New York Dolls interview: Doll Parts
We needed something new. Everything was old, or English, or this or that. This was America—New York! It was happening right here at home! We don’t want imports! We’ll take them, but if we have something homegrown, we get so excited, and we get behind it.
Soon, word got out about them and the press was covering them like crazy. Even the British press were writing about them. They were hot as could be; they were playing everywhere. And then we started talking to some record company people and we received comments like: “I like the band, but the lead singer sucks.” “I like the lead singer, but the band sucks.” “Are they transvestites?” “Are they drug addicts?”
So we decided that the American record industry was too conservative for the Dolls and opted to do a small tour of England. The main show was the Dolls opening for Rod Stewart [and the Faces] at the Wembley auditorium. All of a sudden, a group that never played before more than 350 people was onstage at Wembley in front of 13,000 people. The straight press slaughtered them, but the hipper music magazines were saying things like, “We have seen the future of rock and roll, and it’s the Dolls.”
Soon everybody was trying to sign us. Atlantic wanted to sign us for $50,000, sight unseen. It looked like we were at the edge of brilliant success in Europe.
They were terribly wounded over Billy’s death. The cockiness was gone out of all of them, especially David Johansen, who was the most arrogant person I met in my life. It changed them.
After he was buried and the Dolls decided go forward, that’s when they found Jerry Nolan.
He was a very straightforward rock drummer. He was harder and more “street.” He wanted to be great like [swing-era drummer] Gene Krupa, somebody who cut a profile. “Cut a profile” was a Nolan phrase: “Ya gotta cut a profile! Leave a memory! Stand out from the crowd!” But I think he felt uncomfortable wearing some of the clothes. Jerry Nolan with his pink drums.
Jerry gave us a legitimate rock and roll sound. He gave us the professionalism we needed to get a record deal.
They did their first show with Jerry on December 19, 1972, at the Mercer Arts Center. Everybody wanted to see the Dolls; Billy’s death contributed to their notoriety. But the record industry still didn’t know what to make of it.
They all passed on the Dolls. And who’d we end up with? Mercury Records. They were the only guys left. We approached them: “Hey, you wanna sign the Dolls?” And they were probably one of the worst companies to sign with. They really never developed us. The Dolls were too outrageous, and they couldn’t really control us. When it came down to it, yeah, they put out the records. But what else did they do with us?
I asked David Bowie if he would want to produce them. We eventually got [pop singer/ songwriter and producer] Todd Rundgren. And do you think it’s so easy to just get a good producer? Especially with a group like that, that some people maintained couldn’t play for shit? It wasn’t easy.
Artists:New York Dolls
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