Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Obituary - Billy Rath

On Saturday 16 August 2014, Billy Rath, former bassist for JOHNNY THUNDERS AND THE HEARTBREAKERS, passed away following a long illness. He was aged 66.
Born in Boston on 8 August 1948, Rath came to play in THE HEARTBREAKERS after former bassist, Richard Hell, attempted a coup by firing Johnny Thunders. The coup backfired, with the other Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan and Walter Lure, leaving Hell and following Thunders. According to Nina Antonia’s Thunders biography, In Cold Blood, Rath had previously played in a number of bands in the New England/ Boston area. Just prior to joining the band, Rath had been in Florida where he’d been ‘working’ as a gigolo when Thunders contacted him about joining the band. Drummer Nolan claimed Rath was perfect for the band - he loved Rock ‘n’ Roll and wasn’t worried about being the star.
Rath was part of the band when it went to England to play on the SEX PISTOLS’ Anarchy tour and among a multitude of cancelled gigs, managed to play one at Leeds Polytechnic. Pete Silverton, writing for Sounds music newspaper, cited Rath as: “... The craziest looking bass player who could’ve stepped out of West Side Story.”
Following the release of the classic (albeit badly produced) album, ‘L.A.M.F’, the band slowly dissolved after the band’s record label, Track, went bust.
In 1983 Rath, along with former HEARTBREAKER Lure, recorded a one-off single under the band THE HEROES. Following occasional HEARTBREAKERS reformation gigs in NYC, Rath quit for good in 1985 to undertake rehabilitation from various alcohol and drug problems. He proceeded to steer clear of music for the best part of 20 years. During this time he studied Psychology and Theology before embracing religion to the extent of being a minister for 12 years and finally working as an addiction counsellor.
Other musical ventures, at various times, included touring with IGGY POP; playing gigs with Nico (VELVET UNDERGROUND), Lenny Kaye (PATTI SMITH), bluester Left Handed Frank, The Muggers (Phil & Eddie from MOTORHEAD) and playing bass on a Ronnie Spector solo album.
In 2010, Rath reappeared at a Max’s Kansas City reunion with his own band, BILLY RATH’S STREET PIRATES which included Rath’s son in its line-up. This band continued to perform during the final years of his life after relocating in Massachusetts.
Rath had been in ill-health for some time and left a hospice to be at home with his family in Boston.