Tuesday, May 5, 2009
SOME JOE STRUMMER FACTS
Joe Strummer was a highly political-minded musician with a love of music from all over the world. While many of you may only know a few of The Clash singles like “Rock the Casbah,” the group had a lot of diversity and is celebrated as one of the most unique and innovative punk bands in history. Even fewer people seem to be familiar with Joe’s work after The Clash, but if you’re a fan of the band, I highly recomend checking it out.
Joe was born John Graham Mellor on August 21, 1952. He was born in Turkey to a British foreign-service diplomat and a nurse. In his early years, he spent time all over the world, including Cairo, Mexico City and Bonn.
During his school years, Joe and his brother attended a private school in London. Joe developed an interest in rock music, including Little Richard, The Beach Boys and Woody Guthrie –he even started having his friends call him “Woody” for a few years.
At the same time, his brother became immersed in the National Front and killed himself in July 1970. Joe had to identify his body after it had laid undiscovered for three days. The event dramatically affected Joe, and would certainly play a role in his anti-National Front stance throughout his later life.
After graduation, Joe began attending college in Surrey, where he considered becoming a professional cartoonist. In 1973, he moved to Wales to attend an art college, but dropped out. While there, he began working as a gravedigger and started playing with his first band, The Vultures.
When The Vultures broke up, Joe returned to London where he started The 101’ers with his two squatter roommates. The name came out from their address, 101 Walterton Road. They originally played covers of American R&B and blues songs, but soon Joe began writing original material.
Joe learned to play guitar from his friend and band mate, Tymon Dogg. Unfortunately, Tymon taught him how to play right-handed, despite the fact that he was left-handed. The result was that Joe felt he was mostly limited to strumming chords. After this, Joe dropped his “Woody” nickname and began calling himself Joe Strummer.
In 1975, Joe married a South African woman for £100 so she could obtain British citizenship. He used the money to buy his telecaster that later became his signature instrument.
The 101’ers played a show in London in 1976 and a group completely unknown at the time, called the Sex Pistols, opened for them. Strummer was really impressed by the group and when he was approached by Bernie Rhodes and Mick Jones to join their band, London SS, he jumped on the opportunity. Unfortunately, the group broke up right when Joe was about to join. Instead, Joe and Mick formed a new band, called The Clash, with Paul Simonon.
Interestingly, The Clash’s first show involved them opening for the Sex Pistols on July 4, 1976.
Within the next year, the group was signed with CBS records. Most of their songs had a highly political theme, such as racism, unemployment, police brutality and more. Joe was highly active in the Anti-Nazi League and the Rock Against Racism campaigns.
In 1978, Strummer started dating Gaby Salter, the pair stayed together fourteen years and had two daughters. They were never married though, because Joe couldn’t find the woman he married for citizenship to get a divorce.
While in The Clash, Joe and his other bandmates got in a series of problems with the law. In 1977, he was arrested for spray painting “The Clash” on a hotel wall. A few years later, he was arrested in Germany for hitting a violent audience member with his guitar. The incident affected him and later he remarked, “I nearly murdered somebody, and it made me realize that you can’t face violence with violence. It doesn’t work.”
Before the release of Combat Rock, Joe’s manager pushed him to disappear to help sell tickets for an upcoming tour. Strummer was only supposed to hide at someone’s house in the city, but he opted to really disappear and ran off to France. During this period, no one, including the band’s managers, knew where he was.
Around the time “Rock the Casbah” was released, the band members began to argue a lot and Joe fired Mick Jones. This left the group with only two original members.
In 1985, the group released an album, Cut The Crap, under the band name “The Clash Mark Two.” The album was a major disappointment to fans and critics and Joe decided to disband The Clash.
Rolling Stone chose London Calling as the top album of the 1980’s.
After The Clash breakup, Strummer acted in a lot of movies, including Walker, Straight to Hell, Mystery Train and I Hired a Contract Killer. In the last film, he really did little more than play music in a cameo role. The songs from the movie were released on a limited edition promotional single credited as, “Joe Strummer & the Astro Physicians.”
In the early nineties, Joe replaced Shane MacGowan as the lead singer of The Pogues. He also produced their Hell’s Ditch album.
Around the end of the millennium, Strummer got together a lot of top-notch, yet mostly unknown musicians to form his new backing band, The Mescaleros. This group soon released a number of albums. When in concert, the group also played a number of Clash favorites.
At one of the group’s shows, Mick Jones was in the audience and joined the band during the song “Bankrobber.” During the encore, Jones played guitar and sang “White Riot” and “London’s Burning.” This was the first time in almost twenty years that the pair performed on stage together.
On December 22, 2002, Joe Strummer died unexpectedly at his home in Somerset, England. He became the victim of an undiagnosed heart defect.
Before his death, Joe worked hard to help create an organization called Future Forests (now changed to The Carbon Neutral Company) that plants trees to combat global warming. He was the first musician to neutralize the carbon created in record pressing through planting trees. Since he began the practice, Foo Fighters, Coldplay and Pink Floyd have all followed in his footsteps.
To pay tribute to Strummer, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and other musicians got together to perform “London Calling” at the Grammies.
Additionally, many bands recorded songs paying tribute to Joe, including Stiff Little Fingers, Street Dogs, Cowboy Mouth and more.
Even a train was named after Joe, the Class 47 locomotive 47828 was called “Joe Strummer.”
The 2007 Sundance Festival featured a documentary about his life, called Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.