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David Johansen

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David Johansen
Johansen in 2011
Johansen in 2011
Background information
Birth nameDavid Roger Johansen
Also known asBuster Poindexter
Born (1950-01-09) January 9, 1950 (age 74)
New York City, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actor
Years active1968–present
Formerly of
  • (m. 1977; div. 1978)
  • (m. 1983; div. 2011)
  • Mara Hennessey
    (m. 2013)

David Roger Johansen[5] (sometimes spelled David Jo Hansen; born January 9, 1950) is an American singer, songwriter and actor. He is best known as a member of the seminal proto-punk band the New York Dolls. He is also known for his work under the pseudonym Buster Poindexter, and for playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooged.

Early life[edit]

Johansen was born in the New York City borough of Staten Island to a librarian mother, Helen, and an insurance sales representative father, who had previously sung opera.[6][7] His mother was Irish American and his father was Norwegian American.[5]


Johansen (center) and the New York Dolls on TopPop television program, 1973.

Johansen began his career in the late 1960s as the lead singer of the Vagabond Missionaries, a local Staten Island band[8] and later in the early 1970s as the singer/songwriter in the proto-punk band the New York Dolls.[9] The New York Dolls were in the Mercer’s scene, appearing on the bill at a New Year’s Eve 1972 gig with Ruby and the Rednecks.[10] They released two albums, the eponymous New York Dolls (1973) and Too Much Too Soon (1974).[8] The bulk of the material was written by Johansen and guitarist Johnny Thunders. The Dolls were sometimes well received critically, but did not succeed commercially.[8]

In 1975, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan left the band. Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, along with Peter Jordan, Chris Robison, and Tony Machine, continued playing as the New York Dolls until 1976, after which Johansen embarked on a solo career.[9] His first two solo albums, the eponymous David Johansen and In Style, featured several enduring originals.[9] His self-titled album peaked at number 91 in Australia in August 1978.[11] Sylvain Sylvain frequently performed with him, and his band covered many Dolls songs in concert; his live albums Live It Up and The David Johansen Group Live document Johansen's reputation as an exceptional concert performer. The studio releases Here Comes the Night (which includes a signature number, "Heart of Gold") and Sweet Revenge again showcased his strengths as a writer of new material and featured a guest appearance by jazz saxophone player Big Jay McNeely. A number of the songs on Here Comes the Night were co-written with South African musician Blondie Chaplin. In 1982 Johansen was the opening act for The Who at several U.S. East Coast concerts, including Shea Stadium in New York City and Capital Centre near Washington, D.C.

Buster Poindexter[edit]

In the late 1980s, Johansen achieved moderate commercial success under the pseudonym Buster Poindexter,[9] accompanied by The Uptown Horns, performing jump blues, traditional pop, swing, and novelty songs.[2][3] He also appeared as part of the house band on the television program Saturday Night Live. As Poindexter, he scored his first hit song, "Hot Hot Hot",[8] which, in an interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, he called "the bane of my existence" due to its pervasive popularity. "Hot Hot Hot" was initially written and recorded by Montserratian Soca artist Arrow.[9] As Poindexter, Johansen often appeared with his band, The Banshees of Blue. Early Poindexter releases combined an eclectic selection of covers with Johansen's own compositions. Johansen went on to issue Buster's Happy Hour, an album of songs thematically linked by their subject matter: alcohol.[9] It was followed by Buster Poindexter's Spanish Rocket Ship, which focused on salsa and merengue music.[12]


Johansen acted in several films during the 1980s and 1990s, and in 2000,[13] had a brief role on the HBO drama series Oz. He appeared in the television series The Adventures of Pete & Pete in the episode "On Golden Pete", in which he played a park ranger. He appeared in the Muppet Television segment of an episode of The Jim Henson Hour. Among his more prominent roles are that of the wisecracking Ghost of Christmas Past in Scrooged,[9] as well as the part of "Looney" in the movie Let It Ride, playing opposite Richard Dreyfuss. He starred opposite Hulk Hogan and Sherman Hemsley in Mr. Nanny, and co-starred with John C. McGinley in the movie Car 54, Where Are You?, based on the television series. He can be seen in the Jim White documentary film Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus in which he sings a version of Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Words" while in a motel room. He also had a supporting role with Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez in the movie Freejack. He also played Halston (a hired hitman) in the anthology film Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), in the segment "The Cat from Hell". He was also the guest music artist on the Miami Vice episode "The Dutch Oven" (1985) where he sang "King of Babylon".[14] Johansen most recently portrayed the bartender in the Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas. Johansen lent his voice to the villain Ding Dong Daddy in the original Teen Titans animated series in the season 5 episode 9 episode "Revved Up". Johansen's legs appeared in John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1971 film Up Your Legs Forever.[15] He also voiced the Beartaur character in the 2021 Centaurworld animated Netflix television series.

Later solo career[edit]

Johansen performing in Toronto concert, February 18, 2008

Johansen then turned to blues with his group, The Harry Smiths. The group was named as a tribute to Harry Everett Smith, who compiled the Anthology of American Folk Music, several songs of which were covered by the band. Johansen's second album with the Harry Smiths is titled Shaker.

In 2004, Johansen reunited with Sylvain Sylvain and Arthur Kane of the New York Dolls. Owing to the success of the tour, in 2006 the New York Dolls released One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, their first album in nearly thirty years. It was critic Robert Christgau's choice for album of the year.[16] In 2009 the band released Cause I Sez So and in 2011 Dancing Backward in High Heels.

Johansen hosts a weekly show, David Johansen's Mansion of Fun, on Sirius Satellite Radio while continuing to write and perform. Featuring music "from the jungles of Africa to the Bayou of Louisiana, and from Duke Ellington to Phil Spector to Billy Joe Shaver, the show is all over the musical map", the show is free-form and eclectic. As of January 2020, the show airs on channel 710 (stream-only), The Loft.

In October 2007, Johansen participated in "The Staten Island Composers Project", featuring work by three musicians who call the island home: Johansen; Vernon Reid, founder of the '80s rock-metal pioneers Living Colour; and Galt MacDermot, best known as the composer of the musical Hair. The Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island commissioned the program and asked each artist to write 20 minutes of music conveying something of his connection to the island often referred to as New York City's forgotten borough. Johansen's opus, a cinematic and unabashedly romantic Adagio scored mostly for strings, is called "Mara Dreams the Moon Gate of Uncommon Beauty". Inspired by The Moon Gate of Uncommon Beauty, a round portal between two rockscapes in the Chinese Scholar's Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden. In September 2009, he appeared on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, the Travel Channel television program, in which he toured Staten Island with the program's host.

In addition to his own albums, Johansen contributed songs to the soundtracks of the films Times Square and The Aviator ("Flowers of the City" and "Ain't Cha Glad" respectively) and guests on About Them Shoes, a CD by veteran blues man Hubert Sumlin. Another non-album track of his, "Johnsonius", appears on the 1984 compilation A Diamond Hidden in the Mouth of a Corpse and "The Rope (The Let Go Song)", a track originally recorded during the sessions for his eponymous first album, and published on the B-side of the single, "Funky But Chic", a song that was performed by the original New York Dolls before breaking up.

An artist noted for his musical unpredictability and versatility, Johansen has been a consistent blues enthusiast since the earliest days of the Dolls, with covers of songs by Bo Diddley and Sonny Boy Williamson among their earliest numbers. The 2006 Dolls CD Private World : The Complete Early Studio Demos 1972/3 featured the Dolls performing songs by Otis Redding, Gary U.S. Bonds, Chuck Berry, The Shangri-Las, and Muddy Waters, in addition to versions of songs from their two Mercury albums. Also featured on the CD was a previously unreleased Dolls number, "Endless Party".

Johansen has worked consistently with Sylvain Sylvain, drummer Tony Machine (formerly an agent who worked for Leber & Krebs, a member of the New York Dolls in 1975-1976, and a fixture in many David Johansen groups and throughout the Buster Poindexter period) and Brian Koonin, guitarist and banjo player with Buster Poindexter and The Harry Smiths, as well as keyboard player with the New York Dolls for the first reunion engagement and the One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This CD and tour.

In September 2020, Johansen released a cover of "Sinking Ship" by Gypsy as part of the 2020 US presidential election campaign for Joe Biden.[17]

On July 7, 2020, Showtime Documentary Films announced that renowned filmmaker Martin Scorsese would direct a new feature film on Johansen.[18] The Showtime documentary, Personality Crisis: One Night Only, was released on April 14, 2023.[19] Scorsese was joined in the making of the film by his frequent co-director David Tedeschi, and with Johansen, Scorsese was interviewed about the film by MSNBC host, former Congressman Joe Scarborough.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Johansen married the actress Cyrinda Foxe in 1977, but divorced within a year in 1978. From 1983 to 2011, Johansen was married to photographer Kate Simon.

In 2013, Johansen married artist Mara Hennessey.[21]


New York Dolls albums[edit]

David Johansen[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Title Details Peak chart positions
David Johansen 91
In Style
  • Released: 1979
  • Label: Blue Sky
  • Format: LP, cassette
Here Comes the Night
  • Released: 1981
  • Label: Blue Sky
  • Format: LP, cassette
Sweet Revenge
  • Released: 1984
  • Label: Passport
  • Format: LP, CD

Live albums[edit]

Title Details Peak chart positions
The David Johansen Group Live
  • Released: 1978
  • Label: Epic
  • Format: LP, cassette
Live It Up
  • Released: June 1982
  • Label: Blue Sky
  • Format: LP, cassette


Title Year Peak chart positions Album

"Funky But Chic / The Rope (The Let Go Song)" 1978 David Johansen
"Swaheto Woman" 1979 In Style
"Melody / Wreckless Crazy"
"Here Comes the Night" 1981 Here Comes the Night
"Marquesa de Sade / She Loves Strangers"
"Personality Crisis" 1982 Live It Up
"Stranded in the Jungle"
"We Gotta Get Out of this Place / Don't Bring Me Down / It's My Life" 28
"Heard the News" 1984 Sweet Revenge
"King of Babylon" 1985

Buster Poindexter albums[edit]

David Johansen and the Harry Smiths albums[edit]

Video performances[edit]

  • 1979-1990: The Uncle Floyd Show multiple performances as The David Johansen Group or David Johansen and the Banshees of Blue (himself)
  • 1989: Disney MGM Studios Opening special (Performer)
  • 2015: Netflix A Very Murray Christmas (Himself)

Compilation albums[edit]


  1. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "Shaker Review". AllMusic. Retrieved July 27, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Ruhlmann, William. "Buster Poindexter Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved July 27, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Lewis, Randy (April 28, 1994). "Buster Poindexter "Buster's Happy Hour" Forward". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  4. ^ "David Johansen & the Harry Smiths - David Johansen & the Harry Smiths | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic" – via www.allmusic.com.
  5. ^ a b Antonia, Nina (February 2006). The New York Dolls: Too Much Too Soon. Omnibus Press. pp. 23–24. ISBN 1-84449-984-7.
  6. ^ "David Johansen Biography (1950?-)". Filmreference.com. January 9, 1950. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  7. ^ Dougherty, Margot (January 25, 1988). "David Johansen Used to Bare It with the Dolls, but Alter Ego Buster Poindexter Is a Bigger Grin". People. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Indie and New Wave Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 152/3. ISBN 0-85112-579-4.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 676. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  10. ^ "Ruby and the Rednecks at the Mercer Arts Center". Dsps.lib.uiowa.edu. September 3, 2018. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  11. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 158. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  12. ^ Schulman, Sandra (November 11, 1997). "POINDEXTER A MERENGUE CABALLERO". Sun-Sentinel. p. 3E.
  13. ^ "David Johansen". IMDb.
  14. ^ "The Dutch Oven". October 25, 1985 – via www.imdb.com.
  15. ^ Jonathan Cott (July 16, 2013). Days That I'll Remember: Spending Time With John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Omnibus Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-78323-048-8.
  16. ^ "2006: Dean's List". Robert Christgau. February 14, 2007. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  17. ^ "David Johansen covers "Sinking Ship"". Punknews.org. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  18. ^ Shaffer, Claire (July 7, 2020). "Martin Scorsese to Direct Documentary on New York Dolls' David Johansen". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  19. ^ 11 Big Reveals From Scorsese's David Johansen Doc 'Personality Crisis', Rolling Stone, Kory Grow, April 14, 2023. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  20. ^ New York Dolls legend David Johansen on his life and legacy, Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough, April 14, 2023. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
  21. ^ Christgau, Robert (2018). Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017. Duke University Press. ISBN 9781478002079. Retrieved April 15, 2020 – via Google Books.
  22. ^ a b "David Johansen Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved June 29, 2024.
  23. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 158. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  24. ^ "David Johansen Chart History (Mainstream Rock Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved June 29, 2024.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]