In the winter of 1977, The Sex Pistols were falling apart at the seams. It had been a rough year. The band had been on the receiving end of all the bad publicity the UK press could muster, and, as a result, they’d been dropped by their record label, EMI. To add insult to injury, there was a serious power struggle going on within the group itself.
John Lydon and bassist Glen Matlock were not seeing eye to eye. The two musicians were regarded as polar opposites, and their personalities simply didn’t gel. Lydon felt that if he invited his old friend Sid to join the group, he might have someone to back him up when things got heated. IT would be a decision that changed the band forever.
Matlock would later say of Vicious: “The thing about John is that, he was the last to join. In my time in the band he always thought it was us [versus] him. It wasn’t. It was Steve [Jones, guitar] and Paul [Cook, drums] who were a double act, then me and then John. I think he thought he’d get Sid [Vicious] in and it would be them against those two. It didn’t work out like that.”
Sid Vicious – real name John Ritchie – was an old friend of Lydon’s. The two went way back, having both been fixtures on the British punk scene since its earliest days. Following Chrissie Hynde’s suggestion that Vicious join The Pistols, he was installed as the band’s new bassist. With his spiky black hair, gaunt frame and sneering attitude, Vicious was the perfect poster boy for the punk movement. The problem was that he had no idea how to play the bass.
Lydon, in a recent interview, said that he deeply regretted bringing Vicious into the band, indicating that it might have played a part in the bassist’s ultimate demise. “I’m sorry, God, for the day I brought Sid into the band,” Lydon said. “He felt so isolated, poor old Sid, because he wasn’t the sharpest knife on the block.”
Despite his outward appearance, it seems that Vicious really struggled under the pressure of his new position in the band. When The Sex Pistols went into the studio to record Never Mind The Bollocks, Vicious’ bass playing was ruled inadequate by producer Chris Thomas. Everyone was desperate to get Glen Matlock back in the band. But Ultimately, bids to replace Vicious failed, and guitarist Steve Jones ended up filling in and record nearly all of the bass parts on the group’s debut album.
It was Lydon’s opinion that the sense of inferiority Vicious felt triggered his spiral into substance abuse: “Poor Sid. Once you start on that heroin trail of self-pity, it’s gone.” Lydon added that the friend he knew became unrecognisable as soon as he joined the band, describing how: “The best aspect of his character, which was his humour, just vanished the day he joined the Pistols.”
Just two years after he joined Sex Pistols, Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose, shortly after being implicated in the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in a room of the Chelsea hotel. For many, including Lydon, Vicious’ grisly demise seemed to be the result of excessive drug abuse, excessive media attention, and a deep-rooted self-hatred that eventually burned a hole straight through him.