Sylvain Sylvain RIP
We are sad to hear the news of the death of the New York Doll himself and one of the key architects of rock music, Sylvain Sylvain. John Robb celebrates the Doll…

The driving force behind the New York band, Syl was at the heart of the clothes, swagger, style and thrilling guitar combination that would be such a profound and key influence on punk rock. His Les Paul guitar, which ended up in Steve Jones hands, was the prime primal force in the thrilling noise that the Dolls created that was the primordial spark that ignited a small yet key percentage of UK youth in the early seventies. Especially after that famous 1973 Old Grey Whistle Test appearance which was arguably the first generation gap in rock music. Those that got it went on to form ground breaking bands…

Bands as diverse as the Sex Pistols, Japan (singer Dave Sylvian took his name from Syl), The Clash, The Smiths and so many others took inspiration and DNA from the Dolls who are arguably the purest distillation of rock n roll that ever existed.

And at the heart of the Dolls was Syl.

He had constructed the band built in a precursor called Actress from a gang of droogs that hung around in his clothes shop – creating that shop/style/rock n roll equation that would birth the Pistols a few years later. Born as Sylvain Mizrahi In Cairo, he was the child of an immigrant. He was immersed in UK glam like Trex and understood the rudimentary primal thrill of rock n roll. His face was etched with its raw high decibel beauty and his engine room swagger created the zig zag guitar riff rush that would become punk rock.

Words by John Robb

Photo by Melanie Smith. More work by Mel on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Photography portfolio can be found here

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. In the mid 90’s I produced a retrospective on the New York Dolls with Sylvain in studio on my local cable show LA Stories. Email me if you want a copy.

  2. Saw the Dolls in Cleveland in the 70’s.They put on a hell of a show. They were introduced by Kid Leo of WMMS.Rest in peace Syl.


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