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Johnny Thunders , whose real name was John Anthony Genzale, Jr. (July 15, 1952 – April 23, 1991) was a garage rock singer and guitarist and punk rock. He participated and was a founding member of the legendary proto-punk band the New York Dolls from the early 70’s until 1975; this band would be a great influence for the newborn Glam genre. When the band breaks from being an icon of garage rock and glam rock to being an icon of the newly born New York punk rock scene now as a soloist in their new band The Heartbreakers. He was distinguished by his dissonant and penetrating use of the guitar that was of great influence in the music ‘punk’ influencing several musicians of the then new punk as for example to Steve Jones (who admitted once with shame how much he had copied the style of Thunders for the Sex Pistols.) During his life, Thunders faced personal demons and those related to fame that due to his marked influence he had to lead; her late life was full of problems with alcoholism, drug addiction and the relative forgetfulness of her colleagues.
Genzale began his career playing in high school with “Johnny and the Jaywalkers” under the name “Johnny Volume”. After leaving the band he joined “Actress”, whose members included Arthur “Killer” Kane and the Colombian Billy Murcia. Finally “Actress” changed its name to the New York Dolls in 1971 and Genzale self-awarded the pseudonym ‘Johnny Thunders’.
After recording two critically acclaimed but commercially failed albums – The New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon – the ‘New York Dolls’ split up. This epitome of the ‘New York Dolls’ record is still influencing young bands with its sound, attire and glam attitude and its sharp ‘proto-punk’ sound.
Thunders later formed the punk rock band The Heartbreakers with ‘New York Dolls’ drummer Jerry Nolan, ‘Demons’ guitarist Walter Lure and Television bassist Richard Hell, who would later leave the lineup to create his own punk band The Voidoids. Hell was replaced by Billy Rath.
With Thunders in charge of the band, The Heartbreakers toured the United States and England, putting on sale their only official album, L.A.M.F., in 1977. L.A.M.F. is a classic of the ‘punk’ that documents the important bridge between the scene ‘punk’ American and the British. The Heartbreakers opened the Sex Pistols opening their shows for the “Anarchy Tour”. Subsequently the group settled in the United Kingdom, where its popularity was significantly higher than in the United States.
At the end of 1979 Thunders started playing with a band called Gang War. The other members were John Morgan, Ron Cooke, Philippe Marcade and Wayne Kramer, the former MC5 guitarist. They recorded many demos and played live numerous times before separating. Bootlegs of their demos and live performances are still in circulation. A semi-official live album, credited to Thunders and Kramer – titled Gang War – is available in specialty stores.
Thunders recorded several solo albums, beginning with So Alone in 1978. The album was formatted in sessions marked by the use of drugs with the turbulence of an atomic explosion. The bittersweet and complex sound created a standard that many bands aspire to emulate and is universally hailed as the masterpiece of Johnny Thunders. The album had guests like Phil Lynott, Chrissie Hynde, Steve Marriott, Glen Matlock, Steve Jones, Walter Lure, Billy Rath, and Peter Perrett from The Only Ones. The core of the band included Thunders, Lynott, Cook, and Jones. After its release, Thunders and former Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious played with Living Dead for a while. The CD version of this album contains four extra songs, including the single “Dead or Alive,” one of the brightest moments in Thunders’ post-Dolls career.
In the early 1980s, Thunders reunited The Heartbreakers for several tours, and the group recorded their last album in 1984.
In 1985, Thunders recorded Que Sera Sera, a collection of unpublished material that showed he was still in shape. Three years later he recorded Copy Cats, an album of rock versions and R & B with the vocalist Patti Palladin.
Thunders continued to play and record until his death in 1991, but his addiction to heroin reduced his musical production during the 1980s.
Thunders always had some loyal fans. I would definitely have more had it not been for their irregular presentations and lack of good publicity, and the flow of bootleg recordings has never waned. Among his latest recordings are the live concerts he did in Japan, which show him mature and surprisingly clean.
His death happened under mysterious circumstances. After years of abuse, Johnny Thunders was found dead in a hotel room in New Orleans in April 1991. There was no official news of the cause of death, but some reports indicate that he died of an overdose of methadone, in any case He knows that he suffered from leukemia and was ready to die. It is speculated that he was infected with HIV.
His last recording happened about 36 hours before his death, a version of “Born to Lose” with the German punk band Die Toten Hosen.
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