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New York Dolls Biography

Home > Music > N > New York Dolls > Biography

Birth Place: New York City, New York, United States
Years Active: 1971–76, 2004–present
Genres: Protopunk, Rock And Roll, Punk, Glam Rock

New York Dolls are an American rock band, formed in New York in 1971. The band was influenced by vintage rhythm and blues, the early Rolling Stones, classic American girl group songs, and protopunk bands such as the MC5 and The Stooges, as well as glam rockers such as Marc Bolan. The band's sound was also influenced by blues and soul, as evidenced by Johansen's blues harmonica and their choice of cover versions. 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.

In 1970 Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia formed a band 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 Arthur 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 Johansen, guitarists Thunders and Rivets (who was replaced by Sylvain after a few months), bass guitarist Kane and drummer Murcia. 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, 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.

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 Mercury Records' A&R man Paul Nelson signed them, they began sessions for their debut album. “New York Dolls” was produced by former The Nazz guitarist Todd Rundgren and released in 1973.

For their next album, 1974’s “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.

In 1975, foundering in drug abuse and interpersonal conflicts, the band split up. During their last weeks together Malcolm McLaren helped with management. The McLaren-era Dolls were captured in a live set released by Fan Club records in 1982, “Red Patent Leather.” Production was credited to Sylvain, with former manager Marty Thau credited as executive producer. Due to Kane being unable to play that night, roadie Peter Jordan played bass and was credited with having played second bass. Jordan had played with the Dolls often, when Kane was too inebriated to play. He went on to be the Dolls' bass player after Thunders and Nolan left, until their final dissolution.

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.

In 2004 the band reformed with three of their original members, two of whom, Johansen and Sylvain, continue on today and have released three records of new material.