One of the most influential rock bands of the last 40 years, the New York Dolls predated the punk and sleaze metal movements that followed and offered a crash course in rebellion with style. Formed by a group of friends from New Yorks rough Bowery district, the New York Dolls origins can be traced to the band Actress which featured Johnny Thunders (John Anthony Genzale Jnr., 15 July 1952, New York City, New York, USA, d. 23 April 1991, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; guitar), Billy Murcia (d. 6 November 1972; drums), Rick Rivets (b. the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA; guitar) and Arthur Kane (b. 3 February 1949, the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA, d. 13 July 2004, Los Angeles, California, USA; bass). Actress evolved into the New York Dolls at the tail end of 1971, by which time David Johansen (b. 9 January 1950, Staten Island, New York, USA; vocals) had assumed the frontmans slot while Sylvain Sylvain (b. Sylvain Mizrahi, 14 February 1953, Cairo, Egypt; guitar) was brought in as a replacement for Rivets. The quintet took their provocative name from a local toy repair centre, the New York Dolls Hospital. Securing a residency at the Mercer Arts Center on Lower Broadway, the New York Dolls began to attract a local following. They revelled in an outrageous glam-rock image: lipstick, high heels and tacky leather outfits providing their visual currency. Underneath they were a first-rate rock n roll band, dragged up on the music of the Stooges, the Rolling Stones and the MC5.
A gushing full-page feature in the UK music paper the Melody Maker prompted the New York Dolls to travel to England in late 1972, but a support slot for Lou Reed was cancelled at the last moment. Shortly afterwards, Murcia died of an accidental drug overdose. His devastated bandmates returned to New York where they recruited Jerry Nolan (b. 7 May 1946, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA, d. 14 January 1992) as their new drummer. A major label recording contract with Mercury Records followed and the quintet entered the studio with Todd Rundgren to begin work on an album. The New York Dolls self-titled debut, released in 1973, was a major landmark in rock history, oozing attitude, vitality and controversy from every note. It met with widespread critical acclaim, but this never transferred to commercial success. The follow-up, Too Much Too Soon, was an appropriate title - and indicated that alcohol and drugs were beginning to take their toll. The album, produced by eccentric 60s hitmaker Shadow Morton, remains a charismatic collection of punk/glam-rock anthems, typically delivered with wasted cool. Given a unanimous thumbs-down from the music press, the band began to implode shortly afterwards. The original line-up eventually ground to a halt in May 1975, despite the auspices of new manager Malcolm McLaren who had overseen a bizarre stylistic makeover which saw the quintet wearing red PVC uniforms and performing in front of a communist flag. The link to the Sex Pistols and the UK punk movement provided by McLaren is a pertinent one, with the New York Dolls remaining a constant reference point for teen rebels the world over. Several poor quality and posthumously released live recordings have surfaced over the years - the 1994 compilation Rock N Roll offers a much more representative collection.
Sadly for the various members of the New York Dolls, their rewards were fleeting. Johansen embarked on a solo career which took in lounge music (as Buster Poindexter) and the blues (with the Harry Smiths), and later enjoyed success as a character actor. Thunders and Nolan formed the dissolute Heartbreakers, with the latter going on to team up with former New York Dolls bandmate Sylvain Sylvain in the Ugly Americans. A long-term drug abuser, Nolan died as a result of a stroke on 14 January 1992 while undergoing treatment for pneumonia and meningitis. Thunders had departed from an overdose, in mysterious circumstances, less than a year earlier. Kane formed his own band Killer Kane but problems with alcohol hampered his music career. In 1992, he was badly beaten up during the L.A. riots and then, after a lengthy period of recuperation, contracted leukaemia. He teamed up with fellow surviving New York Dolls Johansen and Sylvain to perform at Morrisseys Meltdown Festival in June 2004, but died the following month. Johansen and Sylvain carried on, recording a surprisingly sharp new studio album with Sam Yaffa (b. Sami Takamaki, 4 August 1963; bass, ex-Hanoi Rocks), Steve Conte (guitar), Brian Delaney (drums) and Brian Koonin (keyboards).
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.