New York Dolls Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain Dies Aged 69

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

The founding member of the pioneering rock group passed away on Wednesday (January 13) following a battle with cancer. 

The news was confirmed via an extensive tribute posted to his official Facebook page by former Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, which you can read in full below.

“Sylvain Sylvain, the heart and soul of the New York Dolls, bearer of the Teenage News, passed into his next astral incarnation on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

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.

It was he who looked across Lexington Ave. and saw the sign for the New York Doll hospital. Syl and a high school friend, Billy Murcia, were in the rag trade then, the aptly named Truth and Soul, handknit sweaters with a side of rockattitude. Hooking up with another classmate, John Genzale, and then, as bands will, Arthur Kane, and David Johansen, and Jerry Nolan, they 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.

The New York Dolls heralded the future, made it easy to dance to. 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.

Syl never stopped. In his solo lifeline, he was welcomed all over the world, from England to Japan, but most of all the rock dens of New York City, which is where I caught up with him a couple of years ago at the Bowery Electric. Still Syl. His corkscrew curls, tireless bounce, exulting in living his dream, asking the crowd to sing along, and so we will. His twin names, mirrored, becomes us.

Thank you Sylvain x 2, for your heart, belief, and the way you whacked that E chord. Sleep Baby Doll.”

Sylvain became part of New York Dolls in 1971 and played guitar and piano, as well as contributing vocals on the band’s first two albums, 1973’s ‘New York Dolls’ and 1974‘s ‘Too Much Too Soon’.

He began a solo career and dropped his eponymous debut full-length in 1979, followed by a string of solo records until the late ’90s. When the New York Dolls reunited, Sylvain appeared on their final LPs, 2006’s ‘One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This’, 2009’s ‘Cause I Sez So’ and 2011’s ‘Dancing Backward in High Heels’.

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