Walter Lure - Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Dom Daley   
Thursday, 12 November 2009 14:56

What can be said about Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers that hasn't already1lure been said? Well, I had an idea one night - why not contact one of the Heartbreakers and ask him the inside track on such an influential band and an era when music was alive and well. I also wanted to know what guitar legend Walter Lure was up to since those mad, bad days of the late 70's. So I tracked him down in NYC and he agreed to answer my questions on all things Heartbreakers and Walter Lure.



First up, how did you get the gig in the Heartbreakers?

I got into the HB's because Jerry and John saw me play with The Demons, a local band I had been in for six months or so. The lead singer, Elliot, was friends with the Dolls and we shared their rehearsal space. We didn't realize that the Dolls were breaking up at the time so when John came to the Demons first gig at Club 82 he pulled me aside and said how would I like to join his band? I said sure cause I wasn't all that happy with the Demons. So I auditioned a week or so later and didn't hear anything for a few weeks or months until the Demons opened up for the three member Heartbreakers at the Coventry Club in Queens. That night Jerry asked me if I thought the HB's were any good and I told them I thought their songs were great. Next I knew I was in the band and we were getting ready for our first gig at CBGB's July 4th festival in 1975 or 76 - I forget which year - probably 75.


How bad were the habits in the band at the time? Did they hamper the process of making music?


JohnnyThunderstheHeartbreakersHeartbreakers_776217The habits of the band members were fairly mild at that time - we were rehearsing every week and writing songs, etc - functioning like a real band. Later on when things got worse it got harder to keep everyone together.



After Richard Hell left the band were there any concerns about making music? We hear it was a conflict between Thunders and Hell; were you and Jerry ever expected to take sides? Did the right person leave?


Actually, Johnny was the one that walked out first when Hell started trying to tell everyone how many songs they were entitled to sing in any given set and what songs we were supposed to play. We just followed John after the initial walkout - Hell wasn't a real rock 'n' roller - just a beatnik poet using music to get his stuff across commercially, although he did have a certain natural facility with the bass on a basic level. I guess Hell thought we'd all stay with him as he was probably a little more the flavour of the moment than John and Jerry were. His ego was just too big so I couldn't imagine the HB's ever getting to the same level with him instead of Johnny. Jerry would definitely have left and I would have split eventually as well.



Have you ever wondered what direction the Heartbreakers would have taken had it been Richard fronting the band not Johnny?


heartbreakerslamfoy3We were rockers and Hell was a poet. I didn't think the Voidoids really rocked despite being friends with the band members.


How much of an input did you have on the way 'L.A.M.F' shaped up, with regards to your songs going on or Johnny's? Was that part fairly harmonious?

We all contributed to the song list on LAMF. They were the most popular songs we were doing at the time and it was feedback from the producers and management besides us. I don't remember anyone being upset at the songs included or the ones left out.  We figured we'd get a chance to do the other ones on the next album anyway. 



Were you aware at the time that those songs and that album would be heralded as such an influential album all these years later?


No, I was not aware that the record would become an influential classic - we were just Johnny_Thunders__The_Heartbreakers_L_A_M_F__Revisitedconcerned that it wouldn't sell enough copies to keep the band together, which is exactly what happened. We all thought the songs were great and we know we played better then any of our British counterparts although we didn't have a lot of the political creds that they were carrying around on their sleeves.


Was it an easy decision to relocate to London from NYC? Who put forward that idea and was it an easy transition knowing some of the habits within the band?


We all wanted to relocate to the UK because that was where the best scene was. NYC was still doing these little sleazy record contracts for all the bands and we weren't really considered mainstream here. In the UK, we were all over the media and the record companies were offering real deals with advances and marketing, etc. The entire scene in London was light years ahead of NY at the time only because things move quicker in the UK because there is less ground to cover. The US always takes longer to come round to new things. The habits at the time were still relatively manageable and besides, London was not an innocent city by any means, anything available in NYC was also available there and musicians could always sniff out what they wanted.



12_76_anarchytour1The Anarchy tour is the stuff of legend but it must have been quite tough having so many dates called off - can you remember what the feelings were at the time?


Well, yes, it was a drag having all the shows cancelled as we got to the different towns but then all we did was hang out in the hotel bars and get drunk all day.  But we did get to know the other groups with the exception of The Damned who were travelling seperately and had a great time anyway. I was dying to see the Pistols and Clash but we eventually got to see them all.

I remember that I could not believe how much power these little town councils had to be able to cancel booked shows at random just because they deemed them immoral or something.  However, all the controversy was great for getting our names and pictures splashed all over the media.



The Heartbreakers were idolized by the bands on that tour - how were you treated by Lydon and co? How aware were you of their music before you went to London?

We had no idea what kind of a scene was going on in London before we got there. I remembered reading a brief article a few months earlier in some local paper in NYC about thejohnnythunderstheheartbreakers American and UK punk scenes and I vaguely remembered a picture or mention of the Sex Pistols but we really had no idea of the extent of it. We all thought NYC was the center of the universe - then we got to the UK and found out we weren't alone.


The Pistols were always good guys to us and we got on well from the beginning. We didn't realise that they were in awe of Johnny and Jerry because of the Dolls days but we got over all that after the first few meetings. Lydon was fine too, as long as there wasn't any press around  - then he'd change a bit into his persona mode, but that's not all that unusual.



Do you look back on your time around the Heartbreakers in '77 fondly or are there regrets that more wasn't made of the band's talent and songs? 


I don't feel any sense of injustice - it's more like that's just the way things work out. Back then I probably thought I'd have a longer career in the music business but it just didn't happen. I often used to think that if we had gotten any bigger back then we all might have died a lot earlier given our proclivities at the time. One of the main reasons I probably survived was the fact that I had to go out and get a job to survive. John or Jerry never had to do that - Johnny never worked a day in his life at a regular job. Nice work if you can get it I guess, but it comes with a price.


The only thing that might have made a difference would been if we had stayed together as a band and kept working without all the usual distractions, but I think that was almost out of the question by 1978. I've got lots of videos and stuff that people have sent me over the years but I've hardly watched any of it - various gigs in the US and Europe. Nothing extra from the '77 tour that I can remember though. "Do I look back in time..."  Yes I do look back on that time in '77 fondly - I probably had the most fun of my life and we were on top of the world. I don't really have regrets just sort of "what ifs..." not sure how life would have been if we took off but as I said earlier there was a lot of baggage we were dragging around but then other bands have gotten through that before. People still send messages about how much they loved us back then and how they still like all the songs so I didn't really lack confidence vis a vis the quality of our work - I knew it was good but there are millions of artists who are good and don't get anywhere so at least we had our brief run for what it was worth.


You also played on quite a few Ramones records - do you think you should have gotten more credit for your involvment? What was Johnny like towards you playing guitar in his band?  How different was it recording with the Ramones to the Heartbreakers?


The Ramones stuff was fun - totally different band situation. They actually rehearsed and took stuff seriously as opposed to the HB's ( after the early days anyway). They had told me in advance that I would only get a brief acknowledgement on the records so I had no problem with it. It probably had something to do with John's insecurity about his guitar playing but whatever, it wasn't a big deal. John was the one who actually asked me to play and he was pretty receptive to just about anything I did. That's also when I realized that Dee Dee was the major songwriter in the band and Joey was second after that. John was basically the guy who held all the stuff together which isn't an easy thing given the diverse personalities flying around.


Looking back, it seems like the Heartbreakers were only around for five minutes but so much was crammed into that time; did it pass quickly or do you remember most of it clearly? 


I remember most of it. The high profile stuff in the UK was over fairly quickly but you have to realize we were still getting together every few months or so all through the '80s for gigs and short tours here and there, especially in NYC. We used to call them Rent Parties because we'd do it to make money - hence the Waldo's CD Title. Johnny never drew as many people on his own as the Heartbreakers did together so we'd make more money at an HB gig than John would on his own although, of course, he didn't pay his bands the same shares that he had to pay us. I would come on stage at Johnny gigs and he would show up at Waldo gigs for fun. Jerry was in Europe most of the time.


Who made the move to play again all those years later in 1990? Had much changed orthewaldos was it like Groundhog Day?


I don't remember who actually made the first move to do the reunion gig in 1990 ( it might have even been John at someone's suggestion) but the rehearsals were the funny thing - It was myself, Jerry, Tony Coiro and Johnny - Billy had gone missing sometime around 1985 or 86. Everyone was changed EXCEPT for Johnny. We were all there on time and ready to play but John shows up late as usual and plays a few songs and then disappears into the toilet for 15 minutes, comes out and repeats the cycle. John never got out of that drug thing. Even Jerry made it out but he was pretty much dependent on methadone for the last 15 - 20 years of his life. Still we got through it and the gig turned out great and sold out.



Moving onto the Waldos and 'Rent Party', I think the songs on it are as strong looking back as 'L.A.M.F.' and they could easily fit in with the style - were any of the songs around in the late 70's? And why did it take so long for you to record new material? 


I actually forgot which songs were on 'Rent Party' - I'd have to go home and look them up but we used to do '7 Day Weekend' in the Heartbreakers every now and then and 'Junkie Business' was obviously around. If 'Flight' is on it then that was around in the 70s as well. It took so long because we needed money to do it and someone to put up the recording. The Waldos had gone through several incarnations in the 80s and it wasn't really right until that line up. Plus everybody had been away from our old bad habits for several years so that helped as well. We did do that single around 1991.


Do you regret not being more prolific?


I probably do regret not writing more - basically I got a little lazy after Tony Coiro died and was almost thinking of retiring from music after that but others kept me playing at least if not as creative as I was earlier.


Are there other songs demoed that you have locked away with the Heartbreakers?


No, there isn't too much other stuff lying around.


Was there ever a time when you could have worked with Johnny again in the studio?


Worked again in the studio with John? We probably could have done something in the 80s sometime but the organization wasn't there - there was no disciplining John after he went solo. With the HB's we all had a say and he wasn't going to walk out especially when Jerry was still around. But on his own he got more demanding and obnoxious - it was bad enough in the HB's but worse later on. Still, we could have done something if the stars were aligned correctly but I guess they never were.


Do you keep in touch with Billy at all? 

I actually hadn't heard from him for many years until the mid 90s and then not again until this year. His son had gotten in touch with me through Myspace and then finally Billy sent an email and then we spoke. He's been living in Southern New Jersey - apparently he's had some religious training and was working with addicts and people in rehab as a counsellor. He's married again and living down there. He wanted to start recording and touring again but I really can't go off and start touring anymore as I have a career. It's not that easy anyway. So we chatted but I doubt anything will come out of it. It takes lots of time and money and we haven't played together for 20 years. I think he disappeared around 1985. I'd have no problem with him coming up on stage for a few songs at a gig sometime - I just didn't want to get into a whole band thing with him again.



It's documented you are still on good terms with Richard Hell - what about anyone from the Anarchy tour?


I wouldn't say that I'm exactly on good terms with R. Hell but I 'm not on bad terms with him. I think I spoke to him once around three years ago. Hardly ever see him anyway; as for the rest, nah.



Is there any plan to reissue the 'Rent Party' album due to its rareness? It would be 1waldoseasier to find dodo eggs in the UK than a copy of that!


It's actually being released on a special vinyl edition now by the same label it was originally released on. I almost had it out on CD again two years ago and was in talks with Little Steven's Renegade Records label but the talks fell through. The new vinyl will have a different cover and should be out any day now from what I'm told. Vinyl, however, might be a problem for many people who've never seen a turntable in recent years.


It is documented that Jerry could control Johnny to a certain degree or he at least had his ear and you said it was probably because Jerry was the tougher of the two and Johnny looked up to Jerry. Did that ever come close to a fist fight considering the chaos, moodswings and habits we were led to believe were happening around the band? 

Jerry could control Johnny to a certain extent but he wasn't into playing the disciplinarian of the band. If John got too stupid, Jerry could threaten him with a whack or two ( I saw him do it once or twice - threaten, that is) or as I'd heard in the past, actually go up to him a give him a few smacks to shut him up. I never actually saw him smack him but once or twice the threat of it was enough to keep him under control for a while. Jerry could probably have beaten me in a fist fight - I was never much of a street fighter. John was pretty tough in his own right  - I'd seen him throw a few punches at people, usually when he knew he'd be protected if anything serious happened. Although everything was pretty much chaotic, it rarely got to the point where we were considering brawling with each other except for those few instances with John. The times were quite chaotic and people observing from 20 miles up might seem to think that it was a right looney bin but I really think all bands go through this to a certain extent. Also, it might seem a bit more chaotic now because looking back you tend to emphasize the outlandish and forget about the mundane stuff. We actually had to live together for 1 - 2 years or so and every day wasn't a mad, drugged out chaotic revelry. We actually had to go to the store and buy a quart of milk every now and then.


Was it easy to not follow the path being taken by Johnny and Jerry? It must have been tempting to get sucked into their lifestyle?


Don't think that I was entirely innocent back in those days just because I'm alive now. We were all sucked into the lifestyle to varying degrees and it took quite a few years of adjusting before I got back into a semblance of normalcy. I was lucky to have landed a few alternative lifestyles to sort of replace the ones that were too damaging. I also was fortunate enough to get a job and actually enjoy the stuff I was doing on Wall Street. If I had gotten work as a taxicab driver maybe I wouldn't have lasted as long. I also managed to keep myself out of any legal trouble over the years, more by luck than anything else.


Any particular incidents that happened that still make you laugh or otherwise? Surely going through customs was a heart racing time when in the band?


WaldoWell, we never had too much trouble at customs although there were two incidents in the US and Canada. The first time we flew to Toronto they were searching us and Billy had put some pot into a rolled up sock. Of course, that's the first place they would look so he was kept at the airport for a few hours but, astonishingly enough, they just confiscated the stuff and let him through after a few hours. We all got stopped going back into the US from Canada in Michigan. John had an abscess on his arm the size of a softball and they almost hospitalized him. I had some pain pills that the idiot custom agents called opium pills - they must have done some ridiculous chemical test that turned colour. Anyway, they were some sort of pain pills which they confiscated and charged me $100 or something as a fine - luckily no one was arrested. I think they found some weed on someone else. Customs in Europe were a dream compared to the US to us anyway.



What about the gigs, Walter - any spring to mind that were close calls?


Probably a few in New York where John would be unconscious in the dressing room before the show and we would go on without him. He'd have taken god knows what amount of different things before the show and would be lying on the floor with bubbles coming out of his mouth. This happened several times - mostly in New York where he had more access to contraband but, the funny thing was, whenever we went on without him, no matter how messed up he was, he would still manage to stumble down to the stage by the second song and plug in. He never missed a whole show when he was in the building. We did have to pull the plug on his amp once or twice when he was too screwed up to even play but he would always get to the stage.


Other memories have been told before - being held hostage by so called Special Forces in 12_76_anarchytour2Leeds because they told us someone was trying to assassinate us. That's where the fingerprints came from on LAMF. The cops fingerprinted us to try and isolate these other guy's prints. They did have guns though. The loonies outside of the theatre in Wales on the Anarchy tour where the town priest was telling the town populace that the devils ( meaning us and the Pistols) were inside the theater and not to let their kids go in. Meanwhile, all the town's kids were already there sticking safety pins in their cheeks in the loos before the show. I'd have to think some more to remember other absurd gigs but there were many.



You still play gigs around the East Coast and the occasional foray overseas.  Is there ever going to be a chance for us in the UK to catch Walter Lure playing live as a member of The Waldos or in another capacity?


I'd love to get back to the UK for some gigs but from what I understand nobody wants to pay. I'm not sure how big the audience would be but I wouldn't go unless I was guaranteed some cash to come back with.


pirateloveSadly the downside of this internet is that as soon as some kids get a website they think that's it - they've made it to being a star and are lazy. It won't be long before kids don't know what a cd is let alone a slab of vinyl lp, it'll all be downloads. Hey, if you sort out a cd release for Europe and the UK surely that'd be the time to get over here for a show or two, maybe get the Pistols to restep the Anarchy tour and visit the same venues all these years later, that'd be fun?!


You're right - nobody wants to pay for anything anymore, just take it. As for touring the UK, maybe I'll get back there someday, who knows?



What do you listen to these days? Any bands that you could recommend or any you're impressed with in 2009?

What do I listen to these days...  I don't really get out much to see new bands so I just listen tolurelive2 radio which can be a bit limited. The only time I really listen to anything is when I'm eating dinner at home or else driving in my car. One relatively new band I've been hearing is MGMT which had a pretty big hit with some song called 'Kids' -  it's an odd sound with that old farfisa organ background, almost like Question Mark and the Mysterians, but I like the song and the one or two others I've heard from them. Sort of off the wall type stuff. I hear they are from NYC also. Nothing much else comes to mind that's new or different.


Anything you'd do differently looking back?


Yes - I guess I wouldn't have wasted so much time on useless pursuits like certain substances and also certain people. They can take a lot out of you if you spend too much time on them but it's hard to see that when you are in the middle of it. I should have focussed more on making better and more music instead of getting sidetracked by personal issues. I don't know if that would have changed anything but it would have made more sense. I'm not sure if you really have any control over the things that happen to you in life or if you're just destined to live it as it plays out. I can't really complain as life has been good to me for the most part.



What's the best rumour you've heard about yourself?

lureliveThe best rumour that I heard was that I had died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Some local newspaper in Connecticut actually printed it. Also - my old high school newspaper had an issue a few years back where they also listed me as deceased. I called them up with the old Mark Twain line  "rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.." and they printed an apology in the next issue - they had gotten me mixed up with my brother who also went there.



I was just watching the dvd 'Dead Or Alive' and was wondering, during the breakdown of 'So Alone' Johnny goes off on a rant and you don't look best pleased - did you ever tell him to shut up? He always seemed to have a knack for baiting the audience. I caught a few of his shows at the Marquee just before he passed away and he was being confrontational but not like in the Heartbreakers days. Was it something you all thought was funny or did it ever spill over?

No - I actually used to enjoy those meandering soliloquies of his. You see me in the video Johnny_Thunders__The_Heartbreakers_Down_To_Kill_-_Frontrolling my eyes but that's just part of the show - he did get a bit outlandish sometimes but that made it all the more amusing. I'd roll my eyes and laugh at the same time.


Some of his guitar playing especially on some solos seemed to border on the ridiculous for their shambolicness; did you used to have a good laugh about it or wasn't it something that came up? He always struck me as a guy who didn't take kindly to any sort of "constructive criticism" - would that be accurate? 


maxsHe was never into all that confrontational stuff until we got to the UK and he saw Rotten getting away with it. Then he started doing it with a vengeance - if you ever saw the 'Live At The Speakeasy' tapes, that was when he started and it looked ridiculous at the time - later on he toned it down a bit so it wasn't so absurd. it could be funny at times also. John's guitar playing was always unique but sometimes he did have a tendency to go on a bit too much.  He wasn't alone among guitarists in that tendency. He had a unique sound but was limited technically so he really used the same few riffs over and over again which is what most guitar players do, myself included, but you try to gather a bigger library of riffs. That being said though, his sound was totally unique and you would never confuse one of his solos with another guitarist. I've never even heard anyone do a decent imitation of his sound either. John would take criticism sometimes if we told him to change a song structure or something - we didn't really criticize his style of playing - it would be like criticizing a brick for being a brick.



You and Johnny played with some great musicians like Stevie Klasson and Michael Monroe - do you still l keep in touch with these guys?


I saw Steve Klasson in Stockholm back in 2007 when I did a gig there. Mike Monroe I haven't seen in ten years or so. I don't even know where he lives anymore.



Is there a favourite song you wrote or played on?


One of my favorite songs is 'One Track Mind' but I also like 'Golden Days' and my guitar solos on 'It's Not Enough' and 'Goin Steady' I was pleased with.


Finally, do you think you got the credit you deserved?


I feel we got a lot of credit for the stuff we did but it just never sold very well and also, when lurelive3you really look at it, the output was very limited. Basically, we only really made about an album or two's worth of songs over all those years - they just kept releasing different versions of the same songs as time went on. Johnny had more output in later years. The band was really only together as a functioning unit for about 2 - 3 years and only recorded one studio album. We did become sort of legends and although that doesn't put food on the table it does represent some sort of gratification knowing that we didn't do it all in vain. Lots of people still listen to it and love it thirty years later.



It was there I decided to let Walter go and get on with his life and I stopped pestering him with my ramblings. If you can, check out Walter if he plays in a town near you or go out and buy 'Rent Party' when it is rereleased - you won't regret it.