Joe Strummer

John Graham Mellor (August 21, 1952December 22, 2002), better known as Joe Strummer, was the co-founder and lead singer of punk rock band The Clash, and later The Mescaleros.

Missing image
Joe Strummer, c. 2001


Before forming The Clash, he played in a band in Newport, Wales called The Vultures and later, in London, with the pub rock band The 101ers. During that time he went by the name "Woody" Mellor, in honor of his hero Woody Guthrie. While a member of the 101ers he gave himself the moniker Joe Strummer, and insisted that his friends call him by that name. "Strummer" obviously refers to his role as guitarist, but in a self-deprecating way. Though left-handed, he was taught to play right handed by his friend (and later Mescalero) Tymon Dogg. This dampered his abilities (which were lackluster to begin with) and confined him to strumming chords.

The Clash were the most musically diverse and overtly political of the original English punk bands. Strummer was involved with Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism campaigns. He later also gave his support to the Rock Against the Rich series of concerts organised by anarchist organisation Class War. The Clash's London Calling album was voted best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine. It is suggested that The Clash heavily influenced the bands U2, Manic Street Preachers, Green Day, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana, the Libertines, and even hip-hop revolutionaries Public Enemy, and that The Clash are somewhat directly responsible for the explosion of garage bands in the 1980s and '90s.

After the disbanding of The Clash, he acted in a few movies (including Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train), recorded movie soundtracks (notably "Love Kills" for the film Sid and Nancy) and experimented with different backing bands (notably the Latino Rockabilly War) with limited success. He also replaced Shane MacGowan as singer of The Pogues for a tour after the former's departure from the band. Finally, in the mid- to late-1990s, Strummer gathered top-flight musicians into a backing band he called The Mescaleros. Strummer signed with the Californian punk label Hellcat Records, and issued a stunning album co-written with Anthony Genn, called Rock Art and the X-Ray Style. A tour of England and North America soon followed; sets included several Clash-fan favourites.

Following the release of Global A Go-Go, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros mounted a 21-date tour of North America, Britain, and Ireland. Once again, these concerts featured Clash material ("London Calling", "Rudie Can't Fail"), as well as classic covers of reggae hits ("The Harder They Come", "A Message To You, Rudie") and regularly closed the show with a nod to the late Joey Ramone by playing The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop".

They also toured Australia in 2000 with the Big Day Out concert series, to a very warm reception. Shortly before his death Joe Strummer and Bono of U2 co-wrote a song, "46664", for Nelson Mandela as part of a campaign against AIDS in Africa. Strummer had been scheduled to play at Mandela's SOS fundraising concert in February 2003 on Robben Island.

Strummer died on December 22, 2002 in his home at Broomfield in Somerset, the victim of a heart attack. His untimely death at age 50 shocked and saddened a generation of fans to whom he had been an inspirational figure. Also, by words of his Clash bandmembers - Paul Simonon and Mick Jones - the band, along with Joe and Topper Headon, was considering at the time of his death reuniting for a world tour.

At the time of his death Strummer was working on another album, which was released posthumously in October 2003 under the title Streetcore. The songs "Coma Girl" and "Arms Aloft" from this album bear comparison with the Clash's best work, while the cover of Bobby Charles' "Before I Grow Too Old" (renamed "Silver and Gold") is a poignant closing. The album also features a tribute to American music icon Johnny Cash ("Long Shadow"), whom Joe greatly admired for being a man of nobility, a remembrance of the Sept. 11 Attacks ("Ramshackle Day Parade"), and a cover of Bob Marley's classic "Redemption Song".

At the Grammy Awards in February 2003, London Calling was performed by Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Steven van Zandt, Dave Grohl, Pete Thomas, and Tony Kanal in tribute to Strummer. In March 2003, The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In addition to his music, Strummer was instrumental in setting up Future Forests, an organisation dedicated to planting trees in various parts of the world in order 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. Many other artists such as Foo Fighters, Coldplay and Pink Floyd have followed suit and fans can visit the Future Forests website to buy trees to be planted in their favourite artists' forest (Joe's being christened "Rebel Woods").

His 1975 marriage to Pamela Moolman ended in divorce. He married Lucinda Tait in 1995. He had no children with either wife, but had two daughters by Gaby Salter, and a step-child of Lucinda's. In his remembrance, Joe's friends and family have established the Strummerville Foundation for the promotion of new music.

Joe Strummer solo discography

(see also Clash discography)

With The Mescaleros

Joe Strummer partial filmography

Sound samples


  • Marcus Gray, Last Gang in Town: The Story and Myth of The Clash, Henry Holt and Co., 1995

External links

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