in conversation with Phil Singleton
7th May 2002
Phil: When did you start to learn to play the guitar and why?
Steve: I guess I learnt properly about three months before we did our first gig. I didn't really know anything on the guitar before that, maybe a couple of little bits and pieces. I didn't know what I was doing. I still didn't know what I was doing in those three months really. I just used to take a lot of speed and just play along to a couple of records over and over again, Raw Power and the New York Dolls' first album.
So were you completely self-taught?
Did any guitarists have an influence on you when you started out?
Oh yeah, Mick Ronson was a very big influence. Brian May was a big influence.
Not really. Although I did love Purple Haze when I was about 11. This older bloke who lived next door had it, and I just kept making him play it over and over again.
Why did you settle on playing a Les Paul?
Cos I got it off Malcolm who brought it back from New York after managing the Dolls. I like Les Pauls, they're more chunky.
Did you experiment with any other guitars?
No, it's always been Les Pauls. That guy Wally (Nightingale), I knicked him a Les Paul. I was always attracted to Les Pauls.
Was that because of the sound, the look of them, or both?
I dunno. They sounded kind of chunky, more than anything.
You've recently switched to Fernandes. Why was this?
Yeah. That's a guitar they've got called a Burny. It still looks like a Les Paul, they've made it look pretty much the same. The thing is, it's about a hundred times better! The way it plays and the sound. They're brilliant. Really good. And they fucking give me them! Gibson are cunts, they never give me anything.
What, after all these years?
You'd think they would, wouldn't you? They can suck my cock!
Did Fernandes approach you?
Yeah. I met them when I was in Japan with Ray McVeigh. Ray had a band out there called Zilch, and I went out there and got up and did a couple of songs with them. I met the Fernandes guys there and they were hard on to give me a couple of things. Their guitars are really nice, they are way better than Gibsons. And I'm not just saying that! You know what the Japs are like? They can copy anything and make it better, and that's what they've done. I would have been more loyal to Gibson but they've treated me like a cunt.
Have you played on any records yet with your new Fernandes?
Not yet, as soon as I do I'll be using it, I know that. I'm not playing Gibsons any more, I'm done with it. I've got one left, that I'm going to flog! If you know anyone out there who wants to buy my last Gibson white Les Paul, let me know!
People often talk about the Pistols classic guitar sound. How did you achieve that?
A lot of it had to do with the amp I had at the time. It was a twin reverb. It was an old one. For some reason, don't ask me why, I put these Gauss speakers in them. It gave it a real different sound, it was more midi as opposed to trebbly, and I just turned it up to 10 and got the sound. That was pretty much it. Obviously you track it a few times, like when I did Never Mind The Bollocks.
Do you think that Never Mind The Bollocks reflected the Pistols live sound, or do you think that the Pistols were more exciting live?
It was different. It didn't sound like Never Mind The Bollocks, it was more exciting live because it was more crazy. Sound wise, it was a bit weaker than the record, I would say. It's all in the fingers, it ain't the fucking sound!
Is it more about the feel, rather than being technically correct?
Yeah, you get hundreds of cunts who wanna try and play like me, but none of them ever sound like it. It's the thieving dirty fingernails! That's what it is! Iggy Pop calls me the Robert Mitchum of punk!
Have you got a favourite Pistols riff?
It's either Bodies or No Feelings.
Were there any other punk guitarists that you rated?
I liked the geezer from the Ruts (Paul Fox), he was pretty good. I liked his style a bit, he was a bit more rock, he wasn't trying to be punk. I liked Derwood who played with Generation X, he was good.
Oh definitely. The New York Dolls' albums and first Heartbreakers' album. After that I kind of lost interest, because he seemed to turn into a joke.
You played on Thunders' So Alone album. Was that quite difficult? He wasn't in the best of health.
That was it. That's what I mean, he turned into a joke because he didn't give a fuck about what he was playing, he was just wondering where his next bag of dope was coming from, which was a shame. But y' know that's the way it goes.
You played live with him in New York a few times?
And down the Speakeasy. I played with him in New York later when I moved out there for a bit (early '80s). I did a couple of shows with him.
Has your style changed over the years?
Obviously, technically I've got a bit better. I just go where I'm at, y'know what I mean? Obviously I'm not playing jazz, but I'm not stuck where I was 25 years ago. Especially my solos have come along a bit. It ain't just Chuck Berry now, it's a bit more intricate than that. I'm not just going to play stuff because it's expected of me, I just go with however I come along, on whatever I'm playing on.
Have you ever played a seven string?
No, only fucking wankers play them!
Acoustic music's not your bag?
I don't mind it. It hurts my fingers! I don't like to work too hard.
Talking of acoustic music, did you ever play on Mel C's album?
Yes I did actually. I did play acoustic on that. I remember sitting in a booth with this other bloke and we both played the same thing on acoustic guitars. It's probably buried in there somewhere.
Going back a bit on a different tack, when the Pistols split up you went to Brazil with Paul and stayed with Ronnie Biggs. You obviously got on well with him, did you keep in touch with him over the years?
Yeah. I spoke to him every now and again. I saw him a couple of times. I saw him when I went back there with the Pistols in '96, and hung out with him a bit then.
I've got a shirt of his actually, he gave me when I was there, it's a cigar shirt with a guitar on it, sequinned guitars. I'll flog it to anyone that wants to buy it!
Money is the only thing I'm sentimental about!
What do you think about how he is at the moment?
It's a shame mate, it's a shame. What's he going to do, rob a fucking bank? They should just let him have his last few days to do what he wants to do with them.
[Pictured - No One Is Innocent lyrics. Hand written by Ronnie Biggs & signed by Steve.]
Recently you were on the track Rock Action on the Ping Pong Bitches CD (on Alan McGee's Poptones label).
Alan McGee called me out of the blue and said, 'do you want to play guitar on it?' I like Alan so I just did him a favour. So he sent the tapes over and I played guitar here in the studio then just sent it back to him.
You played on Bob Dylan's album Down In The Groove in the 1980s, on the track Sally Sue Brown.
Yes I did. It was bollocks. Although I'm very fond of Bob Dylan, the way we did it was kind of loose. He told me to put a band together, it was me, Paul Simonon, the drummer from Pat Benatar's band (Myron Grombacher) and someone else, (Kevin Savigar). We went in the studio and Dylan came in and said 'OK, here's one song', and we played along with it and put a load of stuff down. There was no overdubs, it was very loose. I'd never done anything like that. It was almost like being in the rehearsal room. I liked Bob Dylan though, I thought he was a pretty cool bloke.
You ended up on one of Don Johnson's albums as well. How did that come about?
I know Don. It was more out of being friends.
What are your current plans. Have you anything lined up?
There's this one band I might be coming out to England for, called Violent Delight. They're 16 year-olds and have just been signed to Warner Brothers, and are interested in me producing them. We've got that gig with the Pistols in July. That's definitely happening. I've been working with Ray McVeigh, we've been writing together and come out with some new stuff. Whether anything comes of it is a different story. I've done some bits and pieces with Phil Holmes (The Nothings), and some of it's pretty good. The stuff he's had nothing to do with is pretty good! (laughing).
What are your memories of the film Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains (1980) which you and Paul Cook featured in? Ray Winston has of course gone on to be quite a big star.
It was a lot of fun. I wasn't in the best of shape at the beginning of it. It was fun hanging out with Ray Winston, we had a right laugh together. We were out there for three months in Vancouver. I actually spoke to Ray the other day. We're going to be playing in the Soccer Six competition at Chelsea. Our team is going to be me, Ray, Cookie, Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, Dennis Wise, and a couple of others.
[Right - Steve at Soccer 6, 26th May 2002]
I believe Vinnie Jones was sent off recently playing for Hollywood United. (Steve's soccer team).
I was there at the game. The referee just didn't want him on there. I think he knew he was a ex-professional and just didn't want him on there. He was a cunt, the Ref.
Was it not a bad challenge by Vinnie by any chance?
It weren't that bad. It wasn't a red card.
We've got a game tonight.
Are you playing up front still?
Last time we spoke you predicted that Manchester City would be relegated.
And I was right, wasn't I?!
You were right, but we've been promoted again.
I know! You're having another go.
Do you think that we've a team to be feared now Kevin Keegan's the manager?
No, he's a fucking wanker. He's a wanker. He fucking walked away from England, it made me disappointed with him... the way he just fucked off. I lost a lot of respect for him. The way he just left it there, y'know?
You've got a line in the Professionals' song Kamikaze, 'don't you write your epitaph for me'. If you could write your own epitaph what would it be?
Fuck me! I have no idea mate. What a depressing thought! What a depressing fucking thought!
Finally, which women are hot in Hollywood at the moment?
I'm having a fucking dry spell. I can't handle it!
Have a good day, and have a good game of football later .
Thanks mate. Bye.
Ronnie Biggs 'No One Is Innocent' hand written lyrics kindly suppied by Jade.
Soccer 6 pictures taken by Phil Singleton 26th May 2002. Click here for Steve 'n' Paul 'Soccer 6' page.
An abridged version of the interview appeared in Total Guitar #98, July 2002.
Interview / Soccer 6 photographs 2002© Phil Singleton / www.cookandjones.co.uk
All material ©Phil Singleton 2002 www.sex-pistols.net / www.cookandjones.co.uk
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission.