Jerry Nolan 1946-1992

Picture of Jerry Nolan

Jerry Nolan was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1946. Having a soldier as a stepfather meant relocation to Hawaii where he spent his formative years. It was in Hawaii that he witnessed an Elvis Presley show, which made a lasting impression. He took up the drums and listened to the wild rockers of the day - Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. A further relocation to Oklahoma saw him play his first shows, drumming in strip clubs at the age of 14 before returning to Brooklyn in his late teens. He drifted into various street gangs, including the Ellery Bops, the Master Chaplains and the Phantom Lords, yet it was music which took him off the street and onto the stage.

One of his street pals was Kiss' Peter Criss, whom Jerry taught to drum. Jerry drummed in a succession of groups in the late 60's including Suzi Quatro's Cradle. He also played in an outfit with Syl Sylvain until Syl got the call to join the New York Dolls. When the Dolls drummer Billy Murcia died of a drinking misadventure on their ill fated 1972 tour of England supporting the Faces, the hard hitting Nolan was the obvious replacement. At the time, Nolan told the Dolls frontman David Johansen "There's only one guy who can fill that job and do it well. I'm the guy!"

Jerry Nolan joined the New York Dolls and commenced gigging in December 1972. The band signed to Mercury Records on March 20, 1973 with Todd Rundgren producing their muddy self titled debut. The album shifted 100,000 units in the States, with Nolan's powerhouse drumming shining through despite the dodgy production. The band continued to tour throughout 1973, including sell out shows at LA's Whiskey Au Go Go and a support slot to Mott The Hoople at Madison Square Garden. Despite a strong, now nationwide cult following, Mercury demanded further sales. After a further European tour and a second album "In Too Much Too Soon" (again suffering from a dubious production - this time ex-Shangri-Las guru Tex Morton the culprit) was released, yet Mercury was fast losing patience. The album shipped 68,000 copies in the States and although musically tighter than ever before, and despite touring heavily throughout 1974, the Dolls found themselves without a label.

The band was internally ripped apart, due to management rifts and the maintaining of ever increasing drug and alcohol habits. Enter opportunist Malcolm Mclaran who decked them out in red leather and sold them as commie rock, complete with hammer and sickle flag. Bemusing as this was, a "better red than dead" attitude was never gonna cut it with the good ol' boys down south, and again the band showed signs of dissent. Nolan and Thunders insisted on playing the new Dolls repertoire in the old Dolls style of fast, drug filled rock, yet Johansen and Sylvain wanted to break the band in, using the old songs and adopting a relatively sober style. But by the time the tour hit Florida, Nolan and Thunders had had enough. They returned to New York in April 1975 whilst Johansen and Sylvain dragged the corpse of the Dolls through a tour of Japan before finally laying the band to rest in December 1976. Thunders and Nolan recruited ex-Television bass player Richard Hell and formed the Heartbreakers, who played their first shows in May of 1975. However, Hell too quickly assumed the spotlight, and was just as quickly shown the door. Exit Hell to the Void-oid, and enter Walter Lure (ex-Demons) on guitar, with Boston-ite and sometime gigolo Billy Rath on bass. This line-up would become the classic Heartbreakers line-up, who throughout 1976 established themselves amongst the top of the heap in the very healthy NY scene.

They headed to England, where punk was as much about political unrest as it was about the music, and Mclaren booked them on the ill fated 'Anarchy' tour as support to the Pistols and the Damned - and as has been well documented, only 5 out of a possible 20 shows were completed due to the intervention of the righteous English moral majority. In early 1977 the band signed to Track Records and released their classic debut LAMF. Once again, the production of the album was sub-standard, which caused dissent within the band, ultimately leading to Nolan quitting and returning to New York. The Heartbreakers splintered, with Thunders pursuing a solo career in 1978. Nolan teamed up with ex-Doll Arthur Kane and Steve Dior in late 1978 as the Idols, and released one single on the independent NY label Ork. Nolan also turned up in Sid Vicious' backing band, which was captured at Max's Kansas City for the 'Sid Sings' album, released in late 1979. Vicious was living with Nolan at the time of his death.

Nolan's tempestuous relationship with Thunders continued into the 1980's, and in 1983 Nolan again found himself sitting behind the kit as part of Thunders' Cosa Nostra Band who successfully toured France and Sweden at the time. Nolan resided in Sweden during the mid-80's and formed his own band, the Tenerifa Cowboys, who released a couple of singles and toured extensively. When Thunders re-mixed and re-released LAMF in 1984, he capitalised by performing a set of reunion shows with the classic Heartbreakers line-up of Nolan, Lure and Rath. Nolan also drummed with the London Cowboys, who released the very underrated 'On Stage' album in 1985. The Heartbreakers toured sporadically throughout the mid to late 1980's, with Nolan often occupying the drum stool. Nolan drummed on Thunders' only Australian tour in September 1986.

The bond and loyalty between Thunders and Nolan remained strong and a subversive loyalty always existed between the two. Yet when Johnny passed away on 23rd April, 1991 - it left Jerry shaken. He had lost his brother. Within twelve months, sadly he too would be gone. Nolan's last show was a special Thunders tribute show in New York featuring members of the Dolls and the Heartbreakers. In late 1991, Nolan was being treated for bacterial meningitis and bacterial pneumonia, yet whilst in hospital, he suffered a stroke and went into a coma from which he never recovered. He spent his final weeks on a life support system, before passing away on the 14th January, 1992. If Johnny Thunders is rockin' n rollin' somewhere in the unknown, you can bet your life that Jerry will be behind the kit, keeping the beat as he always did. May his memory live on, with those immortal words of David Johansen - "Give me one Jerry"!

Colin Gray, 1998 (originally appearing in 'Vicious Kitten' issue #6)

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