Sex Pistols in the ATL

johnny rotten

In January 1978, the Sex Pistols embarked on an ill-fated first tour of the U.S. It would last less than two weeks. By the time they finished their Jan. 14 gig at San Francisco’s Winterland, Johnny Rotten uttered these words on stage: “Ever get the feeling you’re being cheated?”, and walked off. Three days later, Rotten announced the breakup of the Pistols. They would go on to record some material without him, but the Sex Pistols as they were – Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook – were done.

The Pistols’ first gig ever under that name took place November 5th, 1975 at Central St. Martins College of Art & Design in London. Earlier that year, Malcolm McLaren took the helm as the band’s manager. It’s been debated to what degree he influenced the band, but he was very much responsible for their style and image. As former manager of the New York Dolls (1974-1975), and a fan of Richard Hell’s Neon Boys and Television, he knew that image and appearance could be major factors in a band’s success (though the Dolls broke up while he was managing them). He was also co-owner of a clothing shop in London call Let It Rock, later renamed Sex. This would become the gathering spot for the alternative / soon to be called Punk set in the London area. Members of the Pistols, the Clash and the Damned hung out there, as well as a pre-Pretenders Chrissie Hynde.

So it wasn’t long before the Sex Pistols had taken Britain by storm. The years 1976 and 1977 saw the UK punk revolution take flight. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, and the Buzzcocks were shaking up the establishment. In that same span, the Pistols zipped through three record labels (EMI to A&M to Virgin) before they finally released their debut, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols‘ in October 1977. Their relationship with A&M lasted a week. I guess it didn’t help that Sid Vicious trashed (and vomited all over) the Managing Director’s office after the signing ceremony.

album cover

So after the release of Bollocks, things were looking up, amd it was time to go stateside for their first tour. They were booked to appear on Saturday Night Live in December ’77, but because of passport issues, that gig fell through (Elvis Costello & the Attractions took their place). They finally made it over in early January.

Now, I want you to take a look at the cities they played….

Jan. 5: Great Southeast Music Hall, Atlanta, Ga.
Jan. 6: Taliesyn Ballroom, Memphis, Tenn.
Jan. 8: Randy’s Rodeo, San Antonio, Texas
Jan. 9: Kingfish Club, Baton Rouge, La.
Jan. 10: Longhorn Ballroom, Dallas, Texas
Jan. 12: Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa, Okla.
Jan. 14: Winterland, San Francisco, Calif.

Is there something wrong with that picture? The Sex Pistols live at Randy’s Rodeo?? A swing through the South? Nothing against the “Deep South”, but were those cities really the best place to premier the Sex Pistols on American soil? Wikipedia claims that on this short tour, the Pistols were “plagued by bad sound and physically hostile audiences, mainly at unlikely venues in the South.” Whoever booked the Pistols at these “unlikely venues” must have been on some really potent stuff.

So let’s go straight to the source and hear for ourselves. Here’s the first gig of their US tour in Atlanta. To this listener, the sound is just fine (it is a soundboard recording), I mean it’s the Sex Pistols here. I don’t sense much hostility from the audience here. If anything, it’s the reverse. Johnny Rotten is vintage Johnny Rotten in his between-song stage banter: rude, vulgar, and unapologetic.

This is from the Pistols’ Press Release regarding the show, from a cool site I recently found:

The Pistols spend a quiet day-and-a-half prior to their debut, granting a few interviews (most notably to Time and Newsweek) while hordes of British journalists scurry around the hotel lobby starting, spreading and squelching various rumors…. Channel 2 in Atlanta (WSB) reports the group as 1) having green hair, 2) vomiting and committing sexual acts on one another as part of their show, and 3) heading for Houston after the Atlanta date… Alex Cooley’s Great Southeast Music Hall is packed to the gills minutes after the doors open at 7:00 p.m..Among those in attendance are 5 television crews, approximately 50 members of the press (including such notables as John Rockwell, Bob Christgau, Wayne Robins, Kit Rachlis, Tony Schwartz and Roger Wolmuth), several police officers and vice squads from both Atlanta and Memphis…. A local band called Cruisomatic opens, primarily doing cover versions of early rock and punk standards (to our ears, they are louder than the Pistols will be later, which is not very loud, contrary to what the Atlanta papers said the next day)..The rain is coming down pretty hard by the time the Pistols go on at about 10:15 p.m.; Rotten asks, “Where’s My Beer?”… “You can all stop staring at us now,” Rotten says after opening with “God Save the Queen,” “We’re ugly and we know it… See what kind of fine upstanding youth England is chucking out these days?”..About 60% of the audience is standing and doing an Americanized version of the Pogo throughout, 20% of the audience is nasty, yelling yelling and throwing things at the band, and 20% of the crowd clearly does not know what on earth is going on..A mighty blow is struck for Punk Rock!!

Nine days later, Rotten would play his last show with the Pistols.
Ten months later, Sid Vicious would be arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. After Sid spent some time in Riker’s Island Prison, McLaren convinced Virgin Records to put up the $50,000 to bail Sid out. At a party celebrating his release on Feb. 2, 1979, Sid Vicious died from an overdose of heroin that he allegedly obtained from his addict mother. Truth is stranger than fiction, my friends.

So coming to you from deep inside Lynnrd Skynnrd territory, it’s the Sex Pistols!

January 5, 1978
Great Southeast Music Hall
Atlanta, Georgia

Download (zip file)

God Save The Queen
I Wanna Be Me
Seventeen
New York
Bodies
Submission
Holidays In The Sun
E.M.I.
No Feelings
Problems
Pretty Vacant
*Anarchy In The UK
*No Fun
*Liar
*Tracks 12-14 are from December 11, 1977, Maasbree, Holland

sid vicious

Bonus: Sid ViciousMy Way (mp3)

  • Skottie Phaust

    the great south east music hall is LONG gone from the atlanta scene. a brand new home depot just opened on the grounds where it once stood. it’s at the corner of piedmont and sidney marcus rds here in atlanta.

  • Realchildofhell

    I was 14…a few years before i dove headlong into the fledging Atlanta punk rock scene…but I remember the newspaper reports and the fury and flurry that the Pistols visit caused …I have a few friends that did make it to the show and are in the DOA film footage outside the venue….

  • http://melchman.net Jim

    McLaren was trying to create the “punk manager” and screwed up a few bands. Not sure it could have been done any other way, but like Yoko, I blame Malcolm.

  • http://dubdotdash.blogspot.com/ peter mac

    from what I’ve read about the Pistols ill-fated US tour, the dates were Mclaren’s idea, as he wanted to avoid the cool cities like New York, LA, and get away from the music hipsters. There’s a great interview with Mclaren where he refers to himself “not so much as a band manager, but a mis-manager”.

  • http://underneathica.blogspot.com jon

    I’ll second Peter Mac that it was McLaren’s idea to deliberately avoid NYC, LA, etc. Jon Savage goes into detail about it in the book England’s Dreaming.

    When Elvis Costello and the Attractions appeared on SNL, drummer Pete Thomas wore a t-shirt that read, “Thanks, Malc”.

    Thanks for posting this show! I moved to Atlanta about five years after the Sex Pistols show, and I used to live around the corner from the former site of the Great SE Music Hall (on Lindbergh). Never thought I’d hear this performance!

  • http://underneathica.blogspot.com jon

    It sounds like there are two guitars playing. Jon Savage’s book has a detailed guide to the Pistols’ bootlegs, and he says that many of them were doctored by adding backing tracks to make them sound better.

  • http://ickmusic.com Pete

    Interesting stuff, especially about adding backing tracks to bootlegs?? I haven’t heard of that before. Who would do the doctoring?

  • http://underneathica.blogspot.com jon

    Jon Savage points the finger at Dave Goodman, who was the producer of the Sex Pistols demos (which have been heavily bootlegged themselves, as well as many of the band’s live shows, where Goodman worked the PA). Goodman apparently used studio musicians, and even doctored some of the between-song banter from the stage on at least one bootleg.

    “England’s Dreaming” was reissued in 2001 with an updated appendix by Jon Savage following the Filthy Lucre reunion tour. It’s an exhaustive book (over 600 pages) but very much worth reading.

    Where did you get this show? Savage says the Atlanta show came out on a Swedish bootleg called “Never Trust a Hippy”, and another bootleg called “Power of the Pistols”.

    Do you hear two guitars?

  • http://ickmusic.com Pete

    Jon – yeah I guess I hear two guitars. In the opening tune “God Save the Queen”, it sounds like Steve Jones churning along, and then you hear another stronger power chord kick in. It’s a pretty full guitar sound alright. That’s really interesting that Goodman would doctor even the bootlegs.

    I saw the book “England’s Dreaming” yesterday at Barnes & Noble. I’ll pick it up as soon as I finish this Clash tome that I’m currently reading. With all this internet time, it’s hard to get through a 500 page book! ;-)

    The bootleg I have is titled “Kill All Hippies”, which may be the same as “Never Trust a Hippy”. I recently got it from a friend of mine, not sure where he got it.

  • LUCIE

    SID WAS GREAT!!!!!!!!!! YES ITS TRUE THAT HE SUCKED AT BASS…I MEAN HE ONLY HAD PICKED IT UP A FEW DAYS BEFORE HE JOINED THE BAND!!! HAHAHAAHHAAHAHAAH I KNOW THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT BUT HE GAVE IT ALL AND I HAVE TO GIVE IT TO HIM!!!

  • http://www.myspace.com/ottoerickson Otto

    I had that fucking show on vinyl and my ex-wife pawned it!

  • Dr Glenn

    I was there at the show,it was great,theres not many of us left!!!!

  • THE HEAD

    maclaren was as you americans say an asshole,he attemted to indoctrinate the lads but failed miserably with lydon who to this day still shows us how stupid maclaren really was and is. i saw the pistols live a few times in their very early gigs in the uk,they definately redefined the music industry. sid was a great advert for punk but unfortunately met up with nauseating nancy and became a waster like her. glad to see that real punk is still being listened to over the water, the so called new punk that you guys churn out over there now is complete rubbish even your old school bands didnt have a patch on our punk as ours was all about the times, places and attitudes of a forgotten youth left with no jobs and no futures.

  • http://cruis-o-matic.com Steve Bryant

    The opening act for the Atlanta Great Southeast Music Hall show was Cruis-O-Matic and the band is still active today. In fact I drum for them and original member Edward Tanner is still on lead guitar and vocals for the band. Now that the show is 30 years past, Edward (an attorney today) is still being interview about the event. In fact the AJC just did a piece this week. I wasn’t that aware of the Punk scene back then, but find in interesting that the Pistols’ US tour is still a big deal among music journalists and fans. Edward mentions the event in the History section of cruis-o-matic.com if anyone is interested.

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  • http://ww.curtisknapp.com Curtis Knapp

    I was old enough- sort of, to go to Wtock. And live in Athens in 77-8. The gig at SE Music Hall for the Pistols was totally great. I had a ticket. I got near stage. All was swell. But for the rain. All this Hulla-ballu about was it good or not etc. CRAP! I think the fact they played a shopping mall is totally Like Andy Warhols 99 cents thing. I saw them insire of music fans that night. Coming from the CBGBS world of NYC, I can say I was in the right place at the right time. A wonderful ni. But we had to drive all the way back to Athens in the rain. A small price to pay or a few hours of history! Rock the F on man, Curtis Knapp

  • Tsar

    In October of ’82 a good friend of mine gave me the Pistols opening show in Atlanta on tape..dreadful sound but I still have it.

    Trying to track down the remaining tour has has been difficult

    Any thing from the Taco Bell in Memphis?

  • http://none james

    When you go to an ACDC concert back in the 70s you would soon realize you were watching the Angus Young talent show. The guys incredible and being impressed by his jamming just made the band entirely. I feel the same way about the sex pistols. Steve Jones just roaring on that guitar like only he could. Awesome hooks. The guitar work was primo even though most Karen Carpenter fans thought it was too noisy or something. Ridiculous. Steve rocked it and hes the sex pistol with whom nobody knows his name. It was his band.. his groove.. his talent. STEVE JONES PEOPLE.

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  • finger cymbal

    Sid spit on the fruit plate and signed my earth shoe that night…remember those ugly footwear?

    Signed Steve’s drum bag too.

    Didn’t seem such a bad sort, but he had only been here a day.