Walter Lure’s LAMF (Walter Lure, Mick Rossi, Nigel Mead and Mark Laff) at Manchester Rebellion.
Walter Lure’s LAMF (Walter Lure, Mick Rossi, Nigel Mead and Mark Laff) at Manchester Rebellion.
With over 50 years’ experience in the devious business of rock n’ roll (and a good few decades on Wall Street too) – Walter has seen his fair share of its underbelly. Best known as the lead guitarist and a songwriter of the infamous New York rogues The Heartbreakers (not to be confused with Tom Petty’s eponymous outfit) featuring their manic leader Johnny Thunders, drummer Jerry Nolan and bassist Billy Rath (and Richard Hell along the way too) – Walter had celebrated 42 years of The Heartbreakers’ only studio album, the seminal ‘L.A.M.F.’ (Like A Mother Fucker, derivative of NYC gang graffiti tags) by performing it amongst other singles on a select number of dates in the UK, USA and Japan throughout 2019 including their much anticipated special guest appearance at Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. The album, released in March 1977 should be mandatory listening for any rock music fan – equally gritty and aggressive as it is pop-orientated, full of attitude, energetic riffage and clever hooks. Do yourself a favour if you haven’t already…
On this run, Walter is joined by guitar hero Mick Rossi of Wythenshawe’s finest Slaughter and the Dogs; Mark Laff, drummer of Generation X (and touring member of Johnny Thunders’ solo ventures); and Nigel Mead of The Duellists. Steven sat down with the four members in Manchester Rebellion in August 2019 discussing the current line-up and future plans, ghosts of the past, holistic medicine and art dealing, and where their respective rock n’ roll roots formed.
Walter Lure & Mick Rossi:
Steven: You’ve had a few different line ups over the years, especially between here in the UK and the States. How and where did this current collaboration (Lure, Rossi, Laff, Mead) come about, and when and where over the years did you get to know each other?
Walter: Through the machinations of our record companies in Los Angeles, the evil pulling spider strings. No! We both had albums coming out on Cleopatra records so the Publicist… Mick: Head of A+R
W: So, the “out-there” who Mick deals with, he just sort of brought Mick by to one of my shows a couple of years ago. Then I meet Mick over at the guy’s house. I knew Mick years before [all this happened], but I hadn’t seen him in something like 40 years. I brought him up on stage for a song at a gig and later on Matt said to me would you like to do some shows over here on the West Coast with Mick Rossi? I said ‘yeah sure why not!’
S: Where have you been?
W: Europe, Japan, Brazil and Los Angeles where I’d get different people to back me up. So Mick put a band together and he had management and we did a whole tour out there back in February-March.
M: The shows have been good. We’ve kind of came full circle because Slaughter and the Dogs supported The Heartbreakers many years ago in the UK. We did a bunch of shows with them. It was very exotic for us actually touring with them. Actually being with an American band who had this great history with the likes of Lou Reed, The Stooges, of course, The Dolls was a buzz you know? John took a bit of a shine to me and let me use his equipment as I had shit gear back then. It’s been great playing with Walter. I’m a fan first of regarding Walter and the LAMF album. The shows we did on the West Coast were phenomenal and we [went] to Japan in November for a bunch of shows too. [The] the UK run was really built around our guest slot at Rebellion. We knew we were going in on a bigger level with Rebellion and we just wanted to round it off with a couple of club shows thereafter.
S: To make it worth your while?
M: Well, to play too as many people as possible in London, Manchester and so on.
S: It’s good to hear the reception for the shows was great for this line-up. Obviously the infamous LAMF album is a staple of any rock n’ roll diet and is now 42 years since the album was conceived.
S: That was long before I was around so I’d like to ask Walter what is your fondest memory of recording the album and of your sadly departed bandmates? I’m sure a lot of people go immediately for all the tales of debauchery, trying to dig up the dirt but I’m sure there’s something in your story that doesn’t involve the dark side that only the band members experienced.
W: My fondest memory… My fondest memory of recording, the thing is the recording was a fucking nightmare [laughs]. We had gone to different studios, it was cool being in The Who’s studio, Rampart, that was the last studio we ended up in after the previous working in three others so that was sort of fun. One day Roger Daltrey showed up, firstly we didn’t know it was him. I think his picture was the cover of Sounds Magazine [Correction: The Melody Maker] where he was all done up as a punk.
S: Yes, I’m familiar with the image.
W: He had a safety pin in his cheek and a chain in his nose, so we didn’t recognise him at first, then someone told me who it was. It was cool just being in London at the time. The punks took to us right away. They accepted us as part of that scene from the get-go and touring with The Sex Pistols made us part of the punk royalty. Going to the pubs and clubs at night to see other bands were great – we were very much part of that scene. Now, my fondest memories of my bandmates depend on whether they were conscious or unconscious. I was part of another band who had a loose connection to the Dolls. They came to see my first with this band and after Johnny and Jerry had left the Dolls. They had Richard Hell and they were on the lookout for another guitarist. So, they came to the first gig I did with this band, The Demons, and afterwards, Johnny pulled me aside and asked me if I’d be interested in joining them. Of course, I accepted. We arranged an audition and that’s how it all happened. Two months passed and the Demons were supporting the three-piece line-up of The Heartbreakers in a club over the river in Queens. It was a big crowd but a decent turnout. The Heartbreakers really did need another guitarist and they approached me again that night. It was then that I joined The Heartbreakers. Jerry just walked up and asked me if I liked any of the songs…
It was a lot easier to get along with them in the early days, even when we were living in the UK, first in Pimlico and later on in Chelsea. As the drugs began to get worse and worse you naturally started having problems. Johnny was probably the worse, but Jerry wasn’t a bargain either. I don’t know if I would call it bipolar, but one day he’d be happy and your best friend then the next day he’d be scowling in a corner of something like that. The best thing about Billy apart from being a great bass player is that he wasn’t a challenge or a creative force. He played great bass but he wasn’t going to be like Richard Hell – neither a great poet or going to try and take over the band. Billy wasn’t going to cause any problems, unlike Richard. There are a ton of fond memories of the gigs and people, John could be hilarious when he wasn’t stoned out. He could be a nice considerate guy, but John was a schizophrenic guy. He had this craving for drugs and when he was on drugs he was Johnny Thunders and when he wasn’t he was John Genzale – a short, quiet Italian kid and he’d be friendly and charming. It was just like the night and day thing. It was an experience to live through, it kept me going in the business for a very long time, 40 plus years though I never made any money out of it [laughs]. I had to go to Wall Street to get a job and get through the years.
S: What song on LAMF still stands out for you and really excites you to play these days? I’ll also reflect this question onto you, Mick, what songs do you still really like to listen to from that album and enjoy performing with the band?
M: I have several favourites. I like ‘One Track Mind’ – I was telling Walter just the other day that when I hit the opening chord it makes me smile because I scan the crowd and every fucker in there joins in singing along. Another one which stands out for me is ‘Pirate Love’. I mean, I like them all of course but those particularly two I connect with.
S: What about you, Walter?
W: My favourite is ‘One Track Mind’ also, but including Johnny’s songs, ‘Born To Lose’, or ‘Chinese Rocks’ which is neither Johnny or Jerry’s song.
S: I have some questions for the other guys in the band which I’ll skip over for now, and the next question is for you Mick regarding a photo I’ve seen recently taken of you as a young kid with your mates and Mick Ronson. I’m keen to find out how that came about and what your memories of that day are. It’s a great shot!
M: Is that when I’m really young? S: Yes.
M: Mick Ronson was my hero, I was a massive fan of Bowie but I gravitated to Ronson because I wanted to be a guitar player. That particular photo you’re talking about was taken at the final show of the Slaughter on 10th Avenue tour in Sheffield. I got to meet Mick and he was more than a guitar hero of mine as he became a friend. But I’ll just tell you quickly how that photo came about is that I saw him in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. I got down the front and was waving and he noticed me and pointed at me. We then went to see him again at the next show in Sheffield and we couldn’t afford a hotel so we were going to sleep at the coach station on the benches. We see him out at the front of the venue, he pointed towards the backstage as we wanted an autograph but he gets ushered onto the coach and it drives off. Everyone is running after it, but I keep on running two blocks, three blocks I kept on running and the coach suddenly stops and the door opens. Mick sticks his head out and yells “c’mon if you’re coming” and that was the start of a lifelong friendship. When I got a record deal with Slaughter and the Dogs, I called Mick up so naïve and green about it and said “you should play on our album. He did. So that early day’s photo is from when I first met Mick, he was an absolute angel and such a genius guitarist, a very underrated guitar player and I know that for a fact. He was instrumental in shaping Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane.
S: … and who was your rock n’ roll heroes back in the day, Walter?
W: Growing up in the 60’s, I liked the music of the 50’s. But it was the British Invasion and all those groups, The Beatles and then The Stones took over. The Stones were everything growing up. Once I was in college and playing guitar in bands it was all the British guitar players like Clapton, Beck, Page, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. Mick Taylor, to this very day, he was always my favourite because of the sound and style he had. He wasn’t the most complicated or complex, Clapton might have had a more lyrical approach, but Mick had the smoothest style to me. Later on when I got to the UK for the Anarchy tour, I thought the Pistols were the best thing over here. They had presence onstage and Steven [Jones] had only started playing guitar for around six months or so. He wasn’t great as a soloist but he had the sound and rhythm. They stood out even amongst the other bands like The Damned and The Clash. I thought the Pistols were ten times better.
S: Steve had that kickstart from New York via Sylvain’s guitar. That’s what he supposedly used when learning the basics, or so the story goes. True or false, who knows…
W: He used Sylvain’s guitar?
S: Yes, Sylvain’s Les Paul
W/M: The White one? I don’t know if that’s true…
S: The story goes is that Malcolm (McLaren) brought the guitar over with him to the UK with Sylvain due to following soon after to front the Sex Pistols, which obviously never happened.
M: I know Steve put those stickers on himself. It’s interesting, I’ll ask him about that when I’m back in Los Angeles….
W: Malcolm also killed the Dolls with that red look.
M: He dressed them up like Father Christmas in red leather!
W: They had this amazing rise and from nowhere. They were playing stadiums and within six months they were back playing little clubs again. A flash and a boom they were gone. Strange. I guess Middle America wasn’t ready for The Dolls, guys dressed up like girls and shit like that. But later, bands like Aerosmith or Kiss, a horrible band, would make zillions because they dressed up like idiots. I saw Aerosmith, they had some decent songs, opening for The Kinks at my old college and it was just like a Rolling Stones imitation. I just kept thinking ‘this band really sucks…’
M: Kiss used to go to all The Dolls shows. W: Because Jerry knew the drummer.
S: Whilst scanning through your bio, Mick, I noticed that you’ve collaborated with Philip Glass on a couple of projects.
M: No no, that’s not me, that’s another Mick Rossi. He’s older than I am and he’s won Grammy awards. People say to me “man, I didn’t know you’ve won a grammy”, I’m like “yeah, neither did I.” The other Mick Rossi is a keyboard player, I’ve worked with a lot of different people. S: I’ve spoken with some other people who are familiar with the name and they’ve said “wow, Mick Rossi has a Grammy” – great to clear that up!
M: I have worked on movies though. The last one was called “A Kiss and a Promise” and the other was called “2-22”. As an Actor of course, I’ve never done film scores but there’s another Mick Rossi who used to manage Dave Stewart from The Eurythmics. He’s a Scottish guy and he also lives in LA.
S: Sounds like you’re going to have to form the Mick Rossi Group with three other Micks. That’s got to happen
S: So, I’m going to finish off with two questions I always ask at the end of interviews. What do you remember of your earliest experiences of playing live, and secondly is there anything else you want to tell the readers about [this] LAMF line-up?
M: Regarding the first question, it was in Wythenshawe, Manchester. It was in a local pub called The Mountain Ashe and we set up on a stage that was a big as an Oreo cookie. We thrashed away as what we thought we were doing were brilliant covers of Bowie’s ‘Suffragette City’, Lou Reed’s ‘Waiting for the Man’. It was atrocious but we fucking did it. It was the first time I’d ever put a guitar through a proper amp because I couldn’t afford an amp at home. We were all going through the one amp, that’s how good we were.
With regards to the second question…
S: or anything in regard to your solo ventures, Mick.
M: I’m concentrating on this, as well as a solo album in 2020. [LAMF played Japan in November]. More LAMF shows in the States and Europe are in the works for the new year too…
W: My first gig was just before I graduated. I’d gotten this band together at College as I’d just learned to play. It was an end of the year festival but indoors, and the band was called BloodBath (or Bloodbath Revue) and we did all these covers of Stones, Bowie and other people would come onstage. It was in May or June and all the people who hung out in the music hall including this guy we called Santa Claus who was a junkie. It gave me the flavour of what it was like to entertain as the crowd loved it, even if we could barely play. That was my first gig. After that, I was just jamming in people’s basements. I was 18 years old…
S: What is your Alma Mater?
W: Fordham University. I started out in Chemistry but then I switched halfway through to English Literature as the stupid chemistry was getting too complicated. The funny thing about that was after I graduated there was a recession. I had a degree in English and a minor in Chemistry. It was hard to get a job, at the time I worked in a department store stocking shelves, I drove a cab for six months, then the post office, and then I got a job with the Food and Drug Administration as a chemist assistant as I didn’t have the full degree. There I was, testing foods and drugs before I started taking them [laughs] and I was still playing in cover bands. That lasted a few years. I worked there from 71 through to 77 and finally quit. Whilst I was working there I took a few weeks off to do the Anarchy Tour, then we got the record deal, so I came back and told the bosses I quit as I’m going back to Europe to record the album. The big boss said “are you giving all this up for a bunch of guitars?” and I promptly replied “yes”. It was a boring laboratory with testing tubes and stuff like that. I was so glad to get out of it. That, that is where my career started.
S: Cheers, guys. Best of luck for tonight! I’ll be up the front doing some photographs. Striking poses and pouts, please!
After the show, Steven was able to grab hold of Mark Laff and Nigel Mead for a quick chat about their respective conscriptions for this UK run of LAMF shows, communications with former bandmates, banishment from famous TV studios, and their day-to-day ventures beyond the stage that keep them sane. Some of the answers may surprise you!
Mark Laff (Generation X, Johnny Thunders)
Steven: Mark, first things first, how did you join the current LAMF line-up?
Mark Laff: I got a phone called from Nigel who I’ve known for a very long time, and I’ve always wanted to be in a band with him. He told me he was doing this run of shows with Mick and Walter, I couldn’t turn it down! It was the right time to come back behind the drums and I really like these songs. I played them with Johnny Thunders back in the 80s.
S: What was that experience like?
ML: Very Entertaining [laughs]
S: What is your fondest memory of that very entertaining time in your life?
ML: My fondest memory is probably the first show where we’re walking to the stage and Johnny [Thunders] said to me “Hey, do you know Wipeout?” and I replied, “yes, John”. “We’re going to start with that” he added, and no one else knew what was happening. We just went into ‘Wipeout’ and played it brilliantly. He enjoyed himself that night and he sounded fantastic. It’s a real shame he wasn’t looked after but you’ve got to look after yourself sometimes.
S: You’ve mentioned it’s been a long time before you came back. How long have you been out of the game for now?
ML: 10 years. [At the time of the interview] This is my third show in 10 years. I’m [was] a little bit out of shape… Rebellion festival was a bit nerve-wracking. I just about held the sticks.
S: A bit of a tangent, but you’re also into holistic medicine I believe?
ML: I am, I love all that stuff. It’s really a lifestyle choice, I’m also vegan now too. I’m into a lot of stuff that might bore some people, but it works for me. It’s cool I’ve found something I’m happy with on the holistic side of things. I don’t want to start knocking western medicine, but I think there are alternatives that are far better, and it’s a shame because the populous is controlled by [big pharma]. They want us to be ill so they can keep us on these drugs and make us moronic.
S: I asked the other guys this question, what is your favourite song to play with LAMF?
ML: The obvious ones like ‘Chinese Rocks’, ‘Born to Lose’… They’re just great!
S: Just the energy?
ML: Absolutely. ‘I Wanna Be Loved’ is another to add to the list.
S: What is your favourite memory of playing live, Mark?
ML: Wow… probably the Marc Bolan show in ’77 with Generation X. David Bowie was there and it was Marc’s TV show. It was all very exciting; I was standing about 8 feet from David Bowie whilst he was performing ‘Heroes’. It’s the sort of thing you dream of when you’re a kid, and when you get there it’s amazing.
S: Where was that recorded?
ML: Granada TV Studios here in Manchester. I was banned from there for 10 years because I “apparently” stole half a drum kit [laughs]. I thought “hey, they can afford it, I’m not getting paid”.
S: My father and I ran into Derwood about 4 years ago when he was playing a small show in a cellar bar in Belfast. Do you ever see or be in contact with any of the Generation X members these days?
ML: Nobody speaks to each other anymore, unfortunately…
ML: No, we all have our loathing for each other [laughs]
S: Derwood was doing a solo show in McHughs Basement in Belfast playing his desert blues material, and he had the long beard and hat. He was very good.
ML: I’d heard about that. There was going to be a show which I would’ve done, but the guitar player didn’t want to do it for some reason. It’s just deteriorated into silence. A shame, really…
S: It’s something I’d love to see not born the first time around. Enjoy your well-earned rest after such a powerful set. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mark.
Nigel Mead (The Duellists):
Steven: How did you get involved with LAMF as I know Walter has had multiple line ups over the years depending on where the gigs are booked to play?
Nigel: Well, I was an unashamed fan in the late 70’s, early 80’s. My relationship with the band is through Mick who I played in a band with called The Duellists. Mick and I have a long history, we’ve known each other for over 40 years and I just got a call about 6 months ago asking would I like to join. I’m in!
S: And is your own band The Duellists?
N: No, that was a band with Mick in the early 80’s after Slaughter and the Dogs broke up. We form a band thereafter and were around for three or four years. We were a really great band; drew a large crowd and we were one of the few guitar bands on the circuit at that time. We had people like Eric Clapton, Mick Ronson, Jeff Beck coming to see us perform. It was a really hot band. There were a lot of bands around who were more concerned with their haircuts and synths instead of guitars.
S: What do you do when you’re not playing and touring?
N: I’m an art collector, and my life now is all about stress management or stress avoidance, so I’m pretty much semi-retired.
S: Whose work do you deal in?
N: It ranges from Damien Hirst to Mark Quinn and I recently bought a couple of Matisse pieces too. It’s a full spectrum of artists really.
S: I’ve asked all the band members this question. What LAMF song gets you excited playing live?
N: ‘Chinese Rocks’ or ‘Born to Lose’ are the obvious ones. For me, it’s ‘Pirate Love’ – when it kicks in, it’s a killer song. Walter and Johnny wrote some great songs, there’s no doubt about that. Things went to shit in a short period of time, but that first album is a seminal album. It was poorly mixed at the time, but the songs stand out and it’s a joy to play them.
S: Cheers, Nigel.
Walter Lure and Mick Rossi are currently planning a number of shows in the States and other global territories in 2020. Mick Rossi is also performing with Slaughter [performing their album ‘Bite Back’ produced by Buffin from Mott The Hoople] in Manchester Rebellion on 28th March 2020 with limited tickets available for the event.
Many thanks to the band members for their time and patience, and to their loyal friend and award-winning ice cream vendor, Moz Murray (a.k.a. Mr Whippy Bananasplit Productions), for organising the interviews