Tuesday, September 7, 2010

1978: Johnny Rotten joins Devo?

The Sex Pistols – “ever get the feeling…”
Winterland Ballroom – San Francisco, CA – January 14, 1978

Following The Sex Pistols’ final show – January 14, 1978 at The Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco – Johnny Rotten was a man without a home.

Each of The Sex Pistols made their way to Los Angeles: from there, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and manager Malcolm MacLaren were headed to Rio de Janeiro for a working vacation (recording with U.K. train robber Ronnie Biggs for “The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle” film); Sid Vicious was in bad shape, and a friend got him to New York, where he was hospitalized.

What about Johnny, then?

"The Sex Pistols left me,” Rotten said, “stranded in Los Angeles with no ticket, no hotel room, and a message to Warner Bros saying that if anyone phones up claiming to be Johnny Rotten, then they were lying. That's how I finished with Malcolm—but not with the rest of the band; I'll always like them."

Within the week, Johnny made his way to New York, where he announced the end of The Sex Pistols to the press. Essentially broke, Rotten called Virgin Records' head Richard Branson for help.

Branson agreed to pay for Johnny’s flight back to London, via Jamaica…

…and...this is where things get interesting.

Rotten meets up with Branson in Jamaica, who’s on a working vacation of his own: he’s there to scout for new acts for Virgin’s “Front Line” reggae label. While the two are in the country, producer Lee “Scratch” Perry records reggae version of two Pistols tracks: “Submission” and “Problems” – Rotten is not impressed with the results and the songs go unreleased.

Making nice during a label bidding-war to snag hot new wave act Devo - who turned some heads, the previous fall, with their first e.p., “Be Stiff” - Branson invites keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh and bassist Bob Casales to Jamaica to talk things out.

In an interview with Swindle magazine, Mark Mothersbaugh picks things up from here. “We’re sitting there with Richard Branson, one of the richest men in the world, and we’re all in our 20s at the time. They had all this pot, so we’re like, OK. So we’re smoking pot. And they said, “What do you guys think of the Sex Pistols?” And we go, “They’re great.” We had partied with them on the last show they did in San Francisco. We were playing at some punk club, and they were playing the Winter Palace or wherever it was. They came over afterwards and blah-blah-blah.”

Mothersbaugh continued, “So they go, “Well, what do you think of Johnny Rotten?” We’re like, “Oh, he’s cool, we love everything he does.” They go, “He’s here in the hotel, and Johnny Rotten wants to join Devo.”

“And if you guys want to go down to the beach right now, we’ve got reporters from NME, Sound Magazine, and Melody Maker and they want to do a cover story about Johnny Rotten joining Devo.”

"That’s when we realized they hadn’t been doing any pot smoking, and it was only us," said Mothersbaugh. "They’d been rolling joints for us to smoke, but they’d just hold it, then hand it back to us.”

“We just started laughing at them until tears were coming out of our eyes and we were choking, and we’re like, “It’s not you, Richard. We’re not laughing at you. We love Johnny Rotten. That’s great. But what if we just help him start a band.”

So we had to hang out there for like a week with them because they’d flown us down there and we didn’t want to be in a band with Johnny Rotten. It was kind of uncomfortable.”

Despite Branson’s efforts to put the two together, reports suggest that Rotten likely never actually met with the guys from Devo while on the island, or even knew about the “meeting.”

Upon his return to London, Rotten went on to form Public Image Limited, while Devo’s full-length debut, “Are We Not Men? We Are Devo” was released in July - the same month Rotten entered the studio (as John Lydon) to record PiL’s debut, which was out before year’s end.

Last year, Mothersbaugh told USA Today, “I've thought about it since, I've thought that would've been interesting if we would've done an album, “Devo Featuring Johnny Rotten.” They just made it sound really permanent.”

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (Deluxe Version) [Remastered] - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (Deluxe Version) [Remastered] - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Devo – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1978)

God God Save the Queen - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen
Winterland Ballroom – San Francisco, CA – January 14, 1978