Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones would be an enduring punk icon no matter what, such is the influence and impact of his legendary band. But the yin to Johnny Rotten's yang has earned respect over the years simply for being himself: the cool, funny and decidedly less intense Pistol, who's made some smart creative choices since the band broke up so many years ago. Acting roles, supergroups and his popular radio show Jonesy's Jukebox, which began on defunct Indie 103.1 FM and now is one of KLOS 95.5 FM's most popular programs, have kept Jonesy in the spotlight and made him much beloved among fans of all music, not just punk rock.
Also: See below for our Facebook Live session with Steve Jones
His latest endeavor, an autobiography entitled Lonely Boy: Tales From a Sex Pistol, pulls no punches in recalling his abusive childhood, the drug-fueled debauchery of his teen years and the formation of his infamous band. We spoke with him about it all, and even talked a little politics, too.
What made you want to write this book?
I wanted to get my two cents across. Everyone else in the book, especially John, he’s kind of the mouthpiece, and everyone’s heard his side of the story, and I felt no one ever hears my deal, and I don’t want to be left behind. I’ve wanted to do a book for many years. It just never seemed right; it never fell into place. But the book people found a good ghostwriter. It was all kind of painless. It felt right. Some people think I did it to coincide with the 40th year of punk, which is not the case.
Johnny is obviously known as being very vocal. Did you feel like there were things you wanted to dispel that he’s said, or was it just more about your general perspective?
Yeah, it’s more about my side of it. The main thing, a lot of [the book] for me is from when I was born till when the Sex Pistols started. I think that’s the interesting thing in the book. No one really knows what my upbringing was like to make me want to start a band in the first place. That to me is the meat and potatoes in it.
That’s true, and you were very honest and revealing. I was wondering if was it difficult to remember that part of it, or any part of the book, and if it was also difficult for you to relive the abuse stuff from your childhood?
It’s not [like] all that stuff was new. I’ve spoke about it with other people, the abuse and all that, and all that weird stuff when I was a confused teenager is not new. Then I thought, there’s too many biographies that seem to be sugarcoated, and I just wanted to have it all out there. The response from it is good, so I think I made the right decision.
Right. Was there a point, though, when you questioned whether or not you wanted to go there with some of that material?
I thought about it, but then the thought of having it out there was more important than hiding it.
So you feel like your upbringing was directly responsible for bringing you to punk rock, or might you have embraced it anyway?
No, I think that if I would have had a good upbringing, like I did for the first six years with my grandmother, who was very nurturing and loving, I think if that would have continued it’d be different. I know music’s in my blood, so there’s a big chance I would have been in a band, but it would probably have been a band like Bread or something.
You had a lot of crazy stories and adventures. What about that part of it? Just simply remembering — was that difficult?
A lot of it I remembered. Some of it I had to go over it with other people, like Cookie [Paul Cook], the drummer in the Pistols, his memory on some things is better than mine, and a couple of other people ... and just fact-checking some of the stuff. But I remember quite a lot, considering the amount of drugs I used to do.
The Sex Pistols weren’t around for that long, only released the one record, but the shows were pretty historic. You surely remember them.
Yeah, I remember some of them, the early ones, but there are some I have completely no recollection [of]. When someone says, “Do you remember this show?” I have no idea. I used to drink a lot, and I used to black out when I was drinking, but I remember quite a lot of the early shows. To be honest with you we really didn’t do that many shows before we broke up in San Francisco. Before that, I think we did, like, 50 or 60 shows. That was about it.
Anybody who was at any of those shows looks back on them as very big deals … maybe that’s why it seems like it’s more, because they were so impactful to people.
The big show in Manchester where supposedly where so many bands were formed …
That’s right. What were the bands?
The Smiths, Joy Division, I don’t know. There was another one, I think, I can’t remember.
It’s amazing to think how that one show had so much influence.
Yeah, yeah, I think The Beatles started from there, too.
Ha ha! So how do you feel about Johnny’s books?
Yeah, he’s done two books. No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs was his first one, and he had another one not so long ago called Anger Is an Energy.
Did you read them? Did you feel like there was anything you wanted to set the record straight with?
No. I don’t read books. The only book I’ve really ever read was mine, because I had to make sure that it was all written down right.
I’m sure you heard things, though. I’m sure you were curious to know what he said about you.
He always says things about me, but I just take it with a grain of salt. There was a point where I guess I thought it was a bit below the belt, some things, but I just know that that’s what we do. I really couldn’t care less what he says about me anymore. Honestly, it doesn’t mean anything anymore because I know who he is.
What do you think he will feel about what you said about him in your book?
I don’t know. I don’t think I was that bad. I don’t know.
Clearly you guys aren’t buddies or even talk these days, right?
No, we don’t talk. It’s like a divorce. The same concept.
What about your recollections about Malcolm [McLaren]? What would he have thought about this book if he was still alive?
He’s a maniac. I don’t know what he would have thought. I think he’d only go to the places where I’m talking about him in the book, which is what anyone does anyway.
Did the book change your perspective on anyone — Johnny, Malcom, Sid [Vicious] — and the way you reflect back on that time?
No. I have a soft spot for Malcolm McLaren, and I’ve also got fondness from the early days. And the original band is still alive: me, Glen Matlock and John. We’ve all got our hair still. ... I’ve got no problems. But I don’t know if we’re ever going to play again. Maybe if we get a shitload of money. We get offered more money as time goes on. To me, it’s just a pain in the ass.
Well, I was going to ask you that very question! You know, Sex Pistols have been thrown around talking about Desert Trip, when people were thinking of iconic bands with most of the members still alive. Would that be something you’d consider?
Like I said, it would depend on how much would be put on the table. If it were a couple hundred grand split four ways, after you pay tax and interest and all that, no, it wouldn’t be.
I like your honesty, and it’s true, especially if you guys aren’t getting along. To really get back together on that level, I would think it would have to be worth your while.
Do you think The Rolling Stones would do it if it wasn’t worth their while?
Well, it’s not like they don’t have enough money already. I think they do it because they love it!
Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right.
You do really think I’m right? You’re not being sarcastic?
No. I think they do love it. I think that’s what they do, and they put up with each other. We can’t put up with each other. That’s the problem with the Sex Pistols. There’s this breakdown where we can’t just, “OK, we’re going to go on the road. Let’s be nice to each other and get through this.” It doesn’t work like that with us. That’s the difference between us and other big bands, like the Stones and U2 or whoever else is on the ticket there. It’s a real shame.
It is a shame. You’re all very strong personalities. Sometimes I feel like that tension is what makes the live performances so great, though.
It is, it is.
So I guess what you’re saying is it would be a big deal, but you’re not 100 percent ruling another reunion out, right?
No, I’m not ruling anything out. Anything can change, you know? But it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards, the way it’s going. But maybe they’re going to read your interview ...
Yes, and offer you a million dollars!
Yeah. A million, and I’ll divvy it up with the others.
I want to talk a little bit about your sobriety. I think it’s really relevant because you’ve inspired a lot of other rockers to get clean.
I assume so.
Well, it’s good if I did, but that ain’t my goal. I just say, “If you want to drink, drink until you’ve had enough.” I’m not a preacher by any means. Because I’ve had my fun. I don’t go around telling everyone else they’ve got to clean their acts up. That’s where I come from. There’s people who get inspired by the fact that I got it together after so many years of being out of control, and that’s great.
That is great. Do you feel like, in a way, the book, because of what you’ve been through and where you’re at now, is sort of a cautionary tale against drugs and alcohol?
No. I think people are going to do what they want to do. I can only speak for myself, but it don’t matter what anyone would have told me when I was 15, 16, 20 years old. I wouldn’t have listened to anybody. In fact I didn’t, even knowing that Sid was doing smack and died, that had no effect on me wanting to stop doing it.
Right, right. You just had to hit your own bottom, I guess.
Yes. That’s how it goes. That’s how it works.
In regard to the Sex Pistols’ legacy, what do you think is the most important thing at this point?
I think the album, Never Mind the Bollocks, is basically the main thing to me. That album, the one album that still resonates with a lot of people and still kind of stands up. The fact that it is just one album and the impact then and 40 years later, that’s the legacy right there.
That is it. What about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I know you guys were not a part of that, but even so, being recognized, it is validating on some level.
It’s all good. We’re in there regardless if we want to be or not. Our big complaint was the way they treated the artists who showed up there. John pointed it out, rightly so, that the band gets there, but if they want to bring wives or some friends, they have to pay 10 grand per seat, and to me that’s just not rock & roll.
So we’re living in crazy times, obviously. You’ve probably been asked this but in the wake of Brexit and also Trump’s presidency, do you feel like we need another Sex Pistols right now?
Well, to be honest with you, I think Donald Trump is the modern-day Johnny Rotten.
Wow. What? Why?
Well, they have the same color hair, and he’s basically come out of left field, with no experience of anything, and he’s just doing it. Like, not in the normal way that all the others do it. It kind of is a bit like Sex Pistols-like, if you want to look at it like that. You know, it’s an odd one.
You’re not trying to say that Donald Trump is punk rock, I hope?
No. I’m not saying that, but as far as politics goes, he’s about as knowledgeable about politics as we was in playing rock music when we first started. Don’t misquote me, though!
I absolutely will not misquote you. That’s why I definitely wanted to clarify, and I get it.
I personally am not a fan of anybody who’s president. I don’t believe that you can just be president and go around calling the shots. I think it comes from a bigger picture, banks, people with the money are the ones that call the shots, and I think you’re all led to believe that your vote actually makes a difference. But that’s my personal belief. It’s like Coke or Pepsi. Take your pick. The same outcome is going to happen regardless of who’s president.
But what about the fact that part of what made the Sex Pistols so intense was the anarchy aspect? You know, fighting against what government stood for. Do you think that art becomes more vital in the wake of political discord?
Art is always important. Whatever’s going on in the world, in the climate, you’re always going to get creative people, there’s always going to be creative outlets, and that’s never going to stop. And it is important. Is it tied in with who’s in charge? I don’t know. If we look at presidents and politicians, I think if there was another Democratic person running, like a man who everyone liked, I think that person would have been president, not Donald Trump.
Can you see the state of the world inspiring bands like the Sex Pistols though, that are angry and want to express it right now?
I don’t know. I don’t think we’re headed toward a good spot. I think it’s just kind of a continuous buildup of screws getting tightened. It’s going to get tightened so much that I think people will implode and I think there will be chaos. That’s the way it seems like it’s headed to me.
That’s pretty bleak.
It is bleak, but I think that’s the way it’s going, if you just look. That’s how I see it. I don’t like saying it, and I don’t want to be there, but it seems like it’s going that way. So I’m trying to enjoy myself every day, regardless of where we’re going.
I think we’re all doing that.
Just before the world implodes, though, buy my book, everybody. It’s very important that you have that by the side of your bed when Armageddon comes.
I enjoyed it. Enjoying your radio show, too.
It’s a good gig. I’m in a place where I can do what I want to do, play what songs I want to play, and kind of talk about anything, just goof around. To be honest with you, that really is the only way I can do it. I can’t be like a regular dude talking amongst a station’s playlist. To me, that’s like a job. What I do, and even doing it the way I do, some days I don’t want to show up, but I think it’s important for me, where my head’s at — I’ve got like a head full of snakes most days — it’s good for me to have somewhere to go and some structure. It’s a good thing.
You already addressed the Sex Pistols playing again, but anything else? Because you’ve played with other bands, you’ve done jam-type things, is there anything else you’re working on musically?
I’m thinking about doing a solo record just for shits and giggles. That could be on the cards sooner than later. Plus I like acting. I like doing some acting, and there could be some things coming down the road. I don’t want to say anything, but some things are happening
Loved you on Californication.
That was a lot of fun doing two seasons of that. David Duchovny’s coming on my show in February.
Oh cool! So you’re thinking about doing a solo record and more acting then.
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But the show and your book are your focus right now. The show's such a fun, loose thing.
Yeah. I do like having a lot of guests. I get a buzz out of interviewing people. My style of interviewing is very loose. Lars from Metallica, when he came on, he couldn’t believe we were talking about Earl Grey tea for, like, 10 minutes. All of a sudden he realized we were talking about Earl Grey tea and he says, “I’m in Metallica. I can’t be talking about this!”
Do you prepare for your guests, or is it just on the fly, in the moment?
I’m too lazy to prepare, I’ve got to be honest. I think that’s the most exciting. It’s real. That’s the way I like doing it, you know?
Well, winging it works for you. Kinda like it did with the Sex Pistols, and now your book. You just go for it.
Yeah I do. It’s good. Very rarely do I get caught with my pants down.