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Monday, May 17, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pop goes the Pistol: Steve Jones has radio gig

The Washington Post

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LOS ANGELES — When he played guitar in the world's most notorious band, Steve Jones lied about his taste in music, and that was probably a good idea. He and the other Sex Pistols were billed as snot-nosed hellions and the scourge not just of parents but also of arena-rock acts, like Pink Floyd and Queen. Jones loved the songs of fellow punks, but he actually enjoyed some of the groups he was supposed to chase into oblivion.

"When I was in the Sex Pistols, I listened to Boston," he said recently, citing the band that gave us "More Than a Feeling." "But I couldn't tell anybody, you know. I'd get lynched."

The secret is out now. For more than three months, Jones has been the host and star of "Jonesy's Jukebox," two hours of radio that runs Monday through Friday at noon, on an FM station in L.A. known as Indie 103.1. (You can tune in online at indie1031.fm/main.html.) Eclectic doesn't begin to describe this mix: On a given day, Jones will spin cheese-pop from the '80s, dub reggae from the '90s and goth-punk from two months ago. He might play three Prince songs in a row, or a track from an up-and-coming group like Franz Ferdinand, or an under-loved vintage punk band like 999.

A pilfering past

But the music on the "Jukebox" is just half the fun. The other half is Jones, whose random musings, memory lapses and cockney accent — nearly every "th" becomes an "f," so he calls the station "one oh free point one" — are as entertaining as any song. It helps that Jones knows many of the artists he spins, and if he hasn't met them, odds are good that he's stolen their equipment. A drug abuser for years and a kleptomaniac for far longer, he routinely heisted stuff found in studios and then hawked it for heroin.

"I was addicted to doing it," he says of his crime spree, chatting off the air in a 45-minute interview. "I didn't care who it was. I just had a mission."

Recently, when he introduced a song on his show by the British band 10cc, he didn't just rave about the music, he also recounted the long ago day when he nabbed a pair of the band's guitars and the day, many years later, that he called up one of the group's founders to apologize.

"I've been straight for a long time now, and one of the things I do is make amends to people I come across," he says. "I thought he would be upset, but he was frilled that I was straight." He pauses for a moment.

"Probably wasn't as frilled when it 'appened."

Jones is sitting on a stool in the darkened booth where he broadcasts, wearing a T-shirt and fiddling with a CD that just arrived in the mail. At 48, his once-long mane of hair is now clipped short and he has the soft, satisfied middle of a guy who isn't exactly counting his carbs. He looks like the sort of character you'd want on your side in a bar brawl, though there's an air of contentment about him that suggests his fighting days are over.

"I love what I'm doing," he says, beaming. "I could do it forever."

Until the radio show, Jones wasn't doing much, other than hanging around the house he owns in Beverly Hills, where he's lived for about 22 years. He's never been married and never had kids, and aside from a couple of tours with the reunited Sex Pistols and the odd job as album producer, little was happening in his life. Then, four months ago, his phone rang. It was an executive at 103.1 who once worked for a label that Jones recorded for in a post-Pistols band. When Jones heard the word "radio," he didn't wait for an invitation.

"Out the blue, I said, 'I want a job, I want be a deejay,' " he recalls. " 'Cause I was so bored! I wasn't doing anyfing. And the next fing is, this guy's over my house and two weeks later I'm doing this for the first time."

Jones' one condition: a free hand in devising his daily playlist.

"We just let him do what he wants, and it seems to work," says the show's producer, Mark Sovel. "It's amazing how many stories he's got, and it's amazing how many involve stealing equipment. He was talking the other day about breaking into Roxy Music's van and taking a gold record and all sorts of stuff, like a fuzz box. A lot of it ended up being used by the Sex Pistols in the studio."

"We expected him to be controversial," Soval adds, "and he turned out to be hilarious and charming."

Listening to Jones for two hours is a reminder of how stale and gutless radio is these days, and it's enough to make you wonder who is behind the station. Here's the weird part: All the advertising is sold by none other than Clear Channel, the San Antonio, Texas-based radio conglomerate known mostly for stale and gutless programming. But Clear Channel doesn't pick the music on Indie 103.1. That job falls to a multimedia company called Entravision Communications, which makes most of its money through Spanish-language radio and TV stations.

Bedfellows don't get much stranger: radio's great Satan, a Hispanic corporation and a Sex Pistol. But the trio has undeniable chemistry, mostly because the corporate overlords in this relationship did what they are otherwise reluctant to do: allow some eccentricity on the airwaves. How eccentric? Well, here's what an hour of Jones' company sounded like recently.

Musings and music

He opened with a meditation about the weather, which somehow led to a meditation about jet lag. Which got him thinking about boats.

"I would love to get a boat to England. Not a love boat, surrounded by old women wanting to play bingo. A big boat, a merchant sea boat. It takes free days to go from New York to Portsmouth. In my past life I might have been a pirate. One of them sea blokes."

Then to the business at hand.

"Let's play a song." It's the Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary."

"Take it away, sunshine!" Jones yells to the producer using his go-to song cue.

Next up is "Little Red Corvette" by Prince, followed by "Star" from David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" album.

"The delicious sound of radio," Jones says. Time for a personal dedication.

"I'm going to play this song for my mum. 'Cause I don't talk to her anymore, which is sad. It's not her choice, she just don't know how to talk about her feelings. I'm stubborn as well. I do love her, but I can't stand her. Her name's Mary. This song is for her."

"Mary's Prayer," by the '80s Scottish pop band Danny Wilson, plays. Then it's smooth reggae, "96 Degrees in the Shade," by Third World.

"You wouldn't think a guy from the Sex Pistols" would like that song, Jones says upon returning. "Who knows what you like if you're honest with yourself. I like pop. Pop goes the weasel."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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