Soundman For The Heartbreakers

In 1976 I had been working for assorted sound companies and a couple of local bands with big management company support. I hung out at Max's Kansas City alot and knew pretty well everyone on the staff there. I knew who the Dolls were and had even worked a number of shows that included Mott The Hoople and an opening act from Boston called Aerosmith. One night I was having a drink and in came Nite Bob, the original New York Dolls sound man. He told me that he was going to work for Aerosmith and that the Dolls broke up. The Dolls were going to reform without Johnny or Jerry and there wasn't any big company support for them. Lieber and Krebbs were spending their time and money on Aerosmith so, I guess you have to go where the money is.

There I was, just a sound man without much work and there's Johnny and Jerry starting a new band, The Heartbreakers. Jerry asked me to come and work for them but they weren't working much and I still had to pay the bills. I continued to pursue work with larger sound rental companies when one night I hurt my back real bad and go back to New York to recuperate. I was hanging around Max's one night and Tommy Dean, the owner, approached me and said that the house sound man needed a guy to work a couple of nights. So we hit it off and I signed on as a temporary Max's staff member which wound up lasting until 1981 when the place closed.

In that time, I wound up working for the new version of the Dolls, (David, Sylvain, Tony Machine, Mike Paige and Bobby Blaine), Sylvain's band, (The Criminals) and a number of one-off shows with the Heartbreakers whenever they played Max's. One night, I realized that the Heartbreakers were the best band out there. I mean there was something there that happened when they hit the stage. No other band could touch them. The lineup with Johnny, Jerry, Walter Luhr and new bass player Billy Rath was unstoppable! Something like a 747 taking off.

As my back got better, I started looking to go out on the road again. This was late 1977 and the Heartbreakers were in England. I just happened to be in England working for Tasco sound and they were doing Aerosmith. Right before we were due to leave the country, Nite Bob, myself and a few other crew members went to see the Heartbreakers playing in a small club. They headlined a bill that had two big English punk bands, The Damned and Slaughter And The Dogs. These bands couldn't touch the Heartbreakers. When Johnny and the boys went on stage there was nothing like it. Johnny would bait the audience then go from one song to another, never letting these limey kids catch their breath. That night I said to the guys that if they ever needed a sound man, just call. Lucky for me, they did.

In early 1978 they came back from the U.K. and I was working pretty steady at Max's. One night I got a call at the club that the Heartbreakers were going to play a few nights and an album was going to be made of it. Like alot of other things, the album recording didn't come off but they did a couple of great shows anyway. They're still not fully together as Jerry wasn't playing with the band and taking his place on drums was Tony Machine (Dolls, Buster Poindexter, David Johansen Band, Criminals). Jerry was playing with the Idols and trying some solo stuff as a result of a small feud between him and John that started in England but wasn't long to last.

One Sunday afternoon, I got a call from Walter saying that at the last minute Blondie wanted the Heartbreakers to open for them at the Palldium in Manhattan. I couldn't make it and they used someone else, who was nothing more than a hang around and wannabe to do sound in a thirty five hundred seat room. The show sounded like shit and that really helped me as I came in for about the last ten minutes and helped out a bit. I don't want blow my own horn but, wanting to do something and knowing how to do it are two different things. At that point I was their FOH engineer from then on.

A few weeks went by and then Tommy Dean, Max's owner, informed me that the Heartbreakers would be recording a live album that weekend. The show went well except that Jerry still wasn't there and Ty Styx did the one-off gig. The tape rolled and, as far as I was concerned, the dye was cast. It would have much better if they had waited for Jerry to come back or even used Tony Machine instead, but everyone in charge felt the time was right to record. A few months later when the band was on the road, Max's wanted the album out so Peter Crowley and Ty Styx mixed the tapes. What we wound up with was The Heartbreakers Live at Max's Kansas City 79' album.

The rest of the year went OK as the Heartbreakers did a weekend every month or so at Max's'. I continued on as the Max's house soundman in between going out on the road with other bands. I was also working with Jerry and the Idols and on some of Johnny's solo stuff.

In the spring of 1980 John said he's going to Michigan to start a band with, none other than, Wayne Kramer. He packed up bag and baggage, the whole family, Julie, John Jr. and Vito. They were living in Michigan at this guy's house who wound up managing the new band called Gang War; aptly named.

Well, he was gone for about a week or so when I got a call and told to go to JFK airport. There were two tickets waiting for me there that would fly me to Detroit. I had to find a drummer in New York because Wayne and John didn't like the guy they started rehearsing with. I showed up in Detroit with Vinni Matland. He was friends with John, minus the bad habits, had played with John before and played well. I figured he'd get along with the other guys in the band too even though I hadn't met them yet. When we got to Detroit about four in the afternoon we were met by John, Wayne and the new manager, Brim. Brim was a nice guy but I felt he didn't know what he was getting himself into.

The band rehearsed for about a week and sounded pretty good. They went out and played a couple of local clubs in Detroit. We then went across the river and played in Chicago where everything went well except that the bass player and drummer were replaced by the time we went back to New York. The final lineup was Johnny, Wayne, John Morgan on drums and Ron Cook on bass. This wound up being a great band.

When we got back to New York, Tommy and Laura Dean of Max's were still managing The Heartbreakers. The Heartbreakers still had commitments to play and to record another live record. This meant that Johnny was now touring with two bands and trying to keep his family together and trying to keep his other problems together. Actually he was doing quite well at it. In the early summer of 1980, all the clubs were doing well and both bands were working alot.

This is part of a long story about the Heartbreakers, myself and others that you might find interesting or completely boring. Its also part of a book that I'm working on. Contact me at my email address to give comments so far.

Bobby Belfiore (retired soundman)

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