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Rock Flashback: Remembering Joe Strummer

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Clash members Paul Simonon (L) and Joe Strummer (R) in 1984 (Getty Images/STR/AFP)

Clash members Paul Simonon (L) and Joe Strummer (R) in 1984 (Getty Images/STR/AFP)

It’s one of the great stage names in rock — [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Joe Strummer[/lastfm]. The man to which it was attached led a fascinating life.

John Mellor’s father was a British bureaucrat whose postings took him to Iran and various cities in Africa, all of which his son visited during school vacations. After taking up the guitar, John became a fan of folk singer [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Woody Guthrie[/lastfm], which led him to call himself Woody Mellor for a while.

After following a girlfriend to Wales, he was invited to join his first band because he happened to have a drum kit, but his day job was as a grave-digger. After returning home to London, he joined a band called the 101ers. It’s at this point he adopted the name Joe Strummer.

With the 101ers, Strummer attracted the attention of a band called the London SS, featuring guys named  [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Mick Jones[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Paul Simonon[/lastfm], and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Keith Levene[/lastfm]. In April 1976, the 101ers played on a bill with the [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Sex Pistols[/lastfm] at a London club, and Strummer was invited to join the London SS. Once the band acquired a drummer, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Topper Headon[/lastfm], it got a new name – [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]the Clash[/lastfm] — and played its first show on July 4, 1976.

Over the next decade, the Clash recorded six albums, claiming the nickname The Only Band That Matters. After the band’s breakup, Strummer scored movies and acted in a few, and continued to write and record. He formed [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]the Mescaleros[/lastfm] in 1995. But on December 22, 2002, Strummer died suddenly at age 50 due to an undiagnosed heart problem. At his funeral, two stickers appeared on his casket. One read, “Question Authority”; the other, “Vinyl Rules.”

Here’s the Clash in a 1981 TV interview, which Tom Snyder has a little trouble getting answers to his questions and maintaining decorum.

The band performs “Magnificent Seven” on the same TV show here.

Experience more Rock Flashbacks.

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