Just nine months after the death of figurehead guitarist Johnny Thunders ( April 1991), a third New York Doll was to go unexpectedly. An avid rock ‘n’ roll fan as a kid, Jerry Nolan was taught drums by a serviceman (his father was in the military), going on to play with a varied array of acts that included Cradle (featuring a pre-UK-success Suzi Quatro) and transsexual schlock artiste Wayne County.
Finally, the death by misadventure of sticksman Billy Murcia ( November 1972) – who had been using Nolan’s kit – created an opening for him within the US’s most talked-about glam act, The New York Dolls. Nolan was in the chair as The Dolls were signed to Mercury in March 1973, his distinctive powerhouse drumming pulling their two albums above the mundane, but it was all about attitude with this group – and Nolan possessed it in spades.
Although the sound of the band was liberating, they did not shift units as anticipated, soon finding themselves dropped by the label and under Malcolm McLaren’s charge by 1974. The band’s image-change under the future Sex Pistols manager – to Red Chinese-styled leather garb – was not to Nolan or Thunders’s taste, and the pair cut loose from singer David Johansen and guitarist Syl Sylvain during a 1975 tour of Japan.
The departing twosome formed possibly the druggiest of all protopunk bands, The Heartbreakers. With this classic group, Nolan and Thunders opened for The Sex Pistols (at the time of his death ( February 1979), Sid Vicious had been living at Nolan’s apartment) and cut a great debut in "L.A.M.F." (1977) – but they had always had a love-hate relationship and split the year after.
Nolan nonetheless crossed paths many times with the guitarist in his subsequent work, and he was visibly shattered by Thunders’s death. Nolan was already unwell and receiving treatment for bacterial meningitis by the time he played his last gig, a tribute to Thunders, late in 1991. Suffering a stroke, the drummer fell into a coma, spending his final weeks on life support.
The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars - Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 244
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