Supergroup “Halloween Jack” is set to release “TRASH”, a cover song video by The New York Dolls as a tribute/ token of love to the glam/punk band’s Sylvain Sylvain who died last week after losing his battle with cancer.
The New York Dolls, known for their glam rock androgyny and their signature attire including women’s makeup and frenzied, bizarre fashions, revitalized the New York City underground music scene in the 70s foreshadowing punk by half a decade. The Dolls were an anomaly, considered to be one of the most influential bands on the planet with their unpolished, chaotic music expression that combined British invasion-influenced rhythm and blues with the guitar distortion and booming backbeat of proto-punk bands such as Iggy and the Stooges.
Halloween Jack combines the talent of Stephen Perkins, drummer of Jane’s Addiction, Gilby Clarke, former guitarist of Guns N’ Roses, Dan Shulman former bassist of Garbage, Eric Dover guitarist from Jellyfish, and guest guitarist Steve Stevens of Billy Idol, a huge fan of the Dolls. Halloween Jack’s TRASH video is filled with a texture and color completely reminiscent of the orgasmic, sophisticated anarchy that captured the essence of the kaleidoscopic vibrancy transmitted by the original New York Dolls. Halloween Jack wished to celebrate the memory of Sylvain using the video as a token of love to the fallen Icon.
Sylvain Mizrahi, best recognized by his stage name Sylvain Sylvain, was the guitarist for The New York Dolls. One of the key architects of rock music, Sylvain was the driving force behind the band and the soul of the clothes, style and thrilling guitar combinations that would be such a profound influence on punk rock. As a precursor to the dolls, he created the band Actress from a bunch of guys that hung around his clothing store that would later give birth to the Sex Pistols. In 2019, Sylvain announced that he had cancer and he died in his home on January 13, 2021. (Contents from the above paragraph borrowed from John Robb)
The illustrious guitarist from Billy Idol, Steve Stevens actually adopted his stage name from a suggestion by Sylvain Sylvain. A huge fan of The New York Dolls, Stevens played guest guitarist on “TRASH” for Halloween Jack and was happy to do so….
Louder Than War: Did you know Sylvain Sylvain?
Growing up in New York, I lived in the Manhattan Music Building and actually Thunders lived there for a brief while, but Sylvain was the guy I knew. I didn’t know him well, but in my band previous to Billy Idol we were looking to give me my stage name and Syl suggested that I just use my first name twice. Then I guess about eight years ago, I hadn’t seen him in years and years, but eight years ago we were on the same bill, Billy Idol and the Dolls. I said to him, “Do you remember when you gave me the blessing to use my name twice.” He did remember. He was a total sweetheart. He was such a New York fixture.
What did the Dolls mean to you?
As A kid growing up in New York, I went to high school in Manhattan. I believe the Dolls are the ones that really spearheaded not only the punk rock scene but obviously when they went to London and had such a huge impact on the Sex Pistols forming…..all of the bands in New York that kind of came after them were aware of the fact that you didn’t have to be a virtuoso. You just had to find five guys who believed in something as much as you. And they influenced I believe every band that came out of New York City, certainly Kiss, and Aerosmith, any band that played Max’s were obviously aware of the Dolls.
Is there something you’d want someone to know or hear regarding the tribute or video?
I think what’s great about this video, I really didn’t know what to expect…but I love the fact that there was real footage of the band and that we are really paying homage. When Sylvain passed away, I had posted a little thing in Facebook with a photograph of him. But I was really happy that we are able to honor them. They really did influence so many musicians that came after them. I’m really happy to have my name attached someway to honor him.
Stephen Perkins Drummer of Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros, and Think:EXP while taking a shower masterminded the idea for a tribute video for Sylvain Sylvain and here is why….
What did the New York Dolls mean to you?
Courage! It’s fascinating that they had the courage to do what they did. To me it was like a local band from New York City that gave everybody in the early 70s a chance to relate to this brave and courageous band. The bravery and the courage that it takes to get on stage to be able to play their instruments with such guts. To dress up with such confidence and to strut. It showed me what it takes to be like a Salvador Dali or a Picasso. You do it your own way and you stick to your guns. They love you or they hate you, but you stick to your guns. The early punk scene that came out of New York and London, they all have that in common, but the Dolls seemed to be having such a good time. They were like this great party band. Of course, I wasn’t in New York, but it seemed dangerous and dirty and that went right into their music. It seemed like you had a good time all the time, but you had to be on your toes and look out for what was going on around you. When Jane’s Addiction finally made it to New York, I wanted to go right to St. Marks Place and go shopping at “Trash and Vaudeville” to see if we could dress up like the Dolls….20 years later, but that was the goal. Then you see Bowie and Kiss and even ABBA…all of these bands who pulled from the Dolls. The Dolls never really got the love and sometimes the greatest music does get skipped in the sense of sales. But it has to do with success, and they were a true success because they stuck to their guns and did what they set out to do.
It was such a troubled story losing their drummer during their first big tour and then they went through all those speed bumps…getting derailed, but the music lives on. The videos or the films, you can’t find many of them but you could see that there was nothing like this band. I always thought to be a musician you grow up trying to replicate your heroes and then you realize you can’t. You have to find your own homegrown version of who you are as an artist. If you can do that you can stand with it forever. You are an original. So to me, this was a courageous, brave band. It’s not about being a virtuoso on your instrument even though it’s all there, it’s about showing off who you are and where you came from. Jane’s Addiction had a lot of that in LA. We were surrounded by some great players and also some mediocre players with some great ideas. You realize who makes the imprint and who inspires you, and they show you a way that’s possible. I love the fact that in music, still when you put them on there’s no other band that really sounds like the Dolls. They were an original New York City band and I love hearing the city in the music. You know Van Halen could never come from anywhere but LA and the Dolls could be only New York. I remember hearing that they actually played at a place that was falling down because the building wasn’t cared for. Even though the building fell down it was one of their spots that they would play at all the time. I was thinking that’s just the perfect story. No one got hurt and at the same time the place they played actually fell down. The actual rafters cracked and came apart. To me when you put your finger on your favorite band or artist there are one or two that makes an imprint and you can always recall those people, those bands and those experiences and draw from it and try to reach that level. I always wanted to be an original drummer. Growing up, I always imitated everybody because I didn’t know how to find my original self until I found Jane’s because I was surrounded by three other guys who wanted the same thing. I want you to be original. Let’s not replicate our heroes but let’s draw from their power. That’s what I get from the Dolls. They are clearly one of a kind. Be brave like that as far as the music, the look and the style, the clothes and how they promoted themselves …. They were truly an original band.
I loved that answer.
Even today when we listen to the song that “Jack” did we had to put our balls on the table to make it sound like the Dolls. You’ve got a put your balls out to sound like the Dolls. You’ve really have to go for it and you can’t be worried about is it perfect or not? You’ve got to spend time with it and enjoy the moment and get people riled up. That’s what I love about music. I think Jerry Garcia said it and I still believe it “you don’t get a bunch of people together to jump up and down unless it’s a battlefield until you have a music concert.” You have these people that get together and come from different places and they grew up in different places but they are all in the same room and they jump up and down to the same beat and the same song while they sing the lyrics. Musicians really have this great magnet. People love musicians because it makes them feel emotions, it makes them get out of their own head more than a trip to a museum, or reading a book. It’s this union you have with the music and other people sharing that. The Dolls really had that. It’s like putting a bunch of different people in a blender, blending it up and then having a drink and thinking “oh it tastes so good.”
I spoke with Dan Shulman, known as the bassist for the iconic band “Garbage” (Stupid Girl), and Run DMC regarding “Halloween Jack” and their tribute video to Sylvain Sylvain….
How was Halloween Jack born?
Stephen and I have a long history of playing together in a lot of different groups. He playing percussion for a little band with me called Double D Nose and I was playing with his group Banyon. I jammed with him and Perry in an early version of Porno for Pyros. Then we all played in this club called “Club Make-Up” as well as Gilby who used to do sound for us back in the day for Double D Nose too. “Club Make-Up” was in Hollywood and sort of like a 70s glitter/glam rock club. I decided that I wanted to do more of that, so I called Stephen and we called Gilby and Eric Dover who we’d been in Slash’s Snake Pit with. We started doing weekly shows at different clubs in LA. It was just super fun. We were playing all of our favorite glam stuff from the 70s, Bowie, Kiss, Alice Cooper… and people would come and sit in. I remember Perry Farrell saying that he liked bands that just played music for your ears but he was into stuff that was for your eyes and your ears, and I was kind of into that too. Bands like the Dolls that would put on a show that you could really get excited about, the clothing, the make-up, the whole presentation. So, we decided to do that with Halloween Jack and it was a lot of fun. We all went on to do other things but when Sylvain died Stephen gave us all a call and said we should do a tribute. We had covered Doll songs, so we were all into it. Eric Dover was MIA for a second so Gilby called Steve Stevens who is a huge Dolls fan and knew Sylvain, which was exciting for me.
What did The New York Dolls mean to you?
It really meant freedom. I was a shy kid growing up, so the idea that you could express yourself and look outrageous and play outrageous music and feel that you could communicate with people in that way was huge for me. So for me, I felt like when I wanted to play music I wanted to be able to communicate with people and do something that was outrageous, that was fun and that was exciting and the New York Doll’s, along with Kiss and Alice Cooper and Bowie and all those groups sent me this message as a kid, that anything was possible.
You were in Run DMC as a kid?
I was a teenager, maybe 18 or 19. I guess that was a kid now that I’m this age….I was in New York right while Run DMC came out with “King of Rock” which was really exciting to me. I used to play in bands in LA, these hard rock groups and there were these metal head dudes that were into it but the girls were outside swimming. I went to this club and they were just putting out “King of Rock” and it was really heavy music that everybody was dancing to. I wanted to get involved with that. I was lucky enough to meet them and because I was a rock musician, they said I should write something for them. So, I went on tour with them and got to play on “Raising Hell” which was the first record I played on and which was really popular, and I got to plan some of the other rock stuff. They brought me back for the next record and then I got to write and do some stuff with them. I was incredibly lucky. Those were really exciting times.
If you could say anything as a tribute to Sylvain Sylvain what would it be?
I would say that I would not be doing what I’m doing now and as excited about life and music as I am now if it wasn’t for them. Getting to see them do what they did, such wild abandon, excitement and danger changed the way. I don’t think just for me but all the bands I like. I don’t think they would’ve quite been doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for the New York Dolls.
Have you had your ultimate stage fantasy ?
Yeah…I think I have. I really feel lucky. When I was a kid in junior high checking out all those bands like Kiss and Alice Cooper, I dreamed of doing records and touring the world. I got to do that, I got to play at Madison Square Garden and I got to play at big festivals in front of 100,000 people. The truth is I feel lucky to have done that but once I did that, I realized that I have the most fun playing in a packed club of about 500 people.
Gilby Clarke former guitarist of Guns N’ Roses states that the Dolls were a huge influence on him…”Huge, not little…a huge influence on me” and this is his reason…
Why do you believe that the New York Dolls were such a huge influence on you?
I did not get into the Dolls when they came out. It was much, much later like a good 5 or 6 years later. When I first got into music it was what was happening at the time for example Kiss, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and from there I was getting into Rush, and UK, and I was starting to go down a deep, dark, heavy metal hole. Then I found the New York Dolls, and that changed everything. They were my version of the Rolling Stones that I could really relate to. I was always a fan of glam rock, I loved The Sweet, I loved Marc Bolan and T-Rex, David Bowie and to me the Dolls were the perfect blend of the glam rock, but still rock ‘n’ roll. They still had that Stonezy,, Aerosmith, bluesy feel so to me they were the perfect rock ‘n’ roll band at that time.
I understand that they influenced Guns N’ Roses?
I think what’s really odd is living in Los Angeles during the 80s, bands like Guns N’ Roses and Poison and the LA guns, everybody was influenced by the New York Dolls. For a band that didn’t really sell that many records they sure had a lot of fans. They influenced everybody and once again they were the perfect blend of rock, pop, punk, glam, they really had everything. Johnny Thunders for his inabilities to do what Van Halen could do, what he did do he did great. To me what makes a great guitar player is if you could hear a guitar player play and you know who’s playing…… they have their own identity, and that was Johnny Thunders. I saw Johnny Thunders play many, many times with his Heartbreakers. I can’t really honestly say that they were all really good shows. They were probably kind of messy and hard to understand, but I did see him play quite a bit.
Is there anything else that you might want to add…..?
I think it’s really important that this is not just for the New York Dolls, this is really about Syl. Sylvain to me was the architect of the band. He’s the Malcolm Young, but the band wouldn’t exist without Sylvain Sylvain. Even though Johnny Thunders and David Johansen get all the accolades, Sylvain was very integral in that band. He was an extremely important part. It’s really important that we all recognize his contributions to the band and I think it’s great that musicians like myself, Stephen Perkins, Steve Stevens and Daniel all recognize that. I want to make sure that we all pay our tribute accurately.
Watch Halloween Jack’s cover of “TRASH”, a tribute to the New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain here:
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.