Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Info Freako | 26 November 1994


What's the latest news on the police investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Johnny Thunders? Is the case still open? Could you also please tell me if the Thunders tribute album which was supposed to have come out a couple of months ago has been issued yet? If so, could you print all the relevant details?
Angus Lambert, Colchester

The body of Johnny Thunders, an original member of the New York Dolls, was found in a room at the St Peter's Guest House in New Orleans on the morning of 23 April 1991. The city's Coroner’s Office declared that the cause of his death was drug related, but failed to take into account the reports of three men accompanying him to his room the night before, and the fact that some of his belongings and a considerable sum of cash had been stolen. So it's no surprise that many of Thunders' friends and associates have expressed their dissatisfaction at the coroner's verdict.

"Although the case is officially closed, it's still very much open as far as myself and Johnny's other friends are concerned," says Mick Webster, Thunders' manager during the last years of his life. "We keep asking the New Orleans police to reinvestigate, but they haven't been particularly friendly. They seemed to think that this was just another junkie who had wandered into town and died. They simply weren't interested. They said nothing about the missing money or the theft of Johnny's passport and some of his clothes.

"The state of the hotel room was also ignored. It was totally wrecked. The guy who found the body said it looked as if something really violent had gone down and I'm told that the characters Johnny was seen with on the night he died were serious underworld types. One of them was later sent to prison for armed robbery. Another was rumoured to have been an LSD dealer – and Johnny hated LSD. If they spiked him with that, he would have had a terrible time.

"The body was all curled up, sort of like a ball, and I understand that's often a sign of strychnine poisoning. On top of all that is the fact that Johnny had been off heroin for a long time before his death. He was taking methadone, which had been prescribed to him by his doctor, but there was another bizarre twist in the story when the autopsy didn't find even the slightest trace of this. The coroner was apparently later sacked for falsifying a report in another case. We're determined to keep on fighting until we actually get to the bottom of what happened that night."

On a happier note, the Thunders tribute album, "I Only Wrote This Song For You", has been available since late September on the Essential imprint. It features newly recorded cover versions of 15 Johnny Thunders tracks, including material by three fellow former New York Dolls – David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and Arthur Kane. There is also a contribution from Walter Lure, who played with Thunders in The Heartbreakers, the post-Dolls punk band that supported the Sex Pistols on their "Anarchy In The UK" tour.

The Ramones, Michael Monroe, Los Lobos, Willy DeVille, Patti Palladin and MC5 man Wayne Kramer are some of the other names on the album. Palladin's backing band boasts one-time Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook, as well as The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. The last song is by The Screwballs, a one-off group featuring Palladin, Glen Matlock (also ex-Pistols), Jayne County, Steve Nieve (of Elvis Costello And The Attractions fame), Marco Pirroni (ex-Adam And The Ants) and Lol Coxhill.

In addition to the tribute album, Essential have also recently issued a previously unavailable Johnny Thunders double live set called "Add Water And Stir". Consisting of one electric and one acoustic CD, the tracks were recorded at three gigs that took place in Japan just a couple of weeks before Thunders' death.

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