Though David Johansen is best known today as Buster Poindexter -- the
comic nightclub singer persona he transformed himself into in the '80s
-- he will go down in history as the lead singer of the New York Dolls,
one of the primary precursors of punk.
Today would have been the 53rd birthday of the late Jerry Nolan, the New
York Dolls' drummer during their early '70s heyday.
The New York Dolls formed in 1971 when guitarists Johnny Thunders and
Rick Rivets, bassist Arthur Kane and drummer Billy Murcia began jamming
in New York City. The name New York Dolls came from their penchant for
cross-dressing in flamboyant clothes and makeup.
They were soon joined by singer David Johansen. After replacing Rivets
with Syl Sylvain, the Dolls became the focus of New York's burgeoning
glitter-rock scene and their catchy hard rock became their signature
sound. The band's music was a technically flawed mix of the Rolling
Stones, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground.
After the drug-related death of Murcia, Nolan joined and the Dolls had
a steady lineup for the longest period in their history. Nolan was present
on the band's eponymous, Todd Rundgren-produced debut. The LP was critically
praised, but only made #116 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Song titles included "Trash"
(RealAudio excerpt) and "Vietnamese Baby."
The same commercial fate befell the follow-up, Too Much Too Soon,
despite a more mainstream sound provided by noted producer George "Shadow"
Morton. Mercury Records dropped the New York Dolls, who turned to Malcolm
McLaren, the British manager who later worked with the Sex Pistols.
McLaren counseled the New York Dolls to gain publicity by dressing in
red leather and performing in front of a Soviet Union flag, thus playing
up their alleged communist sympathies. Although he was credited with
being a major factor in the Pistols' breakthrough, McLaren's input didn't
work for the Dolls.
Confronted with continued record-company resistance, members began to
defect from the group. Nolan and Thunders quit in 1975. Though Johansen
helmed a new lineup for a few years, success never came. In 1977 the New
York Dolls officially split.
Johansen remained the most famous Doll, thanks to a moderately successful
solo career and his time as Poindexter. Thunders and Nolan formed the
Heartbreakers, following the Dolls' split. The new band performed only
occasionally, and Thunders issued solo LPs. The Heartbreakers' best-known
songs include "Chinese Rocks" and "Too Much Junkie Business." The band's
only studio LP was 1977's L.A.M.F.
Thunders overdosed on heroin in 1991. Nolan played at a tribute concert
for his fallen bandmate later that year. But only a few months after the
concert, Nolan died from a stroke while being treated for pneumonia and
During the '80s and '90s, Dolls' outtakes collections, live albums and
compilations were issued by several labels. Rock 'n Roll (1994)
was one of the best-received Dolls' compilations.
The New York Dolls' two studio LPs, which are still in print, influenced
legions of U.S. and UK punk rockers.
Other birthdays: Johnny Maestro (Crests/Brooklyn Bridge), 60; Rick
Westwood (Tremeloes), 56; Bill Danoff (Starland Vocal Band), 53; Anne
Dudley (Art of Noise), 43; Marty Willson-Piper (The Church), 40; and
Phil Campbell (Motörhead), 38.