In Cold Blood - Johnny Thunders (Easy Action)
It would be the ultimate irony if Johnny Thunders’ most consistent album came out 24 years after he died. Any sober assessment of his post-Heartbreakers output would deem it erratic but speckled with explosions of brilliance that outshone the lesser moments.
And so it is with “In Cold Blood”, a double CD package from UK label Easy Action that brings together a number of lost threads. It’s not Thunders’ most well-rounded effort - that’s probably still his first solo LP “So Alone” – but it’s still a significant addition to the JT canon.
The original “In Cold Blood” was a double vinyl affair that came out in 1983 while the outlaw guitarist was still breathing. It paired bare bones studio recordings by ex-Stones producer Jimmy Miller to a disc taken from a 1982 UK gig.
Detritus from it and studio tapes of the same vintage have surfaced from time to time – most notably on a tape (and subsequent CD re-issue) called “Too Much Junkie Business” (AKA “The New Too Much Junkie Business” in its digital form) on the New York-based ROIR label – but working out who recorded what with whom from this chapter of JT’s career is a frustrating task, only made harder by scads of dubious bootlegs popping up like magic mushrooms along the way. “In Cold Blood” makes life much easier by putting everything in one place.
Second things, first. A previously unreleased UK gig makes up the second disc of the Easy Action package and replaces the Cambridge, Massachusetts, tracks in the original package. It’s from a well-balanced but slightly muddy desktape that was handed to a fan. It’s 19 songs-long with Johnny backed by the redoubtable Nigs Nolan on drums, Tony James (bass) and Steve New (guitar).
From “Pipeline” to “Be Bop A Lula” it’s a blazing if loose set. The band was apparently untroubled by rehearsals- but you probably knew that already. The only real problem is that the set’s marred by a mix that takes Johnny's cherished vocal reverb and lays on echo. It’s noticeably jarring when Johnny launches into his between-song audience abuse/patter and less so with the full band tearing it up behind him.
The 18-song studio disc of “In Cold Blood” is where, uh, the rubber hits the road (or the needle hits the vein) and it’s what you’ll need to round off whatever J.T. presently resides on your shelf. The core of this, the Jimmy Miller session songs like “Hoo Do Voodoo”, “In Cold Blood” and “Just Another Girl”, sound better than ever thanks to some sonic tweaks, with Johnny’s omnipresent guitar tone all over them. Nobody managed to evoke controlled guitar chaos as magically as Thunders – he strikes one chord and you know it’s him - and this is essential stuff.
Stripped-back takes of “Hurt Me” and masterwork “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” are nice extras. This version of “Sad Vacation” (appended with “It’s Not Enough”) doesn’t soar like some of the live takes but it’s a fine example of one of Johnny’s greatest songs all the same. A few numbers find Johnny filling in on bass. The raucous version here of the David Jo co-write “Endless Party” has Thunders biographer Nina Antonia adding an acoustic guitar track and ups the ante on the one eventually released on 1985’s “Que Sera Sera”.
The usual Easy Action doctrine on packaging applies – i.e. it’s fantastic with a lavish booklet, top-notch Les Clark art and chunky liners, dominated by (who else) Nina Antonia. The words make some sense of the recording and gigging chronology and should point you to her essential book about Johnny.
Easy Action has a mission statement of putting the sprawling Thunders legacy in coherent order and already started the ball rolling with the re-issue of “Hurt Me”. Can’t wait to hear/see what they do with “So Alone” or how far they take their task.