Musical chairs: Steve Jones, the fury behind the filth
Updated 5:18 p.m. CDT Aug. 24 - The Editor erroneously credited Mr. Nimbus's review to another blogger. As they say in the papers, we regret the error.
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of weekly reviews by various bloggers of rock'n'roll geniuses. It started out more purely, as devotionals to "guitar gods," but is quickly morphing into something broader, and I'm okay with that. If you missed last week's reviews, be sure to check out this and this and maybe even this. - AC
Other reviews posted today:
Tim Alexander of Primus, by Tesco. Props to Tesco, too, for the graphic above. Eddie Van Halen by Michele of A Small Victory Richard Thompson, by Courtney George Martin, by Mr. Nimbus
But enough of that. Never mind the bloggers. Here's the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones.
Sure, mention the Sex Pistols and everyone immediately thinks Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. But the REAL Sex Pistols, the musicians who breathed life into the band, who set the stage for Rotten's wailing and brilliant lyricism, were drummer Paul Cook and lead guitarist Steve Jones. (That's Jones pictured on the far right in the photo, from God Save the Sex Pistols.) Glen Matlock, who played bass for the Pistols on Never Mind the Bollocks and in their scandalous UK tour, was also an important part of the band from a musical standpoint. He was a solid musician and mediator between Cook's tribal drumbeats and Jones's guitar assaults. But he left the band before they headed for the United States, and their ultimate implosion, in '77-'78. His replacement, Sid Vicious, might have been able to play the bass, but no one would know because he was too smacked to do anything but lurk around onstage and mutilate his body. Sid was little more than a prop onstage, but he personified what manager Malcolm McLaren wanted the public to see as "punk."
By the time most of us in America's hinterlands had heard of the Sex Pistols, they had been reduced to caricature. We had Johnny Rotten the antichrist, Sid Vicious the nihilistic heroin addict, and Malcolm McLaren the svengali.
Never mind their public image. What about the musicians?
My first exposure to the Sex Pistols came in late '77. As a teen whose mind had been numbed by the self-indulgent guitar solos of prog rock, I'd never heard anything as volatile of Never Mind the Bollocks.
When my friend Steve first played the record for me, it wasn't Johnny Rotten's vocal assault that hooked me; it was the way the entire album unfolded. First, with the goose-step opening march of "Holidays in the Sun," followed immediately by that HUGE wall of noise blasting forth from Steve Jones's power chords. Cook and Matlock quickly fell in, opening the way for Rotten's demented shrieking -- but Steve Jones and his Les Paul led the charge.
Greil Marcus has described Steve Jones's sound as a "guitar army," and I can think of no better description. It's an all-out assault on the senses -- a Marshall amp turned to 11, pure noise, luscious distortion, a Panzer division rolling at you with blitzkreig speed and strength. But Jones was more than noise and power. His style harkened back to the great ones. Just listen to the opening riffs of "God Save the Queen" and then try to deny that Chuck Berry isn't channeling through Jones's fingertips as they traverse the neck of his Les Paul.
Jones could also do what punks did best -- deconstruct and reassemble. Just as visual artist Jamie Reid, who created many of the Pistols' memorable posters, created ransom-note style works of art by deconstructing posters and images and repositioning them anew, so did Jones with his guitar work. Yes, you can feel the influences of Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, even, perhaps, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, but Jones's style was entirely its own. Take a listen to "Pretty Vacant." That opening riff -- the heavy reverb, plucking of single strings -- it's a simple A chord torn apart and reconstructed to evoke a new sound.
Much ink has been spilled trying to explain the Sex Pistols and their influence on music and culture. There's not much I can add here, except to say that Steve Jones's roaring guitar was as much an influence on the future of rock'n'roll as Johnny Rotten's words and wailing.
Suggested listening (all from Never Mind the Bollocks):
"Holidays in the Sun"
"God Save the Queen"
"Anarchy in the UK"
Comments from Tesco:As always Andrew, this is excellent. You have Steve Jones to a tee.Read Tesco's review of Primus's lead guitarist.
As a 14 year old guitarist, a hardcore guitarist to boot, I was floored by the Sex Pistol's guitar style. I agree with you on the Chuck Berry statement you made here, not only his straight to the point rock but his natural distortion that could only be reproduced by Marshall. Jones' influence is obvious in all early Punk Rock even if Thunders and Chrome don't want to admit it. What I've noticed, even to this day is the lack of respect for the Pistols. My friend and I were just discussing this over a couple beers and Never Mind the Bullocks. No one will ever be able to capture
the pure, raw sound of the Sex Pistols... the Filth, the Fury... no better way to descibe it.
Courtney comments:STEVE JONES IS SAWING MY HEAD OFF!!!
And I don't want him to stop.
This nasally whine coming from the strings, this nasally whine screeching over the strings. It was all very snotty and affected and drove me wild as a teenager. The Pistols were gone, Sid was dead, and Johnny had commenced down his short road of sell out, but the Pistols remained rotten.
The image and hype was all Johnny and Malcolm -- there's a sick parallel between Malcom's machinations and the boy bands of the 90s, in my opinion--and the "public image" (pun intended) that they fed. But you can't sweep that guitar under the rug. It won't let you.
Read Courtney's review of another brilliant guitarist.
Mr. Nimbus adds:Nothing much to add either, you really covered all of the bases.Read Nimbus's review of a DIY genius.
The funny thing is that I never really, REALLY appreciated Steve Jones until I heard him playing with Iggy. I mean, I knew how good he was, but it was all wrapped up in the whole pistols package.
Thanks for shining a spotlight on it.
rock and roll, Music
:: Andrew 06:16 + ::