Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!
There are many bands that got their start at CBGB–70s punk bands that became famous by playing at CBGB in NYC. CBGB was a legendary music club located at 315 Bowery at Bleecker Street in Manhattan. While it was originally intended by its founder, Hilly Kristal, to feature Country, Bluegrass and Blues (hence the name CBGB), it became a forum for American punk, rock and New Wave bands that launched the careers of some of the most famous musicians of our time.
Kristal had one demand of the acts he booked; they could only play original music. No top 40′s, no covers. It was the credo he lived by, support the artist at whatever the cost. Hilly Kristal ironically became known as the godfather of punk.
Playing with the New York Dolls and fronting the Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders embodied punk rock from day one. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan from the Dolls hooked up with bassist Richard Hell and guitarist Walter Lure, to form the Heartbreakers. They took CBGB napalm sound to England when they relocated in the mid-70s. Everyone from the Pistols to the Clash took note of the Heartbreakers’ nuclear Yardbirds sound and in-a-street-gang cool.
Who was Johnny Thunders. He was the New York Doll-turned-junkie poster boy who had it all.
Never one to blend into his surroundings, Johnny always stood out from the crowd: long, spiky hair, and a penchant for borrowing his girlfriend’s clothes. His style was extreme. “He had high-heeled boots, velvet jackets and pants, bowling gear,” says Heartbreaker Walter Lure. “I’d see him at all the shows – mostly the British bands, as opposed to the Grateful Deads and Jefferson Airplanes – so I’d seen him around for years. Then when the Dolls started happening I said: ‘Holy shit! There’s that guy.’”
The New York Dolls’ seismic effect on rock’n’roll has already been covered in forensic detail elsewhere. Suffice to say, in the admirably concise words of Richard Hell, “The Dolls were for New York groups what the Sex Pistols were for British groups.”
The Dolls’ rapid ascent from Manhattan drag bars to Wembley Empire Pool (now the Arena) elevated the expectations of the newly renamed Johnny Thunders through the roof.
Johnny Thunders was the first punk rock guitar hero, earning a cult following for his noisy but epic style a few years before the insouciant new music gained its name. Following in the footsteps of his idol and role model Keith Richards, Johnny Thunders lived the ultimate rock & roll life.