Thanks to Gary Lockard for sending in the following story & pictures.
The French Quarter in New Orleans is a wonderful mixture of sights, sounds, and smells. From the liquor and sex soaked businesses on Bourbon Street to the sweet Dixieland jazz of Preservation Hall, famous names dot the landscape including Louis Armstrong Park and Marie Laveau¹s House of Voodoo.
One name not found on any tourist map is that of Johnny Thunders. It's a glaring omission, but one that is understandable as Johnny was not a native of New Orleans. However, it would be a fitting reminder that the Crescent City was the last stop on a long and wild ride for the former New York Doll and Heartbreaker.
Johnny Thunders died in New Orleans on April 23, 1991. He had the idea of moving to New Orleans, finding some blues musicians, and starting a new band. The plan didn¹t last long. Thunders checked into room 37 of the St. Peter Guest House in the late hours of the 23rd. The following morning he was dead.
The exact details of his death are uncertain and rumors abound. What is know is that it was drug related. Not surprising for someone who danced for years with Dame Heroin. Regardless, rock n¹ roll lost one heck of a guitarist and one of its more colorful characters.
For years, my wife and I had wanted to visit New Orleans. As musicians (I play guitar, my wife Anne is a bassist), and fans of Thunders, the allure of staying in the same hotel, the very same room where Johnny met his demise, was too much to pass up.
I began planning our New Orleans adventure months in advance. I wanted to ensure we could get room 37 at the St. Peter. When I called to make reservations, the desk clerk said they had rooms available for the dates we would be in town.
When I specifically asked if room 37 was available, she replied it was. ³Can I ask why you want room 37² she asked innocently. I thought this question might be asked so I had a well prepared and rehearsed answer so I wouldn¹t sound like some sort of nut. I was only able to get out the first sentence of ³I¹m a Johnny Thunders fan² when the clerk interrupted ³no need to explain any further.²
The clerk said they get six or seven people a year that are Thunders fans who want to stay in room 37. They don¹t advertise it to potential hotel guests but if someone knows about the room¹s history and want¹s to stay there, its cool.
The St. Peter Guest House is just three blocks from world famous Bourbon Street. Located on the corner of St. Peter and Dauphine, the hotel does a very good business and its rooms are usually booked well in advance. In the six and one half years since Johnny¹s death, room 37 has been used by hundreds of guests. Few know of its rock n¹ roll connection.
A week after sending in my check to reserve the room (the hotel does not take credit cards), the St. Peter sent a confirmation sheet. Most notable on the sheet was their unique way of highlighting my room number and listing the reason for my staying at the St. Peter as ³Johnny Thunders Fan².
A few months later it was vacation time. Flying into New Orleans International Airport, we receive a picturesque view of the nearby swamps and marshes. On the drive from the airport to the St. Peter I was somewhat nervous. I had never slept in a room where (as least to my knowledge) someone had died. Would the hotel staff think my wife and I were some kind of weirdos or nuts? New Orleans is the most haunted city in the world. Would we see Johnny¹s ghost?
We checked into the hotel and got the room keys. The St. Peter Guest House was built in the 1800s and has the usual New Orleans style architecture. Its a two story brick building with large wood shutters permanently sealed over the Windowsthe French Quarter is a high crime area! Balconies with iron railings encircle the second floor.
To get to room 37, you first enter a outer door which faces Dauphine street. After entering a narrow hallway, room 37 is the first one on the right. The room was very elegantly decoratedhardwood floors, an antique dresser and wardrobe, stand with a nice bouquet of flowers, 11 foot ceilings, and a very comfy bed. The room, while small, has a private bath and central air conditioning.
During the course of the next week we did the usual tourist stuff--Preservation Hall, House of Blues, Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, etc. I was very disappointed the Hard Rock Café has no Johnny Thunders items. However, if you go to Tower Records they do have a decent selection of Johnny Thunders CDs and their postcard rack even had a Thunders postcard. The postcard features a Bob Gruen photo of Johnny at CBGBs circa 1975.
We didn¹t spend a great deal of time in the room. Hey, you don¹t go to New Orleans to sit in a hotel room all day. However, when I was in the room I couldn¹t help but think about Johnny. Did he hang his leather jacket in the wardrobe or did he just throw it across the bed? Did he use the telephone or turn on the TV? Did he actually sleep in the bed? Who was with him?
I was disappointed to learn that Willie Deville, another great rocker who got his start at CBGBs and who had lived next door to the St. Peter, had moved. After Johnny¹s body was discovered and taken to the morgue, it was Willie who helped the hotel staff gather Thunder¹s belongings.
When he lived on St. Peter Street, it was reported that Willie would often set on his front porch with his guitar, a few beers, and jam. I thought it would be great to see Willie jamin¹ in the hot afternoon sun. I guess I was a year late as Deville now lives in Mississippi. I did get a photo of Willie¹s ex-porch! The staff of the St. Peter was great. Every morning there is a complimentary continental breakfast and the desk is manned 24-hours a day.
The staff is very helpful in answering questions, giving directions, etc. The hotel also has a very cozy courtyard which is perfect for basking in the moonlight, kicking back, and downing a Blackened Voodoo Ale.
Did we see Johnny¹s ghost? I don¹t think so. However, there was one unexplained happening. I had some American Express traveler¹s checks and one day before leaving the hotel had put a ball point pen in my pocket so I could sign the checks. We did a lot of walking that day and somewhere along the way I lost the ink pen. When we went to bed that night, I sat my wallet and keys on the dresser. That¹s all that was on the dresser. The next morning I went to get my wallet guess what was sitting next to it. The ink pen! Was Johnny being nice and had he retrieved it for me! Or was it one of New Orleans other famous spirits?
We had already visited the House of Blues once but decided to go there again for our last night in town. The tables are covered with a white paper table cloth. During dinner my wife, who is also an artist, drew a memorial to Johnny on the table cloth. It feature drawings of a cross (similar to the one tattooed on Thunder¹s arm), a sacred heart, and the words Johnny Thunders RIP 1952 - 1991 You Can¹t Put Your Arms Around a Memory Room 37 St. Peter Guest House.
Would the waitress or the bus boy who cleaned the table know who Thunders was or the significance of the memorial? Who knows. What would Johnny think of the homemade memorial to him in the House of Blues? It sure beats the Hard Rock Café and its ode to gold and platinum rockers who Thunders hated with a passion. The following morning as we packed for our trip home, my wife made another memorial, similar to the one she made at the HOB. This one was postcard size and placed in the flower bouquet. A host of questions raced through my mind. How long would it stay in the flower basked? Would the maid notice it? Would it get tossed in the trash? Would she take it to the front desk? Would the hotel staff get a kick out of it? Would it get tossed in a box where they keep other items left behind by hotel guests?
When we checked out, the desk clerk asked how our stay in the Johnny Thunders suite was. We told her it was great. She said if we wanted to come back and stay there again, just call ahead to make sure the room wasn¹t booked.
If you ever stay in room 37 at the St. Peter Guest House, look around the room. Is there any visible sign that it was where Johnny spent his last hours? Any visible connection? Not really. However, on the wall at the head of the bed there is a painting of a young woman, in 1800s attire. If you look real close you see the person has very pale skin and fragile features. She has dark black hair with a few unruly strands falling onto her forehead. The eyelids are very droopy, almost closed as if the woman were nodding off. The left arm is uncovered and is being cradled by the right. Na, it couldn¹t be.
I have some more info on St. Peters Guest House that came from Duane:
If anyone else goes looking for it or wants to stay there, the address is 1005 ST. Peter St. (504)524-9232. $70 per night. Check out the book Fodors Rock 'n' Roll Traveler USA. It list places made famous by rockers. Where they have lived, were born, wrote about or just hung out. Max's is in there and so is info about the Dolls.