Steve Jones formed and powered one of the most influential bands in music history. That simple fact is enough for anyone’s legacy, but the story of how he did it is a living cultural and musical history. He was the driving force behind the Sex Pistols. Not only did Jones, along with school mate Paul Cook, provide the thunderous rhythm section which drove the Pistols songs, but out of desperation, he gave a 200 percent effort to make the Pistols move along.
In his aptly named 2017 autobiography Lonely Boy, Jones set out an astonishing life story. Born in Hammersmith, West London, his first years were spent in a flat opposite the legendary music venue Hammersmith Odeon. Inspired by gigs and records by Roxy Music, Rod Stewart and The Faces and New York Dolls, Jones became a true music original.
It is appropriate that the series Pistol, should be loosely based on his life and adventures. His story chronicles growing up in working class West London in the 1960s without the guidance and supervision that most kids take for granted. He had to be strong to survive and adapt to the jungle of tough streets and unexpected trouble. But he more than survived, he prospered and ultimately his love of music always kept him on the straight and narrow. But there was another side to Jones, the vulnerability—at times his life was both scary and sad.
A life of petty crime, featuring an Olympic streak of kleptomania gave way to rock 'n' roll, co-founding the band The Strand with mates Paul Cook and Wally Nightingale in the early 1970s. That morphed into the Sex Pistols by 1975, with Jones and Cook replacing Wally Nightingale with John Lydon and Glen Matlock.
Jones found parental figures in the band’s manager Malcolm McLaren and his partner and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. The Sex Pistols were formed in their seminal shop known as SEX in Chelsea, London, where Lydon performed an impromptu audition for the position of singer by performing Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” Jones nicknamed Lydon “Johnny Rotten” due to the latter’s teeth, and another cultural phenomenon was born.
Amazingly, Steve Jones had self-taught himself to play guitar in three months after Nightingale left. His visceral guitar style breathed the filth and fury into the Pistols' songs. Equipment was purloined from David Bowie, with Jones using his unique skills to liberate the necessary items from Bowie’s stage at Hammersmith Odeon before the famed, final Ziggy Stardust gig. Jones is “happy even proud to admit to the Bowie heist.” While he stole a lot of musical equipment, the guitar he ended up using was the famous Les Paul that belonged to the New York Dolls.
But Bowie’s loss was the Pistols' gain. They went on to change music, culture and society, rocking the establishment with “God Save the Queen” and Jones shocking the nation by swearing on Bill Grundy’s TV talk show with the jokey sign off, “what a fucking rotter.”
By the band’s end, they had recorded some the most incendiary music ever heard. Never Mind the Bollocks, a U.K. Number One album, is perhaps the most influential debut LP in history, with Jones, who named the album, playing ferocious lead guitar and bass throughout. Rolling Stone reviewer Paul Nelson described Jones’ playing as, “guitars wielded by Jack the Ripper.” While the album went on to sell over a million copies over the years, its legacy is the key. Noel Gallagher called it the “most influential album of all time” and “cannot be bettered.” Kurt Cobain named Nirvana’s debut Nevermind after it.
The band spawned a movement and inspired a new generation of music and visual artists, fashion designers and even entrepreneurs. Steve Jones’ most important legacy might perhaps be that working-class kids can make it big too, transforming Britain’s rigid class system forever.
After the Pistols imploded, Jones and Paul Cook formed The Professionals and over the years, Jones has played with everyone from Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan, released a solo album and formed the Neurotic Outsiders with Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses) and John Taylor (Duran Duran). He has battled addiction too but always returned to music. In later years, Jones flew the flag, not only for the Pistols but new music through his radio show Jonesy’s Jukebox, which became a must attend for anyone involved in contemporary rock music. Guests included Eddie Vedder, Chrissie Hynde, Johnny Ramone, Billy Corgan, Brian Wilson, Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop, Robert Plant and even Cliff Richard.
Jones is one of the most influential guitarists. He set the punk rock blueprint and metal followed. Bands he directly influenced over the last 40 years include Nirvana, Joy Division, Green Day, Guns N’ Roses and many more.
Through his social media and radio show, Steve Jones has remained strangely contemporary and has helped ensure that the Sex Pistols’ flame never went out.