Band: The Clash
Joe Strummer died aged fifty on 22nd December 2002 in his home in Broomfield, Somerset, U.K. of a congenital heart defect. He was survived by his wife Lucinda.
Joe Joe Strummer was born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, on 21st August 1952. The family spent much time moving from place to place, and Joe Strummer spent parts of his early childhood in Cairo, Mexico City and Bonn. At the age of nine, Joe Strummer and his older brother David , began boarding at the City of London Freemen's School in Surrey. Joe Strummer rarely saw his parents during the next seven years
Joe developed a love of rock music listening to records by Little Richard and the Beach Boys as well as American folk-singer Woody Guthrie. Joe Strummer would even go by the nickname "Woody" for a few years. Joe Strummer would later say that the reason he played music was because of the Beach Boys.
By 1970 his brother David had become estranged from his family and had joined the National Front. His suicide in July 1970 profoundly affected Joe Strummer, as did having to identify his body after it had lain undiscovered for three days.
After finishing his time at City of London Freemen's School, Ashtead Park, Surrey, in 1970, Joe Strummer moved on to the Central School of Art and Design in London, where he briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a professional cartoonist and completed a one-year foundation course. During this time, Joe shared a flat in the north London suburb of Palmers Green with friends Clive Timperley and Tymon Dogg. In 1971 Joe Strummer became a vegetarian and remained one until his death.
In 1973 Joe Strummer moved to Newport, Wales. He did not study at Newport College of Art but met up with college musicians in the Students' Union in Stow Hill and became vocalist for Flaming Youth, renaming the band the Vultures. The Vultures included three former members of Rip Off Park Rock & Roll Allstars, the original college band co-founded by Terry Earl Taylor. For the next year he was the band's part-time singer and rhythm guitarist. During this time Joe Strummer also worked as a gravedigger in St Woolos Cemetery. In 1974, the band fell apart and he moved back to London where he met up again with Tymon Dogg. He was a street performer for a while and then decided to form another band with his West London roommates. The band was called the 101ers.
The band played many gigs in London pubs, playing covers of popular American R&B and blues songs. In 1975 he stopped calling himself "Woody" Mellor and adopted the stage name of Joe Strummer, and insisted that his friends call him by that name. The name "Joe Strummer" apparently referred to his role as rhythm guitarist, in a rather self-deprecating way. Joe Strummer was the lead singer of the 101ers and began to write original songs for the group. One song he wrote was inspired by his girlfriend at the time, The Slits drummer Palmolive. The group liked the song "Keys to Your Heart", and picked it as their first single.
On 3rd April 1976, the then-unknown Sex Pistols opened for The 101ers at a venue called the Nashville Rooms in London, and Joe Strummer was impressed by them. Sometime after the show, Joe Strummer was approached by Bernie Rhodes and Mick Jones. Jones was from the band London SS and wanted Joe Strummer to join as lead singer. Joe Strummer agreed to leave the 101ers and join Jones, bassist Paul Simonon, drummer Terry Chimes and guitarist Keith Levene. The band was named the Clash by Simonon and made their debut on 4th July 1976 in Sheffield, opening for the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan (also known as the Mucky Duck, now known as the Boardwalk). On 25th January 1977, the band signed with CBS Records as a three-piece after Levene was fired from the band and Chimes quit. Topper Headon later became the band's full-time drummer.
During his time with the Clash, Joe Strummer, along with his bandmates, became notorious for getting into trouble with the law. On 10th June 1977, he and Headon were arrested for spray-painting "The Clash" on a wall in a hotel. On 20th May 1980, he was arrested for hitting a violent member of the audience with his guitar during a performance in Hamburg, Germany. This incident shocked Joe Strummer, and had a lasting personal impact on him. Joe Strummer said, "It was a watershed—violence had really controlled me for once". He determined never again to fight violence with violence.
Before the album Combat Rock was released in 1982, Joe Strummer went into hiding and the band's management said that he had "disappeared". Bernie Rhodes, the band's manager, pressured Joe to do so because tickets were selling slowly for the Scottish leg of an upcoming tour. It was planned for Joe Strummer to travel, in secret, to Texas and stay with his friend, musician Joe Ely. Uneasy with his decision, Joe Strummer instead decided to genuinely disappear and "hung around" in France. During this time, Joe Strummer ran the Paris Marathon in April 1982. He claimed his training regimen consisted of 10 pints of beer the night before the race. For this period of time, Joe's whereabouts were not only a mystery to the public, but the band's management as well. Joe later said this was a huge mistake. This was in spite of the popular success of the single "Rock the Casbah". During this time band members began to argue a lot, and with tensions high, the group began to fall apart.
In September 1983, Joe Strummer issued the infamous "Clash Communique", and fired Mick Jones. Topper Headon had earlier been kicked out of the band because of his heroin addiction, and Terry Chimes was brought back temporarily to fill his place until the permanent replacement, Pete Howard, could be found. This left the band with only two of its original members, Joe Strummer and Simonon. Rhodes persuaded Joe Strummer to carry on, adding two new guitarists. Under this lineup, "The Clash Mark Two", they released the album Cut the Crap in 1985. The album was panned by fans and critics alike and Joe Strummer disbanded the Clash.
At the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Clash was said to be "considered one of the most overtly political, explosive and exciting bands in rock and roll history". Their songs tackled social decay, unemployment, racism, police brutality, political and social repression, and militarism in detail. Joe Strummer was involved with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism campaigns. He later also gave his support to the Rock Against the Rich series of concerts organised by the anarchist organisation Class War. The Clash's London Calling album was voted best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine (although it was released in late 1979 in the UK, it was not released until 1980 in the US).
A year later, Joe Strummer worked on several songs for the 1986 film Sid and Nancy, including "Love Kills" and "Dum Dum Club". Joe Strummer also later worked with Mick Jones and his band Big Audio Dynamite, contributing to the band's second studio album by co-writing most of the songs as well as producing the album along with Jones.
In 1987, he played a small part in the film Walker, directed by Alex Cox, as a character named "Faucet" and wrote and performed on the film's soundtrack. He starred in another Cox film that same year called 'Straight to Hell', as the character Simms. Straight to Hell also featured London-Irish folk/punk band the Pogues, both as actors and contributors to the soundtrack. Joe Strummer joined the Pogues for a tour in 1987&88, filling in for ailing guitarist Philip Chevron. Joe wrote all the tabs in his meticulously neat hand on a long piece of paper which he taped to the top of the guitar so he could glance down occasionally when he was onstage." This tour would be the first of several collaborations with the Pogues.
In 1989, Joe Strummer appeared in Jim Jarmusch's film Mystery Train as a drunken, short-tempered drifter named Johnny. He made a cameo appearance in Aki Kaurismäki's 1990 film I Hired a Contract Killer as a guitarist in a pub, performing two songs ("Burning Lights" and "Afro-Cuban Bebop"). These were released as a promotional seven-inch single limited to a few hundred copies, credited to "Joe Joe Strummer & the Astro Physicians". The "Astro Physicians" were in fact the Pogues ("Afro-Cuban Bebop" got a re-release on the Pogues' 2008 box set). During this time Joe Strummer continued to act, write and produce soundtracks for various films, most notably the soundtrack for Grosse Pointe Blank in 1997.
In 1989 Joe Strummer produced a solo record with the band the Latino Rockabilly War. He also did the soundtrack to the movie Permanent Record with this band.
Joe Strummer was asked by the Pogues, who were fracturing as a band, to help them produce their next album, released in 1990 as 'Hell's Ditch'. In 1991, he replaced Shane MacGowan as singer of the Pogues for a tour after MacGowan's departure from the band. One night of this tour was professionally recorded, and three tracks ("I Fought the Law", "London Calling", and "Turkish Song of the Damned") have seen release as b-sides and again on the Pogues' 2008 box set.
On 16th April 1994, Joe Strummer joined Czech-American band Dirty Pictures on stage in Prague at the Repre Club in Obecni Dum at "Rock for Refugees", a benefit concert for people left displaced by the war in Bosnia. Although the set appeared impromptu, Joe Strummer and the band had spent the days leading up to the event rehearsing and "hanging out" in Prague. The show began with "London Calling" and without pause went into "Brand New Cadillac". In the middle of the song, the power went out. Once the power was back on, Joe Strummer asked the audience whether or not they would mind if the band started over. They then began again with "London Calling" and continued on for another half-hour.
After these self-described "wilderness years", Joe Strummer began working with other bands; he played piano on the 1995 UK hit of the Levellers, "Just the One" and appeared on the Black Grape single "England's Irie" in 1996. In 1997, while in New York City, he worked with noted producer and engineer Lee "Scratch" Perry on remixed Clash and 101ers reissue dub material. In collaboration with percussionist Pablo Cook, Joe Strummer wrote and performed the soundtrack to the movie 'Tunnel of Love' that was featured in the Cannes Film Festival in the same year.
In 1998, he made a guest appearance on the animated television show, South Park and appeared on the album Chef Aid: The South Park Album featuring songs from and inspired by the series.
During this time, Joe Strummer was engaged in a legal dispute with the Clash's record label, Epic Records. The disagreement lasted nearly eight years and ended with the label agreeing to let him record solo records with another label. If the Clash were to reunite though, they would have to record for Sony. During the nineties, Joe Strummer was a DJ on the BBC World Service with his half-hour programme London Calling. Samples from the series provide the vocals for "Midnight Jam" on Joe Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros' final album Streetcore.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Joe Strummer gathered top-flight musicians into a backing band he called the Mescaleros. Joe Strummer and the band signed with Mercury Records, and released their first album in 1999, which was co-written with Antony Genn, called Rock Art and the X-Ray Style. A tour of England, Europe, and North America soon followed; sets included several Clash fan favourites.
In 2001, the band signed with Californian punk label Hellcat Records and released their second studio album, Global a Go-Go. The album was supported with a 21-date tour of North America, Britain, and Ireland. Once again, these concerts featured Clash material ("London's Burning", "Rudie Can't Fail", "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais"), as well as covers of reggae and ska hits ("The Harder They Come", "A Message to You, Rudy") and the band regularly closed the show by playing the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop". He covered Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" with Johnny Cash. In the same year, a Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros' version of the song "Minstrel Boy" was used for the end credits of the film Black Hawk Down.
On 15th November 2002, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros played a benefit show for striking fire fighters in London, at the Acton Town Hall. Mick Jones was in the audience, and joined the band on stage during the Clash's "Bankrobber". An encore followed with Jones playing guitar and singing on "White Riot" and "London's Burning". This performance marked the first time since 1983 that Joe Strummer and Jones had performed together on stage.
Joe Strummer's final regular gig was at Liverpool Academy on 22nd November 2002, yet his final performance, just two weeks before his death, was in a small club venue 'The Palace' in Bridgwater, Somerset, near his home. Shortly before his death, Joe Strummer and U2's Bono co-wrote a song, "46664", for Nelson Mandela as part of a campaign against AIDS in Africa.
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