“You wanna hear the one about junkies or the one about Chinese rocks?”
– Walter Lure of the Heartbreakers laughs into the microphone with a heavy New York accent.
All photos by Amy Haben
We have gathered at Bowery Electric just a block away from where CBGB used to stand, to celebrate the birthday of the handsome Italian musician with undeniable style and torturous demons, Johnny Thunders. The crowd is a diverse mix of attractive kids in their twenties to people who are old enough to have been friends with Johnny. It gives me hope that this music isn’t dying out with an older generation. Various t-shirts with Johnny’s face painted on the front are selling out rapidly. Everyone is smiling, dancing, and getting drunk around me. I have to say, of all the tribute shows I’ve seen, this one was the best. The bands were loud and tight with tons of energy. I stood right in front of the stage for most of the night.
Dina Regine and Lenny Kaye performed a Patti Palladin/ Johnny Thunders duet from their album, Copy Cats, with “Love Is Strange.” The original was performed by Mickey & Sylvia in 1956. Dina also sang “Looking For A Kiss” by the New York Dolls and “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory,” my favorite Johnny Thunders song.
The Patti Smith Band’s Lenny Kaye went on to sing a fantastic rendition of “Gloria,” in which he told a story of a girl hanging out in CBGB in 1977 and going home with Johnny after watching the Heartbreakers play. He also played The Beatles “A Day In The Life,” which is out of the ordinary for this event but Lenny said he found it fitting when he thought of Johnny, who he holds in very high regard. On drums was Jay Dee Daugherty, who has played alongside Lenny and Patti Smith for the last 40 years. Lenny also sang a slightly slowed down version of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” with Dina Regine on back up vocals. During the chorus, Lenny shouted, “Now I want you to sing really loud so Johnny can hear ya!”
I had never heard of Lulu Lewis, who looked like an unassuming, pretty blond, yet she surprised by delivering a ferocious set with “She’s So Untouchable” and “Chinese Rocks.” She was snarly and masculine in her delivery, which fit the vibe of the night.
The Ritualists were one of the younger groups to take the stage. The singer moved like Mick Jagger and even had an appropriate scarf clinging to his neck. My friend pointed out that the bass player of the band played photographer Mick Rock on the HBO show Vinyl. You can’t walk into any club in New York without bumping into someone who was on that show. They played “Subway Train” by the New York Dolls and “Born To Lose” by The Heartbreakers. Even though the singer’s pants were ill-fitting and way too tight, I have to give him credit. He sounded pretty close to the real thing.
Then there was Steve Krebs and the M.I.A. band, named after the Johnny Thunders song by the same name. The lanky, blond singer with superman energy and gleaming charisma put together this night and hosts the show. His forceful pipes belted out “Personality Crisis” by New York Dolls, among others. Outside, the show he recalled pulling a wasted Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys off the street back in the day. Just another night in the adult playground that is Manhattan.
“Look at all these Japs joining me onstage. It’s like Pearl Harbor up here!” The legendary Walter Lure of The Heartbreakers joked when referencing his band The Waldos. A young girl in the audience shouted back “These jokes are older than you!” Heckling aside, the Waldos killed it with a long set of all the classic Heartbreakers songs. Walter let his guitarist and bassist take the microphone from time to time where they mimicked Johnny’s punk rock drawl. It was a fantastic end to an awesome show which included other classic and modern bands such as: The Rousers, The Skelekasters, New Rock City, Mora Tau, Luigi & The Wise Guys, FFN, Density, Diane Gentile, and Dee Pop. Make sure to catch this show next year!
“Many people love me, many people hate me – there’s nobody in between. That’s the way I prefer it.” – Johnny Thunders (July 15, 1952 – April 23, 1991)