New Strokes for the Heartbreakers

In the summer of 1976, before she met Sid, Nancy Spungen was a New York resident, and worked on Times Square dancing in strip clubs. A well-known scenester, her face was regular to venues like CBGB and Max's Kansas City. She saw (and partied with) a lot of rock bands that toured on the circuit; the Heartbreakers being one in particular. She wrote this gig review for their manager, Leee Black Childers, who passed it on to an independent music rag called New York Rocker; where the piece was printed in August. The text reveals her enthusiasm for journalism, along with a generally good grammatical command.

There's some good news for the rock and roll fans of New York. The Heartbreakers are back. Early rumors of a complete breakup were found untrue when it was announced that the band was rehearsing heavily with a new bass player and had a date at Max's in late July. The new bass player is Billy Wrath, a 27-year-old musician originally from Boston. He played with several bands in Boston and eventually came to settle down in northern New Jersey. He was playing the Jersey bar band circuit when the Heartbreakers found him. Needless to say, he was only too happy to join the band and finally have a chance to use his talent in an original, up-and-coming group. With the problem of a replacement on bass solved, the final phase of the Heartbreakers revamping was a new manager. Leee Black Childers, everybody's favorite intrepid photographer and man about town, approached the band for the job. Leee was accepted into the fold with little hesitation and much enthusiasm, for it was he who rendered his services to one David Bowie way back then.

With their two major problems solved, the band faced yet another stumbling block. A majority of their songs departed with Richard Hell. With a date at Max's already set, some quick composing was in store. In a period of little more than a month, the band, Johnny in particular, came up with some excellent new songs to add to the holdovers from their old set. Johnny's new songs, most of them straight ahead rockers, all of them good, are fine evidence for his prowess as an accomplished songwriter. They include a surprisingly sophisticated song - 'It's Not Enough'. It's not quite a ballad, not quite a rocker, but caught in a happy medium somewhere inbetween. It's certainly one of the best songs Johnny's ever written, and for my money, the best of the new ones. The rest of the new Thunders compositions are 'Baby Talk', 'Dead or Alive' and 'Born to Lose'. Drummer Jerry Nolan's new song 'Take a Chance With Me' features himself on vocals at first. These songs, along with 'Pirate Love' and 'I Wanna Be Loved' by Johnny, Walter Lure's 'Flight' and 'Get Off the Phone', Jerry's 'Can't Keep My Eyes On You', 'Chinese Rocks' and a song done originally by the Contours, 'Do You Love Me' complete the new Heartbreakers set.

A close listen to the new songs reveals a new musical direction for the band. They've gone way back to the beginnings of real rock and roll in the 50's, meshed it with 70's modernism and thrown in a little avant-garde for good measure and come up with something truly new and different - and exciting. This is pure rock and roll - no bullshit. Lyrics that are interesting enough to be an important part of the song, yet simple enough not to distract you from the music itself. An example from 'It's Not Enough' - "I can count on diamonds, rubies as well/Big deal baby/I still feel like Hell." This is music you can dance to, music that will move you. With good music becoming increasingly harder to find and nothing really new happening on the music scene, the Heartbreakers' brand of rock and roll is a refreshing, exhilarating joy to hear.

July 23rd finally arrived and with it, the time to prove themselves. Prove themselves they did. The Heartbreakers have had almost no national press and surprisingly little local press, with Television and the Ramones getting most of the action. Despite this, they're still the biggest draw in New York. The fans proved it, showing up in droves, as usual. The band was amazingly tight for a first performance. Jerry's already fine drumming sounded twice as good with a great bass player (finally). Johnny and Walter were riffing off each other, both taking leads, both providing interspersing rhythms. All four members together created a certain magic, a perfect chemistry, if you will, and the audience sure knew it. They didn't seem to mind the loss of Richard Hell at all, receiving all the familiar tunes with joyous fervor and accepting the new ones as if they were old favorites. They went beyond all expectations and certainly erased any doubts that anyone may have had.

The Heartbreakers are back with a vengeance. They have shown that they can overcome the loss of Richard Hell, their main songwriter, something many people doubted they could do. And they did more than overcome the loss. They have more than adequately shown themselves as songwriters, their bass player is nothing short of great, and fits in perfectly with the band. Their stage show is better than ever, the new songs have successfully paved the way for their music direction and with an album and a tour in the works, we should be hearing a lot more about the Heartbreakers. This band is out to show the masses what real rock and roll is about.

Nancy Spungen

Jungle Records