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Rock Hero- Joe Strummer of the Clash

Updated on March 25, 2013

Early years

Joe Strummer of The Clash is one of the most iconic figures of the 1970's punk scene.He is partly responsible for some truly classic songs, which are as powerful and emotive today as they were back in the 1976. Joe Strummer was actually born and christened John Mellor. Owing to the fact his father was a British foreign diplomat he was born in Turkey on the 21 August 1952. The family spent much of Joe's early years moving from place to place. The young Strummer was able to call Cario, Mexico City, and Bonn his home. At the age of nine, Strummer was shipped off to boarding school in Surrey. Strummer rarely saw his parents during the next few years. He developed a love of the popular rock music of the time.

In his early teenage years he was influenced and by the records of Little Richard and The Beach Boys. In 1970, after finishing boarding school Strummer moved onto St Martins art college in London. While he was at art college he became interested in possibly becoming a professional cartoonist, but he only completed a foundation course. In the same year his brother had joined one of the English racist organisations. His death by suicide in July of that year affected Strummer greatly, as Strummer had to identify his brothers body. Partly due to his brothers suicide and political stance Strummer became more left thinking and later on became actively involved with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock against Racism.


In 1973 Strummer moved from London to Newport,.He went there to attend its Arts college, but he soon dropped out. In Newport, he and some friends decided to form a band called The Vultures, for the next year he was the band's part-time singer and Rhythm Guitarist. By 1974 the band had gone their own ways, and Strummer headed back to the bright lights of London.

As soon as he got back he had formed a new band with housemates called the " 101'ers". Strummer was the lead singer of the " 101'ers" and began to write original R&B songs for the group. They self released a couple of singles and they also had the then unknown Sex Pistols open up for them at one of their local gigs. Shortly after this gig Strummer left the 101'ers to join the embryonic Clash with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.

The Clash
The Clash

The Clash Years

Mick Jones and manager Bernie Rhodes were impressed with Strummer and wanted him to join their band as lead singer. Strummer agreed to join , but the group split up so he formed a new band with Jones, bassist Paul Simonon, and drummer Terry Chimes . The band was named The Clash by Simonon and made their debut on 4 July 1976, ironically they had the opening slot for the Sex Pistols at The Black Swan. By the end of the year the band had signed a record deal with media giants CBS and had seen drummer Chimes replaced with Topper Headon.

Over the next 4 years the band evolved and grew, but they remained honest to their punk and socialist credentials.During his time with The Clash Joe Strummer, and his bandmates, became notorious for getting in trouble with the law. On 10 June 1977, he and Topper were arrested for Vandalism ,they spray painted "The Clash" on a wall in a hotel. On 20 May 1980, he was arrested for hitting a violent member of the audience with his guitar during a show in Germany. Indeed They fought the law, but the law won. After 5 years of been critically lauded by the music press the bubble had to burst. Topper Headon was sacked by the band for his addictions and in 1983 Joe Strummer fired Mick Jones due to constant arguments. The Clash added two more musicians but their album "Cut the Crap" was savagely criticised by the musical press. By 1985 Joe Strummer called time on The Clash he realised they were now a shadow of what they used to be.


After the Clash disbanded Joe Strummer worked on a variety of soundtracks for independent films. He performed two tracks for the Sid and Nancy soundtrack in 1986. Strummer spent a lot of his energies in providing music for films and found his way in front of the camera as well. He usually played a role which required tortured rebellion or a man with some musical ability. In 1987 he helped out the Pogues by filling in on guitar on their US tour and on one instance took over the front man duties after Shane McGowan walked out on the band.

In 1989 he produced new material with his new band Latino Rockabilly War, but that failed to re-ignite his musical career. Strummer stuck to his soundtrack and minor acting work for the early 1990's. In 1995 he started collaborating with current bands such as Black Grape and the Levellers. In 1999 he started to gain a new following of fans with his work with the band The Mescaleros they played a number of the hits of the Punk era and did a lot of benefit shows for charity. They released one album with Strummer and a Second after Strummer's death.


Joe Strummer died in England in 2002 due to a heart condition. And even now he is missed in the world of music. As the main vocal force behind the Clash, he has ensured himself legendary status for years to come. His political and social commentary sent a message of support far and wide. Joe was concerned about the wrongs and injustices in this world and his music was the medium he choose to let his frustrations out. Joe Strummer's mix of musical styles and his bravery to say and do the right thing have got to be admired. Joe Strummer thank you for your music.


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    • shazwellyn profile image

      shazwellyn 7 years ago from Great Britain

      Great article - accurate too. I think Strummer realised that what he was fighting against, he was becoming. The Clash were BIG and a powerful influence. They had become part of the establishment. I know for a fact that Strummer was dissolusioned with what the Clash had become. He realised that even punks could be hippies too (or the essence of the hippy meaning).

      If you want to read my article on Strummerville, it might help to show more of Joe, after the clash.

      Wishing you well,