johnny thunders - The I-94 Bar

He also served: Gang War drummer John Morgan and life in the trenches with Johnny Thunders and Wayne Kramer

gang war on stageGang War at Second Chance in Ann Arbor in 1979.  Sue Rynski photo  

It’s said the drummer in a rock and roll band has the best seat in the house. It’s given John Morgan his unique perspective on some of rock and roll’s most talented, fascinating and sometimes flawed characters. 

Now living in Ventura, California, John Morgan’s spent half his life as a professional musician, playing with a long list of blues and jazz bands. But it’s his insights into two in particular: Gang War and Sonic's Rendezvous Band - the former as a partcipant, thw latter as an observer - that will hold the most interest for I-94 Bar patrons. 

LAMF Live at The Village Gate 1977 - Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (Cleopatra)

village gateIn a world of shoddy, sub-par live releases and infinite re-issues of studio out-takes, this one lives up to the hype. Capturing the Heartbreakers briefly back on home turf after their first stint in the UK and in all their drug-infested glory, “LAMF Live” is the album your mother warned you about and your old man wanted banned.

Where’s the danger in rock and roll? You hear people asking all the time. It’s around if you dig deep enough but it was never so nakedly on display as back in the late ‘70s when the Heartbreakers were in full swing.

Manhattan Project - Kevin K (MVD/Real Kool Kat)

manhattan projectA bunch of New York City’s rock and roll past and present recently gathered in Manhattan to celebrate and play the music of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.

Led by the eternally cool Walter Lure, who was assisted by Blondie drummer Clem Burke, ex-Lower East Side resident and MC5 member Wayne Kramer, Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson and a bunch of guest vocalists, the band played four sold-out shows. And they were reportedly underwhelming.

Take a Chance on Me: Brooke Delarco and the sound of the Heartbreakers at the Village Gate

Heartbreakers tape

Want to know what the classic line-up of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers sounded like live? Most of us missed them the first time around and with three of them no longer with us there’s no chance whatsoever of them reforming - at least in this life.

So you’ll just have to settle for listening to “Live At The Village Gate”.  

Glad you asked.

“Live At The Village Gate” is a newly-minted album on Los Angeles label Cleopatra Records. It’s out on LP and CD. It was recorded at the legendary jazz venue, The Village Gate, in New York City in 1977. Our review is here.

To many ears, it represents the ultimate recording of the infamous Heartbreakers at their highest peak. No slop, no pop. Pure power and energy that’s powerful enough to level a New York City block. It captures the notoriously drug-addled quartet in clear-eyed form and totally on their game. Out to impress and definitely Down To Kill.

The Prettiest Star. Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley? By Nina Antonia (SAF)

prettiest starThis book completely beggars belief. Top marks and way, way beyond. It’s also utterly brilliant as well as being compelling reading. It’ll have you ranging your emotions from laughter to sorrow and is so well researched (Nina doesn’t bother much with academic references as her books come mostly from her own interviews and experience) and put together … words completely fail me.

If you’ve read any of Antonia’s other books (on the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders and The Only Ones) and enjoyed her style and intelligence … The Prettiest Star is so far ahead that it may as well be the best fiction you’ve ever read, except it’s all true.

I can’t believe that you’ll recall Brett Smiley. He had one hit, “Va Va Va Voom”, in the UK in 1974, at the height of that bizarre post-6ts glam and pop period where decent songs were generally in short supply in the charts. Oh dear, much like now? Really? I’m shocked.