Sad news came down the punk rock pipe yet again lasterday when I got word that Walter Lure, the affable sartorial sidekick to Johnny Thunders onstage antics for many years had succumbed to liver & lung cancer at age 71.
Numerous musicians & fans took to social media to pay tribute to a guy who remained far from a household name to most casual rock music fans, played key roles in some seminal punk rock records, was there when it all went down, often in flames and had recently toured and performed with a long list of rebel rock heroes and mutual admirers.
I got a few chances to shoot video of Walter playing over the past few years, and he was a true old school rock n roll showman, and the ramshackle style made for gigs that were always a blast. I’ve included a few clips from some of Walter Lure’s last gigs in San Francisco on this page as a he salute to his bravado and role in providing us all with such great rock n roll memories over the decades.
Walter Lure was in NYC in the mid 70’s when he left his gig as guitarist for largely unheralded rock band The Demons, whose lead singer was a drug dealer to local musicians including the New York Dolls, to join up with Johnny Thunder’s post Dolls disastour outfit The Heartbreakers. Lure was already a fan of Thunders, who’d he watched at the Mercer Arts Center as they threw away the rock rule book, and eschewed the currently in vogue prog & hippie folk ditherings for a more animalistic vital 50’s influenced street rock sound. The charismatic & chaotic Thunders “could get a round of applause simply from messing with his own hair,” Lure writes in his recently published memoir “To Hell And Back”, and Walter, a banker’s son, who’d attended Fordham U and enjoyed classic literature, was eventually asked to join the rough housing unit known as The Heartbreakers in 1975 and quickly tried to fit in. ” I played my last show with The Demons on a Friday night at CBGB during a 1975 July 4th festival to about 20 people at 2 am and my first Heartbreakers show the next night to a jam packed house of probably 500 people with lines around the block. ” He let Dee Dee Ramone cut his fashionably long 70’s locks off, and then had to get on the same drug wavelength as his bandmates , writes Lure “like an idiot I said: yeah, I’ll try it. Within six months or a year became as fucked up as they were.” In addition to a dope habit, he established a role in the band as a sidekick and musical foil to the notoriously unreliable and drug addled singer/guitarist.
The sole survivor of the classic #JohnnyThundersAndTheHeartbreakers era has left the building #RIPWalterLure Got to see Waldo a few times, and it was always a blast… Here he is performing an old #Contours classic #DoYouLoveMe with his 2017 #LAMF touring band featuring #GlenMatlock (@glenmatlock1) , #DannyRay (@explodingsax) , #MikeNess (@mikeness) and the mighty Clem Burke on drums ( @cbdproject )
In 1976, at the invitation of former NY Dolls manager Malcolm Mclaren, The Heartbreakers traveled to England for the potentially promising, but very soon to be The ill fated, Anarchy in the UK tour, with the infamous Sex Pistols headlining, as well as The Damned & The Clash as support. The New Yorkers had barely cleared customs at Heathrow when it became apparent the tour was going to be sabotaged by mountains of bad press, public out cry, boycotts and bans by local gov’t councils . This tumult arose as a result of the aftermath of the Pistols appearing on the live BBC Bill Grundy TV talk show and mischievously uttering some four letter expletives in the direction of the lovably lecherous lout of a host and all heck broke loose. Recounted Walter to interviewer Joe Whyte in 2017 “Malcolm picked us up at the airport in a limo and he was really nervous and muttering to himself. He mentioned something about the band cursing on a TV show, but we had no idea. The next day we woke up and every newspaper had nothing else on the front pages but the hideous outrage that some punks cursed on national TV. We couldn’t understand it at all. “
The Heartbreakers played what UK shows they could, and as they’d a bit of a reputation in the UK, unlike NYC where they just had debts and detractors, they stayed in London with their raging queen of a manager Leee Black Childers, hoping to score a lucrative or at least livable UK record deal.
“Leee Black Childers had kept some cash in reserve for a few spare meals and transport needs. Luckily the Clash’s roadie, Sebastian Conran offered to put us up for “a few days” at his parents flat in Belgravia. They were out of town – they being the founders of Conran’s department stores. The flat had around 5 floors and about 8 bedrooms and was beautiful. I knew Sebastian was nervous that we’d destroy the place but we were actually fairly well behaved didn’t wreck anything. I guess we didn’t have enough cash to get lots of drugs and booze and start vomiting over everything. The Clash members would stop by with friends during this time sometimes bringing food and booze. I know Johnny sold his Gretsch White Falcon guitar to Joe Strummer while we were there. “
Remaining in London throughout most of 1977 working on their debut album, they went from place to place, even crashing at a famous punk dominatrix residence, where they’d hang out getting high, while she tortured her clients in the back. Said Walter to Louder Than War in 2017 “Someone said they saw David Frost coming out one afternoon looking all red faced after having gone through a session with her. Quite the scene at the time. . . “
Upon getting a record deal offer Walter said he “finally quit my day job as a chemist with the Food and Drug Administration in New York and embarked on my new career as a drug addled punk rocker! It doesn’t get much stranger than that.”
While his bandmates used their spare time pursuing pints in the London pubs, or nodded out waiting for the man and calls from management, Lure took in musicals on the West End, and read Sartre. He came across a used English school girl tie, and incorporated it into his look, and adopted the Bowler as his headwear. They played many gigs with Siouxsie & The Banshees, and after the Heartbreakers one & only album was released and quickly bombed commercially they “officially” broke up, but soon began doing “reunion” gigs as early as 1978.
Living in New York in the early 1980’s, Lure was openly bisexual, had his drug habit, occasional “reunion” gigs with the ever impossible Johnny Thunders, and own band affairs to tend to with groups like The Heroes, The Blessed, The Hurricanes, The Waldos, but he still needed a job to pay bills. His father stepped in to get him work on Wall St. and Lure would suit up daily, and often cop dope on his lunch break at a brokerage firm, doing millions of dollars in trades while managing a debilitating drug regimen, and by night head to gigs and change out of his day job outfit backstage, in his book says he finally managed to clean up by the late 1980’s. Lure told interviewer Jeffrey Wengrofsky that after finally putting the needle down after Memorial Day 1988 “I was in charge of a settlement operation of 125 people, making four hundred grand a year. I had thought that music was complex, but this was like a world unto its own. It gets so complex with private equity. All through the ‘90s, I would work during the day in suits and change into my rock clothes at night – beat up pieces of shit from the other side of my closet. Sometimes, people from my job would come down to the gig, and there I’d be, on stage, singing “Too Much Junkie Business.” It would blow their minds. I lived a double life. I’d play once a month at The Continental with The Waldos.”
His former Heartbreakers bandmates attempted one last reunion in the early 1990’s, and Lure was achingly aghast at his old bandmates chronic condition, and could see the grim future for Jerry Nolan & Johnny Thunders barreling down hard. Writes Lure in his autobiography “Musically, they belonged together, and when they passed away, both in the span of nine months, they were buried within fifty yards of one another. Together again.”
Lure eventually was reunited with his long lost son Damien in the early 2000’s, and while the kid quietly told friends he didn’t really appreciate Walter’s simplistic “Nursery Rhyme” style songs, at least the two had a chance to bond and reacquaint after years of separation. Just a few weeks months before he died, Walter’s autobiography emerged in both hardback and paperback editions from Backbeat Press.
Entitled “To Hell And Back: My Life in Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, in the Words of the Last Man Standing” the tale mostly delves into the sordid stories, tawdry shenanigans, that make up the trials and tribulations of being an on/off again bandmate to the legendary Johnny Thunders for umpteen years. Walter spends much of the story detailing the “Too Much Junkie Business” they were known for until the men parted. An Epilogue and Discography are provided for those that care to follow the tale past the Heartbreakers saga. Said reviewer Jim Spaeth on Amazon of the self penned tome “I couldn’t put this book down. Non-stop excitement, craziness, drama as the weirdest cast of characters rampage through the pages. I love inside stories of the music biz; this book recounts the birth and death of punk from the inside out. Walter also tells the very human and personal stories of his bandmates as they struggle with the music industry, the music press, the fans, each other, but mostly with themselves. You root for them to make it, then you root for them to just stay alive. Most didn’t; Walter lived to tell the tale. Don’t miss it!”