Jah Wobble was there at the very birth of punk when teenage friends John Lydon and John Simon Ritchie (aka Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious) launched the Sex Pistols. The friendship with Mr. Lydon led to Mr. Wobble joining the snarling singer’s post-Pistols band, PiL (Public Image Limited), in which he helped create two albums of pure power and brilliance.
Infighting and frustration saw Mr. Wobble depart PiL in 1980 and then form Invaders of the Heart, a collective that has explores several genres of music ranging from funk to jazz and pop. That group even scored a hit in the 1990s with “Visions of You,” which featured lead vocals by Sinead O’Connor.
Mr. Wobble and his band return stateside for his first U.S. tour in over a decade, which stops by the Rock & Roll Hotel Friday. Mr. Wobble spoke about the origins of his name, those highly charged days in PiL and the Jazzy new CD, “Everything Is Nothing.”
Question: Is it true that you got your name from Sid Vicious?
Answer: Yes, my real name is John Wardle, but one drunken night Sid slurred
my name and changed it to “Jah Wobble.” He selected the name Jah because
he knew I loved reggae. “I like that, Sid,” I said. “I’m going to keep it
because people won’t forget it.”
Q: You were friends with Johnny Rotten early on. Why were you not in the Sex Pistols?
A: Apparently I was considered for it, but apart from John, the band was
very nervous of the prospect. I was a bit of a handful back then. I had no idea
that I was being considered for the gig.
Anyway it’s just as well that I didn’t get the job, because playing bass with PiL was much better. I was able to bring my natural style to the job; practically all the PIL tunes started with my bass lines. Obviously that would not have been the case with The Pistols. I would had to have learn their rock tunes, whereas in PiL I could play more modal and dubby.
That’s not to say I didn’t like The Pistols because I did. I am now very friendly with Paul Cook and Steve Jones.
Q: When the Pistols broke up, were you the first person Johnny Rotten called to form PiL?
A: Yes, along with Keith Levene [from The Clash]. I think John was pretty well prepared for the demise of The Pistols.
Q: Why did you decide to leave PiL in 1980?
A: Firstly, the business side of things was woeful. I had trouble getting paid.
There was all sorts of monkey business going on. Secondly, we did not work
enough. There were a lot of drugs in and around the band, which didn’t help. In the two years I was with the band, I think we played less than 20 gigs!
Thirdly, there was a very bad atmosphere in and around the group, so I left and
started working with Holger [Czukay] and Jaki [Liebezeit] from Can.
Q: How did you form Invaders of the Heart?
A: I was inspired by music from around the world and wanted to make a
melange of various Eastern and Western music. I got the name of the band
from a wonderful BBC documentary from 1982 called “The Romany Trail.” It
focused on the movement of gypsies from Rajasthan in India to Andalusia in
southern Spain. Some went through the Balkans and some went through
North Africa. The documentary featured the various gypsy music found
along the way. In Egypt there was a group of players who were said to
“invade people’s hearts.” I adopted that into the moniker of the band.
Q: Are Invaders a group or a collective?
A: Ha, no! It is not a collective. I am a (benevolent) dictator.
Q: Your song “Visions of You” featuring Sinead O’Connor became a bit of a hit. How did that song come to be?
A: I knew a bloke called Kevin Mooney who was in Adam & The Ants. He
formed a band with a bloke named John Reynolds, who was married to
Sinead. John got me in to play on a couple of Sinead tracks. I got on with her,
and she returned the favor. It was great writing the song with Sinead’s voice
already in mind.
Q: Why has it been 10 years since you last toured the U.S.?
A: I wanted to be at home to be a “present dad” to my two sons. They are both good musicians, but one boxes to a good level and the other is a pro footballer (soccer player), even though he is only 16. So they are both pretty sorted, and I don’t have to be an unpaid taxi driver for them.
I can now revert back to my default setting: self-centered and self-obsessed. I am quite comfortable with that.
Q: Has there ever been a moment you considered leaving music behind?
A: Yes in the mid-‘80s.
Q: What has brought you back?
A: Well, to be honest, save for a period of a couple of months at the end of 1986, when I was at the beginning of getting clean and sober, I have never really been away. Although I was a bit part-time for a couple of years.
Q: Is it safe to call the latest CD a funk and jazz album?
A: Yes, it is, but with a pretty deep vein of Afro rock.
Q: What can people expect when they come out to see you on this tour?
A: A great band playing music spanning four decades.
Q: Do you consider yourself a punk godfather?
A: Absolutely not. I’m more of a post-punk relic.
Q: Is it possible to grown old gracefully in rock ‘n’ roll?
A: Yes I think it’s possible for geriatrics to get down and boogie whilst retaining their dignity.
Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart perform Friday at the Rock & Roll Hotel. Tickets are $25 by going to Ticketfly.com.