Devo Refused Johnny Rotten’s Request To Become Their Frontman, Mark Mothersbaugh Recalls

In a recent interview on the Broken Record podcast, Mark Mothersbaugh shared why Devo rejected Johnny Rotten’s offer to join the band as their vocalist.

According to his words, Devo and Sex Pistols members hung out together in 1978 after the latter’s final show until 1996. Sometime later, during the ‘Whip It’ band’s album negotiations with Virgin Records, Richard Branson invited Mothersbaugh and the others over to Jamaica for a meeting:

“And [Branson] goes, ‘Well, I’ll tell you why you’re here. I’ve got reporters from Melody Maker, Sounds, and New Music Express, the three English papers; they’re all in the hotel right now. And Johnny Rotten is here. Johnny Rotten wants to join Devo. If you want, we can go down to the beach right now and make an announcement and sign something on the beach, and Johnny Rotten can join Devo.”

Being high due to smoking joints at the time, the vocalist recalled his reaction to the news by saying:

“I remember at that point, all of a sudden, I hit this break. And I’m looking at Richard, and he’s staring intently at me with this crazed look on his face. Because, even to him, it must have sounded crazy in a way to say that. And he’s smiling really wide, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god. His teeth are protruding like a brain-eating ape.”

Despite being a fan of Rotten, Devo didn’t accept the offer:

“We love the band, and I love Johnny Rotten; he’s so amazing. But Devo, we’re different. And we have our own thing. But we love them, and that’s actually really complimentary that he would even think [about joining Devo].”

Devo’s Help With Rotten’s Next Band

According to some versions of the story, while turning down the ex-Sex Pistols frontman, Mothersbaugh suggested helping him form a new band instead. He and Rotten later had one-to-one about the topic, which Edward Whitelock referred to in ‘Apocalypse Jukebox: The End of the World in American Popular Music.’

Quoting Jade Dellinger and David Giffel’s Devo biography, the writer wrote:

“[Mothersbaugh] suggested that Rotten lose the safety pins and shredded shirts and adopt a corporate approach, that screwing with convention was edgier than spitting at it. Perhaps in response, Rotten dropped his stage name, and John Lydon formed Public Image Ltd., defining the post-punk aesthetic in the process.”

Later in 1978, Rotten lost his nickname and went on to perform with his new band, Public Image Ltd., as John Lydon. The band released their latest album, ‘End Of World,’ in August, while Devo kicked off what would be their final tour on November 3.