Steve Jones on joining the Sex Pistols: "The only spot open in the band was guitarist, so I had to do that or f**k off"

Johnny Rotten (left) and Steve Jones perform live onstage with the Sex Pistols at Dunstable's Queensway Hall in 1976
(Image credit: Chris Morphet/Redferns)

With the recent release of Pistol, the six-part TV mini-series documenting the tumultuous, all-too-brief career of UK punk legends the Sex Pistols, we thought it'd be a good time to revisit this brief but insightful chat with the band's hugely influential electric guitar player, Steve Jones.

Frontman Johnny Rotten and especially the band's late bassist, Sid Vicious, might have gotten all of the headlines, but it was Jones' Chuck Berry-by-way-of-the-gutter riffery that powered songs like God Save the Queen, Anarchy in the U.K. and Holidays in the Sun, all integral pieces of the great punk songbook.

The following interview with Jones – which features him discussing the Pistols' origins, his first Les Paul, his attitude toward gear and more – was originally published in the June 2010 issue of Guitar World.

What inspired you to start playing the guitar?

"I actually got pushed over from singing to playing guitar. I wasn’t planning on being a guitar player; I was going to be a singer. And I was for a little bit in the Sex Pistols – that is, until we got John Lydon [Johnny Rotten]. And then I realized I wasn’t really suited as a front guy. The only spot open in the band was guitarist, so I had to do that or fuck off."

What was your first guitar?

"It was a ’74 Gibson Les Paul, a white Custom. [Former Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren brought it back after he finished managing the New York Dolls and gave it to me when I was around 18 or 19. It used to belong to [Dolls guitarist] Sylvain Sylvain."

Do you remember your first gig?

"My very first gig was with the Sex Pistols, and it was also our first-ever gig – it was a very short set, and it was at Saint Martins College of Art [in the U.K.], in 1975. We were opening up for a band called Bazooka Joe, and their bass player at the time was Adam Ant, who went on to form Adam and the Ants. But they pulled the plug on us after only four songs because we were so loud and different. They all freaked out."

Ever had an embarrassing onstage moment?

"I really can’t remember any specific one, though I know I’ve had many of them. And I do know it was usually when I was intoxicated. But who doesn’t do silly things when they’re drunk?"

Johnny Rotten (left) and Steve Jones perform with the Sex Pistols at Winterland on January 14, 1978 in San Francisco, California

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

What is your favorite piece of gear?

"I haven’t got one because I don’t get attached to things like a lot of people do. A lot of guitar players collect loads of guitars and all that, but that is not my thing. If someone offered me the right price for my Les Paul, I would fuckin’ sell it. At the end of the day, it’s how you play that matters, not your gear."

Got any advice for young players?

"I would say that they have picked a weird time to start playing music, as there is no money to be made right now. But if you still want to, go ahead. I’d tell them to copy me, because whatever I do is fantastic."

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Joe Matera

Joe Matera is an Australian guitarist and music journalist who has spent the past two decades interviewing a who's who of the rock and metal world and written for Guitar World, Total Guitar, Rolling Stone, Goldmine, Sound On Sound, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and many others. He is also a recording and performing musician and solo artist who has toured Europe on a regular basis and released several well-received albums including instrumental guitar rock outings through various European labels. Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera has called him, "... a great guitarist who knows what an electric guitar should sound like and plays a fluid pleasing style of rock." He's the author of Backstage Pass: The Grit and the Glamour.

With contributions from