A real unique and special band:
The Unforgiven were a roots rock band that existed for four years during the 1980s. They were signed with a two-record deal to Elektra Records after a bidding war with Warner Bros. Records and several other labels. One label was willing to sign the band unseen and unheard. The band’s attire and overall look was compared to that of actors in a Spaghetti Western; three-quarter length overcoats, dusty boots, and wide brimmed hats.
The lineup on the band’s sole album (released in 1986) featured Steve Jones aka John Henry Jones (lead vocals, guitar), Johnny Hickman (guitar and vocals), Just Jones aka Mike Jones (guitar and vocals), Todd Ross (guitar and vocals), Mike Finn (bass and vocals) and Alan Waddington (drums and vocals). The self-titled album sold 50,000 copies. Steve Jones previously sang with and led the group The Stepmothers; two other members of The Stepmothers performed with a later incarnation of The Unforgiven, bassist Larry Lee Lerma and guitarist Jay Lansford. During the period that the band was active bassist Mike Finn was a teacher at an Orange County public school.
When asked during a Los Angeles Times interview about the record label’s bidding war leader Steve Jones replied:
I can only tell you what they tell me. The timing seems to be right for a band that seems healthy. We play very aggressive music, but it’s still pop. We’re not trying to be overly political — we mean what we say, we don’t say more than we mean…
In the same interview Craig Lee wrote that the band came into the Los Angeles rock scene with a “defiantly macho image”. The tough look wasn’t just an act. Before each rehearsal the group would run and lift weights.Johnny Hickman gave up smoking in order to join the band.
Drummer Alan Waddington stated in an May 24, 1985 interview at Madame Wong’s West in Santa Monica:
It’s great to know you’re wanted, and that you’re going to do something with a major label. The label has sunk a lot of money into us just trying to get a record made. Right now, that’s their main concern.
The Unforgiven were unusual in their four-guitar lineup, their use of “gang vocals”, their vintage cowboy image, and their embrace of a country-influenced roots rock sound that would find greater popularity after they broke up. They appeared at the 1986 Farm Aid II concert held at the Manor Downs horse track in Manor, Texas, and at the Farm Aid III show the following year held at Lincoln, Nebraska. The band was one of the earliest bands to have their music videos distributed on channels other than MTV, helping that format move beyond a single TV channel in genres other than mainstream pop/rock.
Alan Waddington moved on to perform with Desperation Squad from Pomona and is on staff at Citrus College in Glendora, California. Johnny Hickman became a member of Cracker, and Just Jones, Mike Finn, and Unforgiven roadie Tim Allyn perform with the band The Hickmen.
Steve Jones went on to write, direct, and compose in the music and television industries. He is credited with writing the “Days Like These” track off of Asia’s Then & Now album from 1990. More recently he worked as series producer for Discovery Channel’s first season of Pitchmen, and in 2010 co-founded a talent development agency.
The band reunited for what was called “one last show” during the 2012 Stagecoach Festival held at Indio, California. Several of the original band members, plus one guest fill-in, played several tracks including “Some Days”, “Hang ‘Em High”, and “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”. Jay Lansford (now living in Hanover (Germany) and playing lead guitar for the Simpletones and Ch. 3) along with Steve Jones and Alan Waddington (living in Azusa) all performed at the event. (wikipedia)
For a brief time — a matter of months, really — the Unforgiven were the most wanted band in Los Angeles. Every label looked at the six-string slinging sextet and saw cash, maybe because the group seemed to be the American counterpart to the Big Music surging through England in the mid-’80s — the majestic, surging sound typified by U2, the Alarm, the Waterboys, and Big Country. Led by Steve Jones, who adopted his grandfather’s name of John Henry Jones, and featuring no less than four guitarists (one of whom, Johnny Hickman, would later go on to play in Cracker), the Unforgiven harnessed this arena-conquering roar and married it to imagery from the American West, a seemingly irresistible combination on paper that proved hard to peddle to America at large. Their lone album, an eponymous record released on Elektra in 1985, tanked and the group faded away, leaving behind a small cult that eventually clamored for a one-time reunion at the Stagecoach festival of 2012.
Prior to forming the Unforgiven, Jones played in the L.A.-based punk group the Stepmothers and also spent time in the metal band Overkill, but come 1983 he had the idea for a band inspired by spaghetti Westerns and strident rock & roll. At first, he brought in drummer Alan Waddington and guitarist Mike “Just” Jones, with Johnny Hickman following next, and the group grew even larger a year later when Todd Ross — the brother of Jeff Ross from Rank & File — joined the lineup. The Unforgiven started gigging regularly in Hollywood but the bidding war was sparked overseas thanks to music newsweeklies publishing stories on the band due to their fondness for the Stepmothers. NME featured the band as a Next Big Thing and soon every label was after the band, with Elektra eventually winning the war.
With their new contract came heavy-hitter deals with CAA and Mötley Crüe/Bon Jovi manager Doc McGhee, and John Boylan, the man who produced Boston’s 1976 debut, helmed the group’s first record. Everything was in place for a hit, including supporting slots for Tom Petty and ZZ Top, but the record went no further than 185 on Billboard and spent only two weeks on the charts. Soon afterward, Ross was fired, Hickman bailed, and the band went through a few lineup changes, settling down to Steve Jones, Waddington, and some former Stepmothers. A failed attempt to revive the band at Atlantic led to a permanent split, with Jones going on to work behind the scenes at Hollywood Records and as a writer (Asia covered “Days Like These”) before turning to reality TV (he produced Pitchmen for Discovery Channel).
The Unforgiven retained at least one powerful fan in the form of Paul Tollett, president of concert promoters Goldenvoice, who wound up convincing the group to reunite for the 2012 incarnation of the roots music festival Stagecoach. Two years later, the Unforgiven’s lone album was reissued by Real Gone Music, featuring liner notes by Chris Morris that told the band’s tale. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)
Storming across the dusty streets of a Western town are the Unforgiven, a sextet of street slingers hailing from the mean streets of Los Angeles in 1986. It was a rough time, one when money hung heavy in the air, one when any group of rocking vagabonds could possibly strike gold if they were teamed with the right set of prospectors, which the Unforgiven undoubtedly were. Surviving a furious bidding war, the Unforgiven signed with CAA and manager Doc McGhee, who was then riding high on the success of Mötley Crüe, and set up shop at Elektra Records, where they were put in the studio with John Boylan, the guy who produced Boston’s debut a decade earlier. The Unforgiven didn’t sound like a relic of the ’70s, nor did it seem like it belonged to the punk and metal undergrounds where leader John Henry Jones used to roam. It is a record that thoroughly embodies its time, capturing every misbegotten and forgotten trend of 1986. At their core, the Unforgiven were an American version of Big Country borrowing the Last Gang in Town persona of the Clash: messianic rockers determined to follow in the footsteps of U2 right into an oversized arena.
Some of their Western imagery had thematic ties to the nascent roots rock of the ’80s — the Los Angeles-based indie Slash had plenty of nervy, back-to-basic bands and cowpunk was on the rise in 1986 — but the Unforgiven only had designs on MTV and AOR radio, so they made a massive, steel-girded rock, an album constructed to intimidate via its sheer size. Apart from an instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” that attempts to end the album on a lyrical note, every one of the songs piles on the guitars and shout-along vocals, anchored by rhythms that echo in a cavern. This is Big Music, rock & roll as a calling, but where the Alarm, U2, and Big Country often looked outside themselves and found the troubles at large, Jones constructs ad hoc myths out of half-remembered TV Westerns. It’s all a façade, which perhaps would’ve made The Unforgiven an ideal album for 1986, a transitional year in the reign of MTV when the network was in need of a big new guitar band to rally the troops. Instead, The Unforgiven stiffed, possibly because it’s all sound and fury and no hooks, but probably because it was so damn silly. These were detriments in 1986 but, years later, they’re attributes because this hubris captures the spirit of 1986 in a way so many hit albums did not. Real Gone’s 2014 reissue contains two bonus tracks: a single edit of “I Hear the Call” and the non-LP “The Long Run Out (Ballad of the Unforgiven).” (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)
Have no idea why they didn’t make it really big. They should’ve.!
Mike Finn (bass, background vocals)
Johnny Hickman (guitar, vocals)
John Henry Jones (vocals. guitar)
Just Jones (guitar, background vocals)
Todd Ross (guitar, background vocals)
Alan Waddington III (drums)
01. All Is Quiet on the Western Front 4.05
02. Hang ‘Em High 4.02
03. I Hear The Call 4.08
04. Roverpack 3.33
05. Cheyenne 4.24
06. The Gauntlet 4.04
07. With My Boots On 3.19
08. The Ghost Dance 2.58
09. The Loner 3.41
10. The Preacher 4.05
11. (Amazing) Grace
12. The Long Run Out (Ballad of the Unforgiven) (previously unreleased) 4.26
All songs written by John Henry Jones
except 11.: Traditional
except: 12. written by Dennis Hill – Steve Jones – Alan Waddington