1958 Junior Double Cutaway Vintage Original Spec

By the time Johnny Thunders had arrived, he was already gone. Just 19 when he transformed from John Anthony Genzale, Jr.—the skinny Italian kid from Queens, New York who loved girls and baseball and rock ’n’ roll—and hit Manhattan as Johnny Thunders—the sneering New York Dolls guitarist with a mop of teased hair, platform go-go shoes, and a low-strung TV yellow Les Paul Junior—he was already teetering on the perilous abyss of a life controlled by heroin. Like some tragic cross between Al Pacino in The Panic in Needle Park and Exile-era Keith Richards, Thunders took the myth of rock excess and stripped away the fairy tale to reveal the abscesses, dope sickness, loneliness, and self-destruction at the poisoned heart of it all. And with every lick and lyric, Thunders both undermined and bolstered the fable.

Like all junkies, Thunders celebrated his self-immolation. He reveled in it while cursing it, unable to see where he stopped and addiction started, arguably because Thunders never stopped. From the lurid, street-life specifics of “Too Much Junkie Business” (Well you run down to the corner baby, see what you can cop / You buy some for your sister and you take yours off the top) to the resigned lament “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” (Even though they don’t show, the scars are so old ... You can’t put your arms around a memory / Don’t try), Thunders was a shark-skinned incarnation of his own songs.

But boy, could he play guitar. From the growling shuffle of the Dolls’ “Jet Boy” to the pummeling power chords of the Heartbreakers’ “All By Myself,” off of the gritty Live at Max’s Kansas City, the sound of Johnny Thunders punishing his Les Paul Junior is one of the greatest noises in the history of rock ’n’ roll. With his Chuck Berry leads and howling feedback, Thunders careened through rock guitar’s hall of fame like a wrecking ball.

After quitting the Dolls’ in mid-tour while in Florida because they were unable to get heroin, Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan—partners-in-crime till the bitter end—returned to New York and formed the Heartbreakers with guitarist Walter Lure. The band released one album, 1977’s L.A.M.F. (figure out that acronym on your own), and dedicated it to the drug dealers on the Lower East Side’s Norfolk Street.

A true classic, L.A.M.F. is New York punk at its most decadent, and Thunders went on to have a profound influence on the nascent English punk scene. Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones has professed embarrassment at how much he patterned himself after Thunders, and Joe Strummer name-checks Thunders on the Clash’s “City of the Dead.” But unfortunately, Thunders’ influence was more than musical. He is infamously credited with introducing heroin to the London scene on the chaotic 1977 Anarchy Tour that featured the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, and the Heartbreakers.

In 1978, Thunders released So Alone, his one great solo album, featuring “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and cameos by Phil Lynott, Steve Marriott, and Chrissie Hynde. Soon after, the quality and quantity of his output became erratic. Throughout the 1980s he stumbled from band to band, struggling with his drug habit, on and off methadone programs. He was besieged by sycophants and copycats, dealers, and hangers-on, in the ugly twilight world of addiction and semi-stardom. He was never without his moments of greatness, though, and even late in his life he could summon up the power of his Junior with more charisma than most performers. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, Thunders died alone, in a New Orleans motel room in 1991, possibly of an overdose, possibly murdered for his supply of methadone. All by himself.
<BODY> <H1>Gibson Backstage Pass</H1> <H2>Table of Contents</H2> <UL> <LI><a href="lespauljunior.htm">Legends of the Les Paul Junior</a></LI> <LI><a href="chuckberry.htm">Chuck Berry</a></LI> <LI><a href="jeffbeck.htm.htm">Jeff Beck</a></LI> <LI><a href="johnnythunders.htm">Johnny Thunders</a></LI> <LI><a href="peterframpton.htm">Peter Frampton</a></LI> <LI><a href="johnleehooker.htm">John Lee Hooker</a></LI> <LI><a href="http://www.gibson.com">Back to Gibson</a></LI> <LI><a href="http://www.gibson.com/backstage/backissues.htm">Back Issues</a></LI> <LI><a href="http://www.gibson.com/AllAccess/Contests/">Contest</a></LI> <LI><a href="http://www.gibson.com/Backstage%20Pass/Artists/">Artist</a></LI> <LI><a href="http://www.gibson.com/relations/forum/index.asp">Forums</a></LI> </UL> </BODY>