December 5, 2008

New York Dolls

The New York Dolls are an American glam rock band formed in New York City, United States in 1971. In 2004 the band reformed with three of their original members, two of whom, David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, continue on today and released a new album in 2006. The original bassist, Arthur Kane died shortly after their first reunion concert.

The band's protopunk sound prefigured much of what was to come in the punk rock era; their visual style influenced the look of many new wave and 1980s-era glam metal groups, and they began the local New York scene that later spawned the Ramones, Blondie, Television, and Talking Heads.


Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia, who went to junior high school and high school together, started playing in a band called “the Pox” in 1968. After the frontman quit, Murcia and Sylvain started a clothing business across the street from a doll repair shop called the New York Doll Hospital. Sylvain claimed that shop inspired the name for their future band. In 1970 they formed a band again and they recruited Thunders to join on bass though Sylvain ended up teaching him to play guitar, they called themselves the "Dolls." When Sylvain left the band to spend a few months in London, Thunders and Murcia went their separate ways.

Thunders was eventually recruited by Kane and Rivets who had been playing together in the Bronx. At Thunders' suggestion, Murcia replaced the original drummer. Thunders played lead guitar and sang for the band known as Actress. An October 1971 rehearsal tape recorded by Rivets was released as Dawn of the Dolls. When Thunders decided he no longer wanted to be the front man, Johansen joined the band. Initially, the group was composed of singer David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets (who was replaced by Sylvain Sylvain after a few months), bass guitarist Arthur "Killer" Kane and drummer Billy Murcia. The original lineup's first performance was on Christmas Eve 1971 at a homeless shelter, the Endicott Hotel.

The band was influenced by vintage rhythm and blues, the early Rolling Stones, classic American girl group songs, and anarchic post-psychedelic bands such as the MC5 and the Stooges, as well as then-current glam rockers such as Marc Bolan. They did it their own way, creating something which critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote "doesn't really sound like anything that came before it. It's hard rock with a self-conscious wit, a celebration of camp and kitsch that retains a menacing, malevolent edge."[1]. Despite their impeccable rock/punk/glam credentials, the band's sound was also formed by blues and soul influences, as evidenced by Johansen`s bluesy harmonica and their choice of cover versions - their two Mercury albums contain their covers of songs originally performed by Bo Diddley,The Drells, Sonny Boy Williamson, The Coasters and the Jay Hawks (though in the case of The Jay Hawks` song Stranded in the Jungle, the Dolls may have been more familiar with a cover version by The Cadets). The CD Private World : The Complete Early Studio Demos 1972/3 includes their versions of songs by Otis Redding, Gary US Bonds, Chuck Berry, The Shangri-Las and Muddy Waters. The jazz music influence was particularly important for Johansen, whose subsequent career included work with jazz man Big Jay McNeely and blues man Hubert Sumlin.

As a frontman, Johansen's aggression, wit and energy made up for what was a slightly one-dimensional singing voice, while Thunders's lead playing was compared to the slashing of a knife-fight. Their repertoire was mostly written by Johansen (he used the name David Jo Hansen at the time) and Thunders and occasionally by Johansen and Sylvain. The songs were a series of vignettes about life in the New York underground. After getting a manager and attracting some music industry interest, the band got a break when Rod Stewart invited them to open for him at a London (then glam rock's capital city) concert. Shortly thereafter, Murcia died of accidental suffocation at age 21 after he passed out from drugs and alcohol.

Once back in New York, the Dolls auditioned drummers, including Marc Bell (who would go on to play with Richard Hell and Ramones under the stage name "Marky Ramone") and Jerry Nolan, a friend of the band. They selected Nolan, and after US Mercury Records' A&R man Paul Nelson signed them, they began sessions for their debut album. New York Dolls was produced by former Nazz guitarist Todd Rundgren. In an interview in Creem magazine, Rundgren says he barely touched the recording, everybody was debating how to do the mix. sales were sluggish, especially in the glam-resistant middle US, and Stereo Review magazine reviewer in 1973 compared the Dolls' guitar playing to the sound of lawnmowers.

The Dolls still polarised America's mass rock audience (a Creem magazine poll landed them wins as the best and the worst new group of 1973), but at the 'large capacity club' level, they toured the US to some satisfaction. The Dolls also toured Europe, and whilst appearing on UK TV, host Bob Harris of the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test famously derided the group as "mock rock," comparing them unfavorably with the Rolling Stones in the same way The Monkees had been with the Beatles, as their unoriginal, upstart clones. Though Harris and much of the 'old guard' of rock journalists and critics were unimpressed, young rock fans throughout the UK disagreed, and the New York Dolls' straightforward music and outrageous attitude were later cited as key influences on punk rock.

For their next album the quintet opted for producer George (Shadow) Morton, whose productions for the Shangri-Las and other girl groups in the mid-1960s had been among the band's favorites, for 1974's Too Much Too Soon. Mercury dropped the Dolls not long after the second album. In 1975, foundering in drug abuse and interpersonal spats as the opportunities dried up, the band briefly recruited Malcolm McLaren as their new manager. The kind of provocative stunts McLaren later made work for the Sex Pistols blew up in the Dolls' faces. Dressing the band in red leather for performances with a Soviet flag backdrop was no substitute for the original sex-drugs outrage of glam rock.

The McLaren-era Dolls were captured in a live set released by Fan Club records in 1986, Red Patent Leather. Production is credited to Sylvain Sylvain, with former manager Marty Thau credited as executive producer. In addition to the expected line-up of Johansen/Sylvain/Thunders/Nolan/Kane, Kane's replacementPeter Jordan is credited with "second bass." The set is notable for a number of songs which were presumably intended for the third album, some of which were later revisited by Johansen and Sylvain in their solo careers.


Thunders and Nolan left in 1975 while on tour in Florida. A taste of The Dolls without them is to be found on the album Tokyo Dolls Live (Fan Club/New Rose), from a Japanese show in August 1975, for which Johansen/Sylvain/Jordan were joined by keyboard player Chris Robison[1] and drummer Tony Machine. The material is similar to that on Red Patent Leather, but notable for a radically re-arranged "Frankenstein" and a cover of Big Joe Turner's "Flip Flop Fly." The album is undated and has no production credit, but was issued circa 1986.

Thunders and Nolan formed The Heartbreakers with bassist Richard Hell who had left Television the same week. After a few shows they added guitarist Walter Lure and few month later replaced Hell with Billy Rath. They participated in the "Anarchy Tour" with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned in Britain in 1976, while the other Dolls recruited replacements (including Blackie Lawless a childhood friend of Kane's who replaced Thunders for the remainder of the Florida tour) and continued until 1975. The Heartbreakers recorded one British-only studio album and a few odds-and-ends live sets (including a memorable set from a Max's Kansas City show) before splintering into an on-and-off concern.

Thunders continued to tour and record throughout the 1980s, releasing one solo album (So Alone, on which Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook played) and several sets of covers and a few originals. He died in New Orleans in 1991, of an alleged heroin and methadone overdose, although there are signs that he may have been murdered over a drug-related dispute, and that the police didn't properly investigate what appeared to just be the death of another junkie. It has also come to light that he suffered from leukemia. Nolan died a few months later in 1992, following a stroke, brought about by bacterial meningitis.

Johansen started a solo career after the Dolls broke up, and Sylvain was a member of his band for much of this time. Several Johansen-Sylvain songs never made it to vinyl until the first two Johansen solo albums: e.g., "Funky But Chic," "Girls," and "Frenchette." His fourth solo album, a concert set called "Live it Up," contained a medley of The Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," "Don't Bring Me Down," and "It's My Life."

Johansen had his greatest commercial success portraying the fictional lounge lizard/singer Buster Poindexter, who mixed comedy with a kitschy hybrid of soul and tropical pop. Under Buster Poindexter's name, Johansen finally made a chart-topping single: one of the 1980s' biggest dance hits, "Hot Hot Hot." He also hosted a variety show on VH1 as Poindexter, then moved on to folk and blues with David Johansen and the Harry Smiths through the '90s. A posthumous New York Dolls album, Lipstick Killers (made up of early demo tapes of the original Dolls with Billy Murcia on drums), was released in a cassette-only edition on ROIR Records in 1981, and subsequently re-released on CD, and then on vinyl in early 2006. All the tracks from this title - sometimes referred to as The Mercer Street Sessions (though actually recorded at Blue Rock Studio, NYC) - are included on the CD Private World, along with other tracks recorded elsewhere, including a previously unreleased Dolls original, Endless Party. Three more unreleased studio tracks, including another previously unreleased Dolls original, Lone Star Queen, are included on the CD Rock 'n' Roll. The other two are covers - Johnny Holiday's Courageous Cat Theme and a second attempt at Don't Mess With Cupid, a song written by Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd for Otis Redding and first recorded by the Dolls for the Mercer Street/Blue Rock Sessions

Syl Sylvain formed his own band, The Criminals, then cut a solo album for RCA, while also working with Johansen. He later became a cab driver in New York, which he later described as the worst job on earth. In the early 1990s he moved to Los Angeles and recorded one album called "Sleep Baby Doll," on Fishhead Records. His bandmates on that record were: Brian Keats on drums (Dave Vanian's Phantom Chords), Speediejohn Carlucci on bass (ex- Fuzztones), & Olivier Le Baron on lead guitar. Guest appearances by Frankie Infante of Blondie and Derwood Andrews of Generation X were also included on the record. It has been re-released as "New York A Go Go," along with tracks by The Criminals.


The band influenced a whole era of musicians and bands, such as Kiss, Hanoi Rocks, Blondie, The Clash, Ramones, Dead Boys, Mötley Crüe, Faster Pussycat, JetBoy, Guns N' Roses, The Damned, The Smiths, and Japan. They were also a large influence on various members of the Sex Pistols, especially guitarist Steve Jones, who later said that on looking back at his movement on stage, felt embarrassed at how much he copied Johnny Thunders' style.[2] The Pistols' manager, Malcolm McLaren, briefly managed the Dolls towards the end of their career.

They were also a major influence on the rock music scene in New York City, having accumulated a devoted cult following during their career. By the time the New York Dolls had disbanded, Ira Robbins writes that they "singlehandedly began the local New York scene that later spawned the Ramones, Blondie, Television, Talking Heads and others. A classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, the Dolls were much more than just a band. Their devoted original audience became the petri dish of a scene; they emulated their heroes and formed groups in their image."[3]

It should be noted that their influence was not confined to the legions of soundalikes - Morrissey of The Smiths and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Peter Buck are noted for their Dolls enthusiasms, Stipe being one of the guests on the re-union CD and Morrissey (as "Steven Morrissey") having written a book about them in his pre-Smiths days.


UK singer-songwriter Morrissey organized a reunion of the three surviving band members (Johansen, Sylvain, and Kane) for the Meltdown Festival in 2004. Morrissey is a long-time fan of the band; in the 1970s, he headed their fan club in the UK. The reunion led to a live LP and DVD on Morrissey's Attack label, and a film, New York Doll, showing Kane's point of view of the genesis of the reunion contrasted against the backdrop of his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, future plans were affected when the news came of Arthur Kane's unexpected death on July 13, 2004 from leukemia. During 2004 they played several festivals in the UK, and just like the old days, they were as notable for their extravagant behavior as their raucous performances.

In July 2005, the two surviving members announced a tour and a new album, titled One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. Released on July 25, 2006 the album features guitarist Steve Conte, bassist Sami Yaffa (formerly of Hanoi Rocks and JetBoy), drummer Brian Delaney and keyboardist Brian Koonin, formerly a member of David Johansen and the Harry Smiths. On July 20, 2006, the New York Dolls appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, followed by a live performance in Philadelphia at the WXPN All About The Music Festival, and on July 22, 2006, a taped appearance on The Henry Rollins Show. On August 18, 2006, the band performed in a free concert before some 9,000 fans at New York's Seaport Music], on a bill with the Brooklyn-based indie band Tralala.

In October 2006 the band embarked on a UK tour, with Sylvain Sylvain taking time while in Glasgow to speak to John Kilbride of STV. The discussion covered the band's history and the current state of their live show and songwriting, with Sylvain commenting that "even if you come to our show thinking 'how can it be like it was before,' we turn that around 'cos we've got such a great live rock 'n roll show".[4]

In November 2006 the Dolls began headlining "Little Steven's Underground Garage Presents the Rolling Rock and Roll Show," about 20 live gigs with numerous other bands. These shows have been very well-received and well-attended as well. The band plays a mix of their newest album as well as older favorites. In April 2007, the band played in Australia, appearing at the V Festival with Pixies, Pet Shop Boys, Gnarls Barkley, Beck, Jarvis Cocker and Phoenix. On September 22, 2007, New York Dolls was removed from the current artists section of Roadrunner Records' website, signifying the groups split with the label. The band are scheduled to play the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park, London on July 4, 2008 with Morrissey and Beck and the Lounge On The Farm Festival on July 12, 2008.




  • 1973 - Bad Girl / Subway Train
  • 1973 - Jet Boy / Babylon / Who Are the Mystery Girls
  • 1973 - Personality Crisis / Looking for a Kiss
  • 1973 - Trash / Personality Crisis
  • 1974 - Stranded in the Jungle / Don't Start Me Talkin'
  • 1974 - (There's Gonna Be A) Showdown / Puss 'n' Boots
  • 2006 - Gimme Luv and Turn On the Light


  • 1977 - New Bum Dolls / Too Much Too Soon
  • 1977 - Very Best of New York Dolls
  • 1985 - Night of the Living Dolls
  • 1985 - The Best of the New York Dolls
  • 1987 - New York Dolls + Too Much Too Soon
  • 1990 - Super Best Collection
  • 1994 - Rock'n Roll
  • 1998 - Hootchie Kootchie Dolls
  • 1999 - The Glam Rock Hits
  • 1999 - The Glamorous Life Live
  • 2000 - Actress: Birth of The New York Dolls
  • 2000 - Endless Party
  • 2000 - New York Tapes 72/73
  • 2002 - Great Big Kiss (reissue of Seven Day Weekend and Red Patent Leather)
  • 2003 - Looking For A Kiss
  • 2003 - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of New York Dolls
  • 2004 - The Return of the New York Dolls - live from Royal Festival Hall 2004
  • 2007 - New York Dolls appear on PBS's television show "Soundstage"

Source: Wikipedia

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