August 25th, 2009 | Interviews

claire cronin

Stream: Walter Lure and the Waldos “Cry Baby”


(from Rent Party on Sympathy For The Record Industry)

Walter Lure was with the Heartbreakers during everything that would later become history—L.A.M.F., the Anarchy tour with the Sex Pistols and Live At Max’s and whatever else it says in Please Kill Me, which he hasn’t read. He speaks now before performing at the Knitting Factory with his band the Waldos. This interview by Daniel Clodfelter.

How to you get asked to play guitar for the Heartbreakers?
[My earlier band] the Demons were the lucky contact for me. You see, the singer of the Demons—Elliot—was a friend of the Dolls. I think he was actually their drug dealer! Elliot was looking for a band and it just turned out that we wound up sharing the Dolls’ rehearsal space. I would run into the Dolls from time to time—I had sort of known the Dolls, not personally, but since they were playing New York a lot I knew who they were. But then we started chatting, and Johnny came down to one of the Demons shows—I think it was our first gig at the 82 Club. You see, Johnny was always a sneaky little fuck—he pulls me over to the side and asked me if I wanted to join the band and my eyes just lit up! And I said, ‘Yeah, sure. Why not?’ But that was Johnny—he was probably out of his mind or whatever. Just putting the bug out there. Then a few months passed and I hadn’t heard anything until that gig the Demons played with them at the pub in Queens. There was hardly anyone there and we were just sitting around and Jerry pulled me aside and asked, ‘Do you like any of the Heartbreaker songs at all?’ ‘Yeah, I love ‘em.’ ‘Well, I think we want you to play.’ And that was it. I didn’t even know they were even thinking about me since it had been months. Soon after we started rehearsing and I was in the band.
How was it working with Johnny, Jerry, and Richard with their drug habits and conflicting egos? I know it led to Richard Hell leaving the band somewhat early on.
Richard leaving the band had more to do with ego than drugs. It was definitely challenging, since I was the new kid on the block. Johnny and Jerry were from the Dolls and they had the credibility—‘street cred,’ if you want—from that, and Richard had also been around. He already had the one song ‘Blank Generation.’ It was a great combination but they just needed another guitar player to hold it all together. And that’s what I was there for. I didn’t have any musical credentials like they all did. The ego battle was mostly Johnny versus Richard, with Jerry sort of playing the middle but mostly staying on Johnny’s side. Hell was sort of funny in the beginning because he all these wacky lyrics that made everyone laugh—you know, they were all junkies so they all had the same sort of humor—but that changed as time went on. It was a good combination. It was rock—the Hell songs were just sort of wimpy without a rock band behind him, and he added that sort of ‘Blank Generation’ element to the Heartbreakers stuff. A lot of people already had an idea of Johnny and Jerry, since they had already been around in the Dolls. It’s funny since there was only like a two- or three-year difference between the older generation and us, and there was a sort of a credibility gap. So the combination of Hell, who was sort of the newer wave, with Johnny and Jerry, who were more part of the tail end of glam, worked well. As much as I loved the Dolls—they wore some fucked-up clothes!—they were more of a transition between the glam and what became the punk scene. The actually brought the rock ‘n’ roll back to the forefront as opposed to the orchestral shit that was consuming everything before. I guess for that you could call them the godfathers of punk. That’s where the whole scene started—from them—but they weren’t really afforded the recognition.
You mentioned that Richard Hell was better when backed by a rock ‘n’ roll band—what was your impression of the Voidoids and his albums with them?
Let me start by saying that I remained good friends with them over the years and we still are friends. So I’m not going to say that I didn’t like it, but it didn’t have the same edge. For my own personal taste I tend to like rock more than clanky noises. They just didn’t have the same punch to it compared to with the Heartbreakers. For instance, ‘Love Comes in Spurts’ doesn’t even come close to ‘One Track Mind,’ which I wrote the music to and Hell added the lyrics over it—and once he left I just changed up the lyrics. [The Voidoids] didn’t have the same feel, but I’m sure he didn’t want it to be the same. They didn’t play the music like we did—which was more rock—but Hell didn’t necessarily want that. He had it with the Heartbreakers but he didn’t have to have it. He tried to do it on his own terms, but I don’t think that any of those songs have any sort of lasting power compared to what we had with the Heartbreakers.
After Hell left, you and Johnny Thunders were the main songwriters of the Heartbreakers—what was it like writing with him?
I didn’t really write anything with Johnny. Johnny would just show up to the rehearsal studio with a song and we’d just work on it. He was always running around really high. It was hard to hold a conversation with him—same with Dee Dee Ramone. You couldn’t really get a word in—at least that was my experience. However, I did write a few with Jerry. Jerry would have a guitar riff or chord progression and we’d play along and I would finish off the words or what not. With John, the only song we actually worked together on was ‘London Boys.’ I deliberately structured the music to sound like a Sex Pistols song and Johnny wanted to write the lyrics. The other ones, like ‘(Too Much) Junkie Business’—Johnny would just stick his name on it years later because he liked it so much and he wished he’d wrote it, even though I actually had.
The Heartbreakers—along with the Sex Pistols and the Clash—became part of the British Anarchy tour in 1976 that introduced the masses to punk rock. What are your most vivid memories from that tour?
The lack of gigs! It might have exposed British kids to our New York punk, but they already had their own type of punk before we got there. We didn’t realize until we got there how big it actually was—it was much bigger over there than in New York and the States. It was already mainstream over there, as opposed to still being underground here. And it was a different version as well. I thought the Sex Pistols were the best band I had seen in ages, and being on tour with them—it was great! And the Clash! The Damned didn’t really tour with us—they maybe played one or two shows. We all got along pretty well and everyone was still pretty innocent to a point—less egos involved. They were all in awe of Johnny and Jerry since the Dolls were basically their inspiration. Those were some of the best times! I’ve told this story about a hundred times—about being outside a theatre in Wales and the local priest and a bunch of parents were in a parking lot across the street with loud speakers and megaphones saying, ‘Tell your kids not to go into the theatre because the devil’s inside!’ while praying and waving bibles at us. We were all looking at the people like it was hilarious, and there were still all these kids inside the theatre.
On your website it says that after the Heartbreakers you worked the Ramones for a little bit—on Subterranean Jungle and Too Tough to Die. What was your role on those albums?
If you look at those albums on the record sleeves, hidden some place buried in a corner it says ‘special thanks to Walter Lure.’ I played the solos and guitar work on a lot of the stuff. On Subterranean Jungle, I played on every song. The next one, which I was think was Too Tough to Die, I played on like half of that. The one after that, Animal Boy, I played on like two or three songs. They were looking for something—a different sound—trying to get a hit record. They were popular but they weren’t making a lot of money—they made most their money touring and stuff. So they tried to do other things. Phil Spector and so on. Then they decided to get another guitar player and they asked me.
Did you ever play live with them or was it strictly studio stuff?
Just studio stuff. Johnny [Ramone] didn’t want people to know that he didn’t play all the songs—that’s why they didn’t really give me credit on the albums. Even live, they’d have their roadie do all the solos playing backstage on a milk crate. Johnny didn’t really want people to know that he couldn’t play that kind of guitar. He played his own thing but he had some sort of image issue. Not that it really made any difference because he had his own style.
What was your reaction to the passing of Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan in the early 1990s?
It was weird. It’s always a shock when you hear it, but Johnny was due for years—he was just going deeper and deeper. He just couldn’t get out of that whole drug syndrome. I remember when we were doing the Heartbreakers reunion in I guess November 1990. We had done a couple of rehearsals and it was Jerry, Johnny, myself and this guy Tony on bass. We’d be rehearsing, and Jerry’s calm now—he’d been on methadone for like 20 years. But Johnny was still running off every twenty minutes to do a shot or whatever. We had all gotten past the whole drug thing but Johnny was still going. When I heard it, it was still a shock, but I can’t say it was unexpected. With Jerry, he had a stroke and was in the hospital and I had a feeling he wasn’t going to come out of it. I went to visit him at one point and he was just a body lying on a bed with tubes running though him. They’re buried about twenty feet from each other in a cemetery in Queens.
You’re now playing with the Waldos—a band named after yourself which you’ve been doing for the past 20 years or so.
It was just me playing around New York getting people to play together with. There have been several incarnations as several people have died over the years. We did the CD in 1993, then Tony got sick and died in 1995 and I was ready to give it up because too many people were dying on me. Then we got asked to do a couple of shows at the Continental—a few nights as the Waldos and then a few as the Lures, and then there were these Japanese kids who were fans and came over with their own band and set up some shows. Then also the guitar player from Sonic Youth set up a few shows with us, and then it has become what it is now—with the two Japanese kids and Joe on drums. This has actually been the longest standing version, since like 1996 or 1995. It hasn’t changed much since—no one’s dropped dead on me for a while.