The New York Dolls' Jerry Nolan

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

meningitis.

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.