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David Johansen: Still playing with Dolls

David Johansen, second from left, and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain are the only founding New York Dolls on this tour.

Handout photo

David Johansen, second from left, and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain are the only founding New York Dolls on this tour.

For the New York Dolls, there's no middle ground with the public. Either you worship the quintet as the godfathers of punk-glam rock, or you've never heard of them. The band formed in 1970, impressing fans with their edgy sound and taking the stage in lipstick and women's clothing. But after a five-year heyday, the Dolls fell off the mainstream radar.

Fast-forward to 2006, when the guys released their first studio album in more than three decades, followed by 'Cause I Sez So last month. The new millennium lineup includes two original members — frontman David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain — with guitarist Steve Conte, bassist Sami Yaffa and drummer Brian Delaney. After stellar reviews at South by Southwest 2009, they're back on tour and ready to rock Tampa Bay.

Tbt* called Johansen on a tour stop in Oklahoma City.

This will be the Dolls' first time playing in Tampa Bay. What took so long?

I guess nobody was aware of us before. Now they're thinking, "Have you heard about those New York Dolls? Why don't we get them down here and check them out?"

Are you trendy now — a throwback?

Ah, you mean like the Fonz. Definitely in Tampa Bay. We hit different places each time we go around because the United States is so huge. If you wanted to play every place, it would take all year. And then you would be on the bus driving through the prairies for a year, and they would probably have to put you in a straight jacket when you got home.

What the inspiration for this new album?

We were informed in November by our management that we were to make a record in January. They said, "You guys got songs, don't you?" And we said, "Oh, yeah, sure. We got songs." But I've got to tell you the truth: We never have songs until the last possible minute, because we are world-class procrastinators when it comes to that. So when somebody said, "You know, Todd Rundgren is available to (produce) this record," we said, "Oh, cool. Where's that?" Then they said, "Hawaii." And we said, "In January? Hawaii? Okay!"

I think of rock 'n' rollers in their 20s as sleeping on couches and eating pizza out of the box. What's changed about touring since the '70s? Have you raised your standards?

I've never been one of those eating-pizza-out-of-the-box kind of guys. I've always had sufficient leisure time to have taste, as well, because we live on the road, essentially. So what we do is, we make a life out of it. You don't want to have it like Groundhog Day. You want every city to be a trip. So there's a lot of great things in every town, and it's easy enough to research that on your way into a town and see the things you want to check out, eat the food you want to eat. I don't want to sound snobby or anything, but we're a fairly sophisticated bunch of rock 'n' roll stars. I think somebody who is in a band and forces themself to eat dog food — or pizza, you said — you're probably not that imaginative.

About your costumes: I was reading that back in the day, you would borrow your girlfriends' lipstick or shirts out of necessity.

Remember that guy in Waiting for Guffman, Corky, who was the director of the play? He would say that he always shopped for his wife? And then at the end of the movie, it turned out that he didn't have a wife? (laughs)

Are you sticking with men's clothing now?

I don't know. There's just a lot of clothes on the bus. You pick something up and you give it a sniff, and if it passes, it passes, and you put it on.

David Johansen: Still playing with Dolls 06/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 4:31am]

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