Bernard Rhodes

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Bernard Rhodes
Born5 January 1944
Occupation(s)Designer, band manager, record producer, songwriter
Years active1960–present
Associated actsThe Clash
Subway Sect
The Specials
Dexys Midnight Runners

Bernard Rhodes is a fashion designer, record producer, songwriter and impresario who was integral to the development of the punk rock scene in the United Kingdom from the middle 1970s.[1] He is most associated with two of the UK's best known punk bands, the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Rhodes was responsible for discovering John Lydon and arranging his audition in the King's Road which led to him joining the Sex Pistols. He introduced Mick Jones and Paul Simonon to Joe Strummer, who, with Keith Levene then formed The Clash. Rhodes was an important force behind The Clash not only managing their business but also handling the marketing and creative direction of the band. He left the group from 1979 to 1981 to pursue other opportunities but singer Joe Strummer demanded his return in 1981.

Other groups Rhodes worked with and managed include The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, Subway Sect, Jo Boxers, The Lous, Black Arabs, Twenty Flight Rockers and Watts from Detroit.

During this period Rhodes built and then operated from his Camden studio Rehearsal Rehearsals, in what became Camden Market. The area around the studio became a well known hangout for punks and contributed to the growth of Camden as a hip area.

Early life[edit]

Bernard Rhodes was raised in Stepney, east London. He says he never knew his father. He was placed in a Jewish orphanage in South London where he remained until he was 15. His mother worked long hours for Huntsman's tailors in Saville Row making suits for people like Cary Grant and later Hawes & Curtis where Rhodes friend John Pearse who co-owned Granny Takes A Trip was her apprentice.[2]

In the early 1960s Rhodes and Pearse shared a flat at 68 Hamilton Terrace, St Johns Wood, London. Mick Jagger, Marc Bolan, musician Mickey Finn, the Small Faces and Guy Stevens (who Rhodes later brought in to produce The Clash)[2] were regular visitors.

Early career[edit]

Towards the late 1960s Rhodes won a Design Council award for a children's educational toy he designed using newly developed plastic techniques.[3] In the early 1970s Rhodes had a shop in the Antiquarius Market, Chelsea selling his hand printed silk screen designs on shirts and T shirts, plus a selection of rare vintage reggae records.[4].

During this period he became re-acquainted with an old friend, Malcolm McLaren and his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood who were operating out of Let It Rock boutique at 430 Kings Road. Finding they shared a similar philosophy, Rhodes and McLaren went into business collaborating on several T shirts which were then sold in the shop. Westwood wanted to expand the sleeveless T shirt clothing line and Rhodes was an ideal colleague with his silk screen printing skill and 'complex meandering discourse threw up many new ideas'.[5] The T shirt 'You're Gonna Wake Up One Morning and Know What Side of The Bed You've Been Lying On' was created and printed by Rhodes and uses his handwriting. McLaren explained that Rhodes idea was 'to create a dialogue'.[6] Rhodes has described the difference between himself and McLaren: 'Malcolm [McLaren] likes to titillate but I get down to substance'.[7]

Sex Pistols[edit]

By 1975, SEX had become a hangout for a bunch of teenagers from whom the Sex Pistols would emerge. Rhodes took the group under his wing while McLaren was in New York looking after the New York Dolls.[8]

Original Sex Pistols member Glen Matlock describes Rhodes contribution as making them understand the importance of being clear cut. 'He (Rhodes) had a real ability for making people decide exactly what they were trying to do.'[9]

John Lydon states that he was wearing a 'I Hate Pink Floyd' T-shirt when he was spotted by Rhodes on the Kings Road. Rhodes insisted he meet McLaren, Steve Jones and Paul Cook in the local Roebuck pub that evening. After this get together, Rhodes had Lydon come back to the shop to audition for the role of singer.[10]

Lydon says that Rhodes "was important to me in so many ways...He would indicate to me where the problems with the Pistols would be in the future. He would sow a seed and then wait to see if I would pick up on it.[11]

The Clash[edit]

After his offer to co-manage Sex Pistols was rejected by McLaren, Rhodes was instrumental in The Clash's formation in 1976. Mick Jones was wearing one of Rhodes' Wake Up T-shirts when he approached Rhodes after a Sex Pistols gig thinking he was a keyboard player. They started talking about groups and the relationship was the starting point for what would eventually become The Clash.[12]

Strummer credits Rhodes as his mentor, stating "He constructed The Clash and focused our energies and we repaid him by being really good at what we did".[13] Rhodes told them to write about social issues occurring at the time, i.e., the housing problems, lack of education, dead-end futures.[13] Strummer said that Rhodes was the only one who understood how one should go about getting known.[13]

Paul Simonon stated that Rhodes "set up the whole punk scene basically. He saw how non-musicians like myself and John (Lydon) could contribute".[14]

Rhodes called his friend Guy Stevens in, to produce the Polydor recordings in 1977.[15] The group later used Stevens to produce London Calling. He also sought out Lee 'Scratch' Perry to produce the single "Complete Control".[13]

On 25 January 1977, Rhodes signed The Clash to CBS Records with CBS Records UK chairman Maurice Oberstein who promised to allow the group to do what they wanted on record and CBS would promote it. After a couple of albums, including their first, which Rhodes helped produce with Mickey Foote, he felt the group were drifting away from their street ideals and they parted company in late 1978.


From his Rehearsal Rehearsal studio, Rhodes nurtured and managed groups Subway Sect, The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Black Arabs and other musical projects.

The intro to The Specials' version of "Gangsters" begins with the line: "Bernie Rhodes knows: don't argue!"[16]

Dexys Midnight Runners' single "Dance Stance" was released in 1979 on the Oddball Productions label owned by Rhodes .[17] Rhodes later signed the group to EMI Records.

The first album by Subway Sect, What's the Matter Boy, was produced by Rhodes and released by Oddball in 1980.

Rhodes introduced the idea of using a Burundi drum beat to McLaren[18] who gave it to Adam Ant. This led to the sound of Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) by Adam and the Ants.[19]

Club Left[edit]

During the late seventies he opened Club Left in Wardour Street Soho.[20] Club Left performances included Dig Wayne, Tom Cat, Lady Blue, Johnny Britton, Sade, Bananarama, Georgie Fame and Slim Gaillard. The regular house band was Vic Godard and the Subway Sect.

Sean McLusky said that Rhodes gave him a break at Club Left in 1981 and then got a deal and success for his band JoBoxers, who enjoyed mainstream success on both sides of the Atlantic with their single "Just Got Lucky". McLusky says, "Bernard never got the credit for things that were his. He has been the undefined force".[20]

Return to the Clash[edit]

Strummer said if Rhodes did not come back and manage the Clash he would quit.[21]

Once back, Rhodes decided to remix "Magnificent 7". A 12" single dance remix "Magnificent Dance" was released on 12 April 1981. Production was credited to 'Pepe Unidos', a pseudonym for Strummer, Rhodes and Paul Simonon. [22] Pepe Unidos also produced "The Cool Out", a re-mix of "The Call Out". [23]

Bonds NYC[edit]

Mick: 'Bernie came back on the scene because people thought that we'd gotten out of control and the first thing he wanted to do was book us for seven nights in New York'.[24]

The residency at Bonds NYC in the first two weeks of June 1981 was organised by Rhodes on his return as manager of The Clash. Support acts included Grandmaster Flash, The Sugarhill Gang, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Texan bad boy Joe Ely, Lee Perry and Funkapolitan. Rhodes states that it was because of these Bonds NYC shows that the public became more interested in hip-hop. "I endeavoured to get these guys on like Grandmaster Flash; not that most of the audience liked them but that led to a helluvalot".[25]

The record company were not behind the triple album Sandinista! recorded in Rhodes's absence[26] but Kosmo Vinyl states that with the Bonds NYC residency, The Clash "clawed their way back into the Premiership".[27]

Jones' sacking[edit]

Paul Simonon states that Rhodes was not aware Mick Jones was going to be sacked nor was he in favour of the action. Simonon says however Jones had believed Rhodes to be responsible and did not find out otherwise until the Rock Hall of Fame induction after Joe Strummers death. [28]

After sacking Jones, Strummer and Simonon held blind auditions to recruit two new guitarists. Strummer states they auditioned somewhere near 350 guitarists and found Nick Shephard in the first batch, Vince White in the second.[29]

According to guitarist Vince White, the working title of The Clash's last album, Cut the Crap, released in 1985, was Out of Control.[citation needed] The title was changed by Rhodes shortly before its release. Rhodes also produced the album under the name of 'Jose Unidos'. He co-wrote all of the songs with Strummer.[30]

Strummer described "This is England" as the last great Clash song and it has inspired many, including Shane Meadows who made a movie and TV show of the same name.[31]


In 1990, Rhodes relocated from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Georgia where Doug Watts, the lead singer of a black metal band Naked Truth asked him for help. Rhodes brought in a new bass player and rehearsed the band over several months. Rhodes independently produced the album ‘Green with Rage’. He then signed the band to Sony Records. [32]


In 2014 Rhodes designed a range of biker T shirts for Lewis Leathers Britain’s oldest Motorcycle Clothing Company.

On 27 May 2016, The British Library invited Rhodes to give a talk entitled ‘Me, Punk and the World’. Rhodes also designed the poster for the event.[33]


  1. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b Gilbert 2005, p. 81.
  3. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 82.
  4. ^ Letts 2007, p. 50.
  5. ^ Savage 1991, p. 83.
  6. ^ Gorman, Paul (2006). The Look. London: Adelita. p. 137. ISBN 0-9552017-0-5.
  7. ^ Savage 1991, p. 102.
  8. ^ Strongman 2008, pp. 84–85.
  9. ^ Matlock, Glen (1990). I was a teenage Sex Pistol. London: Omnibus Press. p. 32. ISBN 0-7119-1817-1.
  10. ^ Lydon 1993, p. 75.
  11. ^ Lydon 1993, pp. 117–118.
  12. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 60.
  13. ^ a b c d The Clash 2008, p. 88.
  14. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 78.
  15. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 117.
  16. ^ Adams 2009.
  17. ^ White 2005, p. 205.
  18. ^ Vermorel 1987, p. 236.
  19. ^ Vermorel, Fred and Judy (1987) [1978]. Sex Pistols the Inside Story. London: Omnibus. p. 236. ISBN 9780711-910904.
  20. ^ a b G Spot 1993, p. 39.
  21. ^ Gilbert 2005, p. 286.
  22. ^ & 1993.
  23. ^
  24. ^ The Clash 2008, p. 290.
  25. ^ Gruen 2001, p. 241.
  26. ^ Gruen 2001, p. 240.
  27. ^ Gruen 2001, p. 242.
  28. ^ Salewicz, pp. 373–375.
  29. ^ Len Righi (20 April 1984). "Joe Strummer tells why the Clash is carrying on". Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  30. ^ CBS26601.
  31. ^ Neil Spencer & James Brown (29 October 2006). "Why the Clash are still Rock Titans". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2006.
  32. ^ RiffRaff March 1992.
  33. ^


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