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Steve Jones - Getting High Was Pretty Much My Ambition

Steve Jones on the Sex Pistols, making a new life in LA, airing AOR and why he's still got time for Cliff Richard

Thirty years ago, with the Sex Pistols at their height, you would have gotten good odds on the idea that their guitarist would move to Los Angeles, and eventually become a cult radio DJ, playing classic rock favourites like Boston and Journey, and having Cliff Richard as a guest. But it's all happened to Steve Jones, and more....

**How did you end up in LA? That move seems the key to so much else in your life. **

I’ve been here almost 27 years now. I just kind of drifted through it once, and loved it from the minute I came here. When I first came here, some girl took me to a drive-in movie and we were smokin’ a big old doobie in a Cadillac convertible and I just fell in love with it from that moment. But it’s changed a lot. Some of the great landmarks have gone, which is a shame.

What were your post-Pistols ambitions?

I didn’t have any. Gettin’ high was pretty much my ambition. I wasn’t really happy.

**Was there a sense that the band may have been a high-water mark in your life? **

I wasn’t even thinking about that, really. I’d had enough after we played our last show in San Francisco and I said: “I quit”. Ten years later I regretted making that decision. But I was so miserable at the time. It didn’t have anything to do with the band, which is what I thought it was. I was just not a happy camper. I thought I was havin’ a good time, and I was. I was having loads of sex and doing loads of drugs.

What turned it around for you?

I’d pretty much lost everything, and I was too much of a pussy to kill myself [chuckles]. Who knows? Everyone’s got their path set for them.

Well, there’s a philosophy for you.

Everything just happens the way it’s supposed to happen. I believe that. I don’t believe there’s a god, like a Father Christmas character up in the clouds, but things do happen for a reason.

**How do you feel about the upcoming Sex Pistols anniversary shows in Brixton? **

I’m excited. It breaks it up, a change – and I never thought I’d say this – from having a regular job [as a DJ]. And it’s a great job. But having a change, going to play some rock’n’roll, is a good thing.

And you don’t have to worry about coming up with a new album.

Though I’d like to. [But] John’s not big on doing that.

**Yet he’s fine essentially selling 30-year-old punk nostalgia, which seems even weirder. **

People say: “Do a new album!”. But when you do a new album and they come and see you live, all they really wanna hear is the stuff they know.

Your radio show has an element of surprise that’s virtually extinct elsewhere in radio.

I did play Journey this morning. I don’t know if that was a surprise.

And you played a lot of Boston early on – much to the distress of a few listeners.

And they were hatin’ it, yeah.

Yet there doesn’t seem an ounce of intentional irony in any of it.

I’m not saying I like Boston just to be ‘different’, I’ve always said I liked them, even when I was in the Pistols. I didn’t tell too many back then that I liked Boston, but I did. And I loved Journey, too.

Do you consciously try to break down barriers on your show?

Now and again maybe. Most of the time I just kinda pick a bunch of stuff I feel like hearing that day. I don’t know how it works. I just kind of do me thing and people seem to like it, which is great. Some of the stuff is what pops into my head that I remember as a kid. I don’t know. It’s just my taste in music and stuff that I like.

Or a guest like Cliff Richard, who Americans only remember for his fluke 70s US hit **_Devil Woman_, not for being Britain’s answer to Elvis..**.

Having him on the show was definitely one of the highlights for me. That was ridiculous for me. 'Cos he was one of them ones from the 50s, I guess. But I loved all that stuff.  

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What was the first music you remember hearing as a child?

Something that really had an effect on me was the guy that lived next door to me in Shepherd’s Bush. I was nine or 10 at the time and he was 15 or 16, and I would hang out with him. He had a single of Purple Haze and would play it on his little record player. And I kept saying: “Play that again, please. Play that again!”. I was obsessed with it.

Being from Shepherd’s Bush, were The Who sort of neighbourhood heroes to you?

Not really. I was too young to grasp The Who. But I was at their last show with Keith Moon. It was a great, great show!

Did Pete Townshend have an effect on you? Your sound struck me as Townshend’s tone tempered by Mick Ronson’s economy.

Mick Ronson was definitely a big influence. Growing up, I was a mad Bowie fan, with the glam and all that. And The Faces. Pete Townshend was definitely an influence, but not as much as Mick Ronson and Ronnie Wood. The Faces were my band. And Roxy Music. Them three bands were my favourites. I’d go and see them everywhere.

Did the Pistols seem like a logical extension of that history? The hype was that you were consciously destroying it.

To me it was like the next step. The New York Dolls were an influence on me as well. I saw the New York Dolls opening up for The Faces, and I thought: “Wow, these guys are wild!”. I’d never seen anything like it.

When did you first pick up the guitar?

Actually, it was three months before we did our first gig.

That’s still hard to believe.

But it’s true. I was the singer and I didn’t like it. So we auditioned singers, and we got John and I got slung in the deep end on the guitar. And it was about a year after that that we recorded Never Mind The Bollocks. So I’d literally been playing about a year.

What influenced your playing initially?

Ronnie Wood. I wanted to be like him, sound like him. But obviously it didn’t come out that way. But what did come out was me own sound.

Would you rather be remembered for the Pistols, or your radio show?

Both would be nice. And if not, it doesn’t matter. I’m having fun right now.


This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #114.

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