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Johnny Thunders

Background information
Birth name John Anthony Genzale, Jr
Born July 15, 1952
Queens, NY, USA
Died April 23, 1991 (aged 38)
New Orleans, LA, USA
Genres Rock and roll, punk rock, glam rock
Occupations Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist
Instruments guitar
Associated acts New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers
Notable instruments
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 artist.



Early life and career

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.

Post-New York Dolls

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 bassist Richard 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 and Britain, 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, with Zodiac 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 Palladin.

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."[1]

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.

Singer Willy 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."[2]

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.[3] And according to the book "Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon" by Pamela 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. [4] 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 was."

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 Genzale.[5] His 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.[6]


Studio albums

  • 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 compilations

  • The New Too Much Junkie Business - (1983)
  • Stations of the Cross - (1987)
  • 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 - (1993)
  • 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" - (1978)
  • " 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" - (1988)

Unofficial/Bootleg albums

  • 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)

Unofficial/Bootleg 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)

Musical tributes

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 Long.
  • 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, ranked Thunders #2 on its "Punk Rock's 10 Mightiest Guitar Gods" list.[1]
  • 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 instruments.
  • Willy 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 "Tim" album.
  • 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 Thunders.
  • 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 on eternally.")
  • The Murder City Devils named a song "Johnny Thunders" on their album Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts.
  • 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 records.
  • Slaughter & the Dogs had a track titled "Johnny T" allegedly about Thunders which was the b-side to their single "Dame to Blame".
  • 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 Hippy yetis.
  • Paul Westerberg released an album in August 2008 entitled "49:00" which contains a track about Johnny entitled "Devil Raised A Good Boy".
  • Anarcho punk band Kronstadt Uprising became more influenced by Johnny Thunders (and glam rock generally) later in their existence.
  • Chinese punk rock band Joyside's "Neptune Child" is in tribute of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders.
  • 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 [2] 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 Dead Boys).
  • 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".


  1. ^ Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones, pages 232-3)
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Johnny Thunders, born John Anthony Genzale, Jr (July 15, 1952 - April 23, 1991), was an American rock and roll guitarist and singer, first with the New York Dolls, the proto-punk glam rockers of the early '70s. During the late '70s, he was a familiar figure on the New York punk scene, both with The Heartbreakers and as a solo artist.


  • A lot of people don't think they can count on me, but I've never missed a gig in my life.
  • A lot of people take me seriously because of the things they read about me. Maybe they wanted to sell more records.
  • A lot of people want to die for a lot of reasons.
  • Heroin doesn't affect my musical life at all.
  • I always get harassed by the police.
  • I don't eat cereal actually... Frosted Flakes... that's as close as I can get.
  • I met Sable when she was 15 and I was 18. I sent her home to New York while we carried on the tour. When we got back the police were looking for her at the airport and everywhere!
  • I take smack because I enjoy it. I enjoy all it makes me feel. I don't do it to be in with the in crowd. I can rock out with it.
  • I was in Sweden for 10 days. They put me on the front page of the daily papers eight days in a row. I did nothing to warrant any of the attention. It was ridiculous!
  • I wouldn't change a thing -- except my bank balance.
  • I'm gonna try to be cured. I've been on heroin eight years and I want to try a different style of life. It made me split up from my wife. It ruined a lot of things for me.
  • I've got three boys. They look like me. They're called Dino, Guido and Little Johnny. They're my whole life. They mean more to me than music.
  • I've never been so happy in my life.
  • It went out in Paris that I died three times. It was in all the papers. Your guess is as good as mine where it came from.
  • It's something I have no regrets about, but it's not something that I'll do forever.
  • Many people love me, many people hate me - there's nobody in between. That's the way I prefer it.
  • Me and Jerry left because we felt we weren't getting anywhere playing our old songs in tiny clubs. The group was getting stale and staying behind the times.
  • No one really knows me. People think they know me.
  • The Lower East Side is really heavy nowadays. A lot of murders, people getting ripped off and knifed. It's really dangerous.
  • The Dolls were an attitude. If nothing else they were a great attitude.
  • We did a TV show and they thought I was too messed up and wouldn't show it. That started the ball rolling with the press. They started following me.
  • We get picked up in these Rolls Royces and get three miles down the highway and five cop cars pull us over.
  • We'll establish ourselves here, get a reputation, and then go back to the States and see if they've grown up a little.
  • What does the industry understand?

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