Steve Jones on 40 years of the Sex Pistols' landmark album

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Sex Pistols in 1977
The Sex Pistols playing live in Copenhagen on July 27, 1977. From left to right; Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones. (Keystone Features/Getty Images)
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Mary Lucia interview Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols
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On Oct. 28, 1977, the Sex Pistols released their one and only studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Forty years after its release, Mary Lucia interviewed Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.

Jones lives in California, where he hosts his own radio program, Jonesy's Jukebox. In his conversation with Mary Lucia, Jones reflects on his time in the Sex Pistols and their legacy, the longevity of their singular album, and about his more recent work as a radio host.

Here is a transcript of the conversation, which can be listened to using the audio player above.

MARY LUCIA: Tell me this now, because here we are now looking at the 40th anniversary of Never Mind the Bollocks. Could you possibly have imagined 40 years ago this record would have the impact a and the longevity that it clearly has.

STEVE JONES: I think you'd have to be Nostradamus to know that answer. When I was 20, I didn't even know what was going on the next day.

MARY LUCIA: I can't name another band with one record that still has the kind of power, influence and stranglehold on rock and roll.

STEVE JONES: I think someone should submit it to the Guinness Book of World Records to be honest with you. I mean, we didn't even plan to crash and burn, it was just the way it was. If we didn't do the Bill Grundy show [Thames Television's Today program, broadcast in London in the 1970s] where we swore on TV, things could have been a lot of different. That set us into a different direction which kind of threw us in the deep end, and I just think it was hard for 19, 20-year-old dudes who had never really done much prior to that to hold it together, you know?

The Sex Pistols on the Today program with Bill Grundy, 1976; note: language advisory

MARY LUCIA: Do you have a favorite track on Never Mind the Bollocks that you feel has perhaps stood the test of time more than any other?

STEVE JONES: Well, of course, there's the classics: "Anarchy in the U.K.," "God Save the Queen," "Pretty Vacant." I like "E.M.I.," I like "Bodies," I like "No Feelings." I'd still rather play them than the classics; I'm over the singles. I like the other stuff. But, you know, that's me.

MARY LUCIA: If you think about the power one record can have over people — for example, the Manson family adapted the White Album to base their entire cult on — if you had to choose an album that you would like to start your own cult based on, which record would you choose?

STEVE JONES: Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure, their second album.

MARY LUCIA: I like it. What would be some of the ground rules for your cult?

STEVE JONES: I have to have all the sex from everybody. And the dudes must just go and bring me pizza.

MARY LUCIA: I want to talk a little bit about your book, too, which is now coming out in paperback, Lonely Boy. Do you have to do the whole shtick again, the book tour, for a paperback release?

STEVE JONES: I don't think so. I mean, I did the whole shtick thing the first time around. I went to New York and did every Tom, Dick and Harry show and all the rest of it, which was fine. I don't know if the fire's still burning, but I'll tell you one thing that is interesting right now, I did the audio for the book, and it won some award here. I don't know what the award was, I haven't read it yet, but I got the certificate. But it has allowed me to put a nomination in for a Grammy. So that's what I'm kind of pushing now.

MARY LUCIA: How did you find doing the voiceover for it? Was it tedious?

STEVE JONES:: It was a nightmare. I didn't realize. I thought, "I do radio, I'll breeze through this." It was the most annoying, angry, wanted-to-kill-myself thing I've ever done.

MARY LUCIA: Even though, this is really a biography about you and delves into your growing up and the things you struggled with, but do you feel like you were able to set the record straight on some things concerning the Pistols?

STEVE JONES: I mean, everything I've said is my truth and how I saw things. I guess I could have gone a bit deeper, but I didn't want to piss anybody off. So I did it as gentlemanly as possible.

MARY LUCIA: That is a concern if you're writing a truthful biography about what happened and who was there. Some people are going to get a little bit smeared. I mean, that almost seems inevitable.

STEVE JONES: Yeah, but it is what it is. I mean, that's the juicy bits. That's what people read biographies for. They want to hear what's never been spoken before. I mean, I know people that was on the outside and they think their version is what it was, and they don't even know half of it. Everyone kind of takes it upon himself. Malcolm McLaren, for instance; I mean, a lot of his things were just out and out bull****, and I don't think that should be the bible of the Sex Pistols, you know? So that's really all I can do.

MARY LUCIA:: Certainly, I think Malcolm's version of this was all a creation of his, and obviously I think most people who truly are music fans and have read books and seen things and talked to people realize there is a fabrication and sort of a theater in that version. Hearing yours is a little bit more true to the bone, but when you were booked for your first U.S. tour, and booked into places that were maybe not the most friendly for the music that was happening at the time, were you guys all aware of that ? Were you kind of in on it?

STEVE JONES: No. That was all McLaren's doing, and in hindsight, I think it was the right thing to do. He wanted to separate us from all the bands that do the normal New York, L.A., blah blah blah. I thought that was a good move.

At the time, I didn't know what was the big cities, the normal cities. I just thought of it as America: big cars and big billboards and blah blah blah. It was no fun doing it at the time, obviously; it was just a big fiasco, and I think that, as well, led to the split of the band.

I've got to point out, I think I say it in the book: I was the one wanted to run away from it all. John [Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten] didn't. Sid [Vicious] didn't. Cookie [drummer Paul Cook], he kind of follows me; we were close. But I think I've got to take responsibility for the one who wanted to bail.

MARY LUCIA: Had you been harboring this feeling for a while, or was it just like, "OK, this is enough" when you were in the U.S., and then you wanted to make that break?

STEVE JONES: Like most bands, it all starts out good before you get any success. It was fun. We were just kind of creating, playing shows, picking up fans, and it was great. And then the Grundy thing, coming to America, then it all went to some place I wasn't familiar with. And it wasn't a good feeling. It was an uncomfortable feeling. It became a joke. No one really gave a hoot about the music. They were just there for the circus. And it was just a drag, and I just didn't like it. My MO is to run, as opposed to working it out and figuring it out. When I don't like something, I walk away, whether that's good or bad, you know?

MARY LUCIA: Is it curious you ended up moving to the States and now reside in California.

STEVE JONES: Yeah, I've been here 35 years.

MARY LUCIA: Obviously the U.S. didn't leave a horrific taste in your mouth that you thought, "I'll go back there; I'll give it a whirl."

STEVE JONES: I loved it when I came back by myself. Especially California: the sun, the sea, everything about it I loved. To me, coming from London, a dreary, damp, horrible place — that's what I remember, growing up in my teens. Music was the only thing that kind of saved me, going to see bands and stuff. I wanted to be in a band. But I still don't like going back there.

MARY LUCIA: You had a love for a band that I absolutely still to this day love, and that is the Faces.

STEVE JONES: Yeah!

MARY LUCIA: They just looked like they were having fun. Sometimes that was it. And sometimes that's enough.

STEVE JONES: For me, that's a big part of it. I mean, why are you doing it if you're not having fun? Now, you don't have to be onstage smiling and wearing clowns' outfits, but you've got to be digging it, and people who are watching pick up on whatever you're putting out.

Steve Jones performing in Hollywood in 2008
 

MARY LUCIA: You said in your book, too, that you never really had any identification with some of the New York punk bands or the Johnny Thunders of the world, but you did admire Johnny Thunders' playing.

STEVE JONES: Of course, I loved Johnny Thunders when he was in the New York Dolls, even the Heartbreakers. And the Ramones, and the Stooges — obviously, they weren't from New York — but I love them bands. They were great.

It's just one of them myths, that New York created punk rock. And it was two completely different things that were going on at the time.

MARY LUCIA: Can you imagine, though, what if you had been in the Clash instead of the Pistols?

STEVE JONES: Well, they didn't last long, either. I mean, they did a few more albums, but they hated each other, too.

MARY LUCIA: Tell me a little bit about how you got started doing Jonesy's Jukebox. Did somebody approach you and say, "You are the perfect person to be on the radio playing whatever you want"?

STEVE JONES: It was a fluke. It was a fluke. Around 2003, 2004, this new station started in L.A., a tiny little signal; it was "Indie 103.1" they called it. And I'd been listening to it, and I'm like, "This is great; there's no commercials."

And then I got a phone call. He was a radio-promotion guy. He knew the program director, Michael Steele, and he said, "We're doing this new station." And I said, "I know, it's great! I love it! I want to be a DJ!" That's all I said, and I don't know where it came from.

And I said, "The only stipulation is you let me play what I want to play and say what I want to say." They were like, "OK, fine."

So I started out four days a week, Tuesday to Friday, one hour a day, and I was just a bumbling idiot. I didn't know what I was doing. And lo and behold, people started digging it. It was getting popular where it turned into two hours a day, five days a week. And it became a thing, and it became a thing because the whole thing was organic and new; this whole indie station only just started, and I basically started a few weeks after that. So it all grew from an organic fluke, if you will; because if I went into any station at the time, KROQ or anybody, KLOS, and said, "Listen, I've got this idea: I want to be DJ, I'm going to be a bumbling idiot and play a bunch of songs, I'm going to fart and burp, can you give me a job?" It would never have happened, you know what I mean? It was one of them flukes. That lasted five years, then I went to KROQ for five years on a Sunday night, playing new music. And now I've been KLOS for almost two years now, five days a week, Jonesy's Jukebox. It's the same concept, just different stations.

Steve Jones performing in Hollywood in 2008
Steve Jones performing in Hollyood, Calif., in 2008. Kevin Baldes (CC BY 2.0)

MARY LUCIA: Have you had any time to, since you included "things that are not rock and roll" in your book Lonley Boy, I'm sure you've been able to add things to that list: bald rock and roll players, selfies are not rock and roll. Have you thought of any new things you could add to that list?

STEVE JONES: They always pop into my head and I always forget them. I've got to learn to write them down or put them on my Notes on my iPhone. But that's an endless supply of crap you can use. Did I say sandals?

MARY LUCIA: Sandals! Because I was going to piggyback on that and say, "Anyone who wears shorts."

STEVE JONES: Shorts and sandals!

MARY LUCIA: Shorts and sandals. That's a complete no.

STEVE JONES: With socks.

MARY LUCIA: Oh yeah. No. That's not right.

STEVE JONES: That's definitely the other end of rock and roll.

MARY LUCIA: I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. Again, 40th anniversary of Never Mind the Bollocks. I'm a radio DJ, and any time I play a track off of that record, I can't even tell you, it just leaps through the speaker amongst everything — and there's some really good stuff that we play — but it still stands out. So huge, huge thank you for making that record. It's been part of so many of our lives. It will, I think, go on another 40 years.

STEVE JONES: Thanks for your liking the album, I appreciate it. And thanks for taking this phone call.

Resources


The Sex Pistols - official website

Jonesy's Jukebox - official site

Lonely Boy: Tales of a Sex Pistol by Steve Jones - Amazon

The Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks - collectors' edition; Amazon

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