Tributes pour in for NYC fixture who lived uncharacteristically clean and productive rock n roll life
Walter C. Luhr Jr. died this weekend at age 71 from complications arising from liver and lung cancer.
Playing under the surname Walter Lure, the lead guitarist wrote or co-wrote and sang many of the songs on the only Heartbreakers record, 1975’s crazily mixed and crazily brilliant L.A.M.F. With the irresistible Johnny Thunders in the band, Luhr was happy to play a less attention-seeking role during the explosion of creative energy taking place in late 70s East Village punk rock scene. But those who saw The Heartbreakers understood that Walter’s role was critical.
Andy Shernoff, the founder/bassist/songwriter of The Dictators who has gone on to produce and write for many others, collaborated with Luhr in a project called The Waldos. Shernoff beautifully remembered Luhr in a posting on social media that also shared perspective on Luhr’s contributions to his best-known musical project: “Johnny Thunders’ charisma might have overshadowed Walter in the Heartbreakers but I say unequivocally that Walter’s creativity overshadowed Thunders. Your favorite songs on LAMF were all written by Walter.” Shernoff added, referring to The Waldos’ 1994 LP that he had produced, “FACT: Johnny never made a solo album as solid as Rent Party.
Apart from the merit of his musical contribution, Luhr is being remembered for his decency and good nature. Television guitarist Richard Lloyd told the Globe, “Walter was one of the nicest people in that entire Max’s-CBGB’s scene. I never saw him angry or depressed. He was a friend to everybody and I will miss his beautiful smile.”
The singer-songwriter Martin John Butler played in The Demons with Luhr before the Heartbreakers (for Luhr) and after Pandora (for Butler). Managed by CBGB owner Hilly Crystal, The Demons were signed to Mercury and their debut rocketed out of the gate, only to be undone by the sudden death of their drummer Mike Rappoport and drug-related arrest of frontman Eliot Kidd. Despite the disappointing brush with stardom, Butler remembered Luhr with total fondness.
“We were friends since we were teens, and not a single bad word passed between us. I brought him into the Demons before he joined the Heartbreakers. I introduced him formally to Thunders when Johnny was jamming with me in my room and Walter came by. I believe they may have met briefly earlier. I sold him the Les Paul he used for a lifetime.”
Others commented on the way Luhr had escaped the “live fast die young” lifestyle that felled so many contemporaries from that scene, including Heartbreakers Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan, fellow Waldos Tony Coiro and Charlie Sox, plus and Walter’s own brother Ritchie, who played with him in a band called The Heroes. Unlike most rockers who’d stagger nightly from Max’s to CBGB’s, Luhr was known as a clean liver. Even as he launched a successful career as a stockbroker, Luhr continued making music into his 70s, at a surprisingly high level, with seemingly little discouragement from poor sales.
VIDEO: Walter Lure and The Waldos perform at Johnny Thunders’ Birthday Bash 2019
A few years ago, Luhr formed The Last Ditches, cheekily named by Luhr to reflect the career prospects for a supergroup whose members had seen their fame peak decades earlier. With Binky Philips of The Planets on guitar and drummer Bobby Rondinelli from Rainbow and Black Sabbath, Luhr made one of the best records of his career, 2014’s Spilt Milk. It even included a version of his Heartbreakers tune “I Wanna Be Loved.” Not many seem to have heard the resulting album but it’s packed with hooks and energy.
Philips wrote on Facebook, “VERY proud that Walter and I recorded an album together in 2014 … He was in absolutely top form… best lead guitar I ever heard him play. He wrote 4 songs for the album, too.”
Others weighed in, as well.
Mike Mindless commented about Luhr’s fractious post-Heartbreakers partnership with Johnny Thunders. “He only stopped playing with JT as he refused to pay him more than $100 a show, and he started to work on Wall Street instead. He was even supposed to play and tour with [Thunders in] March 1982, and Walter called JT’s bluff, and refused to play with him unless he got equal money. Johnny said, ‘I can get anybody,’ and wound up in Sweden getting in trouble without Walter.”
The singer-songwriter Azalia Snail wrote, “Of all the fabulous bands to seek out during my early years of stomping around NYC, the Heartbreakers were the ones I sought out the most~~ they defined the spirit of the rock and roll heart. Walter was so charming in his onstage antics with JT. My heart sank as I read the news of Walter.”
The recording engineer Rowan Bishop recalled a style note about Luhr. “I ran into him at a studio in the 90s, and he was dressed like it was still 1978: black Converse high tops, red jeans, black button down shirt, skinny red necktie. Still flying the old school flag. That moment always stuck with me.”
Shernoff concluded by writing what everyone whose life was forever changed by that alchemical East Village scene.
“Everybody thought Walter was immortal. While all around him were dying young, Walter danced on the edge, survived and thrived. I was fascinated how he straddled worlds. He was a secret, well-read intellectual in a punk rock world, a gentleman among scoundrels, kicking drugs while earning a small fortune on Wall Street. He called himself the last man standing, but on Friday the indestructible Walter finally succumbed to the the same liver cancer that took another giant, our buddy Tony Coiro. It makes me incredibly sad.”
VIDEO: The Heartbreakers perform “Too Much Junkie Business”