Friday, December 11, 2015
It's a whirlwind of activity around the broadcast studio of 95.5 KLOS FM, as Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and producer Mark Sovel make last-minute preparations for the second episode of Jonesy's Jukebox on the venerable classic-rock radio station.
They get everything situated just as the clock strikes noon, and kick off the show with a ticket giveaway to see reunited '90s shoegaze heroes Ride at the Wiltern. After that, it's free-form FM radio at its finest. Jones cues up an eclectic mix of music, including AC/DC, Peter Green–era Fleetwood Mac, Ronnie James Dio and Sniff 'n' the Tears' lone hit from 1978, "Driver's Seat."
Jones interrupts the music to tell a story about relieving himself on Elvis Presley's grave. Then he welcomes the show's guest, actor-comedian Fred Armisen, whom he's known since the '80s. Armisen takes the opportunity to interview Jones as much as Jones interviews him, getting the guitarist to open up about his childhood and relationships with both his father and stepfather.
It all makes for exceedingly riveting radio, harkening back to the all-too-brief run of Jonesy's Jukebox on its first home, Indie 103.1 FM.
Between Christmas Day 2003 and January 2009, Indie 103 snuck onto L.A.'s airwaves to deliver a vast expanse of alternative music, from then-burgeoning local bands The Airborne Toxic Event, Giant Drag and She Wants Revenge to a deep well of classic alt-rock and proto-punk icons such as Joy Division, New York Dolls and The Stooges.
At the heart of Indie's appeal was weekday lunchtime show Jonesy's Jukebox, which found the former Sex Pistols guitarist hosting two hours of completely off-the-cuff radio, waxing on about his own experiences in the roller-coaster world of rock with an enviable who's who of guests such as Johnny Ramone, Jerry Lee Lewis and fellow ex-Pistol John Lydon.
Jonesy's Jukebox survived the dissolution of Indie 103 in various forms, resurfacing online and for a brief stint on KROQ Sunday nights. But the show now is experiencing its splashiest revival yet, returning to the daytime airwaves via KLOS on Oct. 30.
"I really enjoyed it. It went smooth. I thought I was gonna be rusty, but I fell right back into it," Jones says of the show's KLOS debut. It's scheduled to run every Friday from noon to 2 p.m.
Jones has lived in L.A. since the early 1980s. He followed his initial run with the Sex Pistols by becoming an in-demand session guitarist, working with the likes of Billy Idol, Joan Jett and even Bob Dylan. He's also delved into the world of acting, most recently with a recurring role over the final two seasons of Showtime series Californication.
"It's weird, really, but it fits," he says of his new radio home. "They're so old-school and I'm kind of old-school. I love their classic logo with the rainbow circle."
He's also happy to be back on the daytime airwaves, saying his Sunday night timeslot on KROQ was not a good fit for the show. "I wouldn't say it was a disaster, but no one listens to radio on a Sunday night anymore. Me hands were tied as well. I couldn't really do what I wanted to do. But here, they're letting me pick my songs and do what I do."
The new run also reunites Jones with Sovel, aka "Mr. Shovel," who has worked on Jonesy's Jukebox as producer and Jones' occasional on-air foil since the days of Indie 103.
While the show was Jones' first foray into radio, Sovel's career on the dial goes back to the '80s and his hometown of Detroit. There he worked on the groundbreaking stations WABX and WLBS, which for a time shook up the Motown airwaves with daring post-punk formats unlike anything happening on Detroit radio at the time.
After moving to L.A. and working at a handful of stations around town, Sovel became the founding music director at Indie 103. Currently, he's in his third year as music director at KCSN 88.5 Los Angeles, where he also hosts his own free-form radio show, City of Night.
"It's exciting to be on KLOS. For me, it has such a legendary stature, so to be allowed to go on there and do Jonesy's Jukebox seems like quite an honor," Sovel says. "At the same time, we know a lot of their audience might not be familiar with the show or even Steve Jones, so it will be something new to a lot of people."
Sovel says the on-air chemistry between him and Jones came naturally. "It just sort of happened. Steve would start talking to me on the air and I had no choice but to open up the mic and start talking back, and we had a goofy rapport, much like in real life. It's an interesting chemistry, and I'm happy for the opportunity to go back and work with him again."
Jones is equally sanguine about his connection with Sovel. "We did it for a lot of years. We both know our roles," he says. "I think people who know Jonesy's Jukebox like that me and him are back together. I've got a lot of good response on social media about it."
"The Indie format was an anomaly on commercial radio," Sovel says of the storied station that birthed Jonesy's Jukebox. "The situation as it is now, it's even more rare, which is why it seems shocking that KLOS would allow this show to go on the air there. But to Keith Cunningham's credit, he's had the courage to put it on, and I'm grateful for that."
Cunningham, KLOS' program director, says that a show like Jonesy's Jukebox is essential to keeping terrestrial radio competitive with the onslaught of alternatives, from streaming to subscription services.
Radio is at the point right now where we need to start thinking outside the box and push new boundaries," he explains. "Jonesy's Jukebox was so wildly popular on Indie 103, and many of our listeners grew up listening to The Sex Pistols. He's playing rock music, and he fits the psychographic appeal of this radio station. For me, it was kind of a no-brainer."
For Jones, it's a platform he clearly relishes, spinning tunes that influenced his own musical style ("Playing New York Dolls on KLOS was a real kick for me") and sharing his catalog of stories from a lifetime spent in the rock & roll trenches.
"There's a bottomless pit of great old rock classics that are never even touched. It's exciting for me to turn listeners on to that stuff," Jones says of his ever-changing playlist.
"The whole thing for me is you're doing it live there in the studio, as opposed to podcasts or whatever. I love the fact that I'm on the radio live locally. I guess it's just an old-school thing. The way those '70s DJ would pick their own songs instead of just filling space between a set that's already been laid out and they have no control over. That's what I love, and I'll do it as long as they'll let me."
(Originally published on L.A. Weekly 11/17/2015)