Biography

The New York Dolls are an American hard rock band formed in New York City in 1971. Along with the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, they were one of the first bands in the early punk rock scene. The line-up at this time comprised vocalist David Johansen, guitarist Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane, guitarist and pianist Sylvain Sylvain, and drummer Jerry Nolan; the latter two had replaced Rick Rivets and Billy Murcia, respectively, in 1972. According to the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, the New York Dolls predated the punk and glam metal movements, and were "one of the most influential rock bands of the last 20 years".

Although their original line-up fell apart quickly, the band's first two albums—New York Dolls (1973) and Too Much Too Soon (1974)—became among the most popular cult records in rock and roll. The New York Dolls influenced bands such as the Sex Pistols, Kiss, the Ramones, Guns N' Roses, the Damned, and the Smiths, whose frontman Morrissey organized a reunion show for the band's surviving members in 2004. After reuniting, they recorded and released three more albums—One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (2006), Cause I Sez So (2009), and Dancing Backward in High Heels (2011).

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia, who went to junior high school and high school together, started playing in a band called “the Pox” in 1967. After the frontman quit, Murcia and Sylvain started a clothing business called "Truth and Soul" and Sylvain took a job at "A Different Drummer", a men's boutique that was across the street from the New York Doll Hospital, a doll repair shop. Sylvain claimed that the shop inspired the name for their future band. In 1970 they formed a band again and recruited Johnny 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 Rick 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 that he no longer wanted to be the front man, David 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.

Original line-up and record deal: 1971–75[edit]

The original lineup's first performance was on Christmas Eve 1971 at a homeless shelter, the Endicott Hotel. After getting a manager and attracting some music industry interest, the New York Dolls got a break when Rod Stewart invited them to open for him at a London concert. Shortly thereafter, Murcia died of accidental drowning, 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 with The 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 singer-songwriter, musician and solo artist, 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 middle US, and a Stereo Review magazine reviewer in 1973 compared the Dolls' guitar playing to the sound of lawnmowers. America's mass rock audience's reaction to the Dolls was mixed. In a Creem magazine poll, they were elected both best and worst new group of 1973. The Dolls also toured Europe, and, while appearing on UK television, host Bob Harris of the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test derided the group as "mock rock," comparing them unfavorably to the Rolling Stones.

For their next album, Too Much Too Soon, the quintet hired 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. Mercury dropped the Dolls not long after the second album.

Dissolution: 1975–77[edit]

In 1975, floundering in drug abuse and interpersonal conflicts, the band split up. During their last weeks together Malcolm McLaren helped with management. He got the band red leather outfits to wear on stage and a communist flag as backdrop. The Dolls did a 5-concert tour of New York's five boroughs, supported by Television, which included Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell. Their last show in New York State was at The Shoram, in Quogue, New York, with Spider on drums.

The original New York Dolls were captured in a live set, recorded at the Little Hippodrome and released by Fan Club records in 1982 as Red Patent Leather. It was originally a bootleg album that was later remixed by Sylvain, with former manager Marty Thau credited as executive producer. Due to Kane being unable to play that night, roadie Peter Jordan played bass, though he was credited as having played "second bass". Jordan had played with the Dolls often, when Kane was too inebriated to play. Jordan was the Dolls' bass player after Thunders and Nolan left, until their final dissolution.

Thunders and Nolan left in 1975, while on tour in Florida. Blackie Lawless replaced Thunders for the remainder of the Florida tour. The period immediately following this was documented on the album Tokyo Dolls Live (Fan Club/New Rose), from a show in Japan in August 1975, in which Johansen, Sylvain and Jordan were joined by keyboardist Chris Robison 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.

Soon after their return to New York, the Dolls played at the Beacon Theater, on New Year's Eve, 1975, which met with great critical acclaim. Shortly thereafter, they did a follow-up show at Max's Kansas City. Johansen, Sylvain and company continued on as the New York Dolls for a few years, with the band rounded out by Jordan, Machine and Robison. Robison was then replaced by Bobbie Blaine, on piano and keyboards. The group played its final shows in 1977, after which Johansen began a solo career and Sylvain formed The Criminals, a popular band at CBGB.

Individual endeavors: 1977–2004[edit]

Immediately after the New York Dolls' breakup, Johansen began a solo career. By the late 1980s, he achieved moderate success under the pseudonym, Buster Poindexter. Thunders and Nolan formed The Heartbreakers with bassist Richard Hell, who had left Television the same week that Thunders and Nolan left the Dolls. Thunders died in New Orleans in 1991, allegedly of an overdose of both heroin and methadone. It also came to light that he suffered from t-cell leukemia. Nolan died in 1992 following a stroke, brought about by bacterial meningitis.

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, New York) – 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 Rock 'n' Roll album. The other two are covers – "Courageous Cat" theme from the original Courageous Cat Cartoon series, 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 independently for what was later to become the Mercer Street/Blue Rock Sessions.

Sylvain formed his own band, The Criminals, then cut a solo album for RCA, while also working with Johansen. He later became a taxicab driver in New York. In the early 1990s he moved to Los Angeles and recorded one album Sleep Baby Doll, on Fishhead Records. His band for that record consisted of Brian Keats on drums, Dave Vanian's Phantom Chords, Speediejohn Carlucci (who had played with the Fuzztones), and Olivier Le Baron on lead guitar. Guest appearances by Frank 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,.

Reunion and return to recording: 2004–present[edit]

Morrissey, having been a long-time fan of the band, and head of the UK fan club (in the 1970s), organized a reunion of the three surviving band members (Johansen, Sylvain and Kane) for the Meltdown Festival in London in 2004. The reunion led to a live LP and DVD on Morrissey's Attack label, and a film, New York Doll. However, future plans for the Dolls were affected when the news came of Arthur Kane's death on July 13, 2004, from leukemia. They played several festivals in the UK during 2004.

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 featured guitarist Steve Conte, bassist Sami Yaffa (ex-Hanoi Rocks), 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 at New York's Seaport Music.

In October 2006, the band embarked on a UK tour, with 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". 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. In April 2007, the band played in Australia and New Zealand, appearing at the V Festival with Pixies, Pet Shop Boys, Gnarls Barkley, Beck, Jarvis Cocker and Phoenix.

On September 22, 2007, New York Dolls were removed from the current artists section of Roadrunner Records' website, signifying the group's split with the label. The band played 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. On November 14, 2008, it was announced that the producer of their first album, Todd Rundgren, would be producing a new album, which will be followed by a world tour. The finishing touches on the album were made in Rundgren's studio on the island of Kauai. The album, Cause I Sez So, was released on May 5, 2009 on Atco Records.

The band played at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 21, 2009, and a show at London's 100 Club on May 14, 2009 supported by Spizzenergi. On March 18, 2010, the band announced another two concert dates at the KOKO club in Camden, London and the Academy in Dublin on April 20. In December 2010, it was announced the band would release their fifth album which had been recorded in Newcastle upon Tyne. The album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, featuring new guitarist Frank Infante (formerly of Blondie) was released on March 15, 2011.

On March 1, 2011, it was announced the New York Dolls would be the opening act for a summer tour featuring Mötley Crüe and Poison. They announced a new lineup for the tour, featuring guitarist Earl Slick, who held previous stints with David Bowie and John Lennon, Bassist Kenny Aaronson, who toured with Bob Dylan in 1988. Formerly of Dust and since the early 1990s and on hiatis, The John Eddie Band...drummer Jason Sutter, formerly of Foreigner.

Artistry[edit]

According to Allmusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the New York Dolls developed an original style of hard rock that presaged both punk rock and heavy metal music, and drew on elements such as the "dirty rock & roll" of the Rolling Stones, the "anarchic noise" of the Stooges, the glam rock of David Bowie and T. Rex, and girl group pop music. Erlewine credited the band for creating punk rock "before there was a term for it." Ken Tucker, who referred to them as a proto-punk band, wrote that they were strongly influenced by the "New York sensibility" of Lou Reed: "The mean wisecracks and impassioned cynicism that informed the Dolls' songs represented an attitude that Reed's work with the Velvet Underground embodied, as did the Dolls' distinct lack of musicianship."

When they began performing, four of the band's five members wore Spandex and platform boots, while Johansen often preferred high heels and a dress occasionally. Fashion historian Valerie Steele said that, while the majority of the punk scene pursued an understated "street look", the New York Dolls followed an English glam rock "look of androgyny—leather and knee-length boots, chest hair, and bleach". Music journalist Nick Kent argued that the New York Dolls were "quintessential glam rockers" because of their flamboyant fashion, while their technical shortcomings as musicians and Johnny Thunders' "trouble-prone presence" gave them a punk-rock reputation.

By contrast, Robert Christgau preferred for them to not be categorized as a glam rock band, but instead as "the best hard-rock band since the Rolling Stones". Robert Hilburn, writing for the Los Angeles Times, said that the band exhibited a strong influence from the Rolling Stones, but had distinguished themselves by Too Much Too Soon (1974) as "a much more independent, original force" because of their "definite touch of the humor and carefreeness of early (ie. mid-1950s) rock". Simon Reynolds felt that, by their 2009 album Cause I Sez So, the band exhibited the sound "not of the sloppy, rambunctious Dolls of punk mythology but of a tight, lean hard-rock band."

Discography[edit]

Demo albums[edit]

  • Actress – "Birth of the New York Dolls" (1972)
  • Endless Party (1973)
  • Lipstick Killers – The Mercer Street Sessions 1972 (1981)
  • Seven Day Weekend (1992)
  • Private World - The Complete Early Studio Demos 1972-1973 (2006)

Studio albums[edit]

  • New York Dolls (1973)
  • Too Much Too Soon (1974)
  • One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (2006)
  • Cause I Sez So (2009)
  • Dancing Backward in High Heels (2011)

Live albums[edit]

  • Red Patent Leather (1984)
  • Paris Le Trash (1993)
  • Live In Concert, Paris 1974 (1998)
  • From Paris With Love (L.U.V.) (2002)
  • Morrissey Presents: The Return Of New York Dolls Live From Royal Festival Hall (2004)
  • Live At the Filmore East (2008)
  • "Viva Le Trash '74" (2009)

Compilation albums[edit]

  • New York Dolls / Too Much Too Soon (1977)
  • Very Best of New York Dolls (1977)
  • Night of the Living Dolls (1985)
  • The Best of the New York Dolls (1985)
  • New York Dolls + Too Much Too Soon (1987)
  • Super Best Collection (1990)
  • Rock'n Roll (1994)
  • Hootchie Kootchie Dolls (1998)
  • The Glam Rock Hits (1999)
  • The Glamorous Life Live (1999)
  • Actress: Birth of The New York Dolls (2000)
  • Endless Party (2000)
  • New York Tapes 72/73 (2000)
  • Great Big Kiss (reissue of Seven Day Weekend and Red Patent Leather, 2002)
  • Looking For A Kiss (2003)
  • Manhattan Mayhem (2003)
  • 20th century masters – the Millennium collection: the best of New York Dolls (2003)

Singles[edit]

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

External links[edit]

  • Official website
  • New York Dolls discography at Discogs
  • New York Dolls on Facebook
  • New York Dolls on Myspace
  • "Private World: New York Dolls Manager Marty Thau on his days with the band" interview at Rockerzine

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