Walsall-born pop producer Steve Jenkins has been low on profile, but big on influence. Mike Lockley chats to a family man happy to stay out of the spotlight.
A POP svengali who rose from humble beginnings to guiding Britney Spears’ global chart conquest is grateful for his Walsall roots.
Artists such as David Bowie, Bjork, Kylie, The Backstreet Boys and Simple Minds have all passed through his hit-making machine.
Yet Steve Jenkins, aged 58 and one of the most powerful figures in the music industry, is a rare slice of working class reality in an unreal world. He is a likeable family man without an edge in a pampered profession famed more for tantrums and tiaras.
“Walsall has kept me sane,” laughs the father-of-four, wife Susan by his side. “The people wouldn’t allow me to get big on myself.”
Now based in London, Steve is back in his beloved town to launch his autobiography, The Future Is In The History. It’s a three-year labour of love that chronicles the music producer’s rise from humble, jobbing DJ to head of the world’s biggest independent label, Jive Records.
While many of his pop peers are curmudgeonly, distant and downright rude when confronted by the press corps, Steve is an interviewer’s delight, spinning one priceless anecdote after another with the same effortless skill he used to spin records at Pelsall Community Centre 40 years ago.
Regrets? There’s been a few, even in a career crammed with 260 platinum, gold and silver discs.
The troubles that threatened to swamp Britney – whose 1998 single Baby One More Time, a No 1 in 68 countries, pushed Jive to the industry’s pinnacle – certainly hurt. The mauling she received from the media hurts more.
“My eight years with Britney were fantastic,” nods Steve. “She was fully committed to being a pop star. I knew her before anyone outside her own town knew those two words, Britney Spears.
“She auditioned and we knew we had something. They say a boxer has the eye of a tiger. Well, Britney had that. It’s rare, but you know it when you see it..”
He describes Britney’s blockbuster debut single as ‘the perfect record’. “The artist was perfect and the video was perfect. I had been at the record company 10 years and had it working the way I wanted it.
“I feel sadness for the abuse she’s received. From the age of 14 to 22, Britney worked 16 hours a day on records, tours and promotions.
"Your teenage years and mine were spent in our home towns. Britney’s teenage years were broadcast in every newspaper, in every corner of the world. She moved in a protective bubble but when she was 21, she took six months off. What’s a girl going to do? She’s going to have a good time!
“She was just growing up and having a good time. A lot of the stuff wasn’t fair.”
Britney is just one of the superstars who owe an awful lot to Steve, the Bloxwich-born son of a footwear department manager at Walsall Co-op. Dad Bill, drummer in a local band, introduced his son the delights of popular music.
The former Joseph Leckie School pupil recalls: “By 16, I’m addicted, completely addicted to records. I’m mesmerised by them. Even geography I learned from records. I knew Stax was Memphis, and Motown was Detroit.”