Former Sex Pistol Steve Jones Returns to LA Radio After Seven Years: Q&A

Davis Factor
Steve Jones

"They left all the equipment set up because they were doing two shows and I just waited for this guy to fall asleep in the first row and snuck on stage with some pliers and wire cutters."

Former Sex Pistol Steve Jones and his beloved radio program Jonesy's Jukebox has returned to the Los Angeles daily airwaves via Cumulus radio's KLOS 95.5 FM, seven years after the program's original home on Entravision's Indie103 changed formats. 

"Honestly, I've only done it a week and it kicked my ass," Jones told Billboard shortly after his morning meditation. Clearly a lot has changed for the punk rock icon. "I'm a lot older now, I'm 60 now, and I don't know if I can do this shit anymore."

It's typical Jones banter: candid, irreverent, self-effacing and delivered in his distinct Cockney brogue. It's also exactly how he is on "Jonesy's Jukebox," only on-air he's usually speaking to long-time producer Mr. Shovel (Mark Sovel) or a music guest (previous guests include legends like Iggy Pop, Dave Grohl and Robert Plant), randomly strumming his guitar and, above all else, demonstrating his reverence for and knowledge of deep rock cuts from the '60s, '70s and '80s and newer music he's taken a liking to. Jones spoke with Billboard about the new show, stealing Ziggy Stardust's equipment and buying speed from Lemmy.

Billboard: Top of the friggin' day Steve Jones, how are you? 

Steve Jones: I'm good, buddy, I was just meditating when you called. 

Are you a TM [transcendental meditation] guy? 

I've been doing it for close to two years now. Russell Brand turned me on to it when I did a show with him a couple of years ago, I was his side kick on this FX thing [Brand X] he was doing it and he got me to go. I don't do it religiously. David Lynch proclaims he's not missed one day in 40 years. There's some days where I just have to f--king  get up and get out and I can't get around to it.

Who would have thought you...

I know, I know...

How many juvenile offenses did you commit as a kid? 

About thirteen. That's the great thing about life, you change, hopefully. It's all about experience, not about staying the same. Unfortunately some people do stay the same throughout their whole life and they don't experience anything. 

Are you making music these days? Are you and [former Sex-Pistol] Paul Cook or the Professionals doing anything? 

Not really. I have to pick what I get involved in at this stage of the game. I just don't have a lot of time and energy to waste on something I'm not interested in. It's not even about making dough, but why do I want to waste and spend time on something that doesn't appeal to me? The punk thing was 40 years ago, I'm not that person anymore. I am in the middle of doing a book. I've got a ghostwriter and he's compiling it all now. It'll come out in a year or so, hopefully. 

Do you get a lot of requests to license the Sex Pistols? 

Yeah, yeah, and if you think of anything call me and we'll all sign off on it. You know, we didn't make any money back in the day so any money that we get, I don't give a s--t what people think about, "Oh, you're selling out…' Who cares, man, who cares? 

How did Jonsey's Jukebox get back on the air? 

Dawn Girocco, who's the general manager at KLOS, used to be the gm when I was doing Indie [103], and then Indie collapsed. Then she got another gig over at KROQ and got me over there, but they gave me a Sunday night and it didn't really do anything. She's the one who makes it happen. She believes in me and understands what Jonesy's Jukebox is and how important it is to any kind of non-robotic radio. 

What music is on regular rotation on Jonesy's Jukebox?

I like playing new stuff, old-school stuff I grew up with when I was a teenager, like Deep Purple, some Sabbath, Free, the Faces, Bowie, Roxy Music. That's kind of where I start, all around in there.

Were you amazed by the outpouring of collective mourning last week for David Bowie's passing? 

When I heard he died it was like the 9-11 of rock 'n roll. I was paralyzed when I heard the news. For some reason I didn't ever thought I would feel that way with someone's death, but with Bowie it just struck a chord. I like the fact that a lot of other people have responded the same way. It gives me some hope in humanity that there is actually some people who appreciate culture and an art form and not everybody is a bloody robot, you know?

What was your relationship like with Bowie? 

I only met him two or three times. I'm sure if I saw him walking in New York I could go up and we'd have a little chinwag, but it wasn't about my friendship with him, it was about my fandom with him as a teenager. His importance to me when I was a teenager -- structuring my path, if you will, to go on to be in the Sex Pistols. His last shows, by the Spiders from Mars at Hammersmith Odeon, which I was watching at VH1 last night, was when I stole his microphone and some other stuff. 

Wait, you stole David Bowie's microphone?

Hammersmith is literally just down the street from where I grew up and I knew the Hammersmith-Odeon like the back of my hand -- I was like the Phantom of the Opera of the Hammersmith Odeon. They left all the equipment set up because they were doing two shows and I just waited for this guy to fall asleep in the first row and snuck on stage with some pliers and wire cutters. 

What did you do with the equipment? 

Bernie Rhodes, who was the manager of the Clash, took most of the microphones.

What was Ziggy-mania like in the UK then? 

I was 16 or 17 at the most, it was 1972, you really hadn't seen anything like it, the look and the songs. Them two albums are the albums for me, although I like "Life on Mars," The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane are the best albums ever. I never get bored with playing them. If you were a working class kid from West London to see that kind of stuff it blew your mind. I just thank God that that was there when I was a teenager. 

Was he as big there as The Beatles? 

 I kinda missed the boat on The Beatles, that was a few years earlier. I didn't give a shit when John Lennon died... I don't want to be crass. And I didn't give a shit with Michael Jackson, even Elvis Presley. Bowie for some reason knocked me for six. I guess it's just different strokes for what they mean to you. 

What are your thoughts on Lemmy's passing?

I've known Lemmy since I was 18 or 19 -- I used to occasionally buy some sulphates [i.e. speed] off him on Portobello Road. I've known him over the years here in LA, he's been here for a long time. I used to see him at the Rainbow Room and we used to bullshit. He was a very sweet guy, a real gentleman -- even though he looked like he wanted to kill you. No one lived his rock and roll lifestyle. Most guys only do when they get on stage or go for a photo shoot, then they finish and go home and put their sweat pants on. Lemmy was the guy who lived it for 24/7 forever. You gotta admire it.

Both really touched a chord. 

You know why? Because they don't make them like this anymore these days. It's all f-cking lame shit, that's the last breed of real rock and rollers, know what I mean?  Their deaths were so close to each other and you got Bowie who did nothing but change -- every record or year or whatever -- and then you got Lemmy, who was exactly the same forever. 

Who on the radio were you influenced by, growing up in Shepherd's Bush? Was pirate radio happening then? 

Oh yeah. Radio Caroline which was out on an oil rig, Radio Luxembourg, that's who we used to listen to when I was young.  And to BBC and the Top 20 countdown and Kenny Everett. Obviously it's completely different now and you can hear f-cking music in a hundred different ways, but back then there were only two or three outlets. I like the technology thing, that if you hear a song you can press a button and all of a sudden that song is in your iTunes. I'm not one of these guys who's a purist with the vinyl thing.

Do you study up before you throw on some obscure Mott the Hoople bootleg? 

Every day. People might just think I'm in there goofing around but I actually do a lot of prepping, which I don't mind doing. I like to go deep on tracks that you don't hear and that's a challenge. I got a lot of songs on me computer, and I have to put them on CDs and label them and name them with pieces of paper. When you're listening, no one knows this but there's me and Shovel and another guy, we're scuttling around with pieces of papers and burnt CDs.

You're part of the Cumulus family now. Do have any concern with the radio industry's consolidation and constantly shifting sands? 

No... I'm just doing my thing, man. That's out out of my f-cking hands, all that shit. I'm just kinda doing my thing and hope people appreciate it. Hopefully there's still some real music fans who want to be a bit more than just the norm.

Do you feel an allegiance to terrestrial radio? 

I do, and for me being in your community and being live is the best feeling. That people are actually listening to you while in your city, I like that communal thing, that appeals to me more than satellite where you're probably pre-recording it and you don't know who's listing.  

It's kind of amazing you haven't soured on some of this radio stuff with your third go round.

The program director at KLOS, Keith Cunningham -- he's letting me do me thing. I can't do it any other way then the way I'm doing it. I personally can't just "blah-blah-bah" in between someone else's playlist. It's not just about a job for me. Either you have Jonesy's Jukebox the way it is or don't hire me.  

This article first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of Billboard.