Walter Lure joins us to talk about his life in and out of music and to celebrate the recent CD & DVD releases of L.A.M.F. – Live At The Bowery Electric. Here’s Part 1 of an incredibly candid interview that takes us from Walter’s childhood to the release of the L.A.M.F. album.
What can you remember about your childhood and growing up in Queens ?
My family was fairly ordinary. My father was a retail banker and my mother stayed home and took care of the kids (in the early years anyway – later on she took a part time job at a local high school after we were into our teens). I had an older brother and a younger one. We moved across the border to Nassau county when I was 10 years old. I played basketball in high school and in local leagues later on. Life was fine – no major screw-ups or traumas.
Walter Lure – at about 8 years old
Did you come from a musical family ?
Not really. Nobody played any instruments in my immediate family although some cousins and uncles had various talents in music. My Father loved broadway musicals from the likes of Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Low and he also loved movie musicals. He would buy the recordings from these shows and then blast them through the house on weekends when he was home. Obviously they influenced me in some ways.
Walter Lure & younger brother, Richard – 1969
Who were your earliest musical influences and when did you first start playing music ?
I first started getting into music in the late 50s and early 60s as I started going out with school friends and going to parties. American bandstand and some of the other afternoon music shows also influenced me. I would hear the songs at parties or on the radio and then buy the singles or LPs. All the American stuff before the British Invasion got my attention – Chubby Checker, Elvis, Wilson Pickett, The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean etc. These were all influences but nothing really grabbed me as hard as when the British Invasion happened. That’s when music really became a major part of my life. The Stones especially but all the other British groups as well. I got bored with most American pop music especially all the California based hippie groups in the 60s but always liked the Motown stuff. Later on I would focus on the British guitarists and the blues groups when I started taking guitar playing seriously. I had started taking guitar lessons together with a neighbour when I was around 12 years old but stopped them after a few months when I found it boring. They were only teaching stuff like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Camptown Races so I never got interested enough to put in the effort. I wouldn’t start seriously playing until I was in college in the late 60s and started hanging out with other guys really into music. Then my younger brother Richard was taking lessons and he would come home and show me what he learned. I would jam with the college friends and learn even more. I started my first band, The Bloodbath Revue ( later just plain Bloodbath) in my senior year in college and went on playing gigs with them on the local college and club circuit for a couple of years after college.
The fame, maybe not the fortune came from The Heartbreakers but you were in a band called The Demons, prior to The Heartbreakers. What can you tell us about The Demons and how did you get The Heartbreakers gig ?
I got into the Demons while I was playing in a band called The Stray Cats. We were doing mostly Yardbirds and Stones covers and maybe a few originals but the guitarist knew this singer named Elliot Kidd who was starting a new band. Elliot lived in Manhattan and was very friendly with the NYDolls because he’d sell them drugs, mostly cocaine. So the guitarist Marty and I left the Stray Cats and joined the Demons.
The Demons to me were a mediocre band but at least we were getting gigs and doing our own material. Elliot thought he was going to be the next David Johansen but he really wasn’t that magnetic. He had connections to the downtown clubs so we got gigs. We were also using the Dolls rehearsal loft to rehearse when they weren’t. That’s how I met the Dolls and when they broke up, Jerry and Johnny just happened to come to the Demons first gig at the 82 Club in the East Village. After the show Johnny pulled me over and asked me if I wanted to join his new band which we had all heard was being formed by Johnny and Jerry with Richard Hell. Of course I said yes and went to an audition a week or 2 later. I didn’t hear anything for about a month after that until the Demons were opening for the 3 piece Heartbreakers at a club called Coventry in Queens. That night Jerry pulled me over and asked me if I liked any of the material I had played with them at the audition. I said I loved them. He then asked me if I’d like to join the band. I obviously said yes and the rest is history. I never realized what I was getting into but the ride was incredible. Life in the Fast Lane.
How did you get on with Richard Hell and what were the circumstances around you, Johnny and Jerry splitting from him ?
In the beginning Richard Hell was ok and not too obnoxious but as time went on it became apparent that he thought that he was some sort of Beat Generation / French decadent poet type of genius. He slowly tried to take over the band and the musical output. When I brought in the music to what later would be One Track Mind he insisted that he had to sing it and would write the lyrics. Finally at one rehearsal he came out and said that Johnny could only sing 2 songs per set and I shouldn’t sing any. He would sing all the rest. Johnny said no way and walked out and Jerry and I followed.
There was obviously a real scene going on in N.Y at the time around CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City etc. Does the reality match the legend ?
Yes. The scene definitely matched the legend although I’m not altogether sure what the “legend” was. The scene really started when the NYDolls were playing but didn’t get named Punk until later with the Ramones and others.
Billy Rath replaced Richard Hell and it wasn’t long before you were headed to London. What inspired you to take that trip in the first place ?
The UK trip came about purely by accident. We had almost signed a record deal with Richard Gotterer and his label but the terms were really lousy but no bands in NY scene were getting good deals either. The industry still thought Punk was a fringe movement and they were only giving big money deals to the established glam/hair bands. Then out of the blue our manager Leee Childers got a call from Malcolm McLaren asking if we’d like to do a tour in the UK with his band and a few others all expenses paid. We discussed it and said yeah, why not? Let’s go and see what’s happening over there. New York was getting boring anyway. Later on we found out that Malcolm had asked the NYDolls to go first but David turned him down. Little did we know what we were getting into.
What were your first impressions of the fledgling U.K. punk scene when you arrived and how would you compare it to the scene you left behind in the U.S. ?
To me the UK scene was way better and much more fun than the NY scene. The bands were a lot younger and didn’t know how to play as well as the NY counterparts but they had way more enthusiasm and looked a lot better. The clothes were wilder and they all had different coloured hairdos. My favourite band was always the Pistols because they had the best sound and Rotten was probably the best front man of all those bands but there were plenty of other bands that were great in other ways. I used to love to see Eater because they hardly knew how to play and would just come out on stage and scream for 15 minutes. The audience loved it and I couldn’t stop laughing. I met Pete Shelley from The Buzzcocks when they opened for us on the Anarchy tour and he was showing me his guitar which was some unknown brand but the body had been sawed into a square piece of wood and all the control buttons were frozen on 10. Another difference was the drugs. NY was into a lot of heroin – everyone wanted to be cool and on the nod. The clothes were just leather jackets, ripped jeans and torn t-shirts. Even the audiences were laid back or stoned. The UK kids were all on speed and acid and smoked a lot of hash so they were louder and wilder than their NY counterparts and also much more fun. The only bands doing heroin over there then were the older bands like The Stones and Zeppelin. Of course after we were there a few months our bad habits followed us there and soon began to spread in the bands in London. We also landed at Heathrow on the same night that the Pistols had cursed on the Bill Grundy show and caused a nationwide uproar. Malcolm met us at the airport all flustered and put out, worrying about the after effects. We didn’t think cursing on TV would be a big deal but the next day and for weeks later, all of the newspapers had nothing else on their front pages. We couldn’t have bought that much publicity with a billion dollars and overnight we were accepted into the UK Punk aristocracy just by being part of that tour.
Having got the Pistols support slot, how frustrating was it for you, that so much of the tour got cancelled ?
It was pretty frustrating that some 20 of 26 shows got cancelled that December but we were still enjoying being in the middle of all the uproar and besides we were being taken care of by Malcolm and the tour people so every night that we didn’t play, we ended up in the hotel bars with all 3 bands hanging out all night and drinking ourselves stupid. The bands were only us, the Pistols and the Clash. The Damned were travelling on their own.
How did you get on with The Pistols’ lads ?
We got on great with all the Pistols members usually but the one exception was Rotten. When we were all alone in the bar or the bus he’d be fine and friendly and joking like everyone else but as soon as strangers or any press came around he would turn into this obnoxious asshole disagreeing with everything anyone said. It was like he was trying to live up to his so called “persona”. Apparently this got worse in later years if you happen to talk to Steve Jones or Glen Matlock. Rotten just became the asshole he was trying to be.
As I live in Leeds, I love the story of the secret service guy with a gun in your hotel lobby before the first night of the Anarchy tour. For those that haven’t heard it, can you tell us about the incident.
Definitely the weirdest event of the tour. Nobody ever got to the bottom of this. I was in my room and called down to Leee’s room to get some cash or cigarettes or something. Gail Higgins answered the phone sounding a bit weird but not hysterical or anything. She first said no but after I insisted, she said ok come on down to their room. When I walked in, the whole band was there sitting around looking nervous and some blonde guy in a suit was sitting by the phone with a gun in his hand. This was very unusual because guns are outlawed in the UK and only military and secret service guys can have them. The guy ends up saying that they received a report that somebody was out to attack us in the hotel and they had came over to check it out and guard us from anything that might happen. It didn’t really make sense to us that anyone would want to kill us but we had no choice in the matter. So we sat there for an hour or so and every now and then the guy would make a call or receive one on the room phone (there weren’t cell phones in those days). Finally he gets up and speaks with someone down the hall and says the threat is over and he is leaving but that we shouldn’t leave the hotel for an hour or so. We sat there for a little while but then decided to call the police and check the situation out. The cops came by and said they knew nothing about the guy in the suit or his organization and had received no reports from any government agencies. So they ended up taking everybody’s fingerprints and dusting the phone as well, to try to isolate the gunman’s prints. We never heard back from them and they said they could never identify the gunman’s prints. Whether this was true or not we’ll never know but the whole episode was like something out of the Twilight Zone.
Do you remember anything of that Leeds gig, and indeed the other handful of gigs that actually went ahead on the Anarchy tour ?
The Leeds gig was the first one we played on the tour. It was in a college gymnasium and had a big stage. It was the first time we got to see the other bands so it was interesting. The Damned I liked the least as their music didn’t stand out and I couldn’t figure out what Dave Vanian was doing dressed up like a bad Halloween version of Dracula. The Clash were better but they sounded real light and tinny in their early years. They got much better after Topper Headon joined them a few years later. The Pistols I loved and had the best presence and songs of all of them. Apparently we went over well with the other bands as well. The other gigs were fairly normal except for the one in Caerphilly Wales where I’ve mentioned a million times before the story of the minister in the parking lot across from the theater preaching to the adults gathered there about how the devil was in the theatre and they shouldn’t let their kids go in. I also remember the fans desperate to impress the bands by sticking safety pins into their cheeks and ears in the bathrooms and backstage. They all had these horrid green skin infections that were dripping pus. The Manchester gig was memorable because I met Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks who had that ridiculous guitar. We also all went to Tommy Ducks pub by the train station where they had women’s panties all over the walls and ceiling and giant toilet bowls in the middle of the floor. Sadly I’ve heard that it’s no longer there now.
L.A.M.F., The Heartbreakers only album release, has now had it’s 40th birthday. How do you view it after all these years ?
I still think it’s a great album and I’m still playing the songs from it 40 years later. I just did that LAMF tour back in December with Clem Burke, Glen Matlock and Mike Ness and we sold out 6 shows on both coasts in a matter of days. The songs are still great and, yes, the original release had sound issues but sounded really good after it was remastered in the 80s and released on CD and Cassette. Jerry and Johnny seemed to have a curse following them because the Dolls albums never sounded half as good as the band sounded live. Of course I always say that if the album had sounded a lot better and we got a lot bigger as a result, we all would have been dead a lot sooner because we would have had more cash to take more drugs, myself included.
As the cash didn’t roll in, Walter Lure survived to play another day. Part 2 will feature the demise of The Heartbreakers, playing with The Ramones, The Waldos, more drugs, life as a stockbroker and whole host of other life stories. In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, check out L.A.M.F. – Live At The Bowery Electric on CD and DVD. It is a worthy addition to any record collection and a fantastic celebration of one the most influential records of a generation.
L.A.M.F. – Live At The Bowery Electric