By Marissa Willman
Armed with their spaghetti western outfits and western-inspired songs, The Unforgiven is returning to its Inland Empire roots for a special reunion performance at the Stagecoach Festival this weekend.
The country rock band formed in the Inland Empire in the 1980s. Lead singer Steve Jones and guitarist Jay Lansford of the punk rock band The Stepmothers came up with the idea of a spaghetti western country rock band and The Unforgiven, complete with four guitarists, a bassist and drummer, was born.
Their iconic country western image caught the eye of Willie Nelson, who took the band to perform at his Fourth of July Picnics in Texas. In their heyday, The Unforgiven also shared the stage with country and rock stars such as Johnnie Cash, Vince Neil and ZZ Top.
Their unique spaghetti western style and catchy songs brought the band a lot of buzz, leading The Unforgiven to become the subject of an intense bidding war for a record deal. As excited as the band was at the time, the record deal ultimately sealed the band’s fate.
“When we were starting out, punk rock bands didn’t get record deals,” Jones said. “The Unforgiven bidding war was one of the biggest in history. Everyone was focused on the deal, and the music and concept got overshadowed by the deal.”
With the record deal putting pressure on the band, it was only a matter of time before the members started going their own way.
“After a while, we were just a little disillusioned if it was going to lead us anywhere. I had an opportunity and I took it—I moved to Europe and I’ve been there for the past 23 years,” Lansford said.
The Unforgiven broke up in 1988 and each member went on to have his own successes. With the persistence of Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett and drummer Alan Waddington, the former band members are finally coming together for a reunion some never thought would happen.
“Bands run their course. They’re like marriage,” Jones said. “Sometimes it’s just over. That’s why having this second shot at this marriage is so surprising.”
Lansford made the trip to California from Germany specifically for this reunion. Some former band members are speaking to each other for the first time in decades and Jones said getting ready for Stagecoach has been healing.
“We went through a lot together and it didn’t make any sense for us to not remain friends,” Jones said.
Fellow Inland Empire musician Dennis Hill, formerly of The Poorboys, will join The Unforgiven for their reunion performance. Jones said a few new songs have been written and a couple of labels are interested in a potential record deal, but they’re focused on Stagecoach, not an album.
“We’re doing this for this show, for Stagecoach, for Paul Tollett and for the Inland Empire,” Jones said. “We’re not thinking past Sunday.”
As for Stagecoach, Lansford has four words:
“Get ready to rock.”