Joe Guida interview

First published Fodderstompf, February 2008
© 2008

Fodderstompf.Com: Joe Guida played guitar in the much maligned, so-called, "cabaret band" line-up that toured Japan and Europe in 1983. Joe contacted Fodderstompf in 2007 offering to give us some additional information about himself and his involvement with PiL. He was keen to tell his side of the story, and to help set the record straight about a few things. So we took the opportunity to interview someone who has never really spoken about his time in the band, and about who little is known…

The resulting interview – conducted by email over a period of months – brings fresh perspective to the period, and is as frank and pretension free an interview you are likely to read on Fodderstompf… Interview conducted via email for Fodderstompf 2008.


Joe Guida, live with PiL, Bochum, Germany October 31st, 1983 © courtesy RockpalastFirst off, I think you want to clear something up! You are NOT the same Joseph Guida that released a children's album called the 'The Singing School Bus Driver'! I think we'll blame Google for that!

Thanks very much for clearing that up. I was getting sick and tired of tripping over all those little bastards wanting a ride to school everyday! Sorry, I just couldn't resist. Lets proceed…

Could you tell us a little about your background previous to PiL?

Pre-PiL I was a freelance musician. I was making a living doing session work, teaching, and playing in numerous cover and original bands. I looked at every situation as a learning experience, and considered myself fortunate to be able to support myself doing what I love.

Can you describe the circumstances you were brought into PiL? Were you brought in to supplement Keith Levene, or had he already left? The often reported story is that Keith refused to go to Japan, but there are also conflicting reports that PiL felt it was too risky to take him; due to worries over his drug use and the implications it could have on the band. Were you only brought in as a temporary replacement until the Japanese tour had been completed, or did you think you had landed the job full-time?

By the time I auditioned for PiL, Keith was definitely gone. There was never any talk of me supplementing him. I was never given an official explanation for his departure, but there were many conversations centered on Keith's recreational chemical adventures. It was my understanding that he was asked to leave.

As far as whether the position was temporary or permanent, they were very up front about that. I was asked to do the Japanese tour with a "we'll see how it goes" clause. I certainly wasn't naive enough to think I was going to waltz into a band of PiL's stature as a permanent member, based solely on a good audition. Besides, I very quickly realized there was probably only one full-time member in PiL!

Apparently you were hired from auditions, but you already knew Lou Bernardi; who had just been hired for bass duties. How did it all come about? I believe you also knew PiL engineer / producer Bob Miller?

First of all, anyone who has ever auditioned for PiL, or any other famous band for that matter, probably knew 'somebody'. That's just the way it works; you need a recommendation. You just don't walk in off the street and announce you would like to have a go at it! Knowing someone may get you on the list… It most certainly doesn't get you the job.

A few years prior to PiL, Lou Bernardi and I played in one of the area's well-known cover bands, and also worked together on a few different original projects. I really didn't know Bob Miller that well, but I knew of his reputation for recording and producing in all the top New York studios. I suppose that at some point during the audition process Lou mentioned my name as a possibility. Bob was pretty much a member of the band at that point, so the call came from him. His only instruction was to learn some PiL songs and be ready for anything! I did… and I was.

Did you know much about PiL?

At the time I certainly knew John's history and had seen the famous Tom Snyder interview. I had to check them out after that, primarily to see if the music was as strong as the attitude. As soon as I heard 'Annalisa', I had my answer. It's a brilliantly written song with a deceivingly complex guitar part. The bass line hardly ever changes, while Keith is constantly shifting, setting up all the different sections. It's hypnotic without being boring, which is extremely difficult to pull off. Many other famous bands 'borrowed ' that sound in later years. So to answer your question, I knew enough about PiL to realize they were breaking rules, fusing different types of music together, and basically giving the entire music business the finger. That's all I needed to know.

You mentioned in your email that you hate the 1983 line-up being referred to as the "cabaret band".

I hate it …but I can certainly understand it. Martin Atkins convinced John to have us wear those silly tuxedos on the Japan tour. He claims it was a tongue-in-cheek joke, because he'd seen bassist Lou Bernardi playing in some hotel cover band. What I find funny is that Martin has stated he was backing strippers in cabaret/clubs, just before joining PiL. With an impressive pre-PiL background like that, maybe there should have been a tux with his name on it as well! I mean that all very tongue-and-cheek, of course. In my opinion, he was simply handing himself a company promotion... sans the gold watch. He very cleverly seized the opportunity to show that PiL was now John and Martin, so pay no attention to the temps in the tuxes!

Replacing an original, much loved, key member in a band like PiL is a difficult position to be in. You're essentially being thrown to the wolves, which I could handle. I just feel that having us wear those ridiculous outfits was like coating us in a tasty butter sauce! We were served up to the critics on the proverbial silver platter with a big bulls-eye on our heads. In hindsight, I should have refused. Once I got off the plane of course. Rant over…

It has to be said that compared to the previous PiL line-up's they sounded lightweight. And from interviewing various people around your line-up, I know many of your backgrounds were little more than bar bands. Surely you can accept it was a huge disappointment for most people, that a once innovative band like PiL, were reduced to playing with unknowns from cover bands. Playing 'Anarchy in the UK' certainly didn't help the 'cabaret band' tag either.

My background, incidentally, was significantly more than just playing in bar bands, but that's certainly not a point that I feel the need to debate or defend, especially in 2008! There were quite a few well known guitarists present the day I auditioned. Like it or not, John heard plenty of players, hired the ones he liked, and certainly didn't seem to care if anyone was going to be disappointed due to a lack of impressive credentials. Besides, is it really that much of a stretch to think John might avoid what was 'expected'?

As far as what I had done at the time to earn the right to play with an innovative band like PiL, I had done enough to land an audition and apparently did it well enough to get hired for 2 major tours. Look, if anyone was disappointed solely with the music I can respect that. Disappointed... simply because none of us were already famous… Bollocks to those pinheads! As far as getting to play 'Anarchy in the UK' onstage with John…that experience alone was worth the price of the "cabaret" tag.

PiL, Autumn 1983: Lou Bernardi, Atkins, Lydon, Arthur Stead, Joe Guida © unknownThe biggest problem for me was the prominence of the keyboards. Tracks like 'Public Image' & 'Annalisa' that so heavily relied on the original guitar line, were drowned out by – quite frankly – cheesy keyboard. Was the keyboard purposely pushed to the front in certain tracks? You must have found it frustrating to be constantly drowned out?

After listening again recently to 'Live From Tokyo', I can understand your point about the keyboards. However, I would add that a small amount of the perceived 'cheesiness' was due to the extreme over use of those sounds throughout the eighties, making them sound horribly dated in later years. In mid-1983, le fromage content was somewhat lower.

The use of keyboards was simply an experiment started by Keith, and continued after his departure. In my opinion, it was an attempt to make the music slightly more mainstream palatable, or dare I say it… a bit more c$m$ercial. Remember, 'This is Not a Love Song' became a huge hit at the time, partially due to Bob's co-production involvement I might add, and it certainly was not you atypical PiL song. Unfortunately, after a LARGE disagreement with manager Larry White, Bob left the band mid-way through the European tour. The question that needs to be asked is: Did the WRONG person leave PiL after the dispute? Well, No more Bob Miller... No more "Top Ten" hits. I find that very interesting. Then again, Larry White did fetch a mean cup of tea... and John loved that!

It occurs to me that PiL knew the line-up wasn't going to be accepted, and that perhaps the cheesy sound of much of the material was done totally on purpose. Martin Atkins has stated that he knew it wasn't going to work, and that getting the band to dress in Tuxedo's was a tongue-in-cheek joke.

Ah yes… yet another conspiracy theory rears its ugly head! The suggestion that John, Martin, or Bob would deliberately sabotage Public Image music is quite frankly ridiculous. In my opinion, they were simply trying something new, or quite possibly just a little something to infuriate the critics.

As you've probably already noticed! I am not a fan of the 1983 line-up – no one really is in all honesty – the music was too clean and polished; and often soulless. Little more than a PiL cover's band with John Lydon on vocals. Do you feel the band had potential to grow, and was perhaps stifled by having to copy other people's material? Material that was so highly regarded and well known. Stepping into Keith Levene's shoes was never going to be easy for anyone.

Wait a minute… You're not a fan? Really??? (Laughs). I must say, I'm extremely amazed that you are 100% sure that absolutely "NO ONE" in any of those screaming crowds ever liked what they heard! Seriously, I do recognize that the line-up was more hated than loved. I've heard all the various criticism through the years, including the damage control statements by John and Martin. I never took any of it personally, and considered it all part of the game. Everyone is entitled to an opinion…. and certainly entitled to change it. The music business is not a place to be if you're thin-skinned. I've always accepted the fact that it's a scary place, filled with know-it-all critics, leeches, hangers-on, slippery managers, agents and lawyers… and of course, there's a down side as well!

There certainly was potential for growth. However, once the critics got hold of us, that all came to a screeching halt. Regarding having to step into Keith's position… well, it's what it was. For many people (myself included), Keith Levene was a defining member who could not be replaced. Once I figured that out, the rest was easy. My plan was to treat the key parts he played with respect, and slip in my own parts whenever possible. One example would be what I played on the "live" version of 'Flowers of Romance'. Since there wasn't a guitar part on the original version, I created one. I used the side of my pick like a bow, combined with a delay effect, to get sort of a psycho violin/viola sound. You can see it in some of the online clips. John quite liked that as I remember, and I was happy to show I was capable of much more than just spitting out Keith's stuff.

PiL tried to replace you after the Japanese tour, reportedly saying you weren't fitting in. What do you think might have prompted that? Were you even aware they wanted to replace you? Who do you think was behind it? PiL or manager Larry White?

Well, the official call came from Larry White, stating that John and Martin felt that my playing was too rock oriented, and they wanted to move in a different direction. I was disappointed, but not all that surprised. John seemed a bit bored with guitar in general at that point, and Martin wanted a guitarist who sounded and even looked like Keith... and that certainly wasn't me. I was even asked to use Keith's white guitar, since it was apparently PiL property. I flat out refused, but as a compromise agreed to take it along as a backup guitar. You can see it on stage in the Japan video. Can you imagine the field day the critics would've had over that? NO THANK YOU!

Of course, in the end – despite auditioning other people and eventually offering the job to Robert Poss – they decided not to replace you. Why do you think they u-turned? Robert Poss stated in his Fodderstompf interview that he thought it was simply because you already knew the parts and had played on the live album. And if push came to shove, it was just easier to keep you.

Robert Poss found out first hand just how difficult PiL music was to figure out and play. I do find it hysterically funny that he was asked to learn the parts off the 'Live from Tokyo' album, and had a difficult time trying to play like me… attempting to play like Keith. Confusing... isn't it? I later heard he had the most trouble with the part that I created for 'Flowers of Romance'… THANK YOU VERY MUCH! He was a good experimental type player, with a look that fit the band. I'm sure he was very capable playing his own stuff, but at that point in time, I guess John wanted someone who could play Public Image music. So my name went on the plane ticket.

What were your feelings about them wanting to replace you? It couldn't have been easy. Did it hurt your pride to come back, knowing they had wanted rid of you?

It was strictly business so I never took it personally. I was very graciously taken out to dinner by the band.... I mean the company, and asked to do the European tour. I accepted.

And the way I see it, PiL auditioned half of New York and hired me, then auditioned the other half and re-hired me. Why on earth would my pride be hurt?

How did you get on with the other members of the band, and in particular Martin Atkins and John Lydon?

Generally speaking, I got along well with everyone involved with PiL, including Martin and John. Martin was an extremely powerful and innovative drummer. Some of his beats were so strong that they could stand on their own as recognizable songs. We got on well for the most part… with a few occasional bumps in the road. He was usually very up front about his criticism, and I did respect that.

PiL, London Hamersmith Odeon, December 4th, 1983 © unknownI first met John at the rehearsal studio while waiting to audition. He sat down next to me and began doing a brilliant "Flipper" impersonation. We hit it off well, and he seemed like a genuinely regular guy. (Gasp) On tour he was hysterically funny and a master at winding people up, especially manager Larry White! John could certainly dish it out, but he could also take it right back. In fact, he seemed somewhat disappointed if he fired a quip and you didn't fire back. I also found him to be a brutally honest person. I'd actually seen him roll around on the floor, laughing and kicking his feet in the air while screaming, "It's awful and I hate it!!! This was right in front of someone auditioning for him! That's why I'm somewhat comfortable saying that he generally seemed OK with my interpretation of the music, at least during that particular moment in time.

However, I do remember being on his naughty/wanker list once. During a sound check I launched into a Stones song, as my own little tongue-in-cheek joke. It was my response to being asked (again) to sound more like Keith. Oops… wrong Keith! The band jumped in, and 'some' of us had a good laugh. John, however, was not amused. Apparently a Japanese critic was in the venue and wrote about it … quite favorably I might add. John was definitely still not amused!

Despite the bad press it has received since, the majority of shows the band played were well received by crowds. 1983 was the first time PiL had really toured properly. Many people were so pleased to see PiL/John Lydon that maybe the overall sound of the band didn't matter as much. You must have sensed the excitement. It must have been a huge difference in what you were previously used to playing to. Were there any shows, good or bad, that particularly stand out for you?

Yes, the majority of the live shows were extremely well received. Just check out some of the many online clips. However, the suggestion that the sound of the band didn't matter much doesn't give the fans at those shows too much credit. Granted, maybe we didn't sound like some felt PiL should. In my opinion, the band was playing hard and tight, John was brilliant, and Bob Miller had the FOH sound absolutely crushing. None of those crowds looked like they felt cheated.

I did feel the excitement, but certainly wasn't a stranger to playing in front of large crowds. However, absolutely nothing prepared me for the Hollywood Palladium gig when we started 'Anarchy In the UK'. Talk about shock and awe! For a few seconds the crowd just froze in disbelief. They just couldn't believe that John was actually treating them to a Pistols song. All of a sudden they just exploded, collectively lost their minds, and went ballistic! It was an incredible rush, quite scary actually, and a moment I will never forget.

Were there any plans for you to remain with PiL after the European tour? Louis Bernardi returned to play some parts on the next studio album, was he the only one that was approached?

Lou Bernardi was the only member approached to play on the next album. At that point, I realized my involvement with PiL had probably run its course. Lou is an incredible bassist, and I know Martin greatly enjoyed working with him. I was shocked when he didn't continue on with PiL after that album.

I can't exactly remember where, but I remember reading in the music press that yourself and Lou had tried to get a project together after PiL. Is that correct?

A year or so after PiL, Lou and I recorded a project at Media Sound in NYC that was tentatively called Jo Public.  Bob Miller produced and co-wrote the material with us. The band also featured Jimmy Destri (Blondie), Atticus Finch,  and some other great players.  Because of our PiL involvement,  we had a lot of label interest and came pretty close to getting a deal. Unfortunately after going through numerous lead singers, the budget ran out and the project eventually came to an end.  We all remained friends and moved on to other things.

In your Fodderstompf bio we stated, it seems quite unfairly, that after PiL you had returned to 'general obscurity'. However, in your email you mentioned that you went onto work as a successful session guitarist, and had recorded with Grammy Award winning producers; as well as touring with R&B legends. Can you elaborate on your post-PiL career?

Post-PiL I realized I much preferred a "slightly more under the radar" type of worth ethic. As far as elaborating, I find that when someone goes into great detail on what they've done, it usually comes off like some pathetic pat on the back, a calling card for more work, or just more boring fodder for critics. Quite frankly, at this point in time, none of that appeals to me. I would prefer to say that in the last 24 years I've done a lot. I stay quite busy in my little corner of "obscurity", and would prefer to leave the primary focus of this interview about my time with Public Image.

What are your current activities? The last I heard you were playing in a wedding band called The Blast?

Another hit for the mighty google! Yes, one of many bands that have been gracious enough to hire me when I'm available. Political functions, corporate events, and even weddings (Gasp), are fair game for any freelance musician. You would be very surprised at the "names" I've run into doing this type of work. Some look down on it, but every time I sit in the studio I've built from the proceeds, I'm more than comfortable with my work choices.

Joe Guida, live with PiL, Bochum, Germany October 31st, 1983 © courtesy RockpalastCurrently, I'm working on some new material, and trying to finish an instrumental CD I've started. I'm still involved with music instruction and many other facets of the business, which are far too long and boring to talk about at this time.

I'm also preparing to start a new project with producer Bob Miller. After working with him post-PiL, I really understood why they considered him part of the band. In my opinion, much of dubiously released, unfinished material on 'Commercial Zone' would not exist had Bob not been involved. 'Miller High Life' anyone?? Drink up!!!

I've also been working with a very talented producer called the Anayalator at Ni-Fi records; and I'm part of a great collaborative team called Bo-Ty productions. We've recorded a large selection of extremely diverse material, which is currently making the rounds to some very big names in the industry. I could continue, but I think I've sufficiently bored most PiL fans at this point. So lets move on.

Anything else you would like to add?

I don't expect anything I've said will make anyone burn their "I HATE THE 83' LINE-UP" T-shirt. That certainly wasn't my goal in answering your questions. For those that hated the line-up … by all means CARRY ON!!

I do hope that I have given an interesting, inside perspective on an extremely confusing period in PiL history. That's why after so many years of not bothering to comment, I've decided to speak out. Playing in Public Image Ltd. was a great experience, a difficult situation that I handled as honestly as I could, and I remain proud of the work I did with them to this day.

I recently read a quote from the 19th century English novelist Thomas Hardy who said, "Everybody is so talented nowadays that the only people I care to honor as deserving of real distinction are those who remain in obscurity"… Thanks Tom! And Thank You Fodderstompf.

Thanks Joe!


Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Joe Guida, live with PiL, Bochum, Germany October 31st, 1983 © courtesy Rockpalast
PiL, Autumn 1983: Lou Bernardi, Atkins, Lydon, Arthur Stead, Joe Guida © unknown
PiL, London Hammersmith Odeon, December 4th, 1983 © unknown
Joe Guida, live with PiL, Bochum, Germany October 31st, 1983 © courtesy Rockpalast
Interviews | Fodderstompf