Are You Ready, Steve? Sweet bass player Steve Priest (1948-2020) remembered
Steve Priest died aged 72 on June 4th, confirmed his former bandmate, Sweet guitarist Andy Scott:
“I am in pieces right now. Steve Priest has passed away. His wife Maureen and I have kept in contact and though his health was failing I never envisaged this moment. Never. My thoughts are with his family. He was the best bass player I ever played with. The noise we made as a band was so powerful. From that moment in the summer of 1970 when set off on our Musical Odyssey the world opened up and the rollercoaster ride started! He eventually followed his heart and moved to the USA. First New York then LA. Rest in Peace brother.”
Priest played bass throughout the initial run of Sweet (1968-1981) and became the band’s main singer for their last three albums, released in 1979-1982. In 2008, Priest also formed a new version of the Sweet.
But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Stephen Norman Priest was born on February 23rd, 1948, in Hayes, Middlesex, England. Influenced by The Shadows, The Rolling Stones and The Who, Steve Priest made his own bass guitar and began playing in local bands as a young teenager. In January 1968, Priest was invited to form a four-piece band with vocalist Brian Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker. The group was originally called Sweetshop, soon shortened to The Sweet and later simply Sweet.
Original guitarist Frank Torpey (ex-The Tribe, a.k.a. The Dream) would be replaced by Mick Stewart (ex-The Ealing Redcaps, Simon Scott & The All-Nite Workers, The Phil Wainman Set – featuring the future Sweet producer on drums – and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates) in 1969 before the classic line-up was completed in August 1970 with the arrival of Andy Scott, formerly of The Elastic Band (with his brother Mike Scott) and The Scaffold, a band led by Paul McCartney’s brother “Mike McGear”.
Sweet’s origins can be traced back to the British soul band Wainwright’s Gentlemen where Tucker had played with Connolly, who’d replaced Ian Gillan. Gillan quit Wainwright’s Gentlemen in May 1965 to join Episode Six, and later, Deep Purple. Tucker and Connolly remained with Wainwright’s Gentlemen until January 1968 after which they teamed up with Steve Priest, formerly of The Countdowns and a local band called The Army. “You Stole My Heart Away” by Malcolm & The Countdowns can be heard on the compilation album “The Joe Meek Collection: Hidden Gems Volume One” while “Sugar” by The Army was included on “Rare Mod Volume 5”.
The quartet made its public debut at the Pavilion in Hemel Hempstead on March 9th, 1968, and they soon developed a following on the pub circuit. The Sweet’s debut single “Slow Motion” (July 1968) was released on Fontana but failed to chart. Prior to the arrival of Andy Scott, The Sweet also released three bubblegum pop singles on EMI’s Parlophone label: “The Lollipop Man” (September 1969), “All You’ll Ever Get from Me” (January 1970), and the Archies’ “Get on the Line” (June 1970).
All songs from the first four singles were eventually included as a bonus disc with a 2015 re-issue of the debut album “Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be”. The B-side of “The Lollipop Man” was a band composition, “Time”, credited to Steve Priest and the other band members at the time.
Andy Scott made his live debut with The Sweet on September 26th, 1970, and initial success for The Sweet began in 1971, after the band teamed up with songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Connolly, Priest and Tucker first provided the vocals on a Chinn/Chapman composition called “Funny Funny” which featured Pip Williams on guitar, John Roberts on bass and producer Phil Wainman on drums. A management deal was then signed with the aforementioned songwriting team while Wainman stayed on as executive producer.
“Funny Funny” (March 1971) became the group’s first international hit, “Co-Co” (June 1971) went to number two in the U.K. but “Alexander Graham Bell” (October 1971) only went to #33. These tracks all featured session musicians, with the quartet providing only the vocals. The Sweet’s first album, “Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be” (November 1971) collected the band’s recent hit singles along with new Chinn/Chapman tunes and covers of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” and The Supremes’ “Reflections”.
The album failed to match the success of their singles but it did include four band compositions: “Honeysuckle Love”, “Jeanie”, “Spotlight” and “Done Me Wrong All Right”. Connolly, Priest, Scott and Tucker also wrote some single B-sides around this time: “You’re Not Wrong for Loving Me”, “Man from Mecca” and “New York Connection”, all later included as album bonus tracks on CD. Steve Priest sang lead on the Chinn/Chapman album track “Chop Chop”.
The novelty song “Poppa Joe” (February 1972) reached number 1 in Finland and “Little Willy” (May 1972) reached No. 4 in the UK. While these tracks were rather silly, the B-side “Man from Mecca” (Connolly, Priest, Scott, Tucker) was much heavier.
“Wig-Wam Bam” (September 1972) was the first Chinn-Chapman single on which only members of Sweet played the instruments. “Block Buster!” (January 1973) became the Sweet’s first single to reach number 1 on the UK chart and “Hell Raiser” (May 1973) reached number 2 in the U.K.
The Sweet initially attempted to combine influences from The Monkees and 1960s bubblegum pop groups with more heavy rock-oriented groups such as The Who. The Sweet also adopted the rich vocal harmony style of The Hollies, concocting a fusion of pop and hard rock that prefigured glam metal. The band also capitalised on the glam rock explosion, rivalling Gary Glitter, T. Rex, Queen, Slade, and Wizzard for outrageous stage clothing. Despite the chart success, the Sweet were not happy with their ‘bubblegum’ image. The band members had always composed their own heavy-rock songs on the B-sides of their singles and Sweet’s live performances consisted of B-sides, album tracks, and various medleys of rock and roll classics. A 1973 performance ended in the Sweet being bottled off stage; the disorder attributed, by Steve Priest, to the Sweet’s lipstick and eye-shadow look. The incident would be immortalised in the hit “The Ballroom Blitz” (September 1973).
At the end of 1973, the band’s name evolved from “The Sweet” to “Sweet”. Having grown tired of the management team of Chinn and Chapman, the group and producer Phil Wainman recorded the album “Sweet Fanny Adams” (April 1974), demonstrating Sweet’s technical proficiency on self-penned hard rock tracks such as “Sweet F.A.”, “Rebel Rouser”, “Heartbreak Today” and “Set Me Free”. “Set Me Free” would later be covered by Saxon (1984), Heathen (1987) and Mötley Crüe vocalist Vince Neil.
The album title is slang originating from the murder of eight-year-old Fanny Adams in 1867. The murder itself was extraordinarily brutal with Adam’s body cut into several pieces. Used to express total downtime or inaction, the military, manual-trade and locker room talk phrase “sweet Fanny Adams” has been in use since at least the mid 20th century. “Fanny Adams” arrived in 1860s naval slang to deplore unliked meat stews and broadened to mean anything badly substandard. By the time of the album it meant “nothing at all” as well as the euphemism “F.A.” = “fuck all”.
Adopting a more conventional hard rock sound and appearance, “Sweet Fanny Adams” featured compressed high-pitched backing vocal harmonies. Steve Priest often directly backed up Brian Connolly’s vocals and took distinctive short high pitched vocal leads. Sadly, Connolly got involved in a fight during the album sessions, badly injurying his throat. This incident permanently compromised Connolly’s singing ability and diminished his range. Steve Priest filled in on lead vocals for “Restless” and “No You Don’t”. The latter was one of two album tracks by Chapman and Chinn, the other being album closer “AC-DC”. The album also included one cover song, “Peppermint Twist” (Joey Dee, Henry Glover), first released by Joey Dee and the Starliters in 1961.
A 2005 re-issue of “Sweet Fanny Adams” adds the previous Chinn/Chapman singles (“Block Buster!”, “Hell Raiser” and “The Ballroom Blitz”) along with the band compositions released as their respective B-sides: “Need a Lot of Lovin'”, “Burning” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Disgrace”.
Their third album, “Desolation Boulevard” (November 1974), featured a rawer sound and was released only six months after “Sweet Fanny Adams”. The first single from the LP, the Chinn/Chapman composition “The Six Teens” (July 1974), was a Top 10 hit in the U.K.
Chapman and Chinn wrote “Turn It Down” but the album also featured “Fox On The Run”, a group composition which was later to be re-recorded. “Solid Gold Brass” and “Breakdown” were also credited to all band members, Priest included. Steve Priest sang lead vocals on the cover of The Who’s “My Generation” but the album also featured another cover song, “The Man with the Golden Arm” (Elmer Bernstein, Sylvia Fine), a song first featured in the 1955 film of the same name.
1974 also saw the release of a non-album single, “Teenage Rampage”. It was included along with B-sides (“Own Up, Take a Look at Yourself”, “Burn on the Flame”, “Someone Else Will”, “Miss Demeanor”) among the bonus tracks of a 2005 re-issue of “Desolation Boulevard”.
In 1975 Sweet went back into the studio to re-arrange and record a more pop-oriented version of “Fox on the Run”. Sweet’s first self-written and produced single, “Fox on the Run” (March 1975) became their biggest selling hit. The release of this track marked the end of the formal Chinn-Chapman working relationship and the band stressed it was now fully self-sufficient as writers and producers. Steve Priest sang lead vocals on the B-side, “Miss Demeanor”.
The following single release, “Action” (July 1975), peaked at number 15 in the UK. The song was later covered by Raven, Black ‘n Blue, Steve Stevens and Def Leppard. Notably, the Scorpions recorded a version of “Action” already in 1975. Using the pseudonym The Hunters, their version was sung in German and titled “Wenn es richtig losgeht”. The song was released on a single that also included “The Hunters” doing a version of Sweet’s “Fox On The Run”, entitled “Fuchs Geh’Voran”.
Now confident in their own songwriting and production abilities, Sweet spent the latter half of 1975 in Munich, Germany, where they recorded the album “Give Us A Wink” (February 1976) with the sound engineer Reinhold Mack. Mack had previously worked with the Scorpions on their “Fly to the Rainbow” album (November 1974) and would go on to work with ELO and Queen.
Containing only compositions credited to the band members (Connolly, Priest, Scott , Tucker), the album completed the group’s move to hard rock with songs like “Cockroach”, “4th of July”, “White Mice” and the previously released singles “Action” and “The Lies in Your Eyes”.
The release of “Give Us A Wink” was deferred until 1976 so as not to stifle the chart success of “Desolation Boulevard”. Meanwhile, RCA had issued the double album “Strung Up” in November 1975. It contained one live disc, recorded in December 1973, and one disc compiling previously released single tracks from 1973-1975. There was also an unused track by Chinn and Chapman included, “I Wanna Be Committed”. At the end of 1975, Andy Scott had also released his first solo single, “Lady Starlight” b/w “Where D’Ya Go”, with Tucker playing drums.
During a concert in California in March 1976, Sweet played the Free classic “All Right Now” with Ritchie Blackmore (Rainbow, ex-Deep Purple) as a tribute to mark the death of Free guitarist Paul Kossoff, who was to have supported Sweet with his band Back Street Crawler.
Between October 1976 and January 1977, Sweet wrote and recorded material for their next album. “Lost Angels” was released as an advance single from “Off the Record” (April 1977), an album where they worked with Louis Austin who would go on to engineer Def Leppard’s 1980 album debut. As on “Give Us A Wink”, all songs were credited to all the band members (Connolly, Priest, Scott , Tucker).
“Stairway to the Stars” was withheld from the original album and issued as a follow-up single to “Lost Angels” and “Fever of Love”. It and the B-sides “A Distinct Lack of Ancient” and “Why Don’t You Do It to Me” were later included as bonus tracks on various CD re-issues of “Off the Record”. The funky stomper “Funk It Up” was also released as a single with a “disco mix” as the B-side.
The band cancelled a US tour with Aerosmith and did not play a single concert in 1977.
The first Polydor album, “Level Headed” (January 1978), found Sweet experimenting with classical sounds alá Electric Light Orchestra. Essentially, the album saw Sweet abandoning hard rock for melodic pop and ballads with a 30-piece orchestra.
It featured “Love Is Like Oxygen” (written by Andy Scott and Trevor Griffin, who’d previously played a piano solo on a track off “Give Us a Wink”), their last U.K., U.S., and German Top 10 hit, and “California Nights” (May 1978), a single featuring Steve Priest as the lead vocalist. Andy Scott also wrote “Dream On” but all other songs were co-credited to Steve Priest. The ballad “Lettres D’Amour” was a duet between Connolly and Stevie Lange, soon to emerge as lead singer with the group Night.
Born in Zambia as Stevie van Kerken, she met future Def Leppard producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange when the two attended the same school in Mufulira. The two would play together in a short-lived band named Hocus, later marry and emigrate to England. In 1978, she met Chris Thompson while providing backing vocals for the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band album “Watch”. Shortly after, Thompson invited her to be a part of his new band, Night.
Sweet extensively toured the US in 1978, initially as a support act for Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The second leg of their US tour had them supporting Foghat and Alice Cooper. Meanwhile, Brian Connolly’s alcoholism and estrangement from the group was steadily becoming a greater issue. In late October, Sweet arrived in London to complete their next album. A number of tracks were recorded featuring Connolly but these efforts were deemed unsatisfactory. Brian left the band on November 2nd, 1978, publicly said to be pursuing a solo career in country rock.
Sweet continued as a trio with Priest assuming most lead vocals, though Scott and Tucker were also active in that role. The trio’s first single was “Call Me”. Tours with Journey and Cheap Trick were made to support “Cut Above The Rest” (March 1979), an album where Steve Priest was co-credited for all of the songs except “Call Me” (Scott), “Eye Games” (Scott, Louis Austin) and “Hold Me” (Scott). Original outtakes of “Play All Night” and “Stay With Me” (a.k.a. “Log One/That Girl”) featuring Connolly on vocals were later released on the 1995 rarities CD “Platinum Rare”.
The next Sweet album, “Waters Edge” (August 1980) was recorded in Canada and featured the singles “Sixties Man” (Peter Hutchins, Pip Williams) and “Give The Lady Some Respect” (Ray McRiner). Steve Priest sang lead vocals on both singles, his own composition (“Hot Shot Gambler”), “Getting in the Mood for Love” and “Waters Edge”.
Priest was co-credited for “Tell the Truth” (Priest, Scott, Gary Moberley), “Getting in the Mood for Love”, “Own Up” and “Waters Edge” (all by Priest, Scott and Tucker). Priest shared co-lead vocals on “Tell the Truth” and “Thank You for Loving Me” (Scott, Moberley).
One more studio album, “Identity Crisis”, was recorded during 1980–81 but only released in West Germany and Mexico. Sweet undertook a short tour of the UK and performed their last live show at Glasgow University on March 20th, 1981. When Polydor released “Identity Crisis” in October 1982, the original Sweet had been disbanded for almost a year.
With two exceptions, all of the songs on the final album were credited to Priest, Scott and Tucker. Andy Scott wrote “Love Is the Cure” while “I Wish You Would” is a song written by Chicago blues musician Billy Boy Arnold, who first recorded it in 1955. The English rock band the Yardbirds (then featuring Eric Clapton) recorded “I Wish You Would” for their debut single in 1964. It has also been covered by Canned Heat (1969), Black Widow (1971), David Bowie (1973) and Hot Tuna (1976).
When Sweet disbanded, Steve Priest lived in New York and formed a band called The Allies with guitarist Marco Delmar and singing drummer Steve Missal. Success was elusive but their composition “Talk To Me” did feature in the film “Fast Food”. Priest then largely reverted to private life, only making occasional forays into production and session work, collaborating with artists such as David Arkenstone and future bandmate Stuart Smith. In 1983, Steve Priest played bass on “Only For You”, an EP by Mikael Kirke that was produced by Rick Derringer.
Between 1971 and 1982, Sweet had released a total of nine studio albums with Steve Priest. The group would be revived in 1985 by Andy Scott and Mick Tucker but Steve Priest declined to join them. He relocated his family to Los Angeles shortly thereafter. Priest did do a demo session in L.A. with the other members of the original Sweet in 1988, with Mike Chapman producing, to see if a reformation was possible. Ultimately, the members were unable to come to an agreement and the album project failed. Tucker departed Sweet in 1991, after which Scott changed the band’s name to “Andy Scott’s Sweet”. Scott truncated it to simply “The Sweet” after Tucker’s death in 2002. “Brian Connolly’s Sweet”, a.k.a. “New Sweet”, was also a going concern from 1984 to until his death in 1997.
In 1994, Priest published his autobiography, “Are You Ready Steve?”, with the title taken from the intro to the Sweet’s “The Ballroom Blitz”.
In 1998, Steve Priest was credited with playing bass on the track “Trouble In Paradise” off the Stuart Smith album “Heaven And Earth”. That album also featured contributions from Richie Sambora, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes, Carmine Appice and Kelly Hansen.
Priest’s own more recent material saw a release in 2006, “Priest’s Precious Poems”.
In January 2008, Priest eventually formed a new version of the Sweet – not related to Andy Scott’s version of the band – with Stuart Smith (guitar) and Richie Onori (drums) from the band Heaven & Earth. Priest’s Sweet also featured keyboard player Stevie Stewart (ex-Crow) and vocalist Joe Retta.
In early 2009, the band released a live CD – “Live! in America” – recorded in August 2008 at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, California. The band also recorded a cover of the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” for Cleopatra Records’ Abbey Road, a Fab Four tribute CD released in 2009. 2010 then saw them releasing an updated, hard rock version of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.”
As such, there used to be two versions of The Sweet active with original members: “Andy Scott’s Sweet”, who frequently tour across Europe as Sweet and makes occasional sojourns to other markets including regular visits to Australia. Then there was “Steve Priest’s Sweet” who toured the US and Canada. They also toured South America with Journey in 2011.
With the passing of Steve Priest, there is now only one member still alive from the classic Sweet line-up, Andy Scott, and his version of Sweet is now the only one left.