at the Lyceum Ballroom 1984 (1985)
- Live at Mothers (1991)
- What Goes Around (1991)
- Vive La Révolution (Live In Paris – Le Bataclan – December 8, 1977) (1992)
- Thunderstorm in Detroit (Live at the Silverbird 21/12/80) (2002)
- Down to Kill (2005)
- Yonkers Demo 1976 (2019)
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 588. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
- Please kill me : the uncensored oral history of punk. McNeil, Legs,, McCain, Gillian (Twentieth anniversary ed.). New York. 2016. ISBN 978-0-8021-2536-1. OCLC 955634990.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Weiss, Curt (2017). Stranded in the jungle : Jerry Nolan's wild ride--a tale of drugs, fashion, the New York Dolls, and punk rock. Milwaukee, WI. ISBN 978-1-4950-5081-7. OCLC 971351866.
- Lure, Walter (15 March 2020). To hell and back : my life in Johnny Thunders' heartbreakers, in the words of the last man standing. Thompson, Dave, 1960 January 3-. Milwaukee. ISBN 978-1-4930-5170-0. OCLC 1144820651.
- "Bassist Billy Rath Dies at 66". Ultimateclassicrock.com. 2014-08-12. Retrieved 2014-08-19.