New York Dolls
On Their Past, Present & Future…
November 2009
Questionnaire & Live Photography: Steve Bateman

“The New York Dolls created punk rock before there was a term for it. Building on The Rolling Stones' dirty rock & roll, Mick Jagger's androgyny, girl group pop, the glam rock of David Bowie and T.Rex, and The Stooges' anarchic noise, the New York Dolls created a new form of hard rock that presaged both punk rock and heavy metal. Their drug-fuelled, shambolic performances influenced a generation of musicians in New York and London, who all went on to form punk bands. And although they self-destructed quickly, the band's two albums remained two of the most popular cult records in rock & roll history.

In 2004, former Smiths vocalist Morrissey – who was once the president of a British New York Dolls Fan Club – invited the surviving members of the New York Dolls to perform at the 2004 Meltdown Festival, a music and cultural festival that was being curated that year by the singer. To the surprise of many, David Johansen, Syl Sylvain and Arthur Kane agreed to the gig, with Steve Conte standing in for Thunders and Gary Powell from The Libertines sitting in on drums. The group's set was well-received by critics and fans (and was recorded for release on DVD and compact disc), which led to offers for other festival appearances, but only a few weeks after the Meltdown show, Kane checked himself into a Los Angeles hospital with what he thought was a severe case of the flu. Kane's ailment was soon diagnosed as leukaemia, and he died only a few hours later, on July 13, 2004, at age 55 (joining his late ex-bandmates, Billy Murcia, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan).

Watching footage of the Dolls onstage at the behest of one of their biggest fans, one realised just how vast – and heretofore unsung – their influence truly was. Everyone knows the famous logo: chrome lipstick, scrawling that name across an unseen mirror, but it's more than the great brand. It's not about the androgyny either. Skinny boys were wearing make-up long before them. Little Richard. Elvis. It's not even about the music, as the Dolls themselves were always quick to credit 50's R&B numbers or early 60's girl group productions as their own influences. Really, what makes the Dolls so eternal is the attitude – it got into rock’s water supply and never left. Kiss, Aerosmith, the Ramones, Blondie, the Sex Pistols, The Damned, Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, Hanoi Rocks, The Strokes, The Libertines and just about any gang of strutting rockers who are convinced that their band could take your band and possibly your whole town in a pretty for pretty, ugly for ugly throwdown. The Dolls, and their disciples win, not just with brawn but with what guitarist Sylvain Sylvain calls ‘plenty of intellect and plenty of sex’.” OFFICIAL NEW YORK DOLLS BIOG EXTRACTS

Still living it up and doing their own thing nearly 40 years on – although now much more appreciated by the music world. The resurrected, modern-day New York Dolls is comprised of David Johansen (lead vocals & harmonica), Sylvain Sylvain (guitar & backing vocals), Steve Conte (guitar & backing vocals), Brian Delaney (drums) and former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa. Who as a different breed bound together, continue to attend to unfinished business – releasing their fourth studio album, ’Cause I Sez So (2009), this past May. Which convincingly, effortlessly and unapologetically sits alongside their three previous efforts: New York Dolls (1973), Too Much Too Soon (1974) and One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This (2006), whilst still managing to push the Dolls sound forward. After working together on the band’s seminal debut in 1973 (at the time, a record that HAD to be made), the five-piece reunited with producer Todd Rundgren at Utopia Sound Studio in Kauai, Hawaii, where ’Cause I Sez So was written and recorded in a month. Featuring 11 original compositions and a new reggae version of Trash, frontman Johansen elucidated: “It was amazing working with Todd again, and I think we were able to evoke the special sound of our first album and drag it by the hair into the present.”

Ahead of the Dolls’ 2009 December UK Tour, I got in touch with guitarist Steve Conte – a man who has his finger in many musical pies and is himself just about to put out his latest long player, Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth. With his Press Release expanding: “Sonically, The Crazy Truth lies somewhere between garage rock and punk blues with hints of Latin-soul in a dark, smoky lounge. It’s The Stooges and The Stones versus Morphine and Tom Waits. The overall vibe is best described by Conte as ‘classic roots with a modern twist’. Steve Conte delivers the power, soul and raunch. He’s a runaway guitar hero on the edge of falling apart – with the voice of a derelict angel.” Returning to his involvement with the New York Dolls, he told Guitar & Bass Magazine about how he came to join the group for their much-lauded Meltdown Festival appearance in 2004: “David asked a bunch of respected guitar players around New York who should he get for the gig – they all told him, ‘Call Conte’.” The publication also went on to discuss the way in which ‘a natural understanding has grown up between Sylvain and Conte, where rhythm and leads are traded on the hoof to enhance the band’s swinging stomp’. With Steve later adding: “I think I’m Ronnie Wood to Syl’s Keith. I bring a bit of sophistication, but not too much. As David said, ‘You can only be an amateur once’.”

In a candid interview with Ultimate Guitar, he also revealed: “I feel blessed to be part of the New York Dolls legacy. There are very few legendary rock & roll bands that a person can just step into and become a real part of. Ever since the first Dolls show with Arthur Kane at the Royal Festival Hall when David said to me, ‘Stevie, just wear what you want to wear and play what you want to play’, I felt like I was home. And now, five years later after touring the world, making two live albums, two studio albums and co-writing songs with the band, there's a real sense of belonging to something. I believe this version of the band has now been together longer than the original version.” Of the Dolls’ striking and elating live shows, The Times recently waxed lyrical: “Lead singer David Johansen has retained the body of a teenage boy and the swagger of a man born to be a star. Songs from the current album, ‘Cause I Sez So and its 2006 predecessor – notably the former’s title track and the latter’s We’re All In Love and Dance Like A Monkey – went down as well as the oldies.”

Iconic, influential and now arguably vindicated, make sure that you don’t miss out on your chance of seeing the legendary New York Dolls up-close-and-personal when they roll into a town near you.

It’s time to get all Dolled up…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.To begin with, what does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you and what are some of the best things about being a New York Doll?
“Rock & roll means not dressing up unless you want to. It means going to play – not work. It means having an outlet for everything you think, feel and witness. Being a New York Doll, I get to do all of that – like I do anyway in my musical life. One of the best things about being a Doll, is that I get free eyeliner from Tish & Snooky’s Manic Panic store!!”

2.Using only 1 word for each band member, how would you describe everyone including yourself?

Sylvain - Rascal
David - Oz
Sami - Feral
Brian - Mellow
Steve - Chameleon

3.How involved are you in the creative side of the Dolls’ music and has learning / playing songs from the group’s back catalogue, influenced / made you reassess the way you think about your own songwriting?
“Absolutely! I co-write with David and have contributed parts to songs by Sami and Sylvain. Learning the old Dolls songs and writing the new ones, has brought me back to appreciating the simplistic beauty and power of rock & roll. When you work with other people, you not only discover things you want to do, but also things you don't want to do. So, I stay true to myself, but always stretch the boundaries here and there.”

4.You’ve mentioned that David “won’t put words to just any music,” but of all his lyrics, which are some of your personal favourites?
Human Being
Subway Train
Vietnamese Baby
Bad Girl
Punishing World
Temptation To Exist
Plenty Of Music
Looking For A Kiss

5.For you personally, what have been some of the most important albums from the last 50 years, and if you had to pick a favourite Decade for music, which one would it be?
“For me personally, some of the most important albums from the last 50 years have been… The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed, The Who - Live At Leeds, Hendrix - Are You Experienced, Coltrane - Giant Steps, Marvin Gaye - What's Going On?, Robert Johnson - Original Recordings, Sly & The Family Stone - Stand!, The Beatles - Revolver, and Tom Waits - Raindogs. For a fave Decade, I’d pick the ten years between 1964-1974.”

6.Of your musical projects and songs away from the Dolls, which are you most proud of?
“I love my new band’s album, Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth, but I have a lot emotionally invested in the records I made with my brother John, because we've lived a whole musical life together. So, it would have to be either The Contes - Bleed Together, or Crown Jewels / Linoleum albums. I’m pretty proud of my song Strawberry Velvet Fifty Cent Shoes.”

7.As a well-respected guitarist, who for you are some of the great guitar players in the history of popular music, what do you think are some of the greatest riffs of all-time + which song should every young guitarist learn to play?

“I think some of the great guitar players in the history of popular music are… Jeff Beck, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Page, Les Paul, André Segovia, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Paco Delucia, Pat Metheny, and Robert Johnson. So many great riffs… Manic Depression, Out On The Tiles, Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil), Blue Wind, Four On Six, Bright Size Life, Day Tripper, Pretty Woman, and Link Wray / Rawhide. Every young guitarist should learn to play Johnny B. Goode.”

8.What inspires you outside of music?
“My son, my wife, the ocean, great food and wine, travelling the world, literature, film and art.”

9.In the New York Dolls’ early days, the group unquestionably had an outrageous, brash and risqué ‘shock & awe’ element about them, and it has been well-documented that record companies were “afraid of signing the band because of their cross-dressing and blatant vulgarity.” However, I recently read an article about how there are no longer many ‘No Go Zone’ areas in music, as in musicians who parents don’t want their children to listen to – but do you think provocative artists are important to The Music Industry?
“Thought-provoking, yes, but not ones that can influence a kid to commit crimes or hurt themselves or others. I suppose if a kid gets off on hanging his flesh on a meathook, he'll find others who are into it and probably some bands who promote it too. It’s a parent’s responsibility as to what a kid is exposed to. One thing’s for sure though, you tell a kid they can't have something and guess what?”

10.You will be hitting the UK in December – how do you find life on the road / touring and what do you most miss about New York when you are away from home?
“I do like touring – I love hotels, being onstage and playing music, but I do miss the comforts of my own space and most of all, I miss my wife, my son and my dog Ziggy.”

11.Live, some of the Dolls’ songs have a real anthemic quality, but what do you consider to be some of the greatest anthems of all-time?
“I'm not an anthem type of guy, but there's always The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again, and U2 has a bunch. There are obvious anthems – but I don't love them – by Kiss, Queen, Journey and Bon Jovi… ya know, stadium rockers. I'd rather go goofy with cheese like Chumbawamba - I Get Knocked Down, or Wang Chung - Everybody Have Fun Tonight!! Oi!”

12.What are your feelings on some musicians now asking fans to help finance albums and tours (with incentives for doing so) – and of all the artists / groups to have emerged in recent times, are there any who you feel share, or have shared, the same spirit as the New York Dolls?
“Well, it's a sign of the times... and maybe it's a better thing. Musicians aren't getting money from the record companies, but then they're not getting into debt or bad deals with them either. It's probably more manageable to get investments from your fans in exchange for thank you’s in the credits, or concerts at their home or signed copies of the record! I haven't done it, but I know people who have. I have seen some young bands that have a good spirit, but I wouldn't say they have the same spirit as the Dolls... there's a band called We Are The Fury, who we toured with, who are really young and creative.”

13.What do you think it is about NYC that has bred so many classic bands over the years, and who do you consider to be among the City’s finest?
“I think everyone is here for a reason. We're hungry and we want to get somewhere. Only the strong survive here. It's not for the faint of heart. NYC's finest of course includes the Dolls, Velvets, Ramones, Mink Deville, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday.”

14.If you had to place 5 New York Dolls songs in a time-capsule for future generations to hear, what would they be?
Personality Crisis
Looking For A Kiss
Dance Like A Monkey
This Is Ridiculous

15.Lastly, chips or cream buns?
“Chips of course – with mayonnaise!”

A very special thanks to Steve, and to Peter @ Noble PR, for all of their time and help.

New York Dolls on tour in the UK in December – Cambridge Junction (Dec 2), Bristol Anson Rooms (Dec 3), London HMV Forum (Dec 4), Southampton Talking Heads (Dec 6), Leamington Spa Assembly (Dec 8), Liverpool O2 Academy (Dec 9) and the Edinburgh HMV Picture House (Dec 10). Ticket Hotline: 08700 603 777. Book Online: The album ‘Cause I Sez So is out now.

Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth is released in the UK and Europe on November 30th through Varese Vintage / Colosseum Music.

R*E*P*E*A*T ALBUM REVIEW: Clocking in at a brisk 36 minutes and coming on like an animalistic / anything-goes, three-way showdown between Aerosmith, New York Dolls and The Rolling Stones. This no-nonsense, foot-stomping record never lets up and is chock-full with thousand-miles-per-hour, loose-limbed balls of energy. Raw songs which are dispatched like dynamite and delve into the annals of time with driving fervour – channelling the pure spirit of good-time ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll, punk, boogie-woogie and honky-tonk blues. As a frontman, Steve proves himself to be more than capable of holding his own, delivering straight-talking and redemptive lyrics “reflecting two decades of life and excess in New York City” – all of which have stand-up-and-be-counted attitude! Vocally, Conte has a wild child, throaty and meaty voice, that seems both fired-up and loosened on multiple bottles of Jack Daniel’s and could break free from the trio’s music at any moment! Bolstered by an armada of pinball riffs, growling bass, malevolent drums, masterful fretwork and stare-you-out guitar solos, that all work seamlessly together in the pursuit of whipping up a veritable musical storm. World-renowned producer Steve Lillywhite raved: “There is very little genuine rock and roll out there at the moment – but Steve Conte has hit the nail on the head with this one!” Sounding instantly familiar (This Is The End, Gypsy Cab, The Goods Are Odd), yet at the same time undeniably fresh (Texas T, Busload Of Hope, Indie Girl), Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth’s musical mettle will jive and worm its way into your heart, mind, body and soul! And if you need any further convincing, why not take up Steve’s invitation to “rock and roll like the Marquis de Sade.”

“Trash, go pick it up, take them lights away
Trash, go pick it up, don't take your life away
Trash, go pick it up, the doctor take my knife away
And please don't you ask me if I love you”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?