By: Justin Beckner
In the year 2017, Steve Jones is as well-known for being a radio DJ with his own show on Sirius Radio called Jonesy’s Jukebox as he is for being in the Sex Pistols. He is a fun chat, a unique personality and no matter how old he gets to be, a true punk at heart. In the interview that follows Jonesy discusses his plans for a solo record, his released autobiography, Lonely Boy and his guitar style.
Hey man, Justin Beckner here. How’s it going?
This is an internet thing, right? Is not a printed magazine.
Yeah it’s online. Not really many print magazines out there anymore.
Yeah I think that’s a thing of the past. Too much money to make them.
Glad to hear they’re still printing books though, because you’ve got one coming out soon. I just finished reading it.
Where are you calling from?
Is it cold there?
Very cold. I’m sitting outside in my car downtown and the sign on the bank says its 5 below right now.
You should move someplace warmer.
Maybe I’ll move out to L.A. and get a radio show.
Yeah, they’ll give you one. It’s easy.
Why did you move to L.A.?
There was no plan, really. I was in New York with this band, The Professionals and that kind of folded. After that I just decided not to go back to England and I just stayed in New York for a year. So I decided not to go back with the band and just stayed in America for 12 years. After about a year in New York, I just kind of drifted out here to L.A. with this other band called Chequered Past. I came to L.A. prior to that and I always loved the sunshine and the chicks and the openness of it. I guess it was just one of those things that was meant to be.
A lot of musicians gravitate towards L.A. I’ve never been there. There’s got to be something to it.
Yeah, although it’s been changing a lot now in the past three or four years. It’s getting really crowded and really douche-y. There are a lot of douchebags here. It’s unfortunate, because when I first came here in ’84 or ’85, it wasn’t a busy place at all – it wasn’t that crowded. It was almost like it wasn’t a cool place to be. But things change. Things always change. Everything is changing all the time at a faster pace all the time.
What are some of the guitars that have meant the most to you over the years? Do any have sentimental value, or are they just tools of the trade?
None of them really mean anything to me, like you said, they’re tools. I guess one that I used the most was the white Les Paul Custom that came from Sylvain Sylvain. That was probably the one that meant the most to me. Also, there was a Gretsch that came from, funnily enough, Sylvain Sylvain; it then went to Joe Strummer, then to me, and then went to Phil Lynott and it’s in the Lynott Museum in Ireland right now.
In the book you write about learning to play the guitar and, more interesting than that, the role amphetamines played in the process.
I think that was the lifeline for me at that point in time for me because I didn’t have any attention span in school. Anything where I had to learn anything, I just couldn’t focus, so that was the perfect tool for me, especially being flung into guitar all of a sudden and having to get it together pretty quickly. I really don’t think I would have learned in any sort of a timely fashion. I won’t say that I recommend it, but it definitely worked for me at the time.
Did you have anyone help teach you scales or chord shapes or were you just playing along?
I didn’t even know what scales were. I literally just played along to records and just tried to pick it up. That’s the good thing about speed is that you can sit there for hours, literally, and just try to figure stuff out.
What records did you play along to in the early days?
The Faces, the first Queen album, the first New York Dolls album, Funhouse and Raw Power by The Stooges - they were like the main ones that I would play over and over again.
Do you have any plans to work on some new music, either with a band or solo?
I do. I’d like to do another solo album in the near future just for shits and giggles. You know, you don’t make any money these days but I’d like to do it for my own creativity. I definitely want to do one or two more of those before my time is up.
There are so many super groups forming out there, what would be your ideal super group?
John Bonham on drums… Oh man, that’s a tough one. I have a great idea for a record. It’s everyone with that last name Jones. You get Kenny Jones, John Paul Jones, Steve Jones, and Tom Jones.
I’d listen to that record. Some eclectic tastes in there.
I think they ought to have just put us all in a room and seen what we came up with. Keep up with the Jones’. We could even have Mick Jones, both of them, actually, in there as well.
Yeah the Foreigner one and the Clash one.
Being that you’re from L.A. and you have a radio show, are there any new bands out there that you’re excited about?
Yeah I end up listening to a lot of the new stuff because of the radio show. I like Tame Impala, the Shadow Puppets… I like bands like that. I just find them more interesting than the typical metal out there. I’m not really a “metal” guy. What do you listen to?
I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock and country because I was born in the 80’s in the Midwest. The music that was available to us was about 10 years behind everyone on either coast. I grew up in the musical doldrums. It wasn’t until later when I discovered all these great “new” bands that had broken up already.
I thought it was interesting in your book that you don’t really align the Sex Pistols with the punk ethos but rather as a rock and roll band.
Well it all depends whose ethos it is. Some consider the Dead Kennedys to be what punk is. Other people consider what the Sex Pistols were doing to be punk. We were doing what we were doing and we didn’t know if we were meant to be any genre. I don’t know why that always comes up. I can only speak for me, and I was inspired by the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop. To me, more than, anything, that was punk rock. I kind of aspired to play along those lines where the tempos were not too fast. Then the next wave came and it was all sped up. But that had nothing to do with us and everyone turned it around and said, “Oh, the Sex Pistols aren’t punk because this is what punk is like.” So it’s all in the timeframe, really.
You also do a lot of producing and guest appearances on albums, which I only recently found out about. Which of those experiences are you most proud of?
Well, I did enjoy playing on one track on Bob Dylan’s record, even though it’s an average, bullshit song, really. It was a good experience. As many years as I’ve been in the music business, I really haven’t done that much. When you put it all down, it might look like a lot. But the Iggy Pop days were a fantastic time, writing with him for the album Blah Blah Blah and doing the album after that, Instinct where I played all the guitar. That was a real buzz and I enjoyed that immensely. That would be on the top of the list of all the people I’ve collaborated with or worked with.
Most of the time when I interview guitar players, they talk about how they are currently pushing their playing or discussing their technique. You seem to be pretty comfortable with your playing. Have you been trying to learn anything new on guitar? Sweep picking or anything like that?
No. I think them days of learning are gone. When I’m at home I’ve got an acoustic and an electric and I just noodle around. I just do it to come up with tunes, kind of goofing around. I’ve never done scales or tried to become a better guitar player, everyone wants to be better, sure, but I don’t make it a point to practice things to get better if you know what I mean. If I stumble on something, then that’s great but I’m really not one of those guys who sits there for hours trying to get my skills better. I’m not a fan of Yngwie Malmsteen. I’m just not that kind of guitar player. It’s not my cup of tea. My all-time favorite guitar player is Mick Ronson. He’s not ridiculously technical but it’s tasty.
So there will be no shredding on the solo album then?
I don’t understand it. I don’t understand what it is. I guess a lot of people like that, kids like it, whatever. They’re impressed by that; it’s like Chinese to me.
It doesn’t always serve the song. I feel that players like you and James Williamson to name another, have always played to complement the song.
That’s a big part of it. That’s where a lot of guitar players don’t get it. They’re too busy trying to impress people that they’re not even listening to the song they’re playing on. They’re coming from the place of trying to impress someone with how fast they are and they’re missing the point. That’s my opinion, you know.
Describe your playing style in three words...
Soulful. Gritty. Melodic.
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