Formation and early years (1970–1971)
In November 1970, Bryan Ferry, who had just lost his job teaching ceramics at a girls' school for holding impromptu record listening sessions, advertised for a keyboard player to collaborate with him and Graham Simpson including Alan Lewis, a bass player he knew from his Newcastle art college band, the Gas Board, and with whom he collaborated on his first songs. In early 1970 Ferry had auditioned as lead singer for King Crimson, who were seeking a replacement for Greg Lake. Although Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfield decided that Ferry's voice was unsuitable for King Crimson's material, they were impressed with his talent and helped the fledgling Roxy Music to obtain a contract with E.G. Records.
Andy Mackay replied to Ferry's advertisement, not as a keyboard player but a saxophonist and oboist, though he did have a VCS3 synthesizer. Mackay had already met Brian Eno during university days, as both were interested in avant-garde and electronic music. Although Eno was a non-musician, he could operate a synthesizer and owned a Revox reel-to-reel tape machine, so Mackay convinced him to join the band as a technical adviser. Before long Eno was an official member of the group. Rounding out the original sextet were guitarist Roger Bunn (who had issued the well-regarded solo album Piece Of Mind earlier in 1970) and drummer Dexter Lloyd, a classically trained timpanist. The group's name was partly an homage to the titles of old cinemas and dance halls, and partly a pun on the word rock. Ferry had named the band Roxy originally, but after learning of an American band with the same name he changed the name to Roxy Music.
Roxy played live through 1971, and recorded a demo tape of some early compositions. In the spring of '71, Lloyd left the band, and an advertisement was placed in Melody Maker saying "wonder drummer wanted for an avant rock group". Paul Thompson responded to the advertisement and joined the band in June 1971.
Bunn left the group at the end of the summer of 1971, and in October, Roxy advertised in Melody Maker seeking the "Perfect Guitarist". The successful applicant was David O'List, former guitarist with The Nice. Phil Manzanera—soon to become a group member—was one of about twenty other players who also auditioned. Although he did not initially make the band as a guitarist, the group were impressed enough with Manzanera that he was invited to become Roxy Music's roadie, an offer which he accepted.
The band's fortunes were greatly increased by the support of broadcaster John Peel and Melody Maker journalist Richard Williams. Williams became an enthusiastic fan after meeting Ferry and being given a demonstration tape during mid-1971, and wrote the first major article on the band, featured on Melody Maker's "Horizons" page in the edition of 7 August 1971. This line-up of Roxy Music (Ferry/Mackay/Eno/Simpson/Thompson/O'List) recorded a BBC session shortly thereafter.
First two albums (1972–1973)
In early February 1972, guitarist O'List quit the group abruptly after an altercation with Paul Thompson, which took place at their audition for David Enthoven of EG Management. When O'List didn't show up for the next rehearsal, Manzanera was asked to come along, on the pretext of becoming the band's sound mixer. When he arrived he was invited to play guitar and quickly realised that it was an informal audition. Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, Manzanera had learned their entire repertoire and as a result, he was immediately hired as O'List's permanent replacement, joining on 14 February 1972. Manzanera, the son of an English father and a Colombian mother, had spent a considerable amount of time in South America and Cuba as a child, and although he did not have the same art school background as Ferry, Mackay and Eno, he was perhaps the most proficient member of the band, with an interest in a wide variety of music. Manzanera also knew other well-known musicians, such as David Gilmour, who was a friend of his older brother, and Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt.
Two weeks after Manzanera joined the band, Roxy Music signed with EG Management.
Roxy Music perform on TopPop
in 1973. Left to right: Jobson, Manzanera (back), Ferry (front), Thompson, Maida, Mackay
With this team, EG Management financed the recording of the tracks for their first album, Roxy Music, recorded in March–April 1972 and produced by King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield. Both the album and its famous cover artwork were apparently completed before the group signed with Island Records. A&R staffer Tim Clark records that although he argued strongly that Island should contract them, company boss Chris Blackwell at first seemed unimpressed and Clark assumed he was not interested. A few days later however, Clark and Enthoven were standing in the hallway of the Island offices examining cover images for the album when Blackwell walked past, glanced at the artwork and said "Looks great! Have we got them signed yet?" The band signed with Island Records a few days later. The LP was released in June to good reviews and became a major success, reaching No. 10 on the UK album chart in September 1972.
During the first half of 1972, bassist Graham Simpson became increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative, which led to his leaving the band almost immediately after the recording of the debut album. He was replaced by Rik Kenton.
To bring more attention to their album, Roxy Music decided to record and release a single. Their debut single was "Virginia Plain", which scored No. 4 in the British charts. The band's eclectic visual image, captured in their debut performance on the BBC's Top of the Pops, became a cornerstone for the glam trend in the UK; the TOTP clip of "Virginia Plain" was later parodied by the British comedy series Big Train. The single caused a renewed interest in the album. Soon after "Virginia Plain", Rik Kenton departed the band, which would never again have a permanent bass player.
The next album, For Your Pleasure, was released in March 1973. It marked the beginning of the band's long, successful collaboration with producer Chris Thomas, who worked on all of the group's classic albums and singles in the 1970s. The album was promoted with the non-album single "Pyjamarama"; no album track was released as a single. At the time Ferry was dating French model Amanda Lear; she was photographed with a black jaguar for the front cover of the album, while Ferry appears on the back cover as a dapper chauffeur standing in front of a limousine. John Porter (credited as a guest) played bass on the record, while Sal Maida played bass for subsequent live shows.
Stranded, Country Life, Siren, and solo projects (1973–1977)
Soon after the tour to promote For Your Pleasure ended, Brian Eno left Roxy Music amidst increasing differences with Ferry. The other members of the band are reported to have shared some of Eno's concerns about Ferry's dominance, but they elected to remain. Also, John Gustafson became the band's permanent bass player for the next three studio albums, but not always for live shows; though he toured with Roxy on certain dates in 1973 and 1975, other live Roxy bassists of this period (1973–1976) included Sal Maida, John Wetton and Rick Wills.
Eno, meanwhile, was replaced by 18-year-old multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson, formerly of progressive rockers Curved Air, who played keyboards and electric violin. Although some fans lamented the loss of the experimental attitude and camp aesthetic that Eno had brought to the band, the classically trained Jobson was an accomplished musician. Eno himself later acknowledged the quality of the two albums that followed his departure , Stranded (1973) and Country Life (1974). Rolling Stone referred to the albums as marking "the zenith of contemporary British art rock".
The songs on these albums also cemented Ferry's persona as the epitome of the suave, jaded Euro-sophisticate. Although this persona undoubtedly began as a deliberately ironic device, during the mid-1970s it seemed to merge with Ferry's real life, as the working-class miner's son from the north of England became an international rock star and an icon of male style.
On the first two Roxy albums, all songs were written solely by Bryan Ferry. Beginning with Stranded, Mackay and Manzanera began to co-write some material. Gradually, their songwriting and musicianship became more integrated into the band's sound, although Ferry remained the dominant songwriter; throughout their career, all but one of Roxy's singles were written either wholly or jointly by Ferry (Manzanera, Mackay and Thompson did individually write a few of the band's B-sides). Stranded was released in November 1973, and produced the top-10 single "Street Life".
The fourth album, Country Life, was released in 1974, and was the first Roxy Music album to enter the US Top 40, albeit at No. 37. Country Life was met with widespread critical acclaim, with Rolling Stone referring to it "as if Ferry ran a cabaret for psychotics, featuring chanteurs in a state of shock". Their fifth album, Siren, contained their only US top 40 hit, "Love Is the Drug". (Ferry said the song came to him while kicking the leaves during a walk through Hyde Park.)
After the concert tours in support of Siren in 1976, Roxy Music disbanded. Their live album Viva! was released in August 1976. During this time Ferry released two solo records on which Manzanera and Thompson performed, and Manzanera reunited with Eno on the critically acclaimed one-off 801 Live album.
Final albums and hiatus (1978–1983)
Roxy Music reunited during 1978 to record a new album, Manifesto, but with a reshuffled cast. Jobson was not present, and was reportedly not contacted for the reunion. (At that time, Jobson was touring and recording with his own band, U.K.) The sleeve of Manifesto indicated that the revived Roxy Music line-up consisted of Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay, and Thompson, along with Paul Carrack (keyboards), Alan Spenner (bass), and Gary Tibbs (bass); despite this all other media pointed to Roxy Music being a quartet (and a trio following the 1980 departure of Thompson), with the latter three musicians being regular collaborators of the band.
Three singles were spun off from Manifesto, including the major UK hits "Angel Eyes" (UK No. 4), and "Dance Away" (UK No. 2). Both these tracks are significantly different from the album versions, as "Dance Away" was remixed for single release, and "Angel Eyes" was entirely re-recorded.
After the tour and before the recording of the next album, Flesh + Blood (1980), Thompson broke his thumb in a motorcycle mishap and took a leave from the band. Soon afterward he left permanently, due to musical differences with Ferry.
At this point, Ferry, Mackay and Manzanera became the only permanent members of Roxy Music, and were supplemented by a variety of session players over the next few years including Tibbs, Spenner, Carrack, Andy Newmark and Neil Hubbard. The trio's 1980 album Flesh + Blood became a huge commercial success in their homeland, as the album went to No. 1 on the UK charts, and spun off three UK hits: "Oh Yeah" (UK No. 5), "Over You" (UK No. 5), and "Same Old Scene" (UK No. 12).
However, the changed cast reflected a distinct change in Roxy's musical style. Gone were the unpredictable elements of the group's sound, giving way to smoother musical arrangements. Rolling Stone panned Manifesto ("Roxy Music has not gone disco. Roxy Music has not particularly gone anywhere else either") as well as Flesh + Blood ("such a shockingly bad Roxy Music record that it provokes a certain fascination"), while other sources praised the reunion. Melody Maker said, of Manifesto, "...reservations aside, this may be the first such return bout ever attempted with any degree of genuine success: a technical knockout against the odds."
In 1981, Roxy Music recorded the non-album single "Jealous Guy". A cover of a song written and originally recorded by John Lennon, Roxy Music recorded "Jealous Guy" as a tribute to Lennon after his 1980 death. The song topped the UK charts for two weeks in March 1981, becoming the band's only No. 1 single.
Later, with more sombre and carefully sculpted soundscapes, the band's eighth—and final—studio album, Avalon (1982), recorded at Chris Blackwell's Compass Point Studios, was a major commercial success and restored the group's critical reputation and contained the successful single "More Than This". The album also included several Roxy Music classics, such as "Avalon", "The Main Thing", "The Space Between", "True to Life", and "To Turn You On". The trio (augmented by session players) toured extensively until 1983, when Bryan Ferry dissolved the band and band members devoted themselves full-time to solo careers.
Reunions and final dissolution (2001–2011)
Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay, and Thompson re-formed in 2001 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band and toured extensively. A festival performance in Portugal and a short tour of the United States followed in 2003. Absent was Brian Eno, who criticised the motives of the band's reunion, saying, "I just don't like the idea. It leaves a bad taste". Later Eno remarked that his comment had been taken out of context. Manzanera and Thompson recorded and toured with Ferry on his 2002 album Frantic. Eno also contributed to Frantic on the track "I Thought".
During 2002, Image Entertainment, Inc., released the concert DVD Roxy Music Live at the Apollo featuring performances of 20 songs plus interviews and rehearsal footage.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the group No. 98 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Roxy Music gave a live performance at the 2005 Isle of Wight Festival on 11 June 2005, their first UK concert since the 2001–2002 world tour. On 2 July 2005, the band played "Jealous Guy", "Do the Strand", and "Love is the Drug" at the Berlin contribution to Live8; "Do the Strand" is available on the 4-disc DVD collection, whereas "Love Is the Drug" can be found on the Live 8 Berlin DVD.
In March 2005, it was announced on Phil Manzanera's official site that the band, including Brian Eno, had decided to record an album of new material. The project would mark the first time Eno worked with Roxy Music since 1973's For Your Pleasure. After a number of denials that he would be involved with any Roxy Music reunion, on 19 May 2006 Eno revealed that he had contributed two songs to the new album as well as playing keyboards on other tracks. He did, however, rule out touring with the band. Had the record been released as a Roxy Music album, it would have been the first album since Manifesto on which original drummer Paul Thompson performed.
During early 2006 a classic Roxy track, "The Main Thing", was remixed by Malcolm Green and used as the soundtrack to a pan-European television commercial for the Opel Vectra featuring celebrated football referee Pierluigi Collina. In July that year, the band toured Europe. They concentrated mostly on places they had never visited before, such as Serbia and Macedonia. Roxy Music's second drummer, Andy Newmark, performed during the tour, as Thompson withdrew due to health issues, and Oliver Thompson (guitar) made his first appearance with the band.
In a March 2007 interview with the Western Daily Press, Ferry confirmed that the next Roxy album was definitely being made, but would not be vended for another "year and a half", as he had just released and toured behind his twelfth studio album, Dylanesque, consisting of Bob Dylan covers. In June 2007, the band hired a Liverpool-based design agency to develop a website supporting their new album. Early in the year, Manzanera revealed that the band were planning to sign a record contract. In an October 2007 interview, Ferry said the album would include a collaboration with Scissor Sisters.
Over the summer of 2010, Roxy Music headlined various festivals across the world, including Lovebox at London's Victoria Park, Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co. Laois, Ireland, and Bestival on the Isle of Wight. Owing to illness, Thompson was replaced on three dates of the tour by Andy Newmark, but returned for the Bestival set.
Roxy performed seven dates around the UK in January and February 2011, in a tour billed 'For Your Pleasure', to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary. They toured Australia and New Zealand between February and March for a further eight shows. These are the final Roxy Music live performances to date.
In 2012, Virgin released a box-set entitled Roxy Music: The Complete Studio Recordings 1972–1982, celebrating 40 years since the release of the band's debut in 1972.
In a Rolling Stone Magazine interview on 3 November 2014, Manzanera stated that Roxy had been inactive since 2011 and were unlikely to perform together again. Of a new album, he told Classic Rock, "We all listened to it and thought, 'We can't do this. It's not going to be any good. Let's just bin it.' And so it's just sitting there on our personal computers. Maybe one day it'll get finished. But there's no point in putting it out if it's not great."
On 29 March 2019, Roxy Music were inducted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay and Jobson performed a six-song set at the induction ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.