Why Steve Jones Was The Coolest Sex Pistol
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are those who will argue until the end of time that the Sex Pistols invented punk rock. Hate to break it to you, but they didn’t. One only has to look at the date on The Stooges’ eponymous debut album (1969) to see that it was alive and well long before the Pistols, and that due credit should probably go to a fella named Iggy Pop.
Having said that, there is little doubt that it was the Sex Pistols who dragged punk rock kicking and screaming into the public consciousness, with their appearance on the Today show, on December 1, 1976, lighting a fuse that saw the genre explode across the world. Or, to be more precise, it was guitarist Steve Jones who lit the fuse, and – in celebration of his 65th birthday – perhaps it’s time we finally recognised him as the coolest Pistol.
To recap, in case you’ve been living under a rock and have never seen this glorious moment in live TV history: the Sex Pistols were last-minute replacements for EMI labelmates Queen, and it was clear from the off that the show’s host Bill Grundy wasn’t a fan. Referring to them as “that band”, he began by questioning their “anti-materialistic view of life” in light of the fact that they’d received £40,000 from their record company.
“We fucking spent it, ain’t we,” Steve retorted, dropping his first F‑bomb just 35 seconds into the interview.
Apparently, this went unnoticed by the host, but Bill Grundy continued to poke at the band, before turning to their entourage – including Siouxsie Sioux of the Banshees – whom he appeared to be attempting to hit on, suggesting that they meet after the show.
“You dirty sod!” quipped Steve. “You dirty old man!”
At which point Bill goaded him to “say something outrageous”, to which our hero responded by calling the host a “dirty bastard”, a “dirty fucker”, and in a moment of sheer comedy genius, a “fucking rotter!” Cue end credits. Cue national headlines. The filth and the fury! And now, for better or worse, everyone knew about this thing called punk rock.
But while Steve has stated that the Bill Grundy show was “the beginning of the end” for the band, later regretting the incident that caused all but three of the 27 Anarchy In The UK tour dates to be cancelled, it’s not just swearing on the telly and making punk a household name that we should be thankful to him for.
Granted, the Sex Pistols would have been nothing without the snarling vitriol of frontman Johnny Rotten (named by Steve on account of his poor dental hygiene), the powerhouse drumming of Paul Cook, or the songwriting skills of bassist Glen Matlock, but imagine the classic Never Mind The Bollocks (also named by Steve) with another guitarist, any other guitarist, and it would be, well, bollocks. As studio engineer Bill Price put it, “Steve Jones was, and still is, about the tightest lead guitarist I’ve ever heard in my life.” Incidentally, Steve he played bass on the album due to Glen’s replacement Sid Vicious being in hospital (not to mention being a shit bassist).
Not bad for a self-taught guitarist, alleged to have been playing for just three months before forming the band, on equipment he’d stolen from the back of a truck at Hammersmith Odeon when David Bowie was performing.
But, hey, we were making the case for Steve Jones being the coolest Sex Pistol, and perhaps that comes with the benefit of hindsight. Certainly, he had some stiff competition: Johnny Rotten was the voice of the band, acerbic and outspoken, while Sid Vicious was the cartoon punk, his attitude making up for his lack of ability. They both looked the part. Paul Cook was the cute, quiet one at the back. Steve, meanwhile, had a dodgy-looking perm and a hankie on his head. He was known, rather unfairly, as Fatty Jones, because he wasn’t rake-thin, like the majority of punks.
The Pistols imploded in San Francisco, in January 1978, and amongst other things Steve formed The Professionals with Paul, before eventually ending up in LA, addicted to heroin and generally wasting his talent on the Sunset Strip’s glam rock scene. Sure, he did some great stuff with Iggy Pop, providing guitar on the much underrated Instinct album, but for every hit their were numerous misses. A couple of mediocre solo albums didn’t help. He described himself at the time as “a lost soul”, strung out and unhappy.
So maybe it’s not what he was but what he became that made Steve Jones so cool. Clean of drugs and booze for over 20 years, he began hosting the brilliant radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox in 2004, playing whatever the hell he wanted – from punk to disco – and interviewing everyone from Gary Oldman and Ray Winstone to Josh Homme and Cliff Richard, often in the most hilarious fashion. That he spends much of his time giggling and talking in Cockney rhyming slang (on a show based in LA) just makes it all the more amusing.
While Johnny Rotten became a belligerent caricature, obnoxious for the sake of it, Steve Jones became, in a way, our favourite uncle, refreshingly honest and unassuming. Still not giving a fuck, but caring.
His warts’n’all autobiography, Lonely Boy, is a must-have, not just for the true story of the Sex Pistols, but for its tale of redemption – from a terrible upbringing as an abused child to a contented life in the LA sunshine. He still rides his Harley to work, and although he doesn’t play guitar much these days – aside from acoustic on his often hysterically funny Instagram page – he makes it count when he does. He played Lemmy’s 70th birthday party in 2015. Enough said.
Directly influencing everyone from Nirvana and Soundgarden to Discharge, The Clash, Joy Division, Oasis, Green Day, Guns N’ Roses – well, it’s probably easier to name the bands he didn’t influence – Jonesy probably never expected to live this long. But we’re glad he did. Happy birthday, sir!
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