Johnny Thunders - On Top Of The Bottom
“How would I like to be remembered? Somebody that you could dance to..”
Johnny Thunders only visited Belfast twice. In October 1984 he thrilled a packed Mandela Hall with a truly blistering set, storming through Chinese Rocks three times as the band was called back for encore after encore.
Johnny returned to Belfast once more on 27 April 1990 during a disastrously mismanaged and disorganised acoustic tour when he wound up playing a shambolic gig at a couple of hours notice to a mere handful at the Art College. Fortuitously for me, as nobody at the BBC had much of clue who Johnny Thunders was, BBC presenter Mike Edgar suggested that they got me to interview Johnny for his programme, ‘Across The Line’, as he knew I was a long-time Thunders fan.
The interview was originally set to take place prior to the gig - but after transport problems delayed their arrival - we squeezed it in backstage just before Johnny went onstage. An edited version was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster on 27 May 1990 - and later rebroadcast as part of an obituary after Johnny tragically passed away some months later.
This is the full-unedited transcript for the first time ever - & one thing I would add is that Johnny laughed so much throughout the interview – I just wanted you to know that! Right? Dig it!
Brian Young - Johnny, you grew up in New York in the late 50s/early 60s – what was that like?
Johnny Thunders - In the early 60’s I was hitting home runs! I’m not that old! Like, in ‘65 to ‘70 I got my rock & roll education. I seen every band. I mean, I seen Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Yardbirds, Arthur Brown. Name any band from those days and I saw ‘em!
Brian Young - I believe you went over to England and saw Tyrannosaurus Rex?
Johnny Thunders - I saw Tyrannosaurus Rex, I saw Free, I saw Taste. I seen ‘em all!
Brian Young - Who were your biggest influences?
Johnny Thunders - Well, Pete Townsend before they did “Tommy” was real big, I guess Jimmy Page, The Yardbirds.
Brian Young - I’d read you liked Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent?
Johnny Thunders - Yeah, that’s where I took all my writing, all my knowledge! I picked up all my writing from Eddie Cochran. He’s my most inspiring influence.
Brian Young - You talk about a lot of guitarists. Who’s your favourite guitarist?
Johnny Thunders - My favourite guitarist nowadays? I don’t really listen to music. I don’t go to live shows any more. You can only really judge a guitar player by a live show. I guess Stevie Ray Vaughan’s hot. I never seen him live though - and I like Brian Setzer - I just seen him play and I jammed with him in LA. He’s a hot guitar player. He’s sorta Eddie Cochran.
Brian Young - When you were younger who would have influenced your guitar playing?
Johnny Thunders - The first band I ever saw was the Ventures and they were playing at the World’s fair. I saw this guy right..and he was tapping his foot..I never seen anybody tap their foot that fast and I wanted to be a guitar player so I said..shit man if you gotta tap your foot that fast I’ll never ever learn to play guitar..I tell ya I thought you hadda learn to tap your foot like that just to learn to play guitar..so I found out later you didn’t hafta!
Brian Young - Did you ever see Link Wray?
Johnny Thunders - Yeah..I seen him with Robert Gordon.
Brian Young - Cos he’s the sort of guitar player who has been very influential..and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.. and I was thinking there’s an awful lot of people copy the way that you play guitar.
Johnny Thunders - He’s very under rated. . .very Under-rated.
Brian Young - Once you’d taken up the guitar ..Actress..was that the first band?
Johnny Thunders - Oh Actress.. and the Dolls.. the Dolls was more or less the first band.. we fucked around with Actress but the first serious endeavour was the Dolls.
Brian Young - Do you ever feel annoyed that the Dolls didn’t make it bigger when there’s so many bands now that just copy and rip them off so much?
Johnny Thunders - I don’t see them copying the Dolls.. I mean the bands nowadays.. I mean they got every stud on their pants is in perfect place. I mean you can’t tell one band from another or one lead singer from another without a scorecard.. They all look the same and there’s no roots to their music.. I mean it’s just wank-music, I call it.. there’s no tenderness there’s no compassion.. it’s just, y’know: ‘look at me!’.. I find it quite depressing. I haven’t listened to music in over 10 years anyway..
Brian Young - After the Dolls, the Heartbreakers.. that was you taking up being a front man.. I always thought that the Heartbreakers was much more what you wanted to do than the Dolls..is that correct?
Johnny Thunders - Well.. the band I have now..(Jamey Heath walks in) that’s my saxaphone player Jamey.. this is the band I’m going to remember when I’m 80 years old as having a good time..
Brian Young - Yeah.. I saw you at the Marquee last year.. that was a really, really good show.
Johnny Thunders - Yeah, that’s the band I want to remember when I’m 80..
Brian Young - Is it a permanent line up now?
Johnny Thunders - Yeah..
Brian Young - What do you call the girl who sings..
Johnny Thunders - Her name’s Alison..
Brian Young - She’s very good..
Johnny Thunders - She’s great!
Brian Young - You did the Patsy cline song ‘Crazy’..
Johnny Thunders - Yeah.. she sang it.. this band gives me the incentive to keep myself together because they’re all so professional.. if I get fucked up and make a fool out of myself, I look like a jerk in front of them because they play so well..
Brian Young - What about record plans? The most recent Lp is Bootleggin’ the Bootleggers..
Johnny Thunders - I just put that out..
Brian Young - What about new material.. is there any chance of that?
Johnny Thunders - I have a lot of new material.. but, see I don’t wanna go with an independent label. I mean “Copycats”, I dunno if you heard it? I mean that sold like 50,000 – 60,000 in Europe and that’s with like no promotion.. it’s like being on top of the bottom.. I won’t do another independent deal.
Brian Young - Is it just a case of waiting for the right deal.?
Johnny Thunders - I mean I don’t have a manager, I don’t have a publishing company.. but I got a band!
Brian Young - So this tour is just you and the saxaphone player?
Johnny Thunders - Yeah..
Brian Young - What sort of material will you be playing?
Johnny Thunders - A lot of new songs.. this is an economy tour!
Brian Young - Out of all your own songs what’s the favourite song you ever wrote?
Johnny Thunders - This new one I just wrote up.. well, I got two new ones I just wrote up.. One called ‘Help the Homeless’ and one called ‘Children Are People Too’..
Brian Young - I heard ‘Children Are people Too’..
Johnny Thunders - ’Help the Homeless’ is the real hot one.. the words are real good..
Brian Young - So there’s a story behind it then?
Johnny Thunders - See, in New York, they went in, there’s this place called Tompkins Square Park, and there was like 200 makeshift tents where people lived.. They went in there with garbage truck and rolled over them all.. not while they were in them.. I guess they made an announcement ‘everybody out blah blah blah’, so I was very infuriated. I mean nothing, there’s no cause I ever believed in really, but this is one cause I really believe in. I did a Thanksgiving Day benefit in LA and had different members come up.. and I donated.. it was just a thousand dollars to help buy some turkey dinners.. then I went down to the Mission and there was like 200 church pews and a podium, like where the priest stands.. and I sang three songs to them.. the scariest time of my life! I tell ya, the scariest time ever!
Brian Young - This is the second time you’ve been to Belfast.. What do you think of it? I know you haven’t seen much of it but..
Johnny Thunders - I dunno how anybody could live here. I mean, when we go to town we were stopped, I mean 5 times.. is it just the English in the street that stops you?
Brian Young - It’s not really as simple as that..
Johnny Thunders - Is it the English army that stops you? I’m not quite aware of what’s right and what’s wrong in this situation.. I don’t think many people are..
Brian Young - I think that’s half the problem..
Johnny Thunders - I mean going to work everyday and having that problem or something.. oh man, that must be.. I mean I was sleeping and the army looks in and I took off my sunglasses and he says ‘are you stoned or are you drunk?’.. I said I just woke up!
Brian Young - Are you still living in Sweden now or are you back in America?
Johnny Thunders - Right now, I don’t live anywhere.. I’ve been travelling..
Brian Young - There’s a film you made just came out in France?
Johnny Thunders - It just came out..
Brian Young - Did you enjoy doing it?
Johnny Thunders - Well, I wish the role was more Meaty - but yeah - it was fun to do.
Brian Young - Have you any plans in that direction again?
Johnny Thunders - Yeah. I have some plans that I’m working on..
Brian Young - I remember reading one time that you said that you would love to just go off to be a jazz musician in New Orleans.. play with a big band..
Johnny Thunders - That’s where I think I wanna move to.. New Orleans. With this band I’d like to get a few more.. like 3 black guys singing background too - and maybe a keyboard player.. maybe just as good, we can go blackface!
Brian Young - So will we be getting to see the full band line-up in the near future?
Johnny Thunders - As soon as I get a record Deal.. see places like Belfast, and let me think of other places that I really enjoy, like Scotland, Glasgow.. you know, the audiences, they really appreciate it.. they really appreciate it.. when they get into it they really get into it.. it’s like Detroit used to be in 73 – 74.. I get the same feeling from them..
Brian Young - So, just to wrap up now.. is there anything that you could change that you would change it – or if you could do you’d have done differently?
Johnny Thunders - Anything I’d do differently? Well, there’s probably a lot of things I’d do different.. but not musically. There’s a lot of things I’d change.. but that’s generally speaking I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve done musically..
Brian Young - Just one final question.. it’s no big secret that my two favourite musicians ever are yourself and Marc Bolan..
Johnny Thunders - I met Marc Bolan once..
Brian Young - That’s what I was going to ask you.. I’ve a bootleg tape and it’s supposed to be you and Marc Bolan singing ‘Is It Love’
Johnny Thunders - No.. it’s not true..
Brian Young - You did record “The Wizard” for ‘So Alone’?
Johnny Thunders - Yes.. and on ‘Hurt Me’, I think ..he was a cute little guy.. like Prince!
Brian Young - Just as a final question.. how would you like to be remembered?
Johnny Thunders - How would I like to be remembered? Somebody that you could dance to..
Brian Young – tMx 23 – 06/06
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