From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
||John Anthony Genzale, Jr
||July 15, 1952
Queens, NY, USA
||April 23, 1991 (aged 38)
roll, punk rock, glam rock
||Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist
Dolls, The Heartbreakers
|Gibson Les Paul Junior
Gibson Les Paul Special
Johnny Thunders, born John Anthony
Genzale, Jr. (July 15, 1952 - April 23, 1991), was an
Italian American rock and roll/protopunk guitarist, singer and songwriter.
He came to prominence in the early '70s as a member of the New York Dolls,
and later played with The Heartbreakers and as a solo
Genzale was born July 15, 1952, and raised in Jackson Heights,
Queens, NY, in a second generation Roman Catholic Italian family
from Avellino. As a boy he played baseball but could not join the Little League
as it required the presence of the youth's father. He also refused
to cut his hair short.
Under the name "Johnny Volume", Genzale began performing music
at Quintano High School with "Johnny and the Jaywalkers".
In 1968 he started going to the Fillmore East on weekends and later a
West Village bar on Bleecker Street, Nobodys. He got a job as a
salesclerk at Da Nazz leather shop on Bleecker. It was on Bleecker
Street that he met future Dolls Arthur Kane and Billy Murcia. He
joined their band, "Actress", which eventually became the New York
Dolls when David
Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain joined in 1971. At this
time John Genzale renamed himself Johnny Thunders, after the DC
comic book of the same name.
They recorded two critically acclaimed but commercially
unsuccessful albums, The New York Dolls and Too Much
Too Soon. The band was managed, for a short time, by Malcolm McLaren
and was an inspiration for the Sex Pistols.
In 1975 the original line-up for the Dolls broke up. Their early
recordings are still in print today and continue to influence young
bands with their trash/glam/punk attitude.
Johnny Thunders, performing at the VFW Post in Ann Arbor, Michigan
in July 1979. At that time he was collaborating with Wayne Kramer
of the MC5, as 'Gang War'.
He formed The Heartbreakers with Dolls drummer
Jerry Nolan, and Television
Hell. Ex-Demons guitarist Walter Lure was soon
added. After Hell unsuccessfully tried to usurp Johnny's place as
lead singer, he left to form Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Hell was
replaced by Billy Rath.
With Thunders leading the band, the Heartbreakers toured America
releasing one official album, L.A.M.F., in 1977. The group relocated to
the UK, where their popularity was significantly greater than it
was in the U.S., particularly among punk bands.
In late 1979 Thunders began performing in a band called Gang
War. Other members included John Morgan, Ron Cooke, Philippe
Marcade and former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. They recorded
several demos and performed live several times before disbanding,
Records releasing an EP in 1987. Bootlegs of their demos and
live performances are circulating; One semi-official live/studio
vinyl only LP was released on Zodiac in 1990, credited to Thunders
and Kramer and titled Gang War.
Thunders recorded a number of solo albums beginning with So Alone in 1978. The
notoriously drug-fueled recording sessions featured a core band of
Thunders, bassist Phil
Lynott, drummer Paul
Cook, and guitarist Steve Jones, with guest
appearances from Chrissie Hynde, Steve Marriott,
Walter Lure, Billy Rath, and Peter Perrett of The Only Ones. The
CD version of the album contains four bonus tracks, including the
single "Dead or Alive". After its release, Thunders and Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious played in
the Living Dead for a short time.
During the early 1980s, Thunders re-formed The Heartbreakers for
various tours; the group recorded their final album in 1984.
In 1980, Thunders took the stage at Max's Kansas City with Jimi
LaLumia & the Psychotic Frogs, along with Jayne County, Cherry Vanilla
and Louie Lepore and Donna Destri ,or as then owner Tommy Dean
called it, "the social register". The result was the 'live' 7 inch
single "Twist And Shout" (Thunders on lead vocal) and "Boys"
(Thunders on lead guitar). The tracks also appear on the album
Greatest Hits "Live"- Jimi LaLumia & The Psychotic Frogs at
Max's Kansas City, 1980.
In 1985, he released Que Sera Sera, a collection of new
songs that showed he could still perform convincingly. Three years
later he recorded Copy Cats, an album of rock and R&B covers with vocalist Patti
From August 1988, until his death in April 1991, Thunders
performed with a band known as the Oddballs: Jamie Heath,
saxophone; Alison Gordy, vocals; Chris Musto, drums; Stevie
Klasson, guitar; and Jill Wisoff, bass, who left after a year.
His final recording was a cover of "Born to Lose" with German
punk rock band Die Toten Hosen, recorded 36 hours
before his death.
Many rumors surround Thunders' death at the St. Peter House in
New Orleans, Louisiana in April 1991. He
apparently died of drug-related causes, but it has been speculated
that it was the result of foul play. According to the autobiography
Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones, Dee Dee Ramone took a call in New York the next day from
Stevie Klasson, Johnny's rhythm guitar player. "They told me that
Johnny had gotten mixed up with some bastards... who ripped him off
for his methadone
supply. They had given him LSD and then murdered him. He had gotten
a pretty large supply of methadone in England, so he could travel
and stay away from those creeps - the drug dealers, Thunders
imitators, and losers like that."
What is known for certain is that Johnny's room (no. 37) was
ransacked and most of his possessions were missing (passport,
makeup, clothes). Rigor mortis had set in with his body
positioned in an unnatural state, described by eyewitnesses as
"like a pretzel", underneath a coffee table. Friends and
acquaintances acknowledge he had not been using heroin for some
time, relying on his methadone prescriptions. The police did not
open a criminal investigation.
DeVille, who lived next door to the hotel in which Thunders
died, described his death this way:
- I don't know how the word got out that I lived next door, but
all of a sudden the phone started ringing and ringing. Rolling
Stone was calling, the Village Voice called, his
family called, and then his guitar player called. I felt bad for
all of them. It was a tragic end, and I mean, he went out in a
blaze of glory, ha ha ha, so I thought I might as well make it look
real good, you know, out of respect, so I just told everybody that
when Johnny died he was laying down on the floor with his guitar in
his hands. I made that up. When he came out of the St. Peter's
Guest House, rigor mortis had set in to such an extent that his
body was in a U shape. When you're laying on the floor in a fetal
position, doubled over - well, when the body bag came out, it was
in a U. It was pretty awful."
An autopsy was conducted by the New Orleans coroner, but served
only to compound the mysteries. According to Thunders' biographer
Nina Antonia as
posted on the Jungle Records web site, the level of
drugs found in his system was not fatal. And
according to the book "Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon"
Des Barres who interviewed Thunders' sister Marion, the autopsy
confirmed evidence of advanced leukemia, which would explain the
decline in Thunders' appearance in the final year of his life.  This
also sheds light on the interview in Lech Kowalski's documentary "Born To
Lose: The Last Rock and Roll Movie", where Thunders' sister
Mary-Ann's husband says, "Only Johnny knew how sick he really
In a 1994 Melody
Maker interview Thunders' manager Mick Webster described the
efforts of his family, "We keep asking the New Orleans police to
re-investigate, but they haven’t been particularly friendly. They
seemed to think that this was just another junkie who had wandered into town and died. They
simply weren’t interested." Marion claims that the original police
report is largely missing and Webster further explains that the
Coroner who conducted the autopsy was fired for falsifying a report
in another case.
Thunders was survived by his ex-wife Julie and four children,
sons John Genzale, Vito Genzale, Dino Genzale, and daughter Jamie
oldest son Vito is serving a prison sentence in the Southport Correctional
Facility in New York for drug dealing, having completed a
previous sentence in Attica.
- So Alone - (1978)
- Diary of a
Lover - (1982)
- In Cold Blood - (1983)
- Hurt Me - (1984)
- Que Sera Sera - (1985)
- Copy Cats - (1988)
Official live albums and
New Too Much Junkie Business - (1983)
- Stations of the Cross -
- Bootlegging the Bootleggers - (1990)
- Live in Japan - (1991)
- Have Faith - (1992)
- Saddest Vacation Act. 1 - (1993)
- Saddest Vacation Act. 2 - (1993)
- Chinese Rocks: The Ultimate Thunders Live Collection -
- Add Water & Stir - (1994)
- The Studio Bootlegs - (1996)
- Belfast Rocks - (1997)
- Born Too Loose: The Best Of Johnny Thunders - (1999)
- Live at Leeds - (1999)
- Play with Fire - (2000)
- Endless Party - (2000)
- Panic on the Sunset Strip - (2000)
- Live & Wasted: Unplugged 1990 - (2001)
- Eve of Destruction - (2005)
Official singles and EPs
- "Dead or Alive" 7" - (1978)
- "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" 7" & 12" -
- " Twist And Shout/Boys" 7" live at Max's with Jimi LaLumia
& The Psychotic Frogs-(1981)
- "In Cold Blood" 7" - (1983)
- "Hurt Me" 7" - (1984)
- "Crawfish 7" & 12" - (1985)
- "Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)" 7" & 12" -
- Hey Man Where Is My Guitar - (1983)
- Pipeline - (1983)
- So All Alone - (1983)
- Wanted: Dead or Alive Reward $10 - (1983)
- Cosa Nostra Never Sleeps - (1984) - recorded on June, 1983 at
Folkets Park, Södertälje, Sweden.
- Play with Fire - (1984)
- There's a LIttle Bit of Whore in Every Girl - (1984)
- Schneckentaenze - (1985)
- Lucky Strikes Back - (1987) - recorded at Nihon Seinenkan, Tokyo, Japan on July 8, 1986.
- Diary of a Gypsy Lover - (1996) - contains material from 4
different sources: alternate takes from the In Cold Blood
studio session (tracks 1-6); tracks that were originally released
as a Japanese 7" single called Critics Choice (7-9); material from
"Live at The Rat", Boston, 1983 (10-15); and material from a radio
show done in 1991 (16-23).
- Johnny on the Rocks - (1996)
- Live Crisis - (1996)
- Fuck Off Marquee - (1997)
- Countdown Love (Demos & Unreleased Live) - (1999)
- The Party Ain't Over Yet - (2005)
singles and EPs
- Proud to Be Pirate EP - (1983)
- Ain't Superstitious 7" - (1987)
- Critic's Choice 7" - (1992)
- Daddy Rollin' Stone 7" - (1996)
- Life Goes On 7" - (1996)
- Countdown Love 7" - (1997)
- The Fireball EP - (1999)
- The Thunderbolt EP - (1999)
- It's Great When You're Straight, Yeah EP - (2000)
Thunders has had numerous bands paying tribute or mentioning him
in their songs, while he was alive and after his death.
- The Clash mentioned
Thunders in the lyric from their song "City Of The Dead", singing
"'Don't you know where to cop?'/That's what New York Johnny
said/'You should get to know your town/Just like I know mine'" and
on the song "Safe European Home", where they
sing "'How many local dollars for a local anaesthetic?/The Johnny
on the corner was a very sympathetic'."
- Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks covered "You Can't Put Your Arms
Around a Memory" on his first solo LP called Nights Are So
- Alison Gordy of Blonde and Blue (and former backup singer for
Johnny) recorded "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" on their
CD Mad As Hell.
- Recently, Gibson.com ranked Thunders #2 on its "Punk Rock's 10
Mightiest Guitar Gods" list.
- Then-Guns N'
Roses bassist Duff
McKagan wrote the song "So Fine", which was dedicated to
Thunders. The song appears on the album Use Your
Illusion II. Also, in 1993, Guns N' Roses covered
Thunders' song "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" on their
cover album, "The Spaghetti
Incident?", with McKagan performing vocals and playing all
DeVille wrote a song called "Chemical Warfare" which appeared
on his 1992 album Backstreets of Desire.
"Chemical Warfare" was dedicated to Johnny Thunders with whom
DeVille shared a long-time friendship. DeVille was first to arrive
at the hotel the day of Johnny's death.
- At their reunion shows, the New York Dolls have been performing
"You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory", with member Sylvain Sylvain
singing the lead vocal and sometimes changing the title lyric to "I
can't put my arms around you, Johnny."
- On the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
double album, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre
of Orpheus, Johnny Thunders is mentioned in the song
"There She Goes my Beautiful World", singing "...And Johnny
Thunders was half alive when he wrote 'Chinese Rocks'"(although
Johnny performed and recorded 'Chinese Rocks' it was written by his
friend and fellow punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone).
- English rock band the Dogs D'Amour released
a song about Thunders titled "Johnny Silvers" on their ...More Unchartered
Heights of Disgrace album.
- The Replacements included a
song about Johnny Thunders, "Johnny's Gonna Die", on their first
album. The Mats also had a song called "Dose of Thunder" on their
- Alex Chilton
in his song "Bangkok" sings the lines "I'm not living on Chinese
rocks, I'm in Bangkok." A small tribute and allusion to Johnny
- Die Toten
Hosen paid tribute to Johnny Thunders by including the line "So
lange Johnny Thunders lebt, so lang bleib ich ein Punk" ("As long
as Johnny Thunders lives I'll stay a punk") in their song "Wort zum
Sonntag". After his death Die Toten Hosen changed the lyrics to
"Hey, Johnny kannst du uns grad' seh'n, wir vergessen dich nicht -
wir werden überall von dir erzählen damit dein Name ewig
weiterlebt." ("Hey, Johnny can you see us right now, we won't
forget you - we'll tell everywhere about you for your name 'll live
- The Murder City Devils named a song
"Johnny Thunders" on their album Empty Bottles, Broken
- Iggy Pop wrote a tribute song for Johnny entitled "Look Away"
on the album Naughty Little Doggie. It
also involves his love affair with Sable Starr.
- "Everything I Wanted" by Australian band Wallspace features the
line "Don't you wish you had a name like Johnny Thunder".
- Spanish label Munster Records released Again ... This One's
For Johnny in 2001, a tribute record which includes bands as
Ramones, Ronnie Spector,
Nikki Sudden or Atom Rhumba
- Vic Godard & the Subway Sect had a single titled "Johnny
Thunders" which was released in September 1992 by Rough Trade
- Slaughter & the Dogs had a track titled "Johnny T"
allegedly about Thunders which was the b-side to their single "Dame
- In the "Call of the Yeti" episode of "The Mighty Boosh" Naboo
tells Vince "Vince, you're a punk, stay punk! Think of Johnny
Thunders, Mick and Keith!" when they are threatened to be raped by
Westerberg released an album in August 2008 entitled "49:00"
which contains a track about Johnny entitled "Devil Raised A Good
- Anarcho punk band Kronstadt Uprising became
more influenced by Johnny Thunders (and glam rock generally) later in their
- Chinese punk rock
band Joyside's "Neptune Child" is in tribute of Stiv Bators and
- When doing their cover of The Rolling Stones song Dead
Flowers. JB Beverley and The Wayward Drifters
substitute the line, "and another girl to take my pain away", with,
"with my Johnny Thunders records taking all this pain away".
- American label Skykrebs Records Limited  released Born To
Lose: A Tribute To Johnny Thunders in 2009, a 3CD Boxed Set of
various artists featuring 51 songs and a 36 page full color
booklet. Guest stars include Richie Cannata (saxophone player from
Billy Joel), Steve Holley (drummer from Wings), Buddy Bowzer
(saxophone player from The New York Dolls), Andy Shernoff (bass
player from The Dictators) and Jeff Magnum (bass player from The
- John Waite
references Johnny in his song "Downtown" from his Temple
Bar CD. In the song, the lyric "Johnny Thunders on the Radio,
ah You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory".
Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones, pages 232-3)