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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.
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