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johnny thunders


Steve Nicol, Johnny Thunders and myself, Island Studios, Hammersmith, 1978

During the late 70's one of my best mates was a certain James Honeyman Scott (RIP), guitarist with the Chrissie Hynde Band, later to be renamed The Pretenders. Jimmy and I used to share a love of the same music and the same lifestyle, which lead to some fairly wild parties ("bring a bottle and a stretcher!" ran our invites), much to the disapproval of Ms Hynde. Their manager was (and still is) a guy named Dave Hill, and after the Heartbreakers split Dave offered main man Johnny Thunders a solo deal with his Real Records label. Having jammed with Johnny down at The Speakeasy (a legendary late night hang-out for rock 'n' rollers) and checked out many Heartbreakers gigs, I got a call from Dave asking if I'd like to play bass on his album. Is the pope catholic? Damn right I would! I loved the New York Dolls albums, especially Johnny's guitar playing, and I readily accepted. Producing was Steve Lillywhite, who also worked on much of Eddie and the Hot Rods stuff, and an array of guests were to be involved, including Steve Marriot (Small Faces), Steve Jones and Paul Cook (Sex Pistols), Walter Lure and Billy Rath (Heartbreakers), Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), Peter Perret and Mike Kellie (The Only Ones) and Steve Nicol from the Hot Rods.

It was soon evident that these were going to be sessions like no other. Johnny's drug habits were well known. When he was together it was great, but when he wasn't...

I don't recall any rehearsing as such. Songs were learnt in the recording studio and commited to tape as soon as they were sounding good, which could take anything from less than an hour to more than a week. Steve Lillywhite was really on the case, and he had to be as a constant stream of hangers on and liggers flowed thru' the control room, bearing gifts of dubious nature for Mr. Thunders. Trouble was, Johnny couldn't say no to anything. He would often show up just before midnight reasonably together only to be sent home in a cab an hour later after getting completely trashed.

This made for some interesting recording. We'd try and get a backing down with Johnny's guitar, as he often seemed to make parts up as he went along, or go off on a tangent that we'd try our best to follow. If things went well we'd eventually get the take down, but if he was getting the worse for wear we'd send him packing and continue with the bass, drums and other overdubs after he'd gone.

The next day he'd show up and we'd play back what we'd done, only for Mr Thunders to say "That aint how it goes!". He'd then pick up a guitar and play something totally different, which meant the previous nights work was for nothing! I still have a tape of the outtakes (and no, they're not for sale!) where you can actually hear Johnny keel over and fall into his Fender Twin amp, the muffled laughter of drummer Mike Kellie and myself in the background. It was by no means unusual...

All sorts of other things used to disrupt the sessions. One night I was dispatched to find him and discovered him in the toilet, completely passed out, with his head resting on the bog and scarf stuck down the U-bend. He didn't seem to be the happiest of people at this time, but despite the setbacks I loved doing the album. I ended up playing on the single, "Dead or Alive" and 6 album tracks;


You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory
Ask Me No Questions
Downtown
Subway Train
She's So Untouchable

 

As well as various Speakeasy gigs a high profile London show was booked at The Lyceum in London for the end of October. Rehearsals were scheduled for a few days before, at The Roxy in Kilburn, but the omens weren't good. Mr Thunders was in bad shape, and despite Dave Hill's best efforts to keep him together - which included hiring a minder to keep him away from temptation - Johnny found a way to get what he wanted, which I seem to recall involved tying sheets together and escaping from his hotel room window at 3am one morning, and liberating large amounts of his album from the offices of Warner Bros before it was released and flogging them down the Kings Road for some quick bucks!

The gig should have been a cracker, but the rehearsals were half-hearted and the gig was a complete shambles. The line up of Jimmy Honeyman Scott on keyboards (he was a great keyboard player too), Pete Perret on guitar, Mike Kellie on drums, Patti Palladin and Judy Nylon on backing vocals, John Earle on sax and yours truly on bass seemed to be playing a different song half the time, and certainly at different speeds. I can't say JImmy and I were blameless - we'd been to a party for most of the night before - but Johnny and some of the others were completely wasted. The nadir was reached for the ill - deserved encore. Waiting in the wings to go back on, Jimmy and I were pushed aside by Brian Robertson from Thin Lizzy and Jimmy Bain from Rainbow,clutching guitar and bass. Before we knew it they were onstage and plugging into our amps. I remember Johnny looking totally bewildered, turning round as if to say, who the fuck are these guys...

The last time I saw Johnny was in 1981. He had a new band and was supporting Finnish glam rockers Hanoi Rocks. It wasn't the best of gigs, either, but I ventured backstage to say hi and pay my respects to Mr Thunders. It had been barely 2 years since I'd last seen him . He didn't look good and couldn't remember who I was at first, but eventually the light almost came on. "Ahh, um, hi Steve..." he said, and then he was gone...

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Parts 1 & 2
- the 70's
Eddie & the Hot Rods

Johnny Thunders

Part 3
the 80's
The Damned

Part 4
the 80's - UFO

Part 5
the 80's -
UFO & afte
r

Parts 6 & 7
- the 90's

Captain Sensible, The Damned & The Hot Rods