The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Interview with Musician David Johansen

Friday, October 26: 11 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
David Johansen will perform at the 2012 American Music Masters concert honoring to Chuck Berry

Born in Staten Island, David Johansen logged some of his earliest stage experiences while singing in rock and roll dance bands during his high school years, yet his first exposure to the music of Chuck Berry – the Rock Hall's 2012 American Music Masters honoree – came at an early age. "My older brother had a lot of great records, so I guess I was about six when I first heard him," recalled Johansen by email days before the Chuck Berry tribute concert where he'll be performing. "It sounded to me the way things were supposed to be: fun and swinging."

Johansen moved to the East Village after graduating high school, performing with Charles Ludlum's Ridiculous Theater as a spear carrier before joining the fledgling New York Dolls. The Dolls cut two iconic rock and roll records, New York Dolls and Too Much, Too Soon, before disbanding in the mid-seventies. Johansen went on to record six highly acclaimed albums and toured incessantly for the next 10 years. It was during this period, Johansen began singing jump blues, calypso and “Pre-Hayes code rock and roll” under the name Buster Poindexter, in a small saloon in his Gramercy Park neighborhood. With his band sometimes called the Banshees of Blue and sometimes the Spanish Rocketship, he recorded four swinging albums. At the end of the century, he started a band called David Johansen & The Harry Smiths, who recorded two superb albums of early American blues and mountain music. "Well, Chuck has had a huge influence on everything, and I've been influenced by so many things that it would be hard to calculate," wrote Johansen of how Berry has inspired him as a songwriter and performer. "Let's just say it would be a very different world had there been no Chuck Berry."

In 2004, the remaining New York Dolls reunited for a one-off gig in London and have been touring and recording ever since. When not playing with the Dolls, Johansen can be found performing acoustic shows with his old pal and collaborator Brian Koonin on guitar. "Music is one of those things that is very hard to describe – most critics wind up comparing it to something else," wrote Johansen when pushed to describe Berry's music. "I'd just say it's archetypal rock and roll."

New York Dolls' cover of Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA" from the Seven Day Weekend compilation of demos recorded in 1973 (released in 1992)

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