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New York Dolls return, attitude fully intact

The New York Dolls never cared much about fitting in, only strutting to their brand of down and dirty rock 'n' roll.With the release of their first new album in 32 years last month, The Dolls are back — sort of — and looking to rock just as hard as they did after bursting onto the scene shortly after forming in 1971.Don't let the self-deprecating title — "One Day It Will Please Us To Remembe
/ Source: The Associated Press

The New York Dolls never cared much about fitting in, only strutting to their brand of down and dirty rock 'n' roll.

With the release of their first new album in 32 years last month, The Dolls are back — sort of — and looking to rock just as hard as they did after bursting onto the scene shortly after forming in 1971.

Don't let the self-deprecating title — "One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This" — fool you. The album has as much confidence, fun, and swinging, R&B-charged rock as the band's classic 1973 debut and their 1974 follow-up, "Too Much Too Soon."

"I think it's a really good record," lead singer David Johansen says through a puff of cigarette smoke. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have been involved in it."

Fellow surviving member Syl Sylvain politely declined an interview, but Johansen, even more gravelly voiced at 56 and still sporting skintight hip-hugger jeans, is elated to talk about the new record and not dwell too much on the groundbreaking yet tragic legacy of the original Dolls.

"I've been talking about that all day," he sighs.

But truth be told, the band will never escape its' volatile history.

Largely dismissed as a novelty act during their heyday, the Dolls' stripped-down, androgynous rock 'n' roll was a major influence on punk and helped jumpstart a New York scene which spawned The Ramones, KISS and Blondie, among others.

When the albums failed to sell, Mercury Records dropped the group, then drugs and infighting led to lead guitarist Johnny Thunders, drummer Jerry Nolan and bassist Arthur Kane all leaving the band by the end of 1975. Johansen and Sylvain carried on until officially calling it quits two years later.

Sylvain, now 57, and Kane fell into relative obscurity, while Johansen would gain success in acting and as crooner Buster Poindexter, whose 80's calypso hit "Hot, Hot, Hot" has become a wedding reception staple.

Thunders and Nolan formed an on again-off again band, The Heartbreakers, but both would meet their end within a year of one another — Thunders died of a heroin overdose in 1991 before Nolan suffered a fatal stroke early the next year.

The band's cult status only grew as time went on.

"It was startling, I guess, because we were so different than people who have to work at music. Because we were just playing it," says Johansen. "It stuck out because it didn't sound like the assembly line music that they had been listening to. All of a sudden they saw you could have music with passion and humor and delight."

It wasn't until 2004 that a reunion of the remaining members became a reality when former Smiths frontman Morrissey, who was organizing the Meltdown Festival in London, extended an invitation to Johansen, Sylvain and Kane to perform.

"It was really good because everybody came to see us," says Johansen, who was initially hesitant to sign on. "I don't think they were coming to throw rocks at us."

Sadly, Arthur Kane would quickly succumb to leukemia shortly after the reunion — the band's fourth fatality. The first was the group's original drummer, Billy Murcia, who died mixing drugs and alcohol before the band recorded its debut.

Despite burying another fallen member, the reunion's warm reception led Johansen and Sylvain to agree to more performances and head back into the studio.

"Once we heard ourselves on the speakers, we were like: 'We're as good as anybody.' Then we decided to make a record."

The newest Dolls consist of bassist Sammi Yaffa, guitarist Steve Conte, keyboardist Brian Koonin and drummer Brian Delaney. Johansen says he feels as much explosive chemistry with them as he did with his former bandmates.

"It's kind of not a popular thing to say but what we do is really positive. I think what The Dolls did was really positive," he adds. "It had a spirit to it that was life affirming. We want to bring that to the music and hopefully share that with the audience."

Returning to his roots has obviously been a joy for Johansen, but earning huge success with The New York Dolls this time around doesn't seem to be much of a concern.

"If we didn't do this we would have to rob banks," he says with a sly laugh. "There's not really any other thing that I would rather do."