By the mid 1980s, former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones seemed headed toward the same fate as former bandmate Sid Vicious. His post-Pistols career had been besotted by membership in promising but ultimately unrewarding bands and legal problems related to his substance abuse habit. Realizing he needed a change in his life, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he happened upon a burgeoning music scene that recognized his accomplishments as a guitarist. After getting clean and sober, he took a stab at a solo career, resulting in two disparate but engaging solo albums, both of which have been reissued by Rock Candy.
When it arrived in 1987, punks who knew Steve Jones’s name could easily be forgiven if they thought that the Steve Jones of Mercy was a new hard rock–minded guitarist. The big, long hair on the cover renders him virtually unrecognizable to the fresh-faced bad boy of the Pistols era, and the only thing more surprising than that cover image is the music itself. There’s no punk rock on this at all, no trace of the style that he helped to define a mere decade before. In fact, Jones recorded most of the music by himself, with the only musical assistance coming from drummers Jim Keltner and The Cult’s Mickey Curry.
Mercy, however, is a much better record than one might think. As a first foray into the world of a solo career, Jones doesn’t do that bad of a job. By his own admission, he’s not a strong vocalist, as he had never really taken on the role as a front man before. Yet many of the songs here don’t really require a strong voice, as the singing blends nicely with the mellower blues–rock on offer. Instead, mercy highlights how versatile of a guitarist Jones had become. “Mercy” and “Raining In My Heart” are easy on the ears MOR guitar rock ballads that were the fashion at this point in the 1980s, while “Pleasure And Pain”—which featured on the Sid and Nancy soundtrack the year before––is the best of the bunch, a thoughtful rocker that captured Jones’s post-rehab state of mind. But the more aggressive hard rock numbers here aren’t bad, either; “Give It Up,” “With Or Without You,” and “Through The Night” are potent songs that remind of contemporaries such as Iggy Pop and Billy Idol. Mercy might have been a sleeper, but it is a pleasure to listen to thirty years on.
His second solo album, Fire And Gasoline, appeared in 1989, represents a stunning maturity in Jones’s songwriting. He must have taken the criticism of his debut to heart, as it is a balls-out heavy metal and punk amalgam. Bands such as Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses had cited the Sex Pistols as their influence, giving Jones proper credit as an important punkguitarist. Not surprisingly, he tapped some of his new friends in the LA heavy metal scene to help them out, and help them out they did. Produced by Ian Astbury and with co-writing credits from Nikki Sixx (“We’re Not Saints”) and the band Rose Tattoo (“Trouble Maker”), Fire And Gasoline is indeed incendiary metal from the get-go. Rockers such as “God And Louisiana,” “Gimme Love,” “Trouble Maker,” and the title track are anthemic and tough as leather, with Jones throwing down some damn fine guitar to boot. He even ties the present with the past by offering up an updated version of an obscure Sex Pistols number, “I Did U No Wrong,” featuring a vocal from fan and friend Axl Rose.
Fire And Gasoline seemed like it should have been the beginning of a fantastic new chapter in his musical career. Yet as promising as Fire And Gasoline was, Jones’s solo career ended there. A few years later, he would reemerge with supergroup Neurotic Outsiders, one that felt like a natural continuation of his second album, relieving him of the vocal duties to focus on his guitar. He would also reappear in a reunited Sex Pistols, and has since become a notable DJ and musical impresario thanks to his superb radio show, Jonesy’s Jukebox. He’s even written a book about his experiences and struggles, 2017’s fantastic and essential Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol. Even though his solo career didn’t quite work out, he did release two excellent albums that helped to show just how damn fine a guitarist he was.