The death earlier this week of Walter Lure, one of the original Heartbreakers, was yet another tough blow laid on us by the year 2020. James Marshall offers a tribute to the guitarist and songwriter who served as both a front man and perfect match for Johnny Thunders.
Walter Lure died two days ago, as I write this. Four weeks after being diagnosed with liver cancer, he was gone. That he made it to age 71 was itself a bit ironic. After all, he was a Heartbreaker. “Catch ‘Em While They’re Still Alive” was the caption on one of their first flyers…the other three members of the classic lineup were already in their graves— Johnny Thunders in ’91, Jerry Nolan went in ’92, Billy Rath lasted all the way to 2014. Richard Hell, a short-lived original member, is now the last of the Heartbreakers.
But Walter had already beaten the odds. While the rest of the band were busy killing themselves with hard narcotics, Walter, after the Heartbreakers collapsed in the late ‘70s, reinvented himself (during daylight hours) as a suit and tie Wall Street bond trader and did quite well for himself (his pre-Heartbreakers day job was testing food products for the FDA). But at night he kept rockin’, with his band the Waldos, and he could still pack any club in the New York area. I guess it’s time to digress….
Walter Lure was born in Floral Park, Queens. He entered the New York City rock’n’roll scene playing in a band called the Demons, led by Elliot Kidd (L.A. mob boss Mickey Cohn’s nephew) who were starting to get noticed. The newly formed Heartbreakers, with Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders, fresh from the ashes of the New York Dolls and Richard Hell, forced from Television by Tom Verlaine’s monstrous ego, took special notice of the Demons. Enough to lure (pardon the pun) their guitarist into the first punk super group.
..that magic time—one we’ll never see again, when all the coolest people in the world lived in a fourteen-block radius of the East Village seen through the eyes of a New York rock’n’roll kid who ended up in the coolest band in the world.
From those first months with Richard Hell comes one of my favorite Walter songs, one that was retired from the set when Hell left the band, it’s called “Flight”:
When Hell and the Heartbreakers parted ways, Walter rose quickly to co-fronting the band, holding his own with one of rock’n’roll’s most charismatic and iconic figures— Johnny Thunders. Forging a writing team with Jerry Nolan, Walter wrote and sang many of the Heartbreakers best-loved classics— “One Track Mind,” “Get Off The Phone,” “All By Myself,” “Too Much Junkie Business” and others. He stood center stage, and held his ground effortlessly.
“Get Off The Phone” – The Heartbreakers:
The first time I saw the Heartbreakers was when they returned from the UK where they stayed on after the ill-fated Anarchy tour w/the Sex Pistols and the Clash, recording their only studio LP LAMF for Track Records. They played two nights at the Village Gate, and of course the place was packed. And the band was on fire. You can hear one of the shows on the CD Live At The Village Gate.
An unreleased recording of The Heartbreakers, performing live at the Village Gate, Aug. 19, 1977:
The Heartbreakers dissolved over the bewildering muddy mix of LAMF (there are dozens of alternate mixes released available now, I think the best is LAMF Revisited), and Walter returned to NYC, kicked dope (a habit he picked up in the Heartbreakers, “when in Rome….”) and got a straight job on Wall Street. But he never left rock’n’roll. He joined the teen punk sensations The Blessed, appearing on their only single “Deep Frenzy” b/w “American Bandstand,” put together the Waldos, appeared on countless Heartbreakers’ “Rent Party” shows at Max’s, worked with Johnny Thunders when the money was right (appearing on at least two JT live albums), did session work with the Ramones (Johnny Ramone never learned to play guitar solos, that’s Walter on “Subterranean Jungle,” “Too Tough To Die” and “Animal Boy”), and made many records with the Waldos, the two studio LP’s- Rent Party and Wacka Lacka Loom Bop A Loom Bam Boo are among the best and most underrated discs from the entire New York scene.
I never really got to know Walter, or Waldo as he was known, very well. For a while, he lived with a girl in the East 20’s in the same building as my friend Marina Lutz. That’s where I spent a little time hanging out with Walter, and even in those half-awake drug fogs, I remember how smart and funny he was: sharp, and with a wicked, dry sense of humor. I also remember how well read he was, a fellow bibliophile, most of our conversations were about books, and he knew his shit.
Earlier this year Walter published his autobiography (written with Dave Thompson)— To Hell And Back: My Life In Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers In The Words Of The Last Man Standing (Backbeat Books). It’s a sensational, fast-paced read. The times, the people, the fashions, the music, the feeling of that magic time—one we’ll never see again, when all the coolest people in the world lived in a fourteen-block radius of the East Village seen through the eyes of a New York rock’n’roll kid who ended up in the coolest band in the world. Andy Shernoff said of Walter, “He was a gentleman among scoundrels”, and I think that says it.
Walter Lure may not have been the very last man standing, but he was surely the last man still rocking. Rest in peace, Waldo.