Sex Pistols interview: Steve Jones on punk and 1977
It is customary when celebrating 1977 to emphasize its reputation as the year of punk, which of course it was, but its real impact was far more limited than ideas would suggest. received.
The boost that the tabloid controversy gave to the Sex Pistols and the movement they had largely spawned was significant, but in terms of actual record sales, the impact of damned damned damned, Shockand even Never mind the bullshit…Here come the Sex Pistols was relatively low.
Here, Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones looks like the year punk broke out.
1977: how did it go for you?
Well, I guess it appeared on the outside that we were having a good time. Yeah, that was exciting.
What were your ambitions for the group in 1977?
There was no ambition. I was just laughing. Coming from a shitty upbringing, it was just the perfect outlet for me, which is what I wanted to do as a kid. I remember I was at Banstead Hall, an approved school in the country, and they let us watch top pops. And seeing Roxy Music for the first time do Virginia Plain and Hawkwind doing money machine, I knew that was what I wanted to be. Not for fame or anything, I was just drawn to music at a very young age.
What is your best memory of 1977?
One of the best moments is the Bill Grundy incident. Was it in 1976? Oh, fuck me! You see, what do I know? ’77 was when we were making the album, right? I have fond memories of making the album. When I was doing Never Mind The Bollocks, I put a lot of hours into it. I took it seriously.
How did you feel when the album was initially banned?
We thought, “That’s cool.” Because we cause such a ruckus for nothing, really. I think Malcolm McLaren deserves more credit than he gets. I know he joked about how he did this, that and the other, but he played a big part in it and I think he needs some credit.
What was it like being in the eye of the hurricane?
At first it was very exciting. It just changed the whole game overnight, really. Any group would have cut off their right arm for this to happen to them. I would be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the attention. Everything really changed when Sid [Vicious, bassist] joined, for me. That’s when it got weird and dark and not fun. There was a fun element before Sid joined the band.
What music were you listening to in 1977?
I liked to listen to Boston and Journey. I like classic rock. I think deep down, if I had the choice to listen to music on a desert island, it would be classic 70s rock.
So you were listening to classic rock when you were playing in the Pistols?
Yes of course. I used to come home to my apartment with some pies and heroin and coke – all the rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. I was in heaven.
Did you envy the success of bands like Queen or Fleetwood Mac?
Yeah. Who doesn’t want to be rich? Who doesn’t want a big flash car? But that wasn’t an option for us, because it would have been like, “Oh, you’re a bunch of fake fuckers.”
Did you like any of the other punk bands that were there?
I really liked The Damned. I preferred them to The Clash. I liked their first album. It had a high energy rock ‘n’ roll feel.
Have you attended many concerts?
I frequented [Camden club, now Koko] the music machine. It was great. You would just show up and go to bed.
Was drugs a problem at the time?
I had no problem in 1977. I had fun with drugs and alcohol. He hadn’t gotten to a point where it was a drag. By the end of 1977, that was starting to unravel for the Sex Pistols. It was not a good time towards the end there. The whole dynamic changed with Sid and that goddamn bird [Sid’s girlfriend, Nancy Spungen]. It was dark. I can’t think of another word than that. It was just dark. I didn’t understand what was happening. It was not a fun time for me.
Do you consider the Pistols to be a great group or a notorious group?
I think we were a great group, because I think we played well, even in that reunion. I think we’re a great live band. There’s a chemistry thing going on. On top of all the hype, John’s original lyrics and vocal style at the time, it was totally unique, but still rocking, that’s for sure.
What would the Steve Jones of 1977 think of the Jones of 2012?
He would probably think he was a big, old, pompous jerk. The good thing is that I’m not stuck in 1977. I am who I am and I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve made of myself, considering where I come from.
Looking back, do you think the Sex Pistols changed anything?
Put it this way: what do you think would have happened if we hadn’t come? A lot of people took the music and the imagery in another direction, and that was because of the Sex Pistols.
Are you satisfied with your inheritance?
I did well. I live in Beverly Hills. We will always be one of those bands where the new generation wants to know what happened at a certain time, like the Doors, the Beatles. Even if we only had one album, we will always be those guys.
This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 173, June 2012. Steve Jones’ long-running radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox is available on 99.5 KLOS in Southern California and online everywhere.