Joe Strummer, frontman for The Clash and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, would have turned 60 today. He died suddenly of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect back in 2002, but his legacy of brilliant music, thoughtful humanitarianism and social engagement is alive and well.
George and Joe circa 2001 - check out the interview here
Joe was born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, on August 21, 1952 (his father was a British foreign service diplomat), and grew up moving from place to place. As a young man, he developed a love of music by listening to the Beach Boys, Little Richard and Woody Guthrie - he even went by the nickname "Woody" for a few years.
The Clash first met following a show headlined by Joe's then-band, The 101'ers. Opening act? A group of unknowns named The Sex Pistols. Sometime after the show, manager Bernie Rhodes and guitarist Mick Jones approached Joe and asked him to leave the 101'ers and become the lead singer of a new band. He agreed, and The Clash was formed.
They went on to record a string of brilliant records, including their self-titled debut, 'London Calling', and 'Combat Rock.' In early 1986, after several years of internal strife, the band broke up. The Clash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2003.
Joe went on to create new music with his band The Mescaleros starting in the mid-to-late 90s. The band released their first record, 'Rock Art and the X-Ray Style' in 1999, and toured England, Europe and North America. In a 2000 interview, Joe called the project "my Indian summer" and said "I learnt that fame is an illusion and everything about it is a joke. I'm far more dangerous now because I don't care at all." Their second record, 'Global a Go-Go,' came out on Hellcat Records in 2001, with a third album called 'Streetcore' coming out after Joe's death.
Rolling Stone has commemorated Joe's birthday by releasing a song from one of his last performances with the Mescaleros, recorded on November 15, 2002. You can check out the tune right here. It will be featured on a new Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros record called 'The Hellcat Years', coming out in the near future on Hellcat records.
Joe was a huge fan of music festivals. His daughters Lola and Jazz chose to pay tribute to their father by organizing a festival called "Strummer of Love". The festival went down this past weekend, and featured performances from musicians including The Pogues, Lola's band Dark Moon, and a set from Joe's Clash bandmate Mick Jones. In a statement after the festival, the girls said "the festival has been filled with smiling people who still believe. I want to express my love to everybody involved. It really felt like the spirit of Joe was in everybody's heart and soul".
Mick Jones thanks the crowd after his Strummer of Love performance
And Joe's legacy goes beyond music. His spirit of energy and creativity, and his desire for positive social change live on. Here's a quote taken from a documentary shot shortly before his death:
"And so now I'd like to say - people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks - I am one of them. But we've all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything - this is something that I'm beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That's because they've been dehumanised. It's time to take the humanity back into the centre of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain't going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you're nothing. That's my spiel."
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