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guitar magazine_06/99
Barely dodging a lifetime condemned to hard labour as a C-list tribute band, Kelly Jones and his Stereophonics rose from Valleys-bound Hendrix wannabees to platinum-selling world-stage contenders faster than it takes most frontmen to settle on a hairstyle. The riff-rock convert tells TGM how it happened....

It's hard to imagine how a tidy-framed teenager from the small town of Cwmaman, near Aberdare, planned to transform himself into the doppelgänger of a rangy Cherokee/African-American, but the story you are about to hear is apparently all true. Down on his luck in the early 90's, the young Kelly Jones decided that the only way of making a living from music would be to shelve his own songs and reinvent not only himself, but also drummer Stuart Cable and bassist Richard Jones. The route to riches, it seems, lay in becoming south Wales's premier, and possibly only, Jimi Hendrix Experience tribute band.
'No-one was interested in our own songs,' Jones recalls, 'and the only people who seemed to be getting work were Abba, T-Rex and Jimi Hendrix tribute bands. We were all into Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes and Hendrix, but it was obvious we were only going to make any money doing Hendrix. At that time I was just guitar solo mad. Plus, there was three of us. We rehearsed a few things - Purple Haze, Crosstown Traffic - and it sounded okay. I was going to black up with boot polish and Stuart was going to have his hair dyed ginger. Thank God it never got to a dress rehearsal.' Jones shivers at the incredulity of it all. 'It would just have been fucking crazy, he adds, rather unnecessarily.

As he sips mineral water in the plush bar of West London's Bailey's Hotel prior to nipping off to the BBC to headline an edition of Later...With Jools Holland , it's clear that Kelly Jones made the right decision. His boot polish was left safely under the sink. Stuart Cable's hair remained a natural brown.
The trio's fortunes remained slim for a while longer, but they wisely persevered with their own compositions. They plumped on the name Stereophonics after seeing it on Cable's grandmother's archaic hi-fi. They got a deal with Richard Branson's fledging V2 label and gradually started having hits. Before they'd even got round to releasing their second album - this year's Performance And Cocktails - Kelly Jones was being acclaimed as one of the finest songwriters of his peer group. Half a decade after penury-induced madness nearly forced them to launch what would surely have been Wales's worst band (apart from Budgie), Stereophonics' world looks distinctly oyster-shaped.

'Yesterday we played 23 songs, a two-hour set, to 5000 people at Brixton Academy.' Jones beams proudly. 'Two years ago to the day, we did an eight-song set at the Barfly in Camden. That's how quickly it's gone. and in the summer we're playing at Wembley stadium (at the Toxic Twin Towers Ball) with Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Lenny Kravitz.... people we used to do covers of. And we're higher on the bill than The Black Crowes. That's fucking crazy, too.'
Perhaps so. But at least it's something to be proud of.
The 'wannabee Jimi' episode is just one remarkable tale in Stereophonics' life, a life seemingly devoted to rock'n'roll. Still only 24, Kelly Jones has been playing guitar since he was 10 after an 'afterthought' Christmas present from his singer father Oscar left him with a 10 quid mail-order catalogue acoustic. By 12 he and childhood friend Cable had played their first gig together, at the working men's club at the end of their street.
'We did Bad Moon Rising, Hotel California, Jump by Van Halen, Pretty Woman, Wipeout and two songs of our own which were just atrocious,' Jones laughs. 'Quite a varied set, eh? We had to leave as soon as we'd finished as we were too young to be in the club in the first place. I've got it on tape somewhere. I sound 12 as well.'
Via their older brothers (inevitably) Jones and Cable soon discovered the visceral thrills of real working men's rock: Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Rush, Bad Company and AC/DC.
'The first record I ever had was Led Zeppelin II . Gatefold sleeve. Fantastic album. At home I always remember Neil Young's After The Goldrush being on, and my dad would play Randy Crawford, Stevie Wonder's Talking Book - that' a great record too. It was Stuart's brother who had all the AC/DC records, plus the Clash, Bob Marley. When you form a band you just do covers of whatever you know, don't you? So that's what we did.'

By the mid 90's the two had been joined by bassist Richard Jones (no relation) and had called themselves Tragic Love Company in another tribute, of sorts, to three of their favourite bands: The Tragically Hip, Mother Love Bone and Bad Company. They carried on with covers - Lenny Kravitz's Let Love Rule and Mr Cab Driver were regulars, as were various Black Crowes and Pearl Jam songs plus a 100mph rendition of Bob Dylan's Homesick Blues. They sent out demos accompanied by bizarre gifts - some A&R reps got a slice of carrot cake, the luckiest a pair of shoes - but still TLC received zero interest and the boot polish option loomed. Thankfully, before long, Kelly landed a place on a college film and scriptwriting course and started to write 'proper' songs.
'One day in college, I just came up with 'She Takes Her Clothes Off,' he remembers. 'Then 'Local Boy In The Photograph' happened. It kind of set a standard to reach for. Then I stopped for ages and it was all crap again. But then good stuff came back, stuff like Billy Davey's Daughter', a very storytelling sort of style.'
In the meantime, a local landlord friend, Graham Davies, a fan of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, had become Jones' lyrical mentor.