In May 1975, Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders leave the New York Dolls. Around the same time, Richard Hell leaves television. Thunders and Nolan recruit Hell and form The Heartbreakers. They play their 1st gig on May 31st at The Coventry.
Soon after, Walter Lure, formerly of The Demons, is added as a 2nd guitarist. The band plays around NYC, and there are a couple of recordings with this lineup available (What Goes Around on Bomp! Records and Live At Mothers on Fanclub Records) as well as demos that were recorded in early 1976.
Unfortunately, the band is known to be regular users of heroin, to the point where Thunders wanted to rename the band The Junkies. This idea is dropped due to the band already having a hard time gaining record company interest due to the drug use.
Friction between Thunders and Hell, over who would be in control of the band, cause Hell to depart and form Richard Hell And The Voidoids. He’s replaced by Billy Rath. The band continues to gig and at the end of ’76 head to the UK to join the now infamous Anarchy Tour, with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. They were added to the tour after the Ramones pulled out due to lack of organization. The tour is ill fated, as they play 4 or 5 shows out of a planned 25 due to the shows being banned by councilors in most of the cities, due to outrage over the Pistols’ appearance on a television talk show.
The tour did, however, create a buzz about the band and shortly after, they were signed by Track Records, a UK label run by the managers of The Who.
They recorded and released their one and only studio album, L.A.M.F. Unfortunately, the album was poorly received and infighting among members over the muddy sound of the album cause the band to split in 1977. Apparently the poor sound of the album was due to a fault in the mastering process.
The band reforms in 1979 to play some farewell shows at Max’s Kansas City, with Ty Stix replacing Nolan on drums. The shows are recorded and a live album is released (Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers Live At Max’s ’79 on Max’s Kansas City Records).
The band continues to play shows between Thunders’ other projects during the years 1980 to 1984.
In 1984, the L.A.M.F. album is remixed under the supervision of Thunders and re-released as L.A.M.F. Revisited on Jungle Records. The band again plays some shows around the UK. One of these shows, at the Lyceum Ballroom, is filmed and released (Dead Or Alive on Cherry Red Records).
One of the last Heartbreakers shows is in 1988. They don’t play again until 1991, at the Johnny Thunders Memorial Concert, after Thunders is found dead in a hotel room in New Orleans in April 1991.
For more info on Thunders, check out the book Johnny Thunders….In Cold Blood by Nina Antonia.
Also, if you can find a copy, the documentary film Born To Lose…The Last Rock And Roll Movie by Lech Kowalski is worth hunting for. It isn’t commercially available, but can be found. Though many different edits of the film exist and circulate, it is a great, though fragmented, look at Thunders’ life.
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