The New York Dolls are an American Glam Rock band, formed in New York in 1971. Their sound, style, outrageous, in-your-face behavior and pretty-boy dress, trash guitar and lyrics took the world by storm in the 1970s. The New York Dolls influenced many New Wave and Glam Metal rockers in the 70s and 80s, especially American New Wave artists such as the Ramones, Blondie, Television and Talking Heads. (See Wikipedia).
Additionally, they are credited as having been a major influence to the great “hair metal” bands that came out of the Sunset Strip in the 1980s. The website www.punk77.co.uk states “The New York Dolls quickly made an impact with their fat-lipped Jagger lookalike (lead singer David Johansen) and junked-up guitarist (Johnny Thunders). All the while, the rest of the band looked like ‘brickies’ in drag.” The initial stellar line-up for the Dolls were David Johansen (lead singer), Johnny Thunders (lead guitar), Rick Rivets (guitar), Arthur “Killer” Kane (bass guitar), and Billy Murcia (drums). Rivets was later replaced by Sylvain Sylvain.
Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and drummer Billy Murcia went to junior high and high school together in New York, and started playing in a band called “The Pox” in 1967. (For this history and the info to follow, see Wikipedia.) Murcia and Sylvain started a clothing business called “Truth and Soul”; Sylvain took a job at a men’s boutique across from a doll repair shop called “The New York Doll Hospital”. Sylvain claimed this was what inspired the name for the band. In 1970, Sylvain and Murcia recruited Johnny Thunders to play; although Sylvain apparently had to teach Thunders how to play the guitar. Meanwhile, Rick Rivets and Arthur Kane had been playing in a band in the Bronx and joined the band. When Thunders decided he did not want to not want to be the front man, David Johansen joined the band. Their first rehearsal tape was called Dawn of the Dolls, and the band’s first performance was Xmas Eve 1971 at a run-down hotel in Manhattan, the Endicott Hotel.
According to Wikipedia, the band was influenced by vintage R & B, early Rolling Stones, the MC5, and glam rockers Iggy Pop and the Stooges as well as Marc Bolan of T-Rex. Due to Johansen’s jazz and rhythym & blues influences, the NY Dolls albums contain cover versions of songs by Bo Diddly, the Drells, Sonny Boy Williamson and the Coasters.
The New York Dolls’ career started to take off after they obtained a manager and were asked by Rod Stewart to open for him at a London concert. Shortly after this, drummer Billy Murcia died of a drowning accident after getting intoxicated with drugs and alcohol. Back in New York, the Dolls auditioned drummers and selected Jerry Nolan, a friend of the band. Mercury records signed the band, and their first album New York Dolls was produced by Todd Rundgren. The Dolls were fairly misunderstood by the main stream rock crowd/audience of the 1970s. In a poll with then popular rock magazine Creem, the band was voted both the best and worst of 1973. In the 70s, the band toured the U.S., also appearing on UK music television show “Old Grey Whistle Test”, where the host of the show derided them as “mock rockers” -meaning that he thought they were a clone of the Rolling Stones. Johansen does look like Mick Jagger, but the sound is Glam Rock, whereas, the Stones are more mainstream, arena rock.
The original New York Dolls classic Glam Rock sound was short-lived after the band broke up in the late 70s. Thunders and Nolan quit the band while on tour in Florida in 1975. Blackie Lawless replaced Thunders. The band played its final show in 1976. The New York Dolls have had a devoted following, influencing many of the “hair metal” bands to come out of the Sunset Strip in the 1980s. The Smiths’ Morrissey, having been a longtime fan of the band, and head of the UK fan club in the 1970s, organized a reunion of the three surviving members (Johansen, Sylvain, and Kane) for the Meltdown Festival in 2004. (Johnny Thunders died in New Orleans in 1991 of an alleged methodone and heroin overdose. He also had been suffering from leukemia.) The group continued to record and tour from that point on. They are currently on tour with Motley Crue and Poison (in 2011).
Watch the attached video of their performance in the 1972 of “Looking for a Kiss” on UK Television (apologies for the obnoxious TV announcer’s initial voiceover in the video). Also, stay tuned for future podcast with Slade, Quiet Riot and the New York Dolls. Allright!