New York Dolls Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain Dies at 69

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The New York Dolls debut album

Sylvain Sylvain, the guitarist for the influential band the New York Dolls, who came to prominence in the early ’70s as a bridge from glam and early hard rock to punk, died January 13, 2021, after battling cancer for the past two years. The news was shared on Jan. 14 on his Facebook page with a lengthy tribute by his contemporary, Lenny Kaye, the longtime guitarist for the Patti Smith Group. Kaye called Sylvain, 69, “the heart and soul of the New York Dolls.”

Born Sylvain Mizrahi in Cairo, Egypt, on February 14, 1951, his Jewish family fled the country, ultimately arriving in New York when he was 10 years old.

The New York Dolls formed in 1971 and their classic lineup consisted of  singer David Johansen, guitarists Sylvain and Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane, and drummer Jerry Nolan. Though their albums were never particularly big sellers, the group were one of the most influential of the era. Their 1973 self-titled debut, produced by Todd Rundgren, was their highest-charting release, peaking at #116.

Today such album tracks as “Personality Crisis,” “Trash,” “Looking for a Kiss” and “Jet Boy” are regarded by some as rock classics, and the LP is seen as one of rock music’s great debut albums.

Watch them perform “Personality Crisis”

The group played their last show in 1976. However, the band’s ongoing influence, along with the patronage of Dolls superfan Morrissey, led Johansen and Sylvain to assemble a new version of the band in 2004, leading to a series of tours and three albums of new Dolls material.

Since the ’80s, Johansen has performed as his alter ego, Buster Poindexter, with a lounge lizard act, singing and telling stories.

Martin Scorsese announced in 2020 that he will be directing a documentary on Johansen for Showtime.

In his tribute to Sylvain, Kaye wrote, “Syl loved rock and roll. His onstage joy, his radiant smile as he chopped at his guitar, revealed the sense of wonder he must have felt at the age of 10, emigrating from his native Cairo with his family in 1961, the ship pulling into New York Harbor and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time.”

The New York Dolls, Kaye continued, “became a quasar in the rock firmament; embodying trash, glam, garage-to-punk, the ambisexual affirmation of music played louder. His role in the band was as lynchpin, keeping the revolving satellites of his bandmates in precision. 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.”

Watch Sylvain share a story and perform the Dolls’ “Trash” in 2016, which he co-wrote with Johansen

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  1. Ratbone
    #1 Ratbone 15 January, 2021, 00:50

    The Clash, Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, that whole genre was then and is now just crap! I couldn’t believe it back then in the late 70’s early 80’s. But then I couldn’t believe people listened to disco crap either!

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    • Centauri
      Centauri 15 January, 2021, 16:14

      Have to agree. The bands of the late 60s through around 71 were about the music. Then in 72 the glam rock thing started, with punk and disco right behind that.

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