The New York Dolls were an American hard rock band formed in New York City in 1971. Along with the Velvet Underground and The Stooges, they were one of the first bands of the early punk rock scenes. Although their original line-up fell apart quickly, the band’s first two albums, New York Dolls (1973) and Too Much Too Soon (1974), became among the most popular cult records in rock. The line-up at this time comprised vocalist David Johansen, guitarist Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane, guitarist and pianist Sylvain Sylvain, and drummer Jerry Nolan; the latter two had replaced Rick Rivets and Billy Murcia, respectively, in 1972. On stage, they donned an androgynous wardrobe, wearing high heels, eccentric hats, and satin. Nolan described the group in 1974 as “the Dead End Kids of today”.
In 1975, floundering in drug abuse and interpersonal conflicts, the band split up. During their last weeks together Malcolm McLaren helped with management. He got the band red leather outfits to wear on stage and a communist flag as backdrop. The Dolls did a 5-concert tour of New York’s five boroughs, supported by Television, which included Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell. Their last show in New York State was at The Shoram, in Quogue, New York, with Spider on drums.
The original New York Dolls were captured in a live set, recorded at the Little Hippodrome and released by Fan Club records in 1982 as Red Patent Leather. It was originally a bootleg album that was later remixed by Sylvain, with former manager Marty Thau credited as executive producer. Due to Kane being unable to play that night, roadie Peter Jordan played bass, though he was credited as having played “second bass”. Jordan often deputized for Kane when he was too inebriated to play.
Thunders and Nolan left under acrimonious circumstances in 1975 while on tour in Florida. Blackie Lawless replaced Thunders for the remainder of the Florida tour; however, he and Kane soon departed to form Killer Kane in Los Angeles, leading Jordan to join the band in earnest. The period immediately following this was documented on the album Tokyo Dolls Live (Fan Club/New Rose); taken from a show in Japan in August 1975 in which Johansen, Sylvain and Jordan were joined by former Elephant’s Memory keyboardist Chris Robison and drummer Tony Machine, this reconstituted configuration would largely endure for the next two years. The material is similar to that on Red Patent Leather, but notable for a radically re-arranged “Frankenstein” and a cover of Big Joe Turner’s “Flip Flop Fly.” The album is undated and has no production credit, but was issued circa 1986.
Soon after their return to New York, the Dolls played at the Beacon Theater, on New Year’s Eve, 1975, which met with great critical acclaim. Shortly thereafter, they did a follow-up show at Max’s Kansas City. Robison was then replaced by pianist/keyboardist Bobbie Blaine. The group played its final shows in 1977, after which Johansen began a solo career and Sylvain formed The Criminals, a popular band at CBGB.
According to the Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1995), the New York Dolls predated the punk and glam metal movements, and were “one of the most influential rock bands of the last 20 years”. They influenced rock groups such as the Sex Pistols, Kiss, the Ramones, Guns N’ Roses, the Damned, and The Smiths, whose frontman Morrissey organized a reunion show for the New York Dolls’ surviving members in 2004. After reuniting, they recorded and released three more albums—One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (2006), Cause I Sez So (2009), and Dancing Backward in High Heels (2011).
The band had been inactive following a 2011 UK tour with Alice Cooper, with former guitarist Earl Slick confirming the band was over in a 2011 interview.