Best known for his tenure fronting the hugely influential New York Dolls, David Johansen was a true chameleon; throughout the course of a career which saw him transform from a lipstick-smeared proto-punk hero into an urbane blue-eyed soul man and finally into a tuxedo-clad lounge lizard, he remained a rock & roll original, an unpredictable iconoclast and a true cultural innovator. Born January 9, 1950, in Staten Island, NY, Johansen joined his first band, the Vagabond Missionaries, in his mid-teens. A tenure with Fast Eddie & the Electric Japs, as well as an attempt to mount a career as a theatrical actor, followed before a club-hopping Johansen met bassist Arthur Kane, who extended an invitation to join his band, Actress. After changing their name to the New York Dolls, the group began building a notorious reputation for their menacing, edgy music, drug-fueled lifestyle, and outrageously campy, drag queen-inspired glam image; although neither their eponymous 1973 debut nor 1974's Too Much Too Soon even cracked the Top 100, the Dolls established an enduring cult following, and their influence on the rise of punk was unmistakable.
The Dolls officially broke up in 1975, although Johansen and guitarist Syl Sylvain continued performing under the group's name for two more years. Finally, in 1977, Johansen entered the recording studio with his support group, the Staten Island Boys, to cut his self-titled solo debut; while it sold no better than the Dolls' records, it did renew the critics' love affair with the singer and his gritty, soulful voice. With producer Mick Ronson, he returned in 1979 with the Motown-influenced In Style, followed in 1981 by the commercial-minded Here Comes the Night. While 1982's concert set Live It Up won some airplay for its medley of the Animals hits "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," "It's My Life," and "Don't Bring Me Down," Johansen was forced to reassess his career when 1984's dance-flavored Sweet Revenge tanked. At the end of 1984 he resurfaced in the pompadoured guise of Buster Poindexter, a supposed ethnomusicologist armed with an expansive knowledge of R&B chestnuts. After debuting the Buster character at a series of mid-'80s downtown New York loft gigs with the Uptown Horns, Johansen continued honing the identity in the piano bars of Manhattan, establishing a lounge swinger persona which predated the lounge-kitsch revival of the mid-'90s by a decade.
As Poindexter's popularity grew, he began fronting a large band dubbed the Banshees in Blue and building a devoted following on the New York club circuit. In 1987, he issued an LP, Buster Poindexter, which featured the party classic "Hot Hot Hot," an effervescent cover of an obscure 1984 soca hit. In addition to reviving Johansen's career as a musical performer, Buster also renewed his long-dormant acting bug, and he was tapped to co-star in the 1988 features Married to the Mob and Scrooged. The character remained Johansen's focus in subsequent years as well, as evidenced by the albums Buster Goes Berserk in 1989 and Buster's Happy Hour in 1994. He maintained a relatively low profile in the years prior to the spring 2000 release of David Johansen & the Harry Smiths.