Tuesday, October 27, 2009

WALTER LURE On the Gross State of the Art, Part I

WALTER LURE On the Gross State of the Art, Part I

Text by Nancy “Suzy Q” Foster
© FFanzeen Magazine, 1981
Images © Robert Barry Francos

Part II directly follows below this part.

The following article originally appeared in
FFanzeen Number 7, which was issued in 1981.

The Heroes are, in my humble opinion, the best hardcore rock'n’roll band since the Heartbreakers. They are not merely a “lightweight Heartbreakers” as some Johnny Thunders disciples insist. The Heroes are ex-Heartbreakers bassist Billy Rath, Walter’s little brother Richie Lurie on rhythm guitar (and sometimes lead vocals), and drummer Billy Rogers. And, of course, Walter.

Walter Lure is a guitar god and thrift shop dandy who spouts epigrams that would make Oscar Wilde roll over in his opium den. Plus, Walter writes great ‘80s rock'n’roll songs with that unbeatable Waldo Swing. Walter may sing about “Chinese Rocks,” but he has definitely kissed the Blarney Stone.

The following interview with Walter took place in the backroom of Max’s Kansas City, December 10, 1980. Theatre of the absurd, act one:

Walter Lure: I planned to get here on time, but I was attacked by rats in the street – these gross rats. I was walking down the street to my house and I saw this thing walking across my feet. I figured, “Oh, just one went by,” and then they kept on coming. They saw this giant human standing there and they wouldn’t leave me alone. They kept running in front of my feet and I’m screaming, “Oh, no! Assassination!”
FFanzeen: The first thing I wanted to ask you was your birth date.
Walter: April 22.
FF: Are you going to give the year?
Walter: Pick a year. Anything between 1950 and 1960.
FF: Were you friends with Johnny Thunders before you joined the Heartbreakers?
Walter: Yeah. I’ve known John for ages, but not personally. In the ‘60s, every concert I ever went to, John was always there. He was always dressed up in English clothes before anyone had English clothes. He happened to have a rich girlfriend at the time. That’s why he had all these great clothes. He always stood out in the crowd. He was the first one in town to have a Keith Richards hair cut and high heel platform boots. This was all before the (New York) Dolls. He was just a kid who was hanging out.
FF: Was this in the late ‘60s?
Walter: Late ‘60s. The Fillmore days – ’67, ’68, ’69, and ’70. Every fucking show I went to John was there and I knew who it was. I went to mostly English groups anyway. I’m sure if I went to see a Grateful Dead concert, eh wouldn’t be there. Even at Woodstock, I saw him. At the Atlantic City Pop Festival I saw him. At the Newport Rock Festival I saw him. At Led Zeppelin in Flushing Meadow Park and Iggy Pop. He was at every fucking show and we started to recognize each other and say hello. But I never really knew him. I got to know the Dolls through the lead singer of a group I was in, the Demons.
FF: Who was the lead singer of the Demons?
Walter: This guy named Elliott Kidd. He’s still around, but he’s not in a band. They actually made an album after I left them. It was on Mercury, but the album never really got pushed. It never went anywhere. Elliott was a good friend of the Dolls and used to hang out with them a lot. We used to share their loft to rehearse in. I didn’t really like the Demons that much. I was just in them because that was my original band. I just wanted to get my face on the scene. I had been hanging out so long that I figured it was about time to make the big break. I was in the Demons and we played two or three gigs. One gig, we opened for the Heartbreakers. It was just Richard Hell, Jerry [Nolan], and John. It was their first gig, at this little shithole out in Queens called Coventry, just over the 59th Street Bridge. It was real gross and terrible. They were all on downs or some other weird drug and they were all playing, like, [mocking a stoned-out slur], “Uh, I’m living on uh dead rock.” They had auditioned me before that gig and had been asking me all along if I wanted to join the group. They had been trying other guitar players, too. The Demon’s first gig was around April of 1975. The Dolls had just broken up. Jerry and John hadn’t gotten a group together yet. They had already spoken to Richard Hell because he had left Television around the same time as the Dolls broke up. So, the Heartbreakers came down to see the Demons because they knew the singer real well. John comes back and says, “Walter, you’re real good, blah blah blah.” I got a call a couple of days later, “Hey, you want to come down and audition? You want to join the band?”
FF: What was your reaction when Johnny first asked you to join?
Walter: It was cool. I said, “My God! This is my big break!” At the same time, he asked me if I wanted to audition, so I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it. I knew they liked me, but Richard Hell wasn’t all that hot on me. He thought I was too normal, didn’t take enough drugs, and my hair was too long. I had a couple of auditions. They auditioned other people, but they didn’t find the right guy. John liked me and the decision was really John’s. We used to be in clubs and I’d be with the Demons and John would come over: “You want to join the band? Shh! Here comes Elliott. Don’t tell him.”
FF: He was afraid that Elliott would get mad for stealing you away?
Walter: Yeah, right. And that’s what they did in the end.
FF: Were you in any other bands before the Heartbreakers, other than the Demons?
Walter: I was in a couple of bands. They were mostly copy bands. My first band was Blood Bath. That turned into the Fabulous Blood Bath Revue. We played Stones, Bowie, Chuck Berry, Mott the Hoople, and all our English Rock favorites. We used to play the college circuit around Fordham, Manhattan College, and the Bronx. I was in this band called the – uh – I don’t remember what they were called – The Beanheads or something like that. The Sea Creatures or whatnot.
FF: Where were you born?
Walter: I was born in Queens.
FF: How long have you lived in Manhattan?
Walter: Two years. Before that I lied in Brooklyn Heights for six years. It’s just over the Brooklyn Bridge. You can look out the window across the river to Manhattan. Charming view. They filmed The Sentinel right on my block, you know, the gross pig movie with all the zombie people and devils running around. It was hilarious. Back when I used to work, I’d come home and see these fucking misshapen hunchbacks and dwarves all walking down my block. I’d say, “My God, the neighborhood’s going down.”
FF: Was the Heartbreakers’s following bigger or more intense in London than in New York City?
Walter: Once we got going it was. In New York City, we had a big following because Johnny and Jerry were from the Dolls and Hell was from Television. The first gig I played with them was at the CBGBs’ First Annual Summer Rock Festival. It was around the fourth of July in 1975. There was this big fucking mob there because the Dolls were so big. I never get nervous before gigs, but this was the first time I felt a few butterflies flying around. I said, “Um, I never saw a crowd this big before. This is going to be weird!” As soon as we went onstage, the people wet, “Waaaahhhh!” I was knocked against the wall, saying, “My God, what’s going on here?” It was a great sensation. The New York following was sort of limited to the New York clubs. The gigs were always crowded. But it was in England that we started getting popular all over Europe. People latched on to us because they liked the music and they thought we were punks because we had been on the Anarchy Tour. We didn’t know what the fucking punks were. There was a punk scene, but we were really a rock’n’roll band, as opposed to a punk band. Any band that played with the Pistol and the Clash on the same tour had to be cool if they were from New York. So they picked up on us. That was when I started coming out more. Hell had left the band six months earlier and we had just played about five or six gigs without him. I was doing more singing because with Hell in the band, I could only sing one song. He would begrudge me even that much.
FF: Which song was that?
Walter: “Flight.” He wanted to do all the singing. He didn’t even want Johnny to sing more than three songs.
FF: The group was more downbeat with Hell in it, right?
Walter: It was rock’n’roll. We even did Hell songs rock’n’roll. I have a tape of the old group. We’re doing “Blank Generation,” “You’ve Gotta Lose,” and “One Track Mind,” which used to be called “Love Comes in Spurts” because I’d written the music and Hell decided to write the words, which was an old Television song. When he left, I re-wrote the words myself. It was still rock’n’roll, but his bass playing was limited. His songs were good, but it was more of a funky junkie band. When Hell left, it became more straightforward rock’n’roll, rather than having an aura of beatnik about it.
FF: Are the Heartbreakers popular in Paris? A friend of mine from London said that you can get all kinds of Heartbreakers memorabilia in Paris – shirts, buttons, etc.
Walter: Yeah, we’re real popular in Paris. We only played there once in December of 1977, at Le Bafaclan, which holds about 1200 people. It’s like a ballroom, and it was sold out completely. People were screaming. I can speak French so I babbled a few words into the microphone and they all went “Yeah!” They loved it, to see someone who could speak French. John got real jealous and started saying, “I taught him everything he knows.” It was real fun. The French loved the Dolls. When the Dolls played Paris, they had riots with people trying to get into the shows – almost like the Beatles. They came to see us because of the Dolls, and also because the Heartbreakers had gotten a big following in England. The French magazines would always come over to write about us. One time, they wrote this gross thing about one of the people that we knew – in the group – who OD’d by mistake. Of course, it’s always by mistake. One of the guys from the magazine was there. The next month, I’m reading this magazine and it’s all there because the guy was in the apartment. He writes all this shit down in this big magazine which is about as big as Creem is in America. It’s an article about the Heartbreakers – how great they were at the show. At the end, there’s “…And, of course, blah blah blah OD’d and they carried him into the bathtub and the ambulance was coming and the syringe is flying out the window.” I’m saying, “What kind of shit is this?”
FF: They thrive on that. They love decadent Americans.
Walter: Heroin is a lot more fashionable in Paris. Here, cocaine is the drug of the chic, the jet set, and stuff.
FF: That’s starting to shift now.
Walter: It is. People are getting too burnt out. In France, it’s just the opposite. Yves St. Laurent is a junkie [figures he’d name a perfume “Opium” – nf], so it’s popular. It’s not like I approve or anything. That’s just the state of the art.
FF: Did you play any European cities other than Paris?
Walter: We played Holland – once in Amsterdam with the Pistols, and twice on our own at the Paradiso. We played in Groningen, Arnhem, and Rotterdam. We were supposed to do an Italian tour, but that fell through at the last minute. We were supposed to go to Germany and Scandinavia, but it never happened. We were supposed to do a French tour and we just did Paris. That was a disaster. They didn’t pay us enough money and we got stuck there. We barely made it out of the country. Every time we came back to London, they would always hassle us in customs because we never had working papers. They kept us in this jail for six hours because they didn’t believe that we had any money. We had to call all these people in London to say that we were a group that was in town for a while to try and get some deals. Every time we came back to London, even for a day, they’d give us a hassle. We’d have to make up all these stories. Everywhere else in Europe, you can walk in the country nude if you want to.
FF: What was your impression of Malcolm McLaren?
Walter: I knew him when he was managing the Dolls. I met him a few times. I did him some favors or something like that. He was a great guy. He reminded me of the original Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham. Malcolm was very politically oriented and forever trying to shock people. He’s into a lot of crazy publicity schemes. He’s incredible at making controversy. He made the Pistols. He worked with them for a year and got their clothes, put them together, stuck them out on the road, and made them tour. They sort of carried it themselves once they got popular, but it was Malcolm who held it all together. He’s great at publicity and manipulation of media. He’s real intelligent and he has a lot of good ideas, but he gets a bit flakey at times, even with the Dolls. He made a big mistake by trying to change them with that whole Red Communist thing. It was a bit silly. It didn’t make sense at the time. With the Pistols, it made sense. Even with that, he got carried away after a while. He started spacing out. He’d be your friend one day and the next he wouldn’t. He got real mad at our manager for some dumb little reason.
FF: Who was your manager?
Walter: Leee Childers. He was our manager from the time we arrived in Europe. He sort of signed on when Hell left the band and decided to take us over. He used to be a big photographer.
FF: Bowie; MainMan –
Walter: He was a Brian Epstein-type character. We found out in the end that he was a terrible business manager. He was a great personal manager. He could take care of the band, take care of people, make sure everyone’s happy. As far as business, he didn’t know his ass from his elbow. He was terrible. We didn’t realize that at the time. He was good in that he helped us in a lot of ways. I have nothing against him, even though I could, if I wanted to take some things into account. You can’t blame people. Things happen and you have no control over it. He could have done better, but so could anybody.
FF: Who wrote most of the music and who wrote most of the lyrics in the songs that you co-wrote with Jerry Nolan?
Walter: Most of those songs are all mine. Jerry and I decided at one time that we were going to be a songwriting team like Lennon/McCartney. A couple of the songs that he wrote, like, “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You” and “Take a Chance,” he had written the music and most of the lyrics. But Jerry’s the type of guy who will start something and he can’t finish it. On “Take a Chance,” I ended up writing the lyrics.
FF: That’s one of my favorite ones.
Walter: We haven’t done that in a while. Yeah, that’s a good song. “Can’t Keep My Eyes on You” was written even before I was in the band. But Hell used to sing it and Hell had written lyrics. Jerry wrote one verse and Hell wrote the other two verses. When Hell left, I just re-wrote the other two verses and sang Jerry’s first verse. “Take a Chance” was mostly Jerry’s music. He had written the chorus and one of the verses.
FF: So “Get Off the Phone” was yours.
Walter: “Get Off the Phone was all mine.
FF: And “All By Myself”?
Walter: No, that song was actually a collaboration. Jerry was playing a drum beat in rehearsal. It was just him and me, waiting for the other guys to show up. I started playing these chords and it sounded cool. Jerry started singing, “All by myself” and we actually arranged the whole song. I wrote the chords and he had the title, the first line of the first verse, and started making up words. I just took it home and wrote the rest of the words to the verses and he had the chorus. So, that was our half-and-half collaboration. “Junkie Business” was mine, but it was after Hell left the group that I wrote that.
FF: Do you ever collaborate with your brother Richie?
Walter: We haven’t done anything yet. We’re supposed to get together and try to do something. There’s one song that he was singing, “When
Passion Was in Fashion,” but we haven’t worked on that for a while. I was going to let him sing it and write the words, but he’s lazy. He hasn’t gotten it together yet. I’m not that happy with the song, so we might not do it. You’ve heard Riche’s new song, “Pissing My Life Away”?
FF: Yeah
Walter: I have a ballad. I actually wrote a slow song. The words aren’t quite completed. It’s called “Golden Days.”
FF: But you’re good at ad libbing
Walter: [Laughs] Yeah, right. I ad-lib almost all my songs. Yeah, we might do the slow song on Friday, hopefully. We’re rehearsing tomorrow night. We’ll try to polish it and get it together. Then I’ll try to make some sense of the words.
FF: Why did the Heartbreakers break up, originally? One rumor was that everyone was mad at Jerry because he snuck back to England and mixed the L.A.M.F. tapes behind the group’s back, and Johnny said in the New York Rocker that it was because you had a big head.
Walter: [Laughs] John and I have this ongoing battle in newspapers. He actually started it by saying something shitty about Billy and me in Creem. He said something like we were all fucked up and couldn’t get anything done. And this is John saying we’re fucked up! I read that and I did an interview after that. That was when the Trouser Press came out where I said all this stuff about him. It was just the truth, actually. Even when I showed it to him, he said, “Oh, yeah, it’s true, you prick.” [Laughs] He actually liked it, but then he felt he had to say something back in the New York Rocker. He said all that shit about how the Heartbreakers was the first time I ever got any recognition and it all went to my head, and I thought I was a star. No one thinks he’s a bigger fucking star than Johnny. He’s the most star-conscious scumbag. He throws his tantrums and he thinks everybody’s got to wait on him hand and foot. Jerry was the same way, but John would never say anything against Jerry because he was scared of him. Jerry would threaten to beat the shit out of John. John respects anyone who can beat the shit out of him.
FF: That’s a direct quote from your comments about Johnny in Bruce Paley’s article [FFanzeen, Vol. 2, No. 2, “The Survival of Johnny Thunders – ed.].
Walter: Jerry used to do it in the Dolls. The Dolls would get together every now and then and when John would start getting out of hand and obnoxious, they’d call Jerry and say, “Jerry, why don’t you take care of Johnny? He’s starting to get out of hand.” So, he’d take him into a room and give him a few whacks. Then he’d be an angel for two or three months and slowly start fucking up again. Then it’d all happen again. Jerry only did it a few times, I guess. John always looked up to Jerry as a father figure, but Jerry is even more fucked-up than John is. Jerry freaks out totally if he doesn’t get his way. He’ll say, “White’s black! White’s black!” Ten minutes later you’ll say, “Jerry, you said ‘white’s black,’” and he’ll say, “Fuck you, I did not. You’re crazy. Black is black.” You can’t talk to him. He’s like a brick wall. Yet, he’s probably the best drummer I’ve ever played with. He’s a natural. That’s the shame of it, because it’s such a waste. He’s such a great drummer, but he’s so fucked up. If you could just chop his head off and keep his arms and legs, he’d be great.
FF: Did you ever play with the Stilettos?
Walter: I did a gig or two with them because they were friends. They were getting a record deal thing together and they asked Cheetah (Chrome), Billy and me to do a show or two with them. I played once with them at Max’s as a guest on a few songs. We actually did a show with them at this place in Westchester called Detroit. They booed us off the stage. [Laughs]
FF: Who else have you played with, other than the Blessed and the Heroes, since the Heartbreakers broke up?
Walter: I had a band called the Hurricanes for a while. We actually did two gigs. It was a year ago, April. We played the Mudd Club and Max’s. It was the same idea as the Heroes. The Heartbreakers had broken up and Billy and me had gotten back from England. We were trying to get a band together because John was saying, “Fuck you, guys. I don’t want to play with you,” although he’d still show up every other month to do the rent party gigs at Max’s. So, we had to put a band together. I had been auditioning guitar players. We found Barry Ryan who’s with the Rockats now. It was Barry, Billy, Ty Styx, and me. Barry didn’t write songs that much back then. He’s a really good guitar player, but he didn’t write and he was afraid to sing. I really liked playing with him, but I never sang whole sets before. My voice would be going after the first five songs. It was driving me nuts. So, it wasn’t working. Barry sang one song, but he didn’t have much original stuff. At the same time, the Heartbreakers’ album was coming out and John and Jerry talked about getting back together. The group was actually going to stay together when the album came out. Everyone was happy again. So, I sort of let the Hurricanes drift away. Barry wanted to play again, but we had all these Heartbreakers gigs coming up. Then Barry got in the Rockats and it was a good gig. So I started auditioning people again that following September. Actually, it was a year ago now. I was playing with Ivan Julian for a while, but that didn’t work out either. He wasn’t used to singing or writing his own songs. But now he’s really good. He’s got his own group.
FF: The Outsets.
Walter: Yeah, they’re real good. Then I was going to play with Steve Dior (from the Idols) and that fell through. The first gig came up last April and Steve was supposed to come back from London and play with us. He rehearsed with us. He went to London to work on a single and was supposed to come back in a week. He called up saying, “I have a record deal over here, so I’m not coming back. See you later guys.” This was two days before the gig and I’m going, “Oh, fuck! Our first gig and it’s gonna be a power trio.” We did it as a trio for the first six or seven numbers, then I brought Richie up and he played about four songs with us. We did the same thing at the second gig in Jersey and I thought, “Aw, fuck, I might as well have him in the band. It’ll keep in out of trouble and keep him off the streets. [Melodiously] And that’s how we evolved.
FF: Were you a Dolls fan? Did you go to a lot of their shows?
Walter: I went to see all of their shows. They were events. They were the best thing that happened to New York because they revived rock’n’roll. All the music at the time was getting to be heavy fucking Yes, Moody Blues, and orchestral shit that you have to be a genius to play guitar. It wasn’t rock’n’roll anymore. It was turning into fucking heaven music or something. The Dolls were people that we knew and they weren’t geniuses. They weren’t technical giants. They played rock’n’roll. They revived all these great old songs. They were fun. Everything they did was like a party. They gave all the young kids the inspiration: “If these give clowns who look like idiots and can’t even play can get up, do a show, become popular, and get a record deal, then I can do it, too!” Everybody started forming bands and started the whole New York Scene. They were like the first punk band.
FF: What was the first rock’n’roll song that you remember liking?
Walter: “Hound Dog.”
FF: Was that the first one you bought?
Walter: I didn’t start buying records until I was in fifth or sixth grate. I bought 45s. It was probably something like “Wild One” by Bobby Rydell, or one of those old crazy songs like, “Mr. Custer” (Larry Verne) or “Purple People Eater” (Sheb Wooley). I liked Elvis. I had my grandfather buy me an Elvis album when I was a little kid because I didn’t have enough money at the time. I used to like Pat Boone. I liked (Boone’s) “Bernadine.” I was a little kid and I didn’t know who was cool and who wasn’t cool. I didn’t start buying records until I started going out with girls in fifth and sixth grade. In fact, in those Victorian times, you didn’t get laid until you were like sixteen or seventeen. It was real hard to get laid until you were even eighteen, actually. People didn’t fuck when they were two years old like they do today. It was much more difficult. I used to buy Four Seasons and Beach Boys records before the Beatles and the Stones. It was more to have parties with and dance to. It wasn’t serious. I started playing guitar around then, but I couldn’t pick it up, so I gave it up. I was about twelve when I started to play guitar. I took lessons for a couple of months. I couldn’t get the hang of it. I thought it was too boring. Then I started getting laid when I was eighteen.
FF: That inspired you to learn to play guitar?
Walter: Seriously!
FF: What New York groups did you like around 1975?
Walter: At the beginning of the Scene? I liked Television back then, when Richard Hell and Richard Lloyd were still in the band.
FF: I think Richard Lloyd is great.
Walter: They were cool. Now, he’s sort of like a beanhead. He’s gone mental or something. He’s lost his mind. I liked Patti Smith in the beginning before she got too popular. She got obnoxious later on – a big Keith Richards groupie gone mad. She used to do these shows at Le Jardin and these weird little clubs with just Richard Sohl on piano, Lenny Kaye on guitar, and her. She’d be reading this poetry by Rimbaud and it was sort of funky at the time. It was new and interesting. Television was the first group to show up in ripped clothes and eyeballs pointing in every direction. That was more in 1974 than 1975. The Ramones I liked when I first saw them. I thought they were cool. They were funny. The guys in the Demons said, “There’s this real dumb group playing around. They play the same song for twenty minutes. They’re real terrible. They’re gross.” We were on the same bill with them one night. I said, “Oh yeah, I’ll have to see them” I saw them and I loved them right away. I thought they were the coolest thing that was happening. They guys in the Demons were so backwards. They were into old wave rock – heavy metal.
FF: What groups do you like now?
Walter: Now it’s weird. I go through different phases. I play a lot of stuff. I still like Stevie Wonder. I like his old stuff best. I like Talking Heats, Bowie (and) Stones. As far as New York groups, there aren’t that many. The Blessed I always liked, but I like them because they are fun, not because they’re great. Blondie I like. People say they’ve sold out, but I respect them. Debbie (Harry) deserves it. She’s been around a long time and they’re great people.
FF: Speaking of the Blessed, where was their single recorded?
Walter: A studio in Bayside (Queens, NY). Actually, the Heroes are going in there December 16 to record their first single.
FF: Independently?
Walter: Yea, we’re going to print a thousand copies. Managers and agents need a tape and a single to book us, so we need a single. We’re going to try to get a deal out of it.
FF: Do you know which two songs?
Walter: I know “Crazy Little Baby” will probably be on the A-side. The B-side I’m not sure of. It might be one of Richie’s or one of mine.
FF: Put “Flight” on the flip, then it’ll be a fast side and a slow side.
Walter: “Fight might be a good one. A friend of mine, Dave Eng, has a studio in Bayside. It was eight tracks when the Blessed did it. It’s in the basement of his house and it’s really nice. He gives us a good deal on the time. Now it’s sixteen tracks. It’s professional. He knows what he’s doing. Jim Miller might produce us. [I phoned Walter on January 8, and he said the basic tracks for the Heroes’ single, “Crazy Little Baby” b/w Richie’s “Turn It Up” were already finished – nf] The Blessed single was just with Dave and us. He mixed it. It was the first time they’d been in the studio and they didn’t really know what they were doing. The drummer was pretty professional. It took longer than it would with an ordinary group. Billy (Stark), the lead singer, is tone deaf, so it took a long time to get the vocals down. We thought “American Bandstand” was going to be the A-side because live, it was a much better song than “Deep Frenzy.” It had a chorus and came out great live. “Deep Frenzy” had a nice little riff in it, but no one knew what the words were. We just screamed the words out and it didn’t make any sense. “Deep Frenzy” came out sounding ten times better than “American Bandstand.” For some reason, “American Bandstand” didn’t jell.
FF: What was the most memorable thing about playing with the Blessed?

Walter: It was just fun. The audience was all these crazy, young punks screaming. It was like playing in a teeny bop group – the Bay City Rollers or the Beatles, or something like that.
FF: They weren’t jaded, they were enthusiastic.
Walter: Yeah. The Heartbreakers always attracted the sleaziest crowd – all these gross groupie who dressed up in Frederick’s of Hollywood clothes. They were all drug addicts. The Blessed audience was the average meathead from Brooklyn or New Jersey. The Heartbreakers crowd was older, jaded, and more disgusting. With the Blessed, there were all these young punks. It was refreshing. It was good because you get all these crazy kids running up to you, asking for autographs. The Blessed looked up to me like a father figure. I was like their idol. I didn’t know that. I knew they liked me in the Heartbreakers, but I didn’t know they were thinking, “This is dynamite! Walter Lure is going to play with us.” They thought it was going to make them stars overnight. It was great fun, but I left when they sort of wanted me to get serious. They signed this weird record deal and it was a total rip-off. They ended up not getting anything out of it. It was this guy Bobby Orlando from Yonkers. He got a hit album out of this band called the Now. I saw the record deal and said, “You guys are crazy if you sign this.” There was no advance money and no time limit listed for how long they would be signed. The royalty was like four percent, which is coolie royalties. It was the worst record deal I have ever seen. They signed it because they were desperate to sign anything. They wanted to be rock’n’roll stars. They thought they’d be stars if they signed. But it turned out that they never even got into the studio. The guy rented a van for them to do one gig in Philadelphia. That’s all he ever did for them. It was a total joke. By that time, I had to get out because I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. In the beginning, I thought there might be some potential. They did have a lot of stage presence and they had a big following.
FF: Their guitarist, Howie Pyro, has a lot of personality.
Walter: Howe’s got personality and Billy looks good, too. But things began to get dormant. Here’s this guy that’s trying to imitate Mick Jagger and he can’t even sing to save his life. I like them a lot. They’re all good friends and real nice guys. They were too young and didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t wait around for them to grow up because I was getting too old myself. [Laughs] Plus, they were saying, “Walter’s playing around with little boys.” All these sordid rumors were going around. People never think I do these things for innocent reasons. They always have to attribute some sordid, sexual perversion behind everything I do. After I did the single, I realized it was going to take these guys a long time to get it together. I couldn’t wait around that long. One gig at Max’s was the turning point. They had a lot of important record company people coming down. We played and it was blah. I had to break away and start a serious band. Plus, I missed singing. I didn’t sing in the Blessed except backups. I wouldn’t play with a lead singer again, unless he was really great.

WALTER LURE On the Gross State of the Art, Part II

Text by Nancy “Suzy Q” Foster
© FFanzeen Magazine, 1981
Images from the Internet

The following article originally appeared in
FFanzeen Number 8, which was issued in 1981.

If Walter Lure was Sisyphus and he was rolling a rock up a mountain for eternity only to have it roll back down on him, that rock’s name would be Johnny Thunders. It is a sad dilemma when clubs either won’t book the Heroes because Walter lacks Johnny’s legendary junkie/Grim Reaper status or, ironically enough, they shun the Heroes because hey want to avoid les decadents who have such close association with Thunders. So, the clubs either resent Thunders’ absence or his presence, figuratively or literally. What gross pigs, to quote an intelligent source!

As of 1981, Billy Rath has followed in the footsteps of another goo-goo eyes bass player, Paul McCartney, by renouncing the sins of the flesh and becoming an amateur agronomist in Olde Cape Cod.

On May 23, at Max’s Kansas City, the Heroes had everything that made them my favorite hardcore rock’n’roll group and more. The new bass player, Danny Hirsh, fits in better visually and energy-wise than Rath. The songs are now tight and the pacing between songs and within songs is more dynamically sound.

Billy Rogers, who looked like a football player, in the autumn of 1980, has ferociously drummed his way down to a gaunt frame. Richie Lurie, who shares lead guitar and lead vocal duties with Walter, has come more into his own and added yet another favorite to the Heroes’ repertoire of dizzy little ditties, “Feelin’ No Pain.”

Yet, it was Walter’s fingers that blew us all away! Looking like an androgynous seducer – part pirate and part roaring ‘20s flapper – Walter hippy-hippy-shimmy-shimmy-shaked his way into our pockets – I mean hearts!

It is often said around town, “This man is a genius!” and it’s not only his mum who thinks so. It is rumored that Walter can play all of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on his Les Paul. Eat your heart out, Apollo!

And just because he’s got a brain doesn’t mean our hero lets his body deteriorate. “I get my exercise from basketball, sex, running from muggers, and sticking needles in my arm!’ confides the sporting Sir Waldo. All I can add to this is, “Keep shooting – baskets, that is!”

FFanzeen: Do you give fashion consultations, considering the way you dress onstage?
Walter Lure: [Laughs] Fashion consultations? Here the latest fashion, my dear – bend over! [Laughs]
FF: What do you like to do when you’re not playing?
Walter: My tastes range to everything as far as records go. I listen to classical, jazz –
FF: What kind of classical stuff do you like?
Walter: I play piano and I like Chopin. I love Chopin. I took piano lessons for about a year or so. I can read music and play the easier pieces. I can’t play big things, but I love Chopin. I love Bach, Beethoven, Mahler –
FF: What about Hayden’s Surprise Symphony? It’s Number 94.
Walter: I have a few of his symphonies, like Number 103, The Drumroll, and some of the London symphonies of his. I have about four or five of his. He’s got a couple of cool smaller pieces that I play on the piano that are really great. Debussy is great - La Mer, etc. Erik Satie is cool, too. I like GymnopĂ©die by Satie. The one thing that Mahler did is my favorite piece. They used it for the theme in Death in Venice. It’s part of the Fifth Symphony. It’s a slow movement. It’s about ten minutes, but it is one of these cool pieces that you just float away on. Bach is really cool. I have Eugene Ormandy’s Basic Bach. It’s a double album set. It’s real cool. I like jazz, too.
FF: What jazz stuff do you like?
Walter: The early stuff – the stuff that still makes sense.
FF: Like Benny Goodman?
Walter: No, not big band. That’s interesting sometimes, but I like early Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and the horn players. The guitar players I’m not that hot on. It’s too “oo-oo-oo.” It’s like spiders.
FF: Do you think Johnny (Thunders) ever tries to purposely fuck you up by nudging you when you’re playing by leaning on your strumming hand?
Walter: Yeah. In certain songs, like “Junkie Business,” which I sing the line, “I don’t wanna fuck abound with you,” he’s always banging into me. He points to me and kicks me and I kick him back. John’s not deliberately trying to fuck me up, but he tries to arrange the sets where he sings most of the songs and gets most of the attention. Sometimes, he’ll play wrong chords on one of my songs to make the song sound fucked-up.
FF: I noticed that at the Ritz gig in October. It was depressing, because Johnny would look at you like, “Nya-nya-nya. I fucked it up.” I wondered if that was my imagination, because we ace reporters love to create rivalries and stuff like that.
Walter: Yeah. He doesn’t sit around and consciously thing of ways to fuck me up because he’s not that jealous of me or afraid of me. Yet, if he sees I’m getting a bit of attention, he gets jealous real quick. There is a rivalry, even though we get along real well. We don’t hate each other. I love the guy and he loves me. We really work well together. That’s just the way he is. He wants all the attention, so he tries to get it. People love it. Sometimes, they think we’re actually having fights on stage. They think, “Oh my God, these people are going to kill each other any minute!” It’s never like that, though I do have to hold my own, otherwise John will walk all over me. You have to keep him at arm’s length. Give him an inch and he’ll take a fucking mile.
FF: Sometimes it seems like the people that like you hate Johnny, and vice-versa.
Walter: Yeah, people who like me say, “You’re the one who holds it together,” and “Johnny’s fucked up. You’re the only one who can play.” Then the others like John because John’s a star. He’s a personality. He’s unique. There’s no one like him. People like him because they think [starstruck voice] “Oh, Johnny Thunders – he’s sooo cool!” He’s got these little groupies that go hang out with him. John milks them dry for every dime they’ve got. He uses them up and throws them away. I’m not like that. People are attracted to Johnny because of his star aura and charisma. Others are attracted to me because I’m easier to get along with. I’m human. I’m not trying to rob them blind at the drop of a hat. If they like the band though, usually the like both of us.
FF: Doesn’t being Johnny’s friend and being in the group with him sort of entail playing nursemaid to a certain extent?
Walter: Oh, no.
FF: Like that night at Max’s on October 3rd, he kept coming on stage with you and then, even between sets, he was upstairs yelling your name. It was like you couldn’t get him away from you that night.
Walter: Oh, yeah.
FF: And that friend of mine in England said Johnny used to always depend on you. Like once he shot up in the Greyhound john and it was leaking and you were always the one he’d call on.
Walter: There’s certain times when he gets fucked up and you’ll have to take care of him, but it’s just a matter of dealing with him. I know how to deal with him now. I won’t play nursemaid to him. If he gets fucked up and he’s not together, if he doesn’t have guitar picks or guitar strings, I won’t give him any. I’ll say, “Tough, Johnny. You have to get your own shit together.” If he’s too fucked up, I’m not going to carry him around. But if he’s OD-ing or dying, I’ll be around and I’ll help him. But I’m not going to play nursemaid. He knows not to ask me for money or things because he can do it himself. He’s so helpless. He plays like he’s helpless. John is a lot smarter than people think he is. People see that lost, little boy face –
FF: – And they play right into his hands. I can see why.
Walter: Yeah, he’s got this charm. It’s undeniable. I fell for it a couple of months and then I learned how to deal with him. I had to fight with him to get my songs on stage.
FF: That was great when you did “Flight” at Max’s, on November 24th.
Walter: Yeah, he still remembers that song. He likes it. He loves to do it every now and then. Sometimes, he’ll try to arrange the sets so it’s all his songs and none of mine. If it’s booked at Johnny Thunders’ So Alone Revue, then I don’t mind’ but if it’s a Heartbreakers gig, I won’t go on stage until he fixes the set up. He knows I won’t. He’s pretty straight with me and I’m straight with him.
FF: Were the Heartbreakers supposed to play the UK Club?
Walter: He called me up the night before, saying that he had a gig the next night and did I want to play. He said it was a lot of money and that sounded weird. He was talking about getting a thousand dollars for this little shithole club that holds ten people. I said, “Yeah, if you can get it together, I’ll do it. I’ll just show up with a guitar – if you can get the amps.” Then, it never happened. He went away and did a gig with Wayne Kramer in Connecticut. I don’t think he was getting that kind of money. I think it was bullshit. I don’t like doing those kids of gigs with John because it’s spur of the moment; fly by night.
FF: Which Heartbreakers’ song is your favorite one to do?
Walter: I can’t tell you because there’s so many of them that I like. In the Heartbreakers, “One Track Mind” was one of my favorite songs. I used to like to play “It’s Not Enough,” because I loved playing the guitar solo in that. But as far as the songs that I felt were the most energetic, I love “One Track Mind,” “Chinese Rocks” is one of my favorites, too. I like “Born to Lose.” “Going Steady” was fun. I used to love that. “Take a Chance.”
FF: Why didn’t you want to do “Pirate Love” the other night?
Walter: The drummer didn’t know it. He hasn’t done it that much.
FF: What straight jobs have you had and what would you do if you weren’t in rock’n’roll right now?
Walter: Sell my body. No, I went to college and got degrees in English and Chemistry. When I got out of college, I drove a cab for three months. Then I worked in a post office for six months. It was really gross because you couldn’t get a job in the ‘70s. I wanted to be a musician. I didn’t want to be a fucking banker. My father worked in a bank and he almost got me a job in Citibank. But at the last minute, it fell through. Thank God. That would have been gross. Then I got a job at the Food and Drug Administration. That was a pretty serious job; it was a straight job. I was a chemist. It was decent money and I worked there for five years until the Heartbreakers went to England. Then I had to resign. That wasn’t a bad job. I tested drugs and food.
FF: Ha! You made your own drugs!
Walter: There were all these drugs there, but I didn’t take much drugs until the Heartbreakers. I took some drugs in the ‘60s, back when I was in school, but I wasn’t into drugs. I was just into pure music.
FF: Were you, like, the class clown in school?
Walter: Yeah, I was a clown – a nutcase. I used to play basketball in high school, but I was always cracking jokes. My nicknames were “Leaping Louie” and “Pig.”
FF: Why “Pig”?
Walter: I called everyone “Pig” and then everybody started calling me “Pig.” They called Richie “Little Pig.” Today, I still call my friends “Pig.” But its’ become so popular these days that it’s sort of out of touch. I was always weird. I was never normal, I suppose. I got along with people. Whatever I wanted to do, I could always do. Whatever people I wanted to hang out with, I got to know. If I wanted to hang out with a certain crowd, I would become a famous basketball player and get into that crowd, or if I wanted to get into the music crowd, I’d start listening to the right music. I used to do shows in high school. I’d lip sync to Rolling Stones records. This is before I could even play guitar. I used to make like I was Mick Jagger. [Laughs] Then in college I wanted to be part of the hippie crowd.
FF: You had long hair?!
Walter: Yeah.
FF: Did you have a beard?
Walter: I never grew a beard.
FF: Good!
Walter: I had real long hair in the ‘60s. It was long, straight, and halfway down my back. It was real gross. But it was fashionable back then. What can I say? [Laughs] Then I got a haircut and started hanging out in the city. Then I realized that you can’t live on clothes and haircuts. I had to get in a group and become famous as a guitar player or something. I wanted to be part of the art world, or part of the music crowd. I wanted to become rich and famous. I wanted to be able to hang out at parties with Mick Jagger and Jackie Onassis and High Society, go to Paris on weekends, etc. I wanted to be rich and social and be able to talk to anybody on their own level – not looking up to people. I didn’t want to meet stars until I was a star myself. Even though I have, it’s on more of an equal level. I got into a band. I got my face onstage. Then the lucky break came and I wound up with the Heartbreakers. When the Heartbreakers fell apart, that was a drag because I had to start from the bottom again. Now, it’s more serious and I’ve got a bit of a following. I’m actually a lot more popular in England than I am here because that’s where I started coming out – doing more singing and acting crazier. I replaced Hell as the second front man in the band so I had to do a lot more. John and I are more equal in the band as far as a following in England. I have tons of fans in England. They are all waiting for me to come back. I’m trying to get the money to go back. Maybe a record deal wills end us over there.
FF: Which album do you prefer, L.A.M.F. or Live at Max’s?
Walter: It’s hard to say. I like L.A.M.F. for songs like, “It’s Not Enough,” “One Track Mind,” “Born to Lose,” and “Goin’ Steady,” though I don’t like the production. The sound is terrible on “Goin’ Steady.” It’s the worst song, sound-wise. The live album is a lot more fun. It’s more like us. There’s funny bits with John rappin’ between the songs. It has that mistake in the beginning of “All By Myself” that we left in. The drummer forgot the song. We started it, then stopped it and then started it again. John says, “We’re not the most professional band in the world.” [Laughs] That was hilarious. That came the closest to capturing us as we really are. Basically, we’re a live band.
FF: Do you think they’ll release a Volume Two? I know there’s always talk about it.
Walter: They keep talking about it. I haven’t heard all the tapes. I’ve heard a few of the rough mixes and they weren’t of that good quality.
FF: Which sounds would be on that one?
Walter: A lot of weird ones like “Flight.”
FF: “M.I.A.”?
Walter: “M.I.A.” probably. “Born to Lose” – all the ones that weren’t on the other one. We did a lot of extra songs. We did so many songs on those weekends (like) “Copy Cat,” “Great Big Kiss,” etc. We did songs that we hadn’t done in years, like “Baby Talk.” We did ones that weren’t on the other albums, like “Junkie Business,” “Seven Day Weekend,” and even “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” Volume Two, I don’t know if it’s ever going to be released. They talk about it. Max’s doesn’t want to release it unless there’s a band to promote it. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.
FF: Not with the Heroes going as well as they are?
Walter: Yeah, with the Heroes going well, and the Heroes so much easier to work with. John has gotten to a state where he can’t get himself together. He’s been good as far as drugs: he’s not that strung out, but he can’t get it together to rehearse and find people to play with. His big attempt was Wayne Kramer. Wayne Kramer was one of his idols and it didn’t work at all. Gang War was terrible. I didn’t even think it was a band. It was more like just four guys up there playing away. The drummer and bass player were just local meatheads form God knows where in Michigan. I think they found them at the bottom of a lake or something. Wayne Kramer was supposed to be the main draw, along with Johnny. It was supposed to be a great combination. It didn’t work. Wayne has gotten older and mellowed out. He’s not as exciting as he used to be, even though he’s still a good guitar player. Johnny wanted to be a solo star and have total control over everything. No one wants to play with him for ten dollars a night when he’s making a thousand. He never gets it together to rehearse. That’s why he ends up calling us the day before the gig.
FF: You’re only as good as the people you work with, like David Johansen was great when he was working with great people, but without someone like Johnny, forget it.
Walter: Exactly. John was really the Dolls sound and David was the frontman.
FF: Johnny needs another strong personality like yourself to play off of.
Walter: Yeah. He knows it and, at the same time, he wants someone he can walk all over. So he’s stuck between wanting to play with me and not wanting to put up with me. He’s got a problem, but in any case –
FF: – The Heroes are go.
Walter: Yeah. The Heroes are what I’m working with now. I don’t think the Heartbreakers will ever really get back together. We’ll probably do gigs now and then, but I don’t think John’s going to change. I think he’s sort of had it. No, well not “had it.” He might do something. His solo album [So Alone] was a good album. The problem is that he hardly played on it. He taught these guys from the Only Ones, etc., all the songs and he’d be asleep in the corner somewhere, playing guitar. They’d just turn his guitar off while was nodding out. Then they’d wake him up, fill him full of coke and speed to do the vocals and the solos. It was his songs. He’s a good songwriter. It’s a waste; it’s a shame.
FF: When did Billy Rogers get connected with the Heroes and the Heartbreakers?
Walter: I’ve known Billy Rogers for a long time. He comes from my hometown, where my parents live out on Long Island. He’s played with my brother a lot in a few bands. We had gotten him into the Senders when Philippe, the original drummer, became the lead singer. Billy was the drummer for the first few months, then he split because they weren’t making any money. They were rehearsing about ten times a week, and they weren’t going anywhere. Billy had a job out on Long Island and he had a bitch of a girlfriend. So, he had a hassle getting back and forth. The Senders were down and out, which was cool for them, because they were used to it. Billy wasn’t used to living in the slums, scrounging around, working his ass off, and making five dollars a night. He was always around and he wanted to get back into playing drums. I auditioned him a few times for bands, but I knew it would be hard for him to get serious since he was living on Long Island and had a job. We had him come in for the Incognitos. It was supposed to be my new band, but I didn’t have another guitar player. I was supposed to play with Ivan Julian. We were calling it the Beatniks, but Max’s decided to call it the Incognitos. It ended up being these jam gigs with Cheetah Chrome, Billy (Rath), and me, with this guy Shebo on drums and a mess of guests. No, we used Shebo from the Stilettos in rehearsal. We used Billy Rogers at the gigs. That’s when my bass player got to know him and recognize him as a good drummer. Billy’s as good as Jerry (Nolan) in his own right. He’s not as wild onstage. He doesn’t stand out as much, but he’s got the same natural feel.
FF: He’s real enthusiastic. He always sings along and has a good time.
Walter: He’s basically young, innocent, straight, and pretty cool. I don’t know what’s going to happen after he hangs out with us for a while. He was the first guy that I thought of when I was forming a new band. We auditioned a mess of drummers and I wasn’t too sure about his personality. I thought, at first, that he might be too low-key to want to stick it out in a rock’n’roll band, but after he auditioned, he called up a few times and I knew he was really serious. We had that other drummer, Arty, who was one of Billy Rath’s friends. I should have known from the beginning that he was going to be an asshole, if he was a friend of Billy’s. He was a total jerk-off. He couldn’t play drums. He could sing harmonies alright. That’s one thing he was good for. He was useless on lead vocals. He started to become a junkie. He thought it was cool because he heard Johnny Thunders was a junkie. Every time he’d do something wrong or couldn’t remember what he was doing, he’d blame it on the bass or something; he’d always have an excuse. So we got so sick of him that we finally got rid of him. We got Billy and he worked great. He did the first gig without hardly knowing the songs.
FF: When and where was the first Heroes gig?
Walter: April at Max’s. Billy Rath was on tour with Iggy and he came back in February. Steve Dior went to England and decided he wasn’t coming back, so we were screwed. We just did it as a trio – Billy Rath, Arty, and me. Next gig after that was in Jersey, when I brought my brother up. I wasn’t sure about Richie in the beginning. He always played in bands full of girls and never really sang much at all. I really wanted a well-known star. Richie is developing. It’s the same as when I first joined the Heartbreakers. I didn’t sing much and I wasn’t extroverted – even though, in earlier bands, I was extroverted – because I had Richard Hell and Johnny Thunders jumping around in front of me. Richie is starting to write better songs, sing better, and become more of a focus on stage, rather than sticking his tongue out and hiding behind his guitar.
FF: I know you like Bowie, so was the name of the band particularly inspired by the Bowie song?
Walter: Nah! I like Bowie and that’s the reason I almost didn’t use the name, because I thought people would think that it came too much from Bowie. I was tired of names like the Works, the Junkies, etc. I thought of calling it the Hot Shots, but there was a band playing around called Hot Shot. I wanted a positive name that could mean a lot of things – one that wasn’t drug oriented. We could’ve called ourselves the Heroines and worn dresses, but that would have been silly. We wanted to get away from the drug image that we had with the Heartbreakers. I just thought Heroes was something that people could believe in. The Beatles were heroes, the Rolling Stones were heroes, and Abraham Lincoln, and some shit like that.
FF: It was Superheroes at first.
Walter: No, that was our genius bass player’s idea.
FF: That’s still going around.
Walter: Billy Rath is sort of like a mental – I don’t know how to describe it. He gets these ideas and he thinks he’s right. He’s been doing most of the booking because I hate booking on the phone because they treat you like shit. Billy’s good at that. We might have to change our name anyway because there are a few other bands with the same name – one has an album out on Polydor. One’s from Jersey. One’s from England. One’s from California. I was going to change it to Head Masters and we still might. It’s sort of a double meaning type thing. Or Head Hunters. We’re not going to change it until we have to. Steve Dior and I decided to call it the Heroes. We went through a million names. One that was cool was the Mental Nurses, but we figured that was too weird. It was simple and positive. I didn’t want anything like the Psychotic Computers or all these arty names. Billy came up with these names that was total idiocy. “How about the Conservators? Or the Retros?” I said, “What’s a ‘retro’?” Billy’s got no mind at all. He’s good as a bass player and for business.
FF: Do you have a manager?
Walter: We have nobody. That’s why we're doing the single. We have someone who is interested, but he’s got to have a single to play for people and get us a tour.
FF: When and where was the Heroes best audience reaction?
Walter: Probably the last gig at Max’s [November 1], when people started jumping up and down. That was the time when I felt we had actually communicated something. The other gigs were good, but it was so-so. I was starting to get depressed, saying, “Aw, fuck. We’ll never be as good as the Heartbreakers.” Yet, at the first few Heartbreakers gigs, the crowd went crazy, but the music was the worst piece of shit you ever heard. Everybody was out of tune – especially the first one. It was the biggest joke, so I had to realize that every band starting out sounds awful. Even the Beatles, in the beginning, sounded shitty; and the Stones. It’s just something that has to be worked on. Yeah, the last Max’s gig was probably the best reaction we’ve ever had. We’ll see on Friday if that one’s best [it was, and the December 12 Left Bank gig in Westchester was even wilder – nf].
FF: Do you think there’s a feeling of community in the New York City rock’n’roll scene? What bands do you have friends in, or which band would you support by word-of-mouth?
Walter: Back in 1975, there was a big feeling of community. Everybody was together and everyone was helping one another. Now it’s a jungle and everyone’s trying to survive. I have friends in Blondie; also there’s Johansen, the Ramones, Sylvain – but I won’t support a band that I don’t like. Some bands I might like so-so, but if they are friends I won’t say anything bad about them [since when? – nf]. I try to stay away from saying bad things about any band because I’ve gotten into so much trouble by saying things in papers. People in bands have tried to kill me. I’ve had contracts put on me. [Laughs] After a while, there’s just not that many bands that you like. You get so full of music. You’ve seen every fucking band a million times. You just like people who are your friends or some band that is exceptional, like Mink DeVille, who was always great with his voice. I still think he was better when he was doing Otis Redding covers than he is now, although I like his albums a lot.
FF: Have you every played any gigs where the audience got really violent? Have you ever been hurt on stage?
Walter: In England, they used to get violent – not violent against the band. The punk audience was just really crazy. They threw glasses and bottles. I got hit in the mouth with one of those plastic glasses that they use in England to drink beer from. Luckily, it was plastic and it bounced off, so I didn’t get hurt. They have this beer over there called Newcastle Brown Ale, and it comes in bottles made of glass that’s an inch thick. We used to have to duck those. One time I heard one smash into the fucking drums and you could hear it louder than the fucking music. They grow stuff as they yell, “Yeah! Great!” Then, of course, they spit all over you.
FF: Gobbing.
Walter: Yeah, bogging was the big thing. I used to walk off stage covered with this green tuberculosis hanging off my jacket, my guitar, and everything else. It was so gross, but after a while, you didn’t even notice it. It was just like shit hanging all over your face in blobs.
FF: Tokens of affection.
Walter: Yeah, right. I didn’t mind that. At least it didn’t hurt. But I didn’t like all those steins flying by. A few guys in other bands got really bonked out. Bleeding and stuff.
FF: I saw an old picture of you with Sid and Nancy, and you had a band-aid on your nose. What happened? Where you wounded in action?
Walter: No, that was just something I did for a couple of gigs. It was just a fun thing to do. At one gig, I put band-aids on my jacket. Another gig, I put them on a couple of spots on my face to look funny. Sid and Nancy were good friends of ours. Actually, it was us who introduced Nancy to Sid. Nancy used to live in New York City and was a Heartbreakers groupie. We all hated her. She was a real sleaze.
FF: Was it Jerry who she hung out with the most?
Walter: She was trying to hang out with any one of us, but it was always Jerry and John who would do it because she made tons of money as a dancer and a whore. She’d turn them on. She’d come over or drop around saying, “I got some money. Do you wanna get high?” I did it once or twice, but I couldn’t deal with that stuff. I don’t like using people, it’s not my style. John and Jerry would do it. They constantly ripped her off and took her money. She followed us over to England. She showed up at our house and said, “Hi guys.” They fucking closed the door in her face. Then she stuck some money under the door and they said, “Come on in!” She’d ask them if they could cop for her. They’d say it cost 100 pounds a gram and it only cost like 60. They’d go out and get it and come back with this little match head cover, or about a tenth of a gram. They’d say, “Here it is,” and she’d say, “Aw, what happened to it all? They’d say, “That’s it! That’s it! That’s how much it cost.” They’d rip her off grossly. She was a masochist. She loved it, I think. She was so sick. Then we got rid of her or she got sick of us. She met Sid and it was love at first sight.
FF: Do you like working in the studio?
Walter: When I playing, not when I’m mixing. It’s a big bore in the studio, actually. It’s okay when you’re playing, working on songs, and coming up with new ideas. I like the stage a lot better than the studio. The studio takes so fucking long.
FF: How long did L.A.M.F. take to record?
Walter: Too long! It took about six months when it should have taken six weeks. We did four songs in two sessions in the space of two nights: “Chinese Rocks,” “Born to Lose,” “Can’t Keep My Eyes on You,” and “Get Off the Phone,” or something like that. They were recorded great. Then Jerry and John started saying, “It’s not good enough.” Actually, it was Jerry who was causing all the problems. He said, “I think we should do it again somewhere.” So we went to studio after studio doing this shit over and over again. We finally got the stuff recorded, but they wasted so much time. John would show up like, “Duh-uh-uh” and the whole night would be ruined because he couldn’t play. But he demanded that we keep on playing because he wanted to play so badly. He’s say, “We can do it! We can to it-uh-argh!”, puking all over the guitar. We could’ve had the thing done in the space of two weeks. But they wasted so much time and the money, and in the end, we went back to the original mixes. They were ten times better. It was a total joke because everyone got so fucked up. They didn’t take it seriously. It was Johnny and Jerry mostly, because Billy and I would always be pretty together and show up. Johnny and Jerry think the world is made for them. They wouldn’t even show up have the time: “Uhhhh – there’s a TV show I wanna watch. I can’t make the session tonight.” We went trough an incredible amount of money. Luckily, it was the record company [Track Records] that was paying for it, not us. It was hundreds and thousands of pounds. It was just wasted. Money was spent on drugs. They’d show up three hours late and it cost two hundred dollars an hour for these great studios. They’d go mix it two hundred times over. Every time the final mix was finished, Jerry would say, “It’s no good! Do it over!” Jerry wanted to remix it himself, so he did and it was ten times worse than the shit that we had. Jerry was so fucked up. He decided that everything was the mixer’s fault, or my fault. He just went nuts. Yet the tapes actually sounded good. There was nothing wrong with the mixes. It got fucked up when they changed the tape to vinyl. We even had them do it a few times, but it always came back with this muffled sound, like it was underwater. I was saying, “What the fuck is wrong with these people?” Finally, it was October, and the album had to come out. We had to approve it then because all the factories would be booked up until after Christmas. We finally said, “This is it. We have to do it.” Jerry said, “No way! If you guys okay that thing, I’m leaving the group!” So, we had no choice. We either approved it or it wouldn’t be out until the next year. So, I said, “Fuck it, I want it out!” Billy said, “Yeah.” John wasn’t there, but he had approved it form New York City. He heard the test pressing. It sounded okay and he liked it.
FF: When you were recording, where did you live in London, and did all the Heartbreakers live together?
Walter: We got on Track Records in February after the Anarchy Tour [December]. We got the deal in January and went back to New York for a few weeks while our manager fixed up the deal. We came back in February. We hadn’t signed anything, but Track was supporting us. They put us up in a flat in Pimlico. It’s near Victoria Station, in the center of London. It was real expensive. It was two bedrooms with a full-out couch in the living room. It was $180 a week to start out. When summer came, they raised it to about $320 a week. That was incredible for this little shitty two bedroom flat. They had maids that came in every two days, which was cool, but the rent was incredible. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. We were all living with this girl for a few months. That broke up, so I came back. Billy and his girlfriend shared a flat with some friends. Then we came back to New York for the Village Gate gig, and the album was coming out. They found us a new place in Chelsea on Oakley Street, which is the same block that Bowie used to live on, right off Kings Road. It’s a real nice area. We lived there and Jerry was living with a girlfriend out in the suburbs somewhere. We lived in London for the most part of two years, from December 1976 to August of 1978.
FF: Do you think rock’n’roll is more encompassing as a lifestyle in London than in New York City, with the little cult groups like the rockabilly rebels, the mods, the punks, the skinheads, the rude boys, etc.?
Walter: Well, yeah, there are ten times more fads over there. In England, it’s all fads. Everybody has a certain thing they wear and a certain thing that they listen to. They have the greatest clothes over there. There’s constant fads, like power pop, and they change every six months. That’s why groups make it for six months and they are gone six months later. The media is so concentrated. England is like one big New York City. The media is great. They have weekly (music) papers. The publicity is so encompassing that the public is very well informed.
FF: The press is more influenced and more respected than in America.
Walter: The press is incredible. Everybody knows everybody. Here, we have monthly magazines who only talk about the big groups and don’t even think about the new shit. It’s only fanzines that write about the New Wave stuff. That’s why the rest of the country is so far behind New York and Los Angeles. By the time that punk started to catch on over here, it was already finished in England. Everybody was getting into heavy metal or rockabilly.
FF: Or ska and reggae.
Walter: Yeah. Of course, you don’t make any money in England. You can have a number one record and still not make a dime because there aren’t that many records sold there. Every time we played a gig, we would lose money because all the equipment was rented. Paying for hotels and travel was incredible. Clothes – anything you want – the prices are incredible. And it’s gone up since we left. I’ve heard that cabs and subways are grosser. The town closes down at eleven o’clock. TV’s off at midnight, usually. On weekends, it stays on until one or so. The bars all close down at eleven, except a few private clubs that stay open late. The subways close down at twelve and you can’t get home. London is really spread out and a lot of the clubs are out in the middle of nowhere. You get out there, then you have to call a private cab company to come pick you up. It costs you a fortune. It costs you ten dollars to go two blocks. The people are so poor over there and everything is so fucking expensive.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tribute to a Mixed Tape #3

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Videos and images from the Internet

This was a cassette tape that I believe I put together in the mid- to late-‘80s. The videos (when available) that follow are not necessarily the versions on the tape, but it’s the closest I could find. As usual (but not always), my tapes are a mix with no general theme, just random songs I really liked at the time (and most likely still do).


Tom Paxton - Last Thing on My Mind
This is, indeed, one of folk legend Paxton’s best known songs. It’s a beautiful and melodic heartbreaker, with a lilting minor-key chorus for emphasis. “Well, I coulda loved you better / Didn’t mean to be unkind.” What I like about his is that it doesn’t blame anyone, as he is willing to accept his own fault in the fail of the relationship.

Get Wet - Morton Street
One of the strongest songs on their album, and one of the few not weighted down by bad production, this is another powerful piece about a woman in love with a gay man who leaves her to go cruising. Sherri Beachfront’s voice cuts through the listener like a razor of heartfelt pain as she cries out, “Don’t go down to the piers tonight!” This video was taken at the Ritz at a Girls Nite Out show, and yes, I was there! I was so happy to see that this video existed, and I highly recommend playing some of their other songs, as well. And check out my interview with the band in the preceding blog.

Paula and Carole - Open Window Song
I’m not quite sure what is the appeal to me about the music from this children’s program, The Magic Garden, but it seems I know a lot of rockers who agree. Carole was actually the original Sandy Dumbrowski on Broadway (if you have to ask…). There is just something appealing about their voices. Amazingly, I could find lots of videos from the show, but not this song!

Jennifer - Time is On the Run
Way before she was Jennifer Warnes, she was known simply as Jennifer. I first fell in love with her rich voice during a Smothers Brothers reunion show, and then through her co- and back-up work for Mason Williams and Leonard Cohen. When her breakthrough Right Time of the Night album came out in 1976, I was fortunate enough to see her play at the Bottom Line. This particular song, from her second album, released in 1969, is backed merely with percussion; it bops and bounces silkily along in a nearly a capella staccato.

Keith Carradine - It Don’t Worry Me
This tune is from the amazing soundtrack to the film Nashville. The One of Altman’s best (in my opinion), but the soundtrack is almost its own entity, as these cuts rarely appear in the film in same production. As a “various artists” release, it stands on its own, with gems by the likes of Ronee Blakey, and this subtle slice of Americana. It sounds like it could have been written by Woody rather than the son of John. Right from it’s start, it has a powerful image: “They say this train don’t give out rides / But it don’t worry me.” While Keith had a hit with another song (see later), this one is just as good. Barbara Harris sang it in the film.

Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
This is as much a Beatles song as is “Yesterday.” It is solid George Harrison at his best, and heaven knows I’m not the first one to expound this. And I certainly feel no need to go on and on; the song speaks for itself.

Harry Chapin - Caroline
Not only could Harry tell a great song story of disenchantment, loneliness, and despair, he could also present a beautiful love ballad. This is, if you will, his equivalent of S&G’s “For Emily Whenever I May Find Her.” He explains how fleeting his relationship with her as she “Whispers her words / Saying she'll always love me / At least when we are together.”

Buffy St.-Marie - Universal Soldier
I first learned this song as a child at Camp HES, around the time the Vietnam “war” was just heating up and protest songs were becoming big (we also learned Phil Ochs “Draft Dodger Rag”). Buffy has an unmistakable voice, but what appeals to me is just the sheer dedication she projects. If you’ve ever seen her perform, the woman is solid sincerity. Her “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone” is just as amazing.

Lucy Simon - If You Ever Believed
While her sister Carly garnered most of the fame, I always enjoyed Lucy’s voice and songwriting better. She came out with two solo albums in the ‘70s, and both are gorgeous. This song is another of longing, as are many on this tape, letting her ex- know, “Hey, if you ever believed / Then come back to me / There’s someone who needs you.” It’s pleading without whining, a rare feat. Recently, Lucy wrote the score to the play “The Secret Garden,” but I’d love to hear more of her as herself.

Get Wet - Single
Shari Beachfront’s beautiful voice is in fine form, as is her “theatricality”. She told me she acts out her songs as she’s singing them, and this is one that shows a wide, wide range as she changes keys upward a couple of times only to be even more mournfully reinforcing that she’s “back to single.” Along with “Morton Street,” this shows her wide range and talent as a performer, as well as singer.

Seeds - Can’t Seem to Make You Mine
Okay, this has to be the whiniest song in the history of rock’n’roll, but also one of the great rhythms. Just recently it started to be used in some TV commercial, though it had also been covered years ago as one of the early solo releases by Alex Chilton (who possibly did it even whinier!). The exclamations of pain between each line of the stanzas are both wrenching and humorous at the same time. When Sky Saxon sings, “Can’t you see what yer doin’ to me / You fill my heart with-a misery / With every breath, every step I take / I’m more in love with you,” the listener can feel it in a palpable way.

Standells - Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White
From the first time I heard this song in the early ‘70s (played to me by Bernie Kugel), I found it to be a better song than “Dirty Water,” which in itself was an amazing release. The Standells were great when it came to musical catch-phrases, and “SGGDWW” is definitely one of them. All you have do is hear that beat and know what song it is. And the use of lyrical rhyme all works, with the tongue-twisting “I’m a poor boy born in the rubble,” as they ask important social questions, such as “Good guy, bad guy, which is which / The white collar worker or the digger in the ditch / Man, who’s to say who’s the better man / When I’ve always done the best I can. ”

Zombies - Tell Her No
I had almost forgotten about this song until I heard a very early version of the Nervus Rex (their first show) play it, and had an “oh, yeah,” moment. I went out and bought it soon after. The Zombs had bigger hits with the trippy “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season,” and they are both rightfully standards, but this early Mersey Beat-style release is no less interesting (sort of like Deep Purple and “Hush”). ”

Keith Carradine - I’m Easy
This won the Oscar for best song of the year, and while I don’t always like the winners, this one is just fine. Keith’s trembling voice over the melody is sort of like a bird hugging the wind. His musical career never went much further than the Nashville soundtrack, but it’s still a legacy of which to be proud.

Lucy Simon - Pavane
Lucy’s soaring vocals hum along to Gabriel FaurĂ© s classical piece that has no lyrics, but she still makes the piece into a showcase for her voice. One can easily find “straight” versions of this on YouTube, but I still prefer Lucy’s.


Lucy Simon
- From Time to Time to Time
Remembrance of a first, innocent, childhood love is explored with fond memories and smoky imagery that is a smile-raiser. She remembers walking along the beach, holding hands, and that he wasn’t very tall, but mostly that she still thinks of him from…well, the title says it.

Get Wet - Just So Lonely
They were just so close to making it, it’s heartbreaking. Here’s a clip of Sherri lip syncing on some TV show. GW looks at the more pop side of “low-wow-wow-wow-wow-nliness” in their playful style. While I was more fond of their more baroque tunes like the two above, they also had a flair for the “bounce.”

Bob Gibson & Hamilton Camp - Well, Well, Well
The version on my tape is a live cut from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Spirituals were big back then, as were duos like Joe & Eddy. Singers Bob and Hamilton (a Canadian who was also a commonly seen actor in the ‘60s and ‘70s on such shows as a classic The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Love, American Style) blend their voices in a warning and sobbing style that both harmonizes and plays off each other in amazing ways.

The Cramps - Bikini Girls With Machine Guns
One of the last great Cramps songs to show off their rhythmic nuances and flair, this is silly, but remains a true vision of their philosophy (“I’ve got my own ideas about the righteous kick / You can keep the reward, I’d just assumed stay sick”) Ivy’s guitar playing here is in top form, as well. For the video, ironically, some of the lyrics had to be changed (“Drag racer on LSD” to “Drag racer from Tennessee,” and “bare-assed on top of the Sphinx” to “bare-backed”), even though images of bestiality (“I even had a gorilla on the slopes of Kismet”) and the message remain.

Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson - Candy
At the start of the song, Iggy states “It’s 1990…it’s been 20 years.” Well, next year will be 40, but I digress. This is based on a true person in Iggy’s life, and the song definitely shows the soft side of a very hard (i.e., muscular) man. Kate Pierson gives a fine turn as the object of the song and showing her non-B-52’s side (as she also did with REM’s “Shinny Happy People”). She goes full out, as does Iggy, with his limited range. Their work together here is what makes the song for me. And, hopefully, her pretty face isn’t going to hell.

Jefferson Airplane - Somebody to Love
While I’m not into much of the Haight-Ashbury experience, the Airplane had a sound that connected with me. Grace Slick has always said that she has a limited range, but she uses it to full force here. While not as subtle as “White Rabbit,” it’s still a signpost for the love generation.

Lyons and Clark - I Thought I Would Try
A one-album group from the mid-‘70s, this sort of fell into my hands when the record company gave me a copy while I was waiting to interview some douchebag, which made the whole experience worth it. I don’t think it will ever be released in CD form, so occasionally I pull this LP out and just play it from cover to cover. This song is one of the cream-on-top-ers of an album of cream. They remind me of the Murmurs, with lush harmonies and meaningful lyrics, which are sentimental, but rarely mushy. Enjoying singing, writing and musicianship, and yet not over produced. A winner that was lost in the mix, for sure.

Harry Chapin - She Sings Her Songs Without Words
Another Chapin love song that is gentle and melodic, something Chapin used rarely, but effectively.

Roy Orbison - It’s Over
The man has a freakish voice, and I mean that in a positive way. This is such a classic, that all I can say is, just listen.

The Cynics - Summer’s Gone
One of the very early songs by this underrated post-garage band from the Pittsburgh area. Before they went a bit harder toned (and still sounding great), there was this period of psychedelic garage sound that was wispy with lots of middle notes and harmonies. Of that period, this remains one of my favorites of the band. Of course, my middle period topper is “Girl, You’re On My Mind,” but that should be obvious.

Cheepskates - Run Better Run
Shaun Flaubert led this garage band from the ‘80s revival period, and the Cheepskates were one of the key figures on the scene. I saw them often on bills with the likes of the Tryfles and the Vipers. “Run Better Run,” again, has a great musical phrase that will stick to you for long after its listening. Nowadays, Shaun works with Dave Rave and Gary Pig Gold, and is still worth checking out.

Elvis Costello - Alison
I was never a big fan of early Costello, actually, though I saw him play MSG with the Replacements opening for him (Hi, Nancy!). “Watching the Detectives” was okay, but this was the only song of his that I liked from first listen. And of all the many versions of it, his remains my favorite.

The Scruffs - When Donna Romances
This Tennessee band never achieved A-level, but this non-LP single gets played more than their album on my turntable. Again, I don’t know if this will ever see CD-hood, but it’s a good pop-in-a-‘70s-underground-vein listen. They’d make a good double bill with the Slickee Boys.

The Seekers - Another You
Another song I first heard as a child in camp. It was on the radio constantly, and then disappeared. I didn’t remember who did it, so I never sought it out. Eventually, I found out it was the Seekers and went out and got it years after the fact, in the mid-‘70s (around the time I discovered the Ramones). From Australia, they had a distinctive folk-based pop sound, elevated by Judith Durham’s soaring vocals. It’s still a beautiful thing to hear.

Paula & Carole - See Ya

The perfect way to end this tape.