One-on-One with Sweet’s Steve Priest
One of the true pioneers of glam-rock is SWEET. The band cemented their place in music history by selling more than 40 million records as well as with their outrageous live show antics. Anthems like ‘Ballroom Blitz,’ ‘Little Willy,’ ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ and jukebox fave ‘Fox on the Run’ propelled four English lads who joined together in 1968 to the top while raising a ruckus in the music industry. The group turned out hit after hit from 1971 to 1978 before disbanding in 1981. Sweet tunes appear in feature films like Dazed and Confused, Lords of Dogtown and Wayne’s World, and are a staple of radio stations everywhere to this day.
Surviving founding member of “The Godfathers of Glam”, STEVE PRIEST, is still giving Sweet fans what they want. He took the time to write his 1994 autobiography ‘Are You Ready Steve?’ and released his CD ‘Priest’s Precious Poems’ in 2006. He happily surprised Sweet fans by putting together a revamped lineup here in Los Angeles, which continues to carry on performing sold-out live shows and festivals worldwide. In 2008, the CD Live in America was released followed by the double-disc package Action: The Sweet Anthology, a collection of their greatest hits.
Priest granted The Tolucan Times a very rare interview at his cozy home in the beautiful foothills of Los Angeles…
What made you choose the bass at such an early age?
I saw this band on a show and notice they all had red Fender guitars except for the man in the middle; he had a strange guitar which only had four strings. I thought, “Hummm… I like that idea!” It was The Shadows and Jet Harris was the bass player; it was because of him I started playing bass. Eight years ago I spoke to him on the phone and asked, “Do you realize that it is because of you that I am playing bass?” he responded, “Oh shut up!” It was cool because his much-younger wife was a huge Sweet fan and was surprised it was me on the phone! (Laughs)
You started playing by actually making your own bass.
I put two half-inch pieces of plywood together and cut them out so it looked like a bass and when I put the neck on to start with, it didn’t have any frets. I didn’t know how to put those in and then I found out that you use a fret saw…
How did Sweet form in 1968?
I was in an eight-piece band called The Army; Mick [Tucker] and Brian [Connolly] were in a band called Wainwright’s Gentlemen. We played at the same place in London one night. Mick got fired that evening and Brian said, “If you fire him, I’m leaving too”. He called me the day after while I was working as an auto electrician and asked me if I wanted to start a four-piece band. We began rehearsing with a guy named Frank Torpey who was Mick’s guitarist friend and it all came together. We had a very good vocal blend actually; it was amazing. We didn’t sit down and go, “Alright here’s your part”; we all knew our own parts.
Sweet and Kiss are known for pioneering ‘Glam Rock’ ~ who came first?
One of the big quotes from Kiss is, “If it wasn’t for Sweet there wouldn’t be Kiss”, seriously. And we dressed up [because] Top of the Pops was a game: “I’m outrageous; I’m going to be more outrageous than thee…”
Do you embrace the title “Godfathers of Glam?”
Not really. If you listen to our later albums you’ll realize they were not glam at all. We didn’t really start it; I think Mark Bolan [of T-Rex] did. We just sort of followed on…
You performed a lot of the lead vocals throughout Sweet’s career.
Yes, like ‘Restless,’ which was the B-side of ‘Ballroom Blitz’. I sang the whole thing; probably because I wrote it. On ‘Blitz’ I sing, “(singing)… And the man at the back said everyone attack…”
Many of your B-sides are played on the radio more than your originally released singles. Which of Sweet’s ‘anthems’ do you enjoy doing the most?
I like ‘Fox on the Run’ because we [the band] wrote it; ‘Ballroom Blitz’ always goes down well…I know it’s a crowd pleaser; it’s nice to have crowd pleasers in the set. And I enjoy playing ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ live because I can actually sit down for a while during the middle of it and have a little rest! (Laughs)
Which is your favorite Sweet song?
‘Done Me Wrong All Right’; it’s just a good rock ‘n roll song. It’s on the B-side of ‘Coco’ and when we used to open with it peoples’ jaws just fell open because they were expecting ‘Funny Funny’, but that’s not what we wanted to play. We do ‘Done Me Wrong’ now and it goes down very well! We have a harmonica solo in it now and added a lot more to it.
What made you relocate from across the pond to Los Angeles?
I met my current wife Maureen when we were touring here in 1976; we kept in touch and eventually I moved to New York in 1979 and lived there for seven years. I had a great three-piece band called The Allies. Maureen’s work sent her to California and we’ve been here since 1986. I have no desire to go back to England.
Why write your autobiography, Are You Ready Steve?
(downloadable at www.thesweet.com/hsh/books.html)
Why not? (Laughs)
Your solo CD ‘Priest’s Precious Poems’ did way better than you expected.
I underestimate myself at times. Fans want things they have never heard before, and that is what it was.
What do you do for fun?
I used to play tennis, but I had my knee replaced and haven’t quite gotten over it yet. I’d like to start playing again because I was getting pretty good.
What is Sweet up to these days?
We are still playing all over the place; the Midwest, Canada. We did a short tour of the East Coast a little while ago. I really want to play So Cal again soon as well. We have a new guitarist, Ricky Z, which has changed the whole sound of the band…so much better!
Any plans to record a new album?
Yes, but I don’t want to be the old Sweet doing the old Sweet stuff; I don’t just want to reinvent say, ’Big Willy’. (Laughs) When you go on stage fans want you to play what they have already heard so we have to get over that.