Stephen Priest, founding member and bass player of The Sweet, was born in Hayes, England. Influenced as a young teen by Jet Harris of The Shadows, as well as by such seminal acts as the Rolling Stones and The Who, he crafted his own homemade bass and began playing in local bands.
Notable among the early experiences in Steve’s musical career were his collaboration with the legendary U.K. producer Joe Meek and his service in such British groups as The Countdowns and The Army. In January 1968, Steve was invited to form a four-piece band with a pair of Wainwright’s Gentlemen alumni, vocalist Brian Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker, together with guitarist Frank Torpey. Their original moniker, Sweetshop, was appropriated by another group, so the band name was truncated to “The Sweet.” In the first two years, the band’s roster of guitar players changed twice; Torpey left to get married, and replacement Mick Stewart departed after the fledgling band’s first singles failed to chart.
The band was then introduced to the songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who had a song they wanted to promote, and Sweet accepted the job. Andy Scott auditioned and was hired as the new guitarist, and, in 1971, with Phil Wainman serving as executive producer, “Funny Funny” was released and reached number 13 on the U.K. charts. Sweet inked a management deal with Chinn and Chapman, and was awarded a contract with RCA Records.
Chinn and Chapman wrote five more Top 40 hits for the group, including “Little Willy” and “Wig Wam Bam,” which were all pop-infused bubblegum numbers loaded with double entendres and aimed at a teenage audience. Sweet’s self-penned B-sides and album tracks, however, combined with their outrageous stage antics, revealed their true hard rock center and created a buzz among fans. Consequently, Chapman decided to write edgier songs for the group, and the first effort in this vein, “Blockbuster,” became Sweet’s biggest U.K. hit, reaching number one in the charts in early 1973 and eventually going platinum.
As the group’s popularity grew, Sweet put in a heavy rotation of U.K. and European TV promotional spots, including numerous appearances on Top of the Pops and Supersonic. In one performance of “Blockbuster” on Top of the Pops, Steve Priest incited much controversy with a tongue-in-cheek appearance on stage clad in Nazi regalia.
For the next two years, Sweet continued to chart with Chinn and Chapman compositions, including the top ten hits “Hell Raiser,” “Teenage Rampage,” and “The Six Teens.” The next album, “Sweet Fanny Adams,” reached number 27 in the U.K., but yielded no hits. After additional touring, the band went back into the studio and recorded the “Desolation Boulevard” album in just ten days. Events took a turn for the worse when, in the midst of recording, Brian Connolly was attacked outside a pub in Staines, badly damaging his throat and, as a result, Steve Priest had to finish the lead vocals on the album.
Sweet badly needed a new single, but Chinn and Chapman seemed to have lost interest, which eventually led to a permanent split between the band and the songwriters. Sweet returned to the studio and re-recorded “Fox On The Run” as a single, giving them their first self-penned hit when it reached the top ten in both the U.K. and the U.S. “Ballroom Blitz,” which was to become perhaps the band’s most well-known anthem, also shot into the charts in the summer of 1975. “Strung Up,” released in the fall of 1975, continued the group’s move toward album-oriented rock. Sweet bounced back into the charts in 1978 with “Love Is Like Oxygen.” In late 1978, Brian Connolly, citing creative differences, announced his departure from the band. The group carried on as a three-piece unit, but ultimately disbanded three years later. Sweet performed their last live show at Glasgow University on March 20, 1981.
In the interim, Steve Priest had relocated to America and married his current wife Maureen, who was then a publicist for Capitol Records. In New York City, he formed a band called The Allies with guitarist Marco Delmar and drummer Steve Missal. Success was elusive, although their composition “Talk To Me” was featured in a movie called “Fast Food.” In the mid-1980s, his wife’s career path brought the Priest family to California.
During this period, Steve had largely reverted to private life, but made occasional forays into production and session work, as well as collaborations with other artists such as David Arkenstone and future band mate Stuart Smith. In 1988, an attempt was made to reunite the original members of Sweet, but the project never materialized. Steve published a 1994 autobiography, “Are You Ready Steve?” which was a raw expose of his time with Sweet.
Brian Connolly died of liver failure in February 1997. Mick Tucker passed away five years later in 2002 after a long battle with leukemia.
In 2006, Steve released “Priest’s Precious Poems,” a CD comprised of his more recent material. In January 2008, after attending an Eric Clapton concert, he decided it was time to return to his roots and assembled his new incarnation of Sweet, now based out of Los Angeles.
Steve Priest lives with his family in California.