“It drew me in”: The musician who inspired Jah Wobble to play bass

Meta Description: Discover the legacy of Jah Wobble, the renowned bassist of Public Image Ltd., and his journey from punk beginnings to creating innovative rhythms in post-punk music.

Jah Wobble: The Influential Bassist of Public Image Ltd.

Famously, Jah Wobble is the stage name of John Wardle, the bassist renowned for his work with John Lydon on the early Public Image Ltd. albums. His humorous pseudonym, fittingly, was given by childhood friend Sid Vicious, who mispronounced Wardle’s name while under the influence of various substances. Finding it memorable, Wardle adopted Jah Wobble as his professional moniker, and the rest is history.

The Early Days of Jah Wobble

In the early 1970s, Wobble was in a friendship group called The Four Johns, which also included Lydon and Sid Vicious, whose real name was John Simon Ritchie. This gang of mischievous urchins would go on to establish the anarchistic punk scene in the UK. Early on, Lydon and Ritchie became fascinated by contemporary music by acts like Roxy Music, David Bowie, and Marc Bolan. Wobble’s fascination with music took a little longer to emerge.

Speaking to Far Out in 2022, Wobble remembered the first time he took an interest in music and fell in love with the instrument he would later pick up. He identified his first pivotal moment as the time he went to see “Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett with the Wailers at the Lyceum in 1975.” Observing that the Wailers’ style was far from his associative punk domain, he added: “It was the sonic end side of things that really grabbed me at first, especially with the blue beat, or ska, music.”

Jah Wobble’s Musical Awakening

Despite the differences between punk and reggae styles, Jah Wobble connected with Barrett’s heavier bass work, which he hadn’t heard before. “It was this feeling, you know? It was incredible,” he commented. “The bass end of it was becoming a bit heavier than other contemporary records. I didn’t even articulate it that much at the time, but it drew me in.”

Although Wobble was drawn in by Barrett’s prominent bass grooves above Bob Marley’s guitar and vocals, he hadn’t yet decided to pursue a career in music. “I didn’t come out of there thinking, ‘I’m gonna play bass,’ because the punk thing hadn’t really happened yet, but I was just fascinated with the bass players,” he noted.

From Punk to Post-Punk with Public Image Ltd.

Around the time Jah Wobble saw the Wailers performing in London, Lydon formed Sex Pistols with guitarist Steve Jones, bassist Glen Matlock, and drummer Paul Cook. At this point, Vicious and Wobble were yet to pick up the bass guitar. Wobble lived in a squat with the fourth John, John Gray, and struggled with drinking and drug abuse.

However, following Sex Pistols’ rise to success with Never Mind the Bollocks, Wobble took a more active interest in music, especially when Vicious replaced Matlock on bass. Thanks to Barrett and his “builder’s hands,” Wobble picked up the bass. “It’s only four strings, you don’t play any chords as such, and when I’ve tried to play the guitar in the past I’ve thought ‘Ooh, this is horrible,’” Wobble explained. Raising his hands, he said, “I’ve got big, massive hands and fingers. They’re yellow fingers, not because of nicotine anymore, but from eating biryani … I’ve got biryani fingers now!”

When Sex Pistols broke up in 1968, it was finally Jah Wobble’s time to shine. As Lydon sought a new band to satiate his thirst to explore a more textured and artistically innovative post-punk sound, he reached out to an old friend. Crucially, the pair shared a taste for dub, reggae, and world music. Wobble’s most memorable contributions arrived in the innovative rhythms of PiL’s 1979 masterpiece album Metal Box.

The Lasting Impact of Jah Wobble

Jah Wobble remains a pivotal figure in the evolution of post-punk music, influencing many with his distinctive bass style and innovative approach. His contributions to Public Image Ltd. and his journey from the punk scene to post-punk prominence continue to be celebrated by music enthusiasts worldwide.

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