Joe Strummer was born John Graham Mellor on August 21, 1952 in Ankara, Turkey, where his father worked as a diplomat. Much of his young life was spent living away from his family's native England in such far-flung locations as Iran, Egypt and Mexico. Despite his middle class upbringing and boarding school education, Strummer developed strong left-wing political beliefs in parallel with his love of rock and roll music. When he dropped out of art school in the early 1970's he formed the pub-rock band The Vultures and later The 101ers whilst still making money as a busker on the London Underground - picking up his new name in the process.
It was whilst playing a gig with the 101ers in 1976 that Strummer was first taken by the new punk sound, thanks to a performance by their support act The Sex Pistols. He got together with fellow singer and guitarist Mick Jones and began writing songs for the band that would soon become known as The Clash. Writing songs for The Clash gave him the opportunity to penetrate the media and deliver his political message. Strummer's belief was always that the Clash should send a strong message to the mainstream without ever being absorbed by it. Punk proved to be the ideal musical genre to help him succeed with that strategy.
Their music fused a number of different influences from around the world, most notably that of dub/reggae and brought them a number of hits in the UK although not a great deal of renumeration, thanks to their record contract. Within seven years, The Clash had toured with The Sex Pistols and The Who, admittedly to mixed receptions, and had a string of 16 top 40 hits. After five albums, however, cracks were starting to appear in the band and Mick Jones was ousted from the lineup over artistic differences in 1983.
Strummer and the original bassist Paul Simonon continued to make music and released the final Clash album in 1985 entitled Cut the Crap, but they had lost much of their public appeal and decided to call it a day. For the rest of the 80's, Strummer took on a number of small projects including some film roles (Straight to Hell, Walker, Candy Mountain), partly thanks to his director friend Alex Cox. Strummer also had a part in the excellent 1989 film Mystery Train written specifically for him by Jim Jarmusch. His two daughters were also born during the mid 1980s.
His debut solo album, Earthquake Weather, was released in 1989 and Strummer then went on to work with The Pogues, eventually standing in for Shane McGowan for a nine month spell in the early 90s. In 1991, one of the Clash's earlier hits found new commercial success as the soundtrack to a Levis advert and held the number one spot in the UK singles chart for two weeks. Despite this renewed fame and offers of lucrative deals throughout the 90s, Strummer steadfastly refused to reform the band which had made him famous.
His career in the 1990s mainly consisted of film scores (Grosse Pointe Blank, When Pigs Fly) and guest appearances on album tracks. A highly restrictive contract with Sony Records ("the same as George Michael's") effectively silenced Strummer for the majority of the decade. Throughout the 90s he continued to campaign for causes that he believed in: opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill and the prohibition of cannabis, fair pay for public sector workers and human rights. In 1999, freed from the burden of his Sony contract, Strummer formed Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros and released their first album, Rock Art & The X-Ray Style, named after an antique book about cave paintings. Their second album, Global A-Go-Go came out in 2001. The Mescaleros carried on in the tradition of the Clash by generating a genre-busting mixture of sounds from around the world.
With great sadness, the death of Joe Strummer was announced on the December 23, 2002 of a suspected heart attack. He was 50.
Rolling Stone - www.rollingstone.com
The Scotsman - www.thescotsman.co.uk
The Music Monitor - www.penduluminc.com/MM/
MTV - www.mtv.com
IMDb - www.imdb.com