John Anthony Genzale (July 15, 1952 – April 23, 1991) Otherwise known as the legend that was Johnny Thunders. What could possibly be said that hasn’t already been said. He was the lead guitarist in the New York Dolls. He fronted possibly the finest of all American ’77 punk bands and went on to have varying degrees of success in his own rite with some amazing backing bands and releasing some of the best records ever from any decade. ‘Que Sera Sera’, ‘Hurt Me’, ‘So Alone’ do I need to go on? If you don’t own them why don’t you own them?. His solo shows ranged from car crash but amazing to religious experience and amazing to simply just being out there one of a kind guy and amazing.
There have been several films about Johnny from the aborted and dark ‘Born To Lose’ The Last Rock And Roll Movie with its numerous cuts to the wonderful ‘Looking For Johnny’, with a fantastic array of stars talking about their friend and fellow musician to the recent drama about his last days in New Orleans that’s yet to hit the shops. Johnny met a tragic end on this back in ’91 and I can remember where I was when I heard the news that almost broke my heart.
An autopsy confirmed evidence of advanced leukemia which might just have finished Thunders off anyway but to go the way he did was an absolute tragedy and at such a young age as well, he seemed to cram so much in such a short space of time. Leaving behind a couple of Dolls records – One Heartbreakers classic – a couple of solo records and a covers album along with a plethora of bootlegs and demos and who could forget Gang War a much-underrated record he co-wrote with Wayne Kramer.
We can argue and debate all day and night about what period of his career was best; was it the Dolls and their trailblazing crossdressing rock ‘n’ roll or was it the Noo Yawk swagger of the Heartbreakers who didn’t give two flying fucks and lived every day like it was their last leaving behind one of the finest albums ever put to tape in ‘L.A.M.F’. I loved Gang War and I loved his acoustic balladeering of ‘Hurt Me’ as much as I loved his rock and roll excess of ‘So Alone’ with its cast of Rock and roll legends from Marriott to Lynott to his comrade in Rock n Roll Gerry. What about ‘Que Sera Sera’ (it just had a fine RSD make over). Some of those covers on ‘Copy Cats’ were superb interpretations of what made Johnny tick at the time and a bunch of tunes that were coursing through his veins. I only wish the Oddballs had gotten to record their album with his as those demos they were working on could have eclipsed everything that went before it but sadly we’ll never ever know. I miss going to his shows which when he played the Marquee were more like events than shows wondering which Johnny would turn up but he never let me down and was always memorable and backed by some amazingly talented people that he always surrounded himself with no matter what the situation he found himself in.
Thunders should have been a huge huge superstar but circumstances and choices probably meant this would and could never happen but he will always be my favourite and if I’m happy or sad feeling up or down Johnny Thunders always had a tune for me from that incredible back catalogue. Johnny rest in Peace and today raise a glass to his brilliance and if you ever picked up a yellow Jr and curled your top lip or flicked your head because you wanted to be as cool as Johnny Thunders well done and always keep his memory alive.