The Heartbreakers, also known as Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers to distinguish them from Tom Petty's band, also known as The Heartbreakers, were an American Punk Rockband, formed in New York in May, 1975. The band spearheaded the first wave of punk rock.
In May 1975, Johnny Thunders (vocals/guitar) and Jerry Nolan (drums) quit the New York Dolls, the same week that Richard Hell (vocals/bass) left Television. Their first gig was on May 31st of that year, at the Coventry, a rock club in Queens. The trio soon added Walter Lure (guitar/vocals) to the line-up. Lure had previously played with a glam-punk band called the Demons.
In 1976, Hell left the group--actually, Thunders walked out on the line-up, due to Hell's attempts to impose his will on the band and on their performances, and Lure and Nolan followed, so in effect the band left Hell. Richard Hell was replaced by Billy Rath. Hell then went on to form his own band, with his name prominent in the band name: Richard Hell and the Voidoids.
Arriving for a European tour just as the UK punk scene was building momentum, the Heartbreakers developed a following in and around London. The band's members and image were widely associated with drug use, specifically heroin. The Sex Pistols invited the band to open for them on the ill-fated Anarchy Tour (the Sex Pistols at this time were managed by Malcolm McLaren, who had previously managed The New York Dolls). The Heartbreakers briefly signed with Track Records. Their debut, and only studio album, L.A.M.F. was poorly received (the titular initialistion represents a phrase from New York street-slang and graffiti, "Like A Mother-Fucker"). The release of the album created conflict within the band, due to the poor quality of the recording and difficulty in the mastering process, the blame for which rests with producer Speedy Keen. Jerry Nolan left the band at this point because he didn't like the mix of the album (Nolan had had a go at re-mixing the album himself, but wasn't satisifed with the results). The band reformed in 1979 for a few farewell shows at Max's Kansas City with drummer Ty Stix sitting in for Nolan. These shows recorded and released under the title Live at Max's Kansas City '79. The Heartbreakers' song, "London Boys", is a swipe at the Sex Pistols, in response to the Pistols' "New York", a put-down of the New York Dolls.
After their initial break up, the band reformed occasionally to play at New York clubs. Live shows often consisted of songs performed with the New York Dolls or taken from Thunders' solo career. Billy Rath left the band in 1985 and was replaced by Tony Coiro.
Johnny Thunders died in 1991. His body was found in a hotel room in New Orleans. While Thunders' death may have been drug-related, there is some controversy surrounding the facts of his death as the level of methodone in Thunders' body may not have constituted a fatal dose.
The last time the Heartbreakers played was at the Johnny Thunders Memorial Concert, with Walter Lure, Jerry Nolan, Tony Coiro and Joey Pinter, the latter playing in place of Thunders. This line up, together with Jeff West, releasedRent Party in 1994.
Jerry Nolan died in 1992 following a stroke he suffered in hospital whilst being treated for meningitis and pneumonia.
Richard Hell rarely plays music live, concentrating instead on writing and spoken-word performances.
Walter Lure works as a stock broker on Wall Street but still performs in NYC with his current Waldos lineup. He also travels around the globe playing when his day job allows the time for it. In 2007 Walter Lure teamed up with Belgian punk rocker Dee Jaywalker and went on a short European tour which resulted in a live album, released on Nicotine Records. Lure played three UK concerts in August 2013.
Billy Rath disappeared from the music scene after leaving the Heartbreakers in the mid-1980s, and he undertook a period of rehabilitation to recover from the effects of sustained abuse of drugs and alcohol. Rath then went on to study for a degree in psychology and a postgraduate qualification in theology. He has also embraced religion and has worked as a counsellor for people with drug and alcohol problems. After being persuaded to attend the Max's Kansas City reunion gig in September 2010, Rath went on to form a band, The Street Pirates, with Joey Kelly on lead vocals (Buddy Love / All Mobbed Up), Johnny Rao on guitar (David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain & Helen Schneider), Joy Ryder on background vocals (Avis Davis) and Bill Tello on drums (Hudson Dusters). Frankie Dell (Dead Cowboys) quickly replaced Bill Tello on drums and after a few gigs in the New York City area with the current line up, Billy then moved up north and formed a totally different band to which he continues to perform and record with today.
Although Billy Rath and Walter Lure played together at the Max's Kansas City Reunion, due to musical and personality differences and their differing commitments, there are no plans for the two surviving members of the Heartbreakers to get back together for anything other than the odd guest-appearance at each other's performances.
- L.A.M.F. (1977, Track)
- L.A.M.F. Revisited (1984, Jungle)
- L.A.M.F. The Lost '77 Mixes (1994, Jungle)
- Live at Max's Kansas City (1979, Max's Kansas City Records)
- D.T.K. Live At The Speakeasy (1982, Jungle)
- Live At The Lyceum Ballroom 1984 (1985, Jungle)
- Live At Mothers (1991, Fanclub)
- What Goes Around (1991, Bomp!)
- Vive La Révolution (Live In Paris - Le Bataclan - December 8, 1977) (1992, Skydog)
- Thunderstorm In Detroit (Live At The Silverbird 21/12/80) (2002, Captain Trip Records)
- Down To Kill (2005, Jungle)