December 22, 2002 – Joe Strummer (The Clash)was born John Graham Mellor on August 21, 1952 in Ankara, Turkey. The son of a British diplomat, the family spent much time moving from place to place, and Strummer spent parts of his early childhood in Cairo Egypt, Mexico City, and Bonn Germany.
At the age of 9, Strummer and his older brother David, 10, began boarding at the City of London Freemen’s School in Surrey. Strummer rarely saw his parents during the next seven years.
“At the age of nine I had to say good-bye to them because they went abroad to Africa or something. I went to boarding school and only saw them once a year after that – the Government paid for me to see my parents once a year. I was left on my own, and went to this school where thick rich people sent their thick rich kids. Another perk of my father’s job – it was a job with a lot of perks – all the fees were paid by the Government.”
While spending most of his youth in boarding schools, he became exposed to rock, reggae and R &B early on. He dropped out of school and began playing guitar in London’s Underground and street corners.
His brother’s suicide in July 1970 profoundly affected Strummer, as did having to identify his body after it had lain undiscovered for three days. After finishing his time at Boarding School, 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. In April 1972 Strummer attended as a fan the Bickershaw Festival in Lancashire, a three-day event which was attended by many London counter culture figures and underground magazines. Strummer said later that Don Van Vliet’s (Captain Beefheart’s) performance was the best concert he had ever attended.
In 1973 Strummer, while in Wales, became vocalist and rhythm guitaristfor Flaming Youth, renaming the band the Vultures. During this time Strummer also worked as a gravedigger to make an income. In 1974, the band fell apart and he moved back to London where he did street performances for a while and then decided to form another band with his West London roommates.
The band was called the 101’ers, named after the address of their squat. 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 (in honor of Woody Guthrie) and adopted the stage name of Joe Strummer, and insisted that his friends call him by that name. The name “Strummer” apparently referred to his role as rhythm guitarist, in a rather self-deprecating way. Though left-handed, he was taught to play right-handed by his friend Tymon Dogg. Strummer was the lead singer of the 101’ers and began to write original songs for the group. One song he wrote was inspired by his girlfriend at the time, girl band Slits drummer Palmolive. The group liked the song “Keys to Your Heart”, and picked it as their first single.
The 101ers was short lived and in 1976 Strummer became the co-founder, lyricist, rhythm guitarist and lead singer of the English punk rock band The Clash.
While The Clash had limited American success and a mere 6 albums under their belt, they are known as “the only band that ever mattered.” 1980’s “London Calling” is heavily regarded as one of the most important pieces of rock music ever recorded. They altered the face of punk music by fusing world beats with political issue.
The Clash were champions of social causes. The Clash are considered one of the most overtly political, explosive and exciting bands in rock n roll history. Their songs tackled social decay, unemployment, racism, political and social repression, police brutality, and militarism in detail. He worked on a few films including songs for the 1986 film Sid and Nancy, including “Love Kills” and “Dum Dum Club”. He was also instrumental in setting up Future Forests (recently rechristened The Carbon Neutral Company), an organization dedicated to planting trees in various parts of the world in order to combat global warming A voice was given to those who had none. The Clash were offered large sums of money in their career but never accepted it.
Joe Strummer continued to record, act, and produce movie soundtracks after the breakup of The Clash in 1986. While his 1989 solo album “Earthquake Weather” fared well, Joe primarily continued to work on soundtracks and had a couple of brief touring stints with The Pogues.
He did a wide range of collaborations and song writing during the nineties and founded the Mescaleros in the late 1990s with whom he recorded two albums “Rock Art and the X Ray Style” and “Global A Go-Go.” Joe wore his politics on his sleeve and used his music to support those who needed him. The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2003. At the time of his death, Joe was working with U2’s Bono on a tribute to Nelson Mandela and another album with the Mescaleros. Bono is quoted as saying that “The Clash wrote the rule book.”
He died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect on his farm on December 22, 2002, two weeks after his last performance. Strummer was instrumental in setting up Future Forests (since rechristened the Carbon Neutral Company), dedicated to planting trees in various parts of the world to combat global warming. Strummer was the first artist to make the recording, pressing and distribution of his records carbon neutral through the planting of trees.