Friday, January 15, 2021

New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain dead at 69

New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain died January 13 at the age of 69.

“As most of you know, Sylvain battled cancer for the past two and 1/2 years,” wrote his wife, Wanda O’Kelley Mizrahi, on the late rocker’s Facebook page on Thursday. "Though he fought it valiantly, yesterday he passed away from this disease. While we grieve his loss, we know that he is finally at peace and out of pain. Please crank up his music, light a candle, say a prayer and let’s send this beautiful doll on his way."

Sylvain formed a short-lived outfit, the Dolls, in New York City in 1970 with high school classmate Billy Murcia on drums, where they were joined by future bandmate Johnny Thunders. In 1971, bassist Arthur Kane and guitarist Rick Rivets teamed up under the New York Dolls banner with Thunders, who brought in Murcia before singer David Johansen was added to the lineup; Sylvain eventually replaced Rivets and the band started drawing fans with their shows around the city.

After Sylvain replaced Rivets in 1972, Murcia died from an overdose during a UK tour, which resulted in Jerry Nolan stepping in on drums.

The group’s androgynous image and raucous presentation – an early mix of drug-fueled rock, metal and glam that helped shape the term punk – led to a record deal that saw them team with producer Todd Rundgren for a 1973 self-titled debut album that earned rave reviews while failing commercially, although it would go on to influence future generations of rockers, including the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and Guns N’ Roses.

The band released “Too Much Too Soon” in 1974 to disappointing sales, after which they lost their record deal and brought in new manager Malcolm McLaren to stir things up on the scene (something he’d shortly do again with the Sex Pistols) before Kane and Nolan exited, leaving Johansen and Sylvain as the principal members until their break up in 1977.

“His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision,” shared Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye. “Though he tried valiantly to keep the band going, in the end the Dolls’ moral fable overwhelmed them, not before seeding an influence that would engender many rock generations yet to come.

“The New York Dolls heralded the future, made it easy to dance to,” he added. “From the time I first saw their poster appear on the wall of Village Oldies in 1972, advertising a residency at the Mercer Hotel up the street, throughout their meteoric ascent and shooting star flame-out, the New York Dolls were the heated core of this music we hail, the band that makes you want to form a band.”

Sylvain would release his solo debut in 1979 and records with his bands The Teardrops and The Criminals in the 1980s before another solo release, “Sleep Baby Doll”, in 1998 and a number of other recordings through the years that followed.

Longtime fan Morrissey organized a New York Dolls reunion in London in 2004 that would see Sylvain, Johansen and Kane regroup for a live album and documentary; after Kane passed away from leukemia shortly thereafter, the two surviving members carried on and issued three more studio records and a pair of live projects before things shut down for good in 2011.