The Sex Pistols, led by Johnny Rotten and amply backed by guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock — who was later replaced by Sid Vicious — the band quickly made a name for themselves with their notorious anarchic antics. But, before they found themselves on Bill Grundy’s show with a four-letter crown as the Kings of Punk, they were already living the lifestyle.
The band were always up to no good, raising hell wherever they played and even before the band took shape, the individual members were tearaway teens. But surely they didn’t steal their instruments from David Bowie and his Spiders from Mars? Well, that’s the claim made by the band’s two principal members Steve Jones and Paul Cook.
The pair are the longstanding members of the Pistols, having started out together in another rock and roll outfit called The Strand, which would, after much malignment from Malcolm McLaren, eventually morph into what we know as the Sex Pistols.
The pair were living in relative squalor but were determined to make it in the music industry, despite the lack of instruments or, indeed, the musical talent that was required at the time. There was only one thing for it; they needed musical instruments and, without the funds to purchase them, had to beg, borrow or steal to get by. More often than not, it was the latter. “You’ve got to understand, we weren’t very rich at the time,” Cook told Loudwire when reflecting on the duo’s troubled teenage years. “We wanted to form a band, and that was one way of getting equipment.”
“It was so easy to get in those places, and we’d just go around the back,” Cook recalled. “We lived in Hammersmith, and so many bands played in Hammersmith Odeon. So we got a full range of equipment before we could even play, really – including the PA.”
There’s been a whole host of incredibly famous moments at the Hammersmith Odeon, the venue has been the setting for some of the most tumultuous nights in music history, but one moment strikes a particular chord with the rock and roll elite. It was the famed venue for when David Bowie’s iconic persona, Ziggy Stardust, was finally laid to rest. Bowie, in 1973 felt he had reached the end of the road for where he could take Ziggy and killed off his alter-ego in front of a paying audience.
Before that night happened though, Jones and Cook were about to change things up too. “There’s a famous story about Steve when David Bowie was doing his final shows of the Ziggy Stardust tour,” Cook noted. “Between shows, they’d leave all the equipment standing overnight. It was a big mistake, especially with us around.”
Steve Jones, in particular, wasn’t shy when it came to picking up things that weren’t his. He was a noted troubled teen not only partaking in football hooliganism whenever he could but also acting as a confessed kleptomaniac, picking up 14 criminal convictions for his behaviour.
Mick Ronson, Bowie’s legendary axeman and the most notable Spider from Mars, had indeed left his guitar alongside the rest of the band’s equipment. Jones and Cook posed as members of the crew and made their way through the venue. While Cook and other friends made off with amplifiers and more, Jones lifted the cream colour Gibson Les Paul, that had Ronson’s musical fingerprints all over it — Jones made it his most treasured possession. A ‘gift’ from one of his musical idols.
It must be said that there are a few rumours as to how Jones picked up his first guitar. Some say it was Mick Ronson’s, pothers that it came from the backstage of a Paul McCartney show while others still point to an unattended Bob Marley tour van. It may also be from New York Dolls hero Sylvain, as Jones told Jerry McCully for Gibson.com: “The one that I started playing was the one that [Sex Pistols’ manager] Malcolm McLaren actually brought back from New York that he got off Sylvain, which was the white Gibson Les Paul. A ’74, I think it was, a white Custom.”
No matter the origins of the guitar, it would go on to feature in the video for ‘God Save The Queen’, among other notable performances. But, more importantly, it would allow Jones to fully become the punk guitarist extraordinaire he is. It would provide him with the guile and the confidence to take on the world, including Bill Grundy. It would make him into a Sex Pistol.
So it might not have been the whole band who were walking away with instruments form their idols but one lucky bugger did. Despite our musical inclinations putting one man’s guitar above his lover, we still love this story. Because, honestly, when you ask yourself, there isn’t a better way he could have got it, is there?