I hate the word punk. I was never a punk. I never played punk music
That’s Johnny Thunders sounding and looking quite fit in an interview with Irish TV just a year before he was found dead in a New Orleans hotel room on this day in 1991.
Johnny Thunders loved New Orleans. There’s a super-necessary old VHS tape of him rambling through the city in a Lincoln Town Car creating chaos with Patti Palladin . They’re chain-smoking, buying pistols, and end up getting in a gunfight with each other before riding off into the sunset.
It’s an outlaw shoot cover of the old Elvis King Creole song Crawfish, the couple would also drop the track on a UK 45 on the Jungle label with Tie Me Up on the b-side
Just five years before his death, Johnny brought his Black Cats to Jimmy’s in Uptown New Orleans in March of 1986 and played a white-hot, 24 song set ending with a rave up of Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie.
As a teenager growing up in Queens, John Anthony Genzale started going to shows at the dawn of rock n roll.
From that same interview on Irish TV, host Shay Healy asked: “Tell me some of the bands you grew up seeing”
Janis Joplin, Howlin Wolf, Jimi Hendrix, the Yardbirds, Kinks, Hollies
His sister Mariann turned him on to the Shangri-Las who were on a national rollout via their label Red Bird (owned by Leiber and Stoller) and the future rocker never looked back. Hell, Shadow Morton, the Shangri-Las producer twisted the dials on the New York Dolls second LP.
Healy: Do you still have a love of performing?
The only other thing I could do besides play music is to be a pimp
Johnny says with a sly grin.
Johnny Thunders had reportedly come to New Orleans to dry out. Perhaps a first for a musician whose struggles with narcotics were part and parcel of his legend. He mentioned in an interview that it was his intention to settle down in the French Quarter, and form a band that could hybridize his form of rock n roll with jazz. He wanted to play with old-school black soul and blues musicians. Can you imagine what might have happened had he teamed up with Johnny Adams or Coco Robicheaux?
I hate New York, it’s gotten so sleazy, Manhattan’s like the Bronx now.
By the end of 1980, Thunders was sick of the junkie lifestyle. From a conversation with Nikki Sudden: “I’ve been on heroin eight years and I just want to try a different style of life…It ruined a lot of things for me, a lot of chances…It doesn’t affect my musical life at all. All these people think I’m gonna die in the next week and I’ll outlive all those fucking assholes, man, cos I want to live.”
On his image as a wild, unrepentant bad boy. “Listen if I was straight for 50 years people would still call me a junkie.”
I copied everything from somebody else. Everything comes from somebody, I mean Keith Richards took it from Chuck Berry, I took it from Keith Richards
Johnny Thunders arrived in New Orleans on Monday April 22nd 1991, and checked in to the St Peter Guest House, he made friends with a pair of brothers Mark and Michael Ricks who were staying in an adjacent room, and the trio set off to a corner bar to have a few drinks. They went their separate ways later that evening, and the Ricks boys claimed to have been awoken by loud knocks coming from Johnny’s room. The night clerk called, and Thunders said he would come down to allay her fears but he failed to appear
His body would be found by hotel housekeeper, Mildred Coleman the next day.
He had a tattoo on his right arm of a big heart and dagger, emblazoned with the words ‘Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die.’ He died at the age of 38, and many of his peers were surprised that he lived that long.
There have been dozens of conspiracy theorists alight in New Orleans in the years since he passed. His hotel room had been cleaned out of his clothing and guitars, and there were those who hypothesized he’d been robbed for his methadone, dosed up on LSD and murdered.
Willy DeVille, of CBGB house-band Mink DeVille was living next door to the hotel where Thunder’s body was found, and he claimed that the rocker’s body was bent like a pretzel when the medical workers carried it out on the afternoon of Thunder’s death.
The chief investigator for the coroner’s office, John Gagliano stated that Thunders had died of an “overdose of cocaine and methadone.” Gagliano also stated, “He died at his own hands by taking too much drugs,”
Other reports have said that the musician suffered from leukemia, cirrhosis, lymphoma, and a pulmonary edema.
Later toxicology reports revealed Gagliano was wrong – only small amounts of coke and methadone were found in his system.
However, apart from the usual junkie characteristics of lying, stealing, cheating and going missing for days, he had a sweet nature that even the drug could not fully compromise.
Eight days after his death on April 29, 1991, a large crowd gathered at St. Anastasia’s Roman Catholic Church on 245th St, in Queens. Johnny’s 13 year old son was one of the mourners. X-Heartbreaker Jerry Nolan placed a rose on the coffin lid.
Later at Mount Saint Mary Cemetery in Flushing, x-New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain hurls a fistful of dirt onto the coffin as it’s being lowered into the ground and bellows “Johnny you motherfucker!”
In that 1990 interview for Irish TV Shay Healy inquires: “How long do you think you can go on gigging Johnny?
Til I Die
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Drop these coordinates into your GPS if you want to visit the hotel where Johnny Thunders passed away:
29° 57.596′ N, 90° 4.055′ W.
Formerly known as St Peter Guest House it’s now called Inn on St Peter. Also, the room that Thunders died in number 37, has been renumbered seven.
The hotel’s address is 1005 St Peter, New Orleans, LA 70116
b. July 15th 1952
d. April 23rd 1991
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