UNFINISHED EX-JUNKIE BUSINESS – Waldos’ Walter Lure On Heroin, The Heartbreakers And Comeback Album ‘Wacka Lacka Boom Bop A Loom Bam Boo’

Walter Lure has a mouth like a machine gun and he’s not afraid to shoot it off.

Back with his first album in 24 years, he waxes lyrical on everything from his time with The Heartbreakers to his extraordinary parallel career as a Wall Street stockbroker.

The sole survivor of what’s been described as “the most self-destructive and contrary band” in rock, Lure’s got more stories than the Empire State Building and he’s happy to share.

Walter and his Waldos – Takanori Ichiuji (bass/vocals), Tak Nakai a.k.a. Takto (guitar/vocals), and Joe Rizzo (drums/vocals).

Talking nineteen to the dozen, he sketches the motley cast of reprobates who blazed a trail for what became punk with the use of just a few well chosen words.

Thus, Johnny Thunders is “a typical mess”, David Johansen “a control freak”, Richard Hell `’funny but obnoxious” and poor old Kiss guitarist Ace Frehly “the ugliest guy on earth”.

By turns hilarious and tragic, there’s all of punk’s rich tapestry here – from a bickering van-load of Ramones, to the destructive chaos of long term drug abuse and the loss of much-loved friends and talented musicians.

So buckle up, dear reader, as the Waldos’ mainman takes Matt Catchpole for a walk on the wild side.

Sole Survivor – Waldos frontman Walter Lure

He may not have made a record for the best part of a quarter of century, but Walter Lure has not exactly been resting on his laurels.

Gigging regularly in his native New York with The Waldos and other bands over many years, he’s also toured The Heartbreakers’ much hallowed LAMF album backed by stellar line-ups including Blondie‘s Clem BurkeSex Pistol Glen Matlock and Wayne Kramer of the MC5.

Now thanks to a hook up with LA-based Cleopatra Records, he’s finally nailed the follow-up to The Waldos’ 1994 debut Rent Party.

“I ran into the Cleopatra VP at one of my shows out in LA and we started chatting and after three or four years they finally made an offer last year and we did it and now it’s done,” he says matter-of-factly.

“The sound is good, especially with the Heartbreakers’ sound problems back in the ’70s, it’s nice to have a record come out that sounds good.”

Lead single Crazy Kids, features The Waldos performing live, intercut from scenes from Thunders: Room 37  – a new documentary about the last hours of Heartbreakers’ co-frontman/guitarist Johnny Thunders.

Thunders died aged 38 in a hotel room in New Orleans of an apparent overdose, just one day after arriving in the city.

But as Lure explains, the details are somewhat suspicious.

“With Johnny everything was suspicious! It’s just like with Sid and Nancy there was never a straight answer out of that one either. With Johnny, the story I heard was that he had gone across the street to some bar and supposedly found some guys to sell him drugs. He bought some and went back to his room and shot up, but it turns out it wasn’t heroin, it was like LSD or something like that. He took whatever Methadone he had to bring him down from it and overdosed on it.”

Some say the musician was deliberately delivered a fatal “hot shot” as part of a robbery plot.

“He had a ton of cash on him, because he had just signed some deal in Germany when he went over there and apparently all the cash was missing after the investigation was over.” Lure explains. “But that’s just a story I heard, I’ve no idea whether it’s true. No-one was ever brought up on charges or anything. It’s a real mystery. A typical mess, everything Johnny ever did was a typical mess!”

Lure has yet to see the completed film , but says the actor playing Thunders appears to have done his homework.

“The guy who plays Johnny clearly spent a lot of time studying him,” he says. “When I saw the clips, he had a lot of the same mannerisms as Johnny had, the way he would talk and so on.”

While the video hearkens back to The Heartbreakers, the music recalls the output of British punk pioneers The Sex Pistols.

“That’s definitely deliberate,” Lure says, “It starts off with that high A chord that has a lot of resonance and I was thinking of the Pistols when I first wrote the song in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s something like that.”

The bands first met when the Heartbreakers were invited over by Malcolm McLaren to open for the Pistols on the notorious 1976 Anarchy tour, which also featured The Damned and The Clash.

They would later trade dissing songs, The Heartbreakers writing London Boys in answer to the Pistols’ scathing New York.

Lure revisits London Boys on the new album along with another Heartbreakers’ anthem Take A Chance On Me – certainly not to be confused with the ABBA track of the same name.

I’ve been doing them live for years, but there’s never actually been a really good recording of Take A Chance and with London Boys the only recording that’s ever been done to my knowledge – apart from live stuff – was the one that Johnny did on his solo album,” Lure explains. “Since I had written it, I wanted to do my version! I wrote the music and John was begging me to write the words because he wanted to get back at the Pistols for New York.”

Lure says the bands actually got on well during the Anarchy tour, with John Lydon, or Johnny Rotten as he was then, providing the only sour note.

“We got along just fine. On the Anarchy tour it was great. We were all like chummy and buddy buddy. The only issue was Rotten and, apparently, it’s even worse today,” Lure explains.

“All those dates would be cancelled, so we’d all go to a hotel bar and get drunk and tell jokes and have fun.  But as soon as a stranger walked in, especially if he thought they were press, Rotten would totally change. He’d just say the nastiest things to everybody. If you said something, he’d disagree with it. So he had this personality he’d turn on when there was press around.

“I was on Steve Jones’ radio show, last year, or the year before out in L.A. He said they had gotten together in 2007 or 2009 to do a big European tour and he said they made great money, but everybody on the whole tour hated Rotten. He was just like the biggest pain in the ass to work with, so Steve never wanted to go near him again. And I can understand that.”

The tour was a virtual write-off in the wake of the Pistol’s explosive appearance on the Bill Grundy Show as last minute replacements for Queen.

Lure takes up the story…

“We had no idea what was going on in London at all. I had read some article in a local paper six months earlier about some music scene in London, but I didn’t know it was even called punk. When we got the call to go over there, we had almost signed a record contract in New York. The record deals in America were terrible then, the manager would keep 50 per cent of everything. So we thought let’s go over and find out what’s going on, there’s nothing we can lose, it’s all paid for.

“So, of course we land on the day of the Bill Grundy show. Malcolm picks us up at the airport in a limo and he’s like out of his mind. His face was all flushed. He said: ‘My band just cursed on television!’ We were like: ‘So?’. People didn’t curse on TV then in the States either, but it was just not a big thing to us that someone says fuck on TV. But we had no idea of the reaction of the British public. For weeks they had these front pages of ‘Filthy Scum’ and ‘Rotten People’ and stuff like that. People were throwing their TVs out of windows! It was sheer madness!”

Born To Lose? – The Heartbreakers picture by Erica Echenburg

Outrage at the Pistols’ behaviour led to councils all over Britain banning the Anarchy shows. But as the old saying goes there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

“You couldn’t buy that kind of publicity with all the money on earth!,” Lure concurs. “It didn’t make for a good tour because we only played six shows out of 23. But because of all the hoopla that went on, we got our own record deal and we ended up staying there for two years or so.”

Having signed for Track Records The Heartbreakers set about recording their debut album, a fractious and frustrating process that would result in drummer Jerry Nolan walking out.

Try as they might, the band just could not get the songs to sound as good on vinyl as they did live.

“It was just a big mess originally, we re-mixed it like a hundred times. Jerry kept saying ‘It’s in the mix’ but I said: ‘It’s not in the mix because in the studio it’s sounding great’. It was only when we sent it out to be pressed onto vinyl that it came back sounding like shit.

“We went everywhere, we went to Abbey Road, all these different mastering places and pressing places, but no matter what we did it wasn’t right. Finally, I guess it was October, the record company said you either have to approve it, or you don’t have a record deal anymore, because they wanted it out for the Christmas season. We all said yes, but then Jerry said no and he quit the band. We took him back as a hired hand later after we took Terry Chimes [ex-The Clash} on the first tour.

“The Dolls had the same problem too, their albums never sounded half as good as they did live, it’s almost like the curse of Johnny and Jerry, or whatever. Johnny’s solo album was pretty good though.”

For Nolan and Thunders , the critical and commercial failure of the album was a double disappointment after the break-up of the New York Dolls, who had also been managed by McLaren at the time of their demise.

“Everyone thought that Red Patent Leather tour they did at the end was a disaster,” Lure says. “I had seen the show in New York and I thought it was a bomb too. But I think it was more David Johansen they blamed for everything that went wrong with The Dolls, like getting Todd Rundgren and Shadow Morton involved – Jerry didn’t like that.

“But Jerry had a tendency to blame everyone for things that didn’t go right in his life. He blamed us for the album not sounding right – they let him have the tapes for like two weeks to try and mix them himself and it came out sounding like all drums and no band. Johnny had this tendency too, they would blame everyone but themselves. They blamed Malcolm for the Dolls breaking up and they hated David because, to this day, he’s a control freak – he doesn’t let anyone have any leeway.”

A bomb, Lure’s verdict on the Dolls’ Red Patent Leather tour – picture by Bob Gruen

There have been numerous re-issues of LAMF in the intervening years and Lure says some of the later mixes have got nearer to capturing the true spirit of The Heartbreakers.

“In the ‘80s when it came out on CD. Johnny remixed it with Tony James some time in the ‘80s and it came out great. It sounded 10 times better on CD and cassette than it did on vinyl, but even the vinyl versions that Jungle put out later are much better,” he concedes.

The Heartbreakers never got over the disappointment of LAMF and with all four members nursing serious heroin habits the band fizzled out in 1978 and the quartet returned to New York.

Realising he couldn’t survive as a musician, Lure got a job on Wall Street and slowly found himself swapping one drug for another, making money.

“I was still a junkie. But then I started getting into this Wall Street thing in the early ‘80s,” he explains. “I slowly went in as a temporary worker and then got fired and jumped to a brokerage firm and then ended up doing really well. By the mid-‘90s I was in charge of 125 people. I was making tons of money. That sort of turned me around, got me straight in the end, because I wouldn’t have risen the ranks if I didn’t get straight.”

London Boys -Rath, Lure, Nolan and Thunders

Despite their split, The Heartbreakers would play sporadic reunion shows right up to Thunders’ death, but while the others were sinking deeper into addiction and relying on partners and friends for support, Lure was becoming upwardly mobile.

“It was like complete Jekyll and Hyde. I’m retired from Wall Street now, but my closet, like one side was all suits and ties and whatnot for the day job and the other side was all beat up old ties and jackets for stage clothes.

“It’s funny because in the ‘90s, when I was in charge of all those people, four or five guys and girls would come to the show and they’d be like: ‘Go figure! That’s my boss up on stage over there, dressed up like an idiot.’”

Despite the obvious discordance, Lure says his bandmates had no problem with his day job.

“You’d get the jokes. John would say on stage: “It’s really hard to pull guitar players off Wall Street these days” but no-one really could care. Some people were curious, they’d say: “Whaddya do on Wall Street all day?” I’m going: “Well, it’s like a different world, it’s a lot bigger than the music industry because it’s literally what makes the world go round.” The more I got into it, the more I found it interesting.”

Lure’s rise in the world of finance happened as another New York resident was making waves in the world of real estate, but Lure says he and the 45th president of the United States never crossed paths.

“Trump? That idiot, no. He was in real estate more, as opposed to finance. He used a lot of banks, but I worked mostly for brokerage firms where people would trade in stocks and bonds and what have you. Trump was in different worlds to me.

“It boggles the mind to have an idiot like that in the White House. He’s such a moron, but I dunno, tons of people still like him for whatever stupid reason.”

Going for broke – Lure traded junk for a successful stock market career

In between his often chaotic reunion shows with the Heartbreakers and his developing career as a broker, Lure also found time to play on three mid-’80s Ramones albums, Subterranean Jungle, Too Tough To Die  and Animal Boy.

“It was the first one, Subterranean Jungle that I spent the most time on – the others I’d just show up and I’d play a solo or something like that. With SJ I’d rehearse with them for like a couple of times a week for a month or so before we started recording, so I could learn the songs.”

The album was recorded at a studio in Long island, 20 miles from New York city, so Lure would ride out with the Ramones in a van and soon got to know their quirks.

“Dee Dee was a junkie, so he’s always hiding his junk, and Mark, who was the drummer at the time, was a drunk. So if Dee Dee found out where Mark hid his booze first, he’d tell the band and they would get pissed off at Mark and while they were distracted Dee Dee would go and shoot up his dope. If Mark found out where Dee Dee had hidden his dope, it would be just the opposite,” Lure explains.

“Riding in this van they all had their specific seats where they had to sit – there’d be certain days where this one wasn’t talking to that one, that one didn’t want to talk to this one, it was straight out of kindergarten. It was like a bunch of little spoilt kids.

“The only reason they picked me up is they were trying to get a hit single. For all their songs that had become famous in later years, they never really had a single that made the charts, so they were just trying all different sounds. They tried Phil Spector, they tried Rick Derringer later on and the guy from the Eurythmics {Dave Stewart}, but it never really happened for them. But after they died, their wives were rich because of the amount of money that kept on coming in as residuals. Now I hear their music in the supermarket.”

Da Brudders Ramone

A fan of The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, Lure first began taking music seriously in the early ’70s after forming a covers band with friends in college.

Having seen The Dolls break through in New York, he was anxious to get involved in the burgeoning scene in the city.

He was eventually introduced to Eliot Kidd, an aspiring singer who already had a connection to The Dolls.

“He was a drug dealer who sold drugs to The Dolls,” Lure explains. “We started playing original stuff, and it was decent. Plus we were using The Dolls rehearsal loft, because he’d been selling drugs to them for years. That’s where I got to meet Johnny and Jerry for the first time.”

They’d never spoken before, but Lure was aware of Thunders having spotted him at numerous shows over the years.

“I used to go to see a lot of concerts in New York and he was always there. He’d be dressed in the glam clothes, like the velvet pants, high-heeled shoes and stuff like that.”

Lure’s band The Demons had just got their debut booking at the 82 Club in New York when they got wind that The Dolls had split.

“We heard that The Dolls had broken up down on Florida and Jerry and Johnny were coming to New York and joining Richard Hell to start a band. They already had a name The Heartbreakers and there was word out that they wanted another guitar player,” he says.

Heartbreakers original four piece: Thunders, Hell, Nolan and Lure – picture by Michael Kennedy

As luck would have it Nolan and Thunders attended that first gig – “probably Eliot was selling them cocaine” – and Lure was invited to try out for The Heartbreakers.

The next week I met the three of them and I did an audition. They had a few songs like Chinese Rockand Blank Generation and Going Steady already. But then I left and I didn’t hear anything for like a month.”

Thinking his chance had gone, Lure returned his attention to The Demons, but when they were booked to open for the three-piece Heartbreakers, Lure was approached by Nolan and asked to join the ranks.

His life was about to change quite literally over night.

“We started rehearsing and I quickly found out they were a bunch of junkies, because they were all shooting up, but I didn’t start doing it for another month or so. They also cut my hair. I think Dee Dee (Ramone) did it that first time, it was up in Richard Hell’s apartment on the Lower East side. That was the also the place I also had my first shot of heroin.”

The Heartbreakers first gig as a four-piece was at a July 4 festival at CBGB’s in 1975,

Lure had played his last show with The Demons the night before “with about 20 people in the audience, it was depressing.”

But it was a very different story when he turned up at CBGB’s the following evening.

“The place is packed to the rafters, there’s lines outside. Johnny walks up to me with this guy who was the ugliest guy on earth, his face was all pock-marked, his hair was all stringy and Johnny says: ‘Hey Walter, this is Ace Frehly he wants to meet ya.’ I’m going like: ‘Oo-oh shit!’

“I’d never seen the guy without his make-up before, it was ugliest face I’d ever seen it looked like oatmeal with raisins in it.” (collapses with laughter).

With and without make-up Ace Frehly in the ’70s

“Anyway, this was like going from nowhere to the top of the heap overnight, literally,” Lure continues. “That’s why Chris Stein from Blondie use to call me the Rookie of the Year, because I went from nowhere to being in one of the biggest bands in New York. And once you’re in the Heartbreakers everyone wants to be your friend. All the girls are dragging you home, or the boys depending what mood you were in, and the drugs start coming – it was just a totally different world. It was fun.”

Despite the band’s various appetites, drugs were not a problem early on, the quartet rehearsing in earnest and working in new songs.

But relations quickly degenerated with Hell, who Lure accuses of trying to dominate the band.

“Hell was a problem because he tried to take over, he wanted to be the main songwriter and the main singer. He wanted to be the face of the band – that’s why we kicked him out,” Lure says simply.

“Hell wanted to be the centre of attention. He didn’t want me to sing at all. He wanted Johnny to sing maybe one or two songs a set. He really wasn’t a rock’n’ roller, he was more of a beatnik. He used to tell us the only reason he got into music was he needed an outlet for his poetry. He played a basic, decent enough bass, but he was arrogant. He could be funny at times, but he was also obnoxious.”

Cast out – Richard Hell went on to form the Voidoids before becoming a writer

Hell was replaced by Billy Rath who was content to concentrate on his bass playing.

“Hell had a lot more personality,” Lure concedes. “Billy was a great bass player, but there wasn’t much upstairs. He had these great big magnetic eyes, but the trouble was, there wasn’t much behind them. He was a decent guy, he started out as a speed freak and when he joined us he became a junkie. But he wasn’t any problem.”

When the quartet moved to London, drugs started to have more affect on the band with Nolan and Thunders going AWOL in their search for a fix.

“Recordings got more difficult as time went on, because they could be like three or four hours late for a studio session and we’d be sitting around twiddling our thumbs,” Lure remembers. “It was a lot harder to get drugs in London than it was in New York. In New York you just went to the area of the city where they sold it on the street, in London you had to make contacts, go to houses and sit there and chat and stuff like that.”

Back in New York, things took a progressively more serious turn, with Thunders in particular becoming something of a liability.

“It got a lot worse in the ‘80s when we’d get together for reunions. John would be unconscious in the dressing room sometimes with bubbles coming out of his mouth, so we’d go on stage without him. But every time that happened, we’d play like one or two songs and all of a sudden, you’d get a reaction in the crowd and Johnny would like start playing. So no matter how bad he was in the dressing room he’d get to the stage, but once or twice we’d have to pull his plug, because he didn’t know what song he was playing, he was so out of it. People used to come to see if he would die on stage.”

Despite quitting the New York scene for a time to move to Sweden, Nolan, like Thunders never managed to overcome his addiction.

He died in January 1992, just a few months after his old bandmate, of a stroke following treatment for bacterial meningitis and pneumonia. He was 45.

Rath disappeared from the music scene in the mid-80s and went back to college, earning a degree in Psychology and a Masters in Theology. He helped counsel others in drug and alcohol addiction and became a pastor.

Prior to his death aged 66 in 2014 after a long illness, he had formed a new band The Street Pirates and had been planning an album.

Now approaching his 70th year, Lure is the last man standing, but he keeps the Heartbreakers’ flame burning with shows at New York’s The Bowery Electric every July to mark Thunders’ birthday.

Absent friend – Lure with co-frontman Thunders

Lenny Kaye of The Patti Smith Group was among the guests joining The Waldos at this year’s bash.

“We have a mess of bands who come on for like three or four songs, just to play Dolls covers or Heartbreakers covers and then I go out with my band and we do like a regular full set. It’s always a good crowd and it’s fun.”

For the past two years, Lure’s also taken star-studded line-ups out on tours marking the release of LAMF – a show which he’d hoped to bring to Europe.

“The first year it was me, Clem Burke, Wayne Kramer and the bass player Tommy Stinson, who was in Guns n’ Roses at one time. We played four or five sellout shows in New York. This year we had Clem Burke again with Glen Matlock on bass and Mike Ness of Social Distortion on guitar. And that was much better. We did like three shows in New York and three shows on the West Coast in December. In January they were trying to get something together to go to the UK and Europe. It almost came together for like late May, but all these guys are in big bands and they have their own schedules so it just didn’t happen.

“I haven’t heard any buzz from the UK, but if they want me to come I will. Usually when I go, I’ve played with a back-up band – those guys from Gunfire Dance. It depends, if the record sells, maybe they’ll put together a little British tour for me.”

For now, though Lure’s focus is on Waldos and I leave him to his preparations for the album launch party on September 6 at the Bowery.

  • Wacka Lacka Boom Bop A Loom Bam Boo is out on August 17 on Cleopatra Records. Pre-order from Bandcamp here
  • Tickets for the album launch party are available from the Bowery Electric website

 

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2 thoughts on “UNFINISHED EX-JUNKIE BUSINESS – Waldos’ Walter Lure On Heroin, The Heartbreakers And Comeback Album ‘Wacka Lacka Boom Bop A Loom Bam Boo’

  1. just a fantastic job on this……thank you for stepping up and doing this. What a fantastic rock n roll article and music. got the album on release date……..just pureness!

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