For his first solo LP, the legendary New York Dolls/Heartbreakers guitarist enlisted the aid of ex- Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, some of the Hot Rods, the Only Ones and even old-timers Steve Marriott and Phil Lynott. Choosing material representative of all his prior musical phases, and aided immeasurably by co-producer Steve Lillywhite, Thunders turns in reasonably strong performances, perfectly employing his gutter guitar and New York sneer in a number of (musical) veins, including greasy R&B and a tender ballad. Not since the Dolls’ two records has he sounded so lucid and involved — So Alone is Johnny Thunders at his best. The reissue adds two previously unissued cuts, “So Alone” and “The Wizard.”
Thunders didn’t release anything else under his own name for five years after that. The LP-plus-EP In Cold Blood returned him to the racks, combining five newly recorded studio tracks — with just a drummer and guitarist Walter Lure — that don’t amount to much with a poor live Boston show taped in 1982. (Diary of a Lover consists of those studio cuts plus a subsequent item.) At Cold Blood‘s best, Thunders pounds out a stinging “Green Onions” that suggests his guitar skills aren’t gone yet.
Narrated in New Yawkese by the artist, New Too Much Junkie Business offers live, demo and live-in-the- studio recordings from 1982, co-produced by Jimmy Miller, with a variety of players helping out on renditions of items from the Dolls’ repertoire (“Jet Boy,” “Great Big Kiss”), a Gang War track and numbers that overlap Diary of a Lover. Most notable is “Sad Vacation,” a tribute to Sid Vicious. That song also appears on the French-only Hurt Me, alongside “Eve of Destruction,” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and renditions of some of Thunders’ best songs. (The Hurt Me CD contains five bonus tracks.)
Que Sera, Sera boasts a batch of solid new songs, a solid rhythm section (Keith Yon and Tony St. Helene), an illustrious cast of guest stars and a surprisingly easygoing, clearheaded outlook. Variety is a watchword, as Stonesy pseudo-reggae (“Cool Operator”), sneering sexist raunch (“Little Bit of Whore”), restrained reality (“Short Lives,” wherein JT denounces the live-fast-die-young credo), familiar Dollsy bebop (“Tie Me Up” and “Endless Party,” co-written with David Johansen) and a hot uptempo instrumental (“Billy Boy”) mix gaily. In fact, the most wasted thing about this LP is the unnecessary cover shot of Thunders looking like the not-so-living dead.
Punk filmmaker Lech Kowalski shot and recorded a pair of 1982 Mudd Club shows for his portrait of a junkie (not JT) feature, Gringo, but didn’t use the results, so an hour’s worth of the music wound up released as Stations of the Cross. Backed by Lure and drummer Jerry Nolan, plus someone identified only as Talarico, a reasonably cogent Thunders runs through such songs as “So Alone,” “In Cold Blood,” “Chinese Rocks” and “Too Much Junkie Business,” punctuating the lively performances with typically hysterical inter-song patter. Before ending, the tape takes an odd detour: a hotel room conversation, participants unknown, followed by a solo acoustic number.
JT the DJ returns — in assorted goofy voices — to introduce the songs on Bootlegging the Bootleggers, an uneven (and that’s not just the widely varying sound quality) compilation of 1985-’89 live recordings, ostensibly drawn from assorted unauthorized albums. The old, borrowed and sloppy song selection — including “Personality Crisis,” “In Cold Blood,” “Sad Vacation,” “As Tears Go By” and Dylan’s “Joey” (the last three performed acoustic) — is great, but this isn’t the ultimate concert document Thunders’ solo career still deserves. (Note the editing boo-boo that swaps the spoken introductions for “Pipeline” and “Wipeout,” both identified correctly on the sleeve.)
Thunders co-wrote, produced and played guitar on the bizarre Trouble Traveller, surrounding young Japanese singer/guitarist Jimmy K(urata) with such Anglo- American luminaries as Jerry Nolan, Glen Matlock, Pete Thomas, John “Irish” Earle, Martin Belmont and Bob Andrews. The modestly talented Kurata is totally out of his league here. Faced with crisp, energetic rock’n’roll tracks — nothing extraordinary, just top-notch Thunders issue — his echo-drenched vocals (in Japanese and imperfect English — Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown” merits especially bad pronunciation) are hopelessly lame.
Copy Cats — an accomplished joint effort with ex-Snatch vocalist Pat Palladin (who also produced the LP) and a bunch of their friends — contains swell studio covers of songs by Dion, the Seeds, Shirelles, Elvis Presley, Chambers Brothers, Screaming Jay Hawkins and Shangri-Las, among others. Sharing the spotlight for once, Thunders contributes solid musicianship, imaginative (occasionally poignant) performances and an overriding sense of well-behaved fun. Two songs (Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” and “Let Me Entertain You”) from the original UK album were deleted for the American version, which also has a different track sequence.
Another era, another partnership: the half-studio/ half-live Gang War LP documents Thunders’ nearly forgotten 1980-vintage sideband with ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. Totally crap sound ruins the concert portion (mostly covers), and the studio sessions are nearly as bad. Obviously not taken from first (or even third) generation masters, there are a few significant songs (“Crime of the Century,” “M.I.A.”), a couple of trivial ones and the rest is vocal-less jams or incomplete backing tracks. If the original tapes could be located, there’d be a great single in here. As it stands, however, Gang War is a total waste.
Thunders died in New Orleans in April 1991.