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Spotlight: Sex Pistol Steve Jones’ ‘Jonesy’s Jukebox’ Is Still One of LA Radio’s Most Steadfast Rock Institutions

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Davis Factor

Steve Jones

“I get a lot of people saying, ‘You helped me out.’ It takes on a whole other thing of being of service…. There’s a purpose. It’s not just me goofing around.”

When Steve Jones, the beloved radio host and legendary Sex Pistols guitarist widely known as just Jonesy, abruptly disappeared from the airwaves late last year, listeners were surprised and concerned -- but none more so than he.

Last summer, Jones was hit with a sudden bout of Bell's palsy that paralyzed half of his face and left his speech compromised. He took several weeks away from his popular and long-running radio show “Jonesy's Jukebox,” which boasts an extensive list of high-profile music interviews -- Robert Plant, Iggy Pop, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney have all been among his distinguished guests. But just as he was ready to return to work, the British punk icon suffered a heart attack that required emergency heart surgery, pulling him off the airwaves for months-long recovery.

Midway through last December, Jones made a quiet return to Los Angeles airwaves. With it, he moved out of the studio and into a weekly residency at the famed Viper Room in West Hollywood, where Jonesy's Jukebox broadcasts live on Meruelo Media’s 95.5 KLOS before a studio audience every Friday at noon.

Jones' first guest when he returned to Jukebox was cardiologist Dr. Eli Gang, with whom he discussed his health issues. The video has racked up more than 59,000 views since it premiered online just before Christmas. Fans appreciated the no-holds-barred approach to his first show back, as expressed in numerous glowing YouTube comments.

Jones reciprocates his fans’ affection. He relishes the live format at The Viper Room, where he used to attend rock shows and perform with his former band Neurotic Outsiders, the '90s supergroup formed with Guns N' Roses members Matt Sorum (drums) and Duff McKagan (bass) and Duran Duran guitarist John Taylor. “I love it,” he says of the new venue, sipping on a cup of coffee at a Los Angeles deli. “I like the live audience. It’s like a talk show. You can interact. You can hear them laughing if you’re funny.”

Sixteen years later, it’s still hard for Jones to believe that Jukebox ever happened. “When I first started doing it, the whole thing was just a fluke. I remember the first time I got to talk and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” he says. Jones, who moved to Los Angeles in 1983 due to “Hollywood, all the movie stars and the sunshine,” says there was a period in 2004 during which he wasn’t working while he recovered from back surgery due to a herniated disc. Whenever he was in his car, he tuned into now-defunct radio station Indie103 due to its often punk rock playlist.

Unexpectedly, one afternoon, he received a call from an executive at Maverick, the record label to which Jones’ band Neurotic Outsiders was signed. Jones was told Entravision's Indie103 wanted to get him involved. “I said, ‘I want to be a DJ.’ I just thought about it out of the blue because I was excited about it,” Jones recalls. “I said, ‘I love this radio station. I want to DJ, but only if you let me do what I want to do and say what I want to say.’ And that’s where it started. I had no clue what I was doing, but people kind of liked that it was ridiculous and then I got a little better and it was moved up to five days a week, two hours a day after a while.”

Since Indie103 changed formats in 2009, Jones is glad Jukebox landed at its current home, Southern California rock radio station KLOS, five years ago, following a short Sunday night stint at KROQ and bouncing around some online stations. "It's a big signal,” he says. “A lot of people are listening to it, and daytime at noon is a great, great time. People are out driving around. People are out doing things.”

KLOS program director Keith Cunningham says Jones is distinctive from other radio hosts due to his rock star pedigree in addition to his relatability. “He brings a type of swagger and vibe that really only a real rockstar can. And what I really like about him as a personality or host is he’s just authentic. There’s not a filter, he’s transparent, he’s funny, he’s not trying to be a DJ, he’s just him.”

However despite the ease with which Jones interacts with his guests, he says he’s much more private in his personal life than he may let on. And much because of that, he’s especially grateful to be back at work. “Honestly, I like that I have to get off my ass and do something, because I’m a recluse,” he says. “I don’t like socializing. I just like hiding at home, which is not good for me. It’s good to be back on the air. It’s good to have something to do. I get a lot of people saying, ‘You helped me out.’ It takes on a whole other thing of being of service. That bit, I relate to. There’s a purpose. It’s not just me goofing around.”

Still, constant reminders of his heart attack abound, including the cup of coffee he sips during the interview (he now limits himself to a single dose of caffeine per day). Though it's been seven months since the heart attack, he’s still wrapping his head around the life-altering experience.

Overcome with disbelief as he tells the story, Jones shakes his head and holds the coffee mug tightly. “It was scary,” he says. “You don’t comprehend it until you actually have it. What a weird thing it is. First, it was like complete denial for me. It’s like, ‘Oh, I had a heart attack.' But, after a month or two, that’s when it starts getting real as to what happened. I went through a depressed period for the first couple of months. Getting old is a bitch, man. I’m 64 and shit starts happening."

He pauses for a moment, staring straight ahead to recalibrate. "But I’m grateful,” he continues. “I’ve got another bloody shot. I could have well easily been dead.”

As to the potential for a Sex Pistols reunion, he notes he wouldn’t be interested unless he was broke or someone offered “Rolling Stones money" for their return. In fact, he's grown weary of discussing them. “I’m so over it because it’s always the same questions,” he says, but adds he understands the lingering curiosity around the seminal British punk band that lasted only from 1975–1978 and released just one studio album, Never Mind the Bullocks: Here's the Sex Pistols, before calling it quits. (The remaining members reunited for a tour in 1996 and played additional shows between 2002 and 2008.)

There’s a palpable ambivalence as Jones speaks in a fond and incredulous tone about the band's perpetual state of internal discord. "You know, the crazy thing is that I don't get what we’re all mad at each other for,” he says.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, the Sex Pistols didn't attend the ceremony. Still, Jones says he's proud to be one of few punk band inductees alongside The Clash and The Ramones. "We never got airplay in America, in that world,” he says. “People in charge of stuff never liked us, at least I don’t think so. I mean, I’m glad we’re in there, but there’s a bunch of bands that won’t be in there that should be."

Looking to the future, Jones says he’d like to do more acting -- he’s nabbed a few parts, including a recurring role as a tour manager on the Showtime series Californication -- and divulges that he’s been working on a solo record. He’ll also be receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though he says he has no particular preference regarding its location. “Just so long as it’s not down an alley,” he says with a grin.

Mindful of his health, he now takes nightly outdoor walks and remains cautiously optimistic about his future. “I feel like I’m getting… I can see through the woods where it’s open,” he says. “I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but I do feel like I took a turn for the better.”

SPOTLIGHT:

Dealing with musicians is like dealing with children ‘cause they are all sensitive. All musicians are sensitive.

I knew I was committed to music when I first heard Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” I was a music fan and that song, for some reason the guy who played it for me was an older guy and I just kept saying, ‘Play it again, play it again, play it again for me, please.’ I didn’t have a record player and I was obsessed with that song. Looking back, I guess that was the beginning of it being implanted in my head, that music was something that I loved and came to want to do down the road.

If I did my life over again, I would have taken a course in business so I wouldn’t have gotten screwed over so many times. I’m just not business-minded at all. I always made the worst decisions and it’s always messed with me throughout my life. I wish that was something I could have rectified earlier on in my life.

The best advice I’ve received is to stay out of trouble. If only I would have listened.

I’m always learning how to be a better person. I think you have to have a willingness to grow and a humility to want to be able to learn and to be open-minded, because I think that’s what’s life’s all about at the end of the day. You could be in a dark place all your life or you could get out of it and be in the light and it’s a choice that you make. I see a lot of people who don’t want to change and they stay miserable and I’m always wanting to better myself and I guess that’s a form of learning and it doesn’t end. You can keep learning forever. There’s always something you can do to better yourself.

Something most people don’t understand is I’m the king of rock and roll. [Laughs] I’m joking!

It’s good to have some real friends, to have a roof over your head and to be healthy.

Something I’m most looking forward to later in life is getting out in nature. Something I always look forward to is walking around outdoors, getting out of the city and getting peace and quiet. It’s very important to me to do that later on in life. It’s one of the things I do that makes me the most happy.

Spotlight is a Billboard Business series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact spotlight@billboard.com.


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