Blast From The Past: David Johansen Group

If I’m going to continue to pace the room in breathless anticipation of the upcoming New York Dolls album ‘Cause I Sez So (produced by Todd Rundgren), I might as well dance.

Yeah, we took the ferry, whatchagonnadoaboudit?

Yeah, we took the ferry, whatchagonnadoaboudit?

A few months after the release of his first solo record, David Johansen packed the Bottom Linein NY for a three-night stand, the middle night being simulcast on WNEW-FM. A limited edition 9-song promo was released after that, but the full 18 track set didn’t surface for another fifteen years. And fifteen years after that, it still holds up.

The band, like Johansen, were Staten Island natives, albeit younger; to them Johansen and the Dolls were icons. Guitarists Johnny Rao and Thomas Trask, bassist Buz Verno and drummer Frankie LaRockawere a tight band in need of a singer, and after some relentless pursuit Johansen agreed to join in, bringing Sylvain Sylvain in tow. The sound of The David Johansen Groupbore a strong resemblance to the Dolls, but the campy chaos was now a streamlined soulful rock attack, with three guitars dancing atop a formidable but not-flashy rhythm section. In other words, rock’n’roll that could appeal to a much wider audience – more punk than the classic rockers and more structured than the punk bands. And since it was 1978, it was another validation that disco did suck.

The set was killer, featuring solo and Dolls tunes as well as the usual bevy of great covers, ranging from Motown (“I Found A Love“, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “Love Child“) to bubblegum pop (“Build Me Up Buttercup“) and even a whack at Bonnie Tyler’sIt’s A Heartache”, sandwiched within “Personality Crisis” just to keep the crowd honest.  They kicked it off in high gear with “Cool Metro” and peppered the crowd with rave-ups, swinging r&b and the usual cocky/funny shtick from David as front-man. When Johnny Thunders jumped onstage to close it all out with “Babylon” it must have been absolute bedlam.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen The New York Dolls several times in their original incarnation, and when they broke up it was a sad but inevitable occasion. But I was thrilled when Johansen rebounded with several good albums, and during this phrase of his career I saw the band six or seven times. They never failed to light the place on fire, and thankfully a couple of those are captured for posterity; both Live It Up and this album are highly recommended. I was not a Buster Poindexter fan and liked, not loved, The Harry Smiths. But having seen the 21st century version of the New York Dolls a few times already, I can vouch that they are in prime ass-kicking form.

So until that new album drops, to quote “Frenchette“…let’s just dance!

david-johansen-live-it-up

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Blast From The Past: David Johansen Group

  1. That David Jo cd is probably my favorite live cd ever. Johansen is in prime form and the sound is right up in your face. I saw that version of the David Johansen Group about a dozen times and outside of Bruce Springsteen and The Clash, they were the best live rock act at that time. The original fun junkie. Looking forward to the new Dolls album.

  2. drbristol

    I’m listening to the new Dolls record right now…it’s really more of a Johansen record, but a hybrid of solo David, Harry Smiths and even Unplugged. There are only 3, maybe 4 songs you’d classify as Dolls tunes. I’m trying to separate my expectations from my experience, because my initial reaction was disappointment.

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