Today marks the seventh anniversary of Joe Strummer‘s untimely death at the age of 50 (due to a heart defect). To mark the occasion, and to celebrate the legend – born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey – here’s a nice boot from the Clash at the height of their popularity.
Touring behind their hit album Combat Rock, the tour took them through Montego Bay, Jamaica for the Jamaican World Music Festival. The Grateful Dead had headlined the night before, and this night, it was the Clash’s turn.
According to the Clash resource Black Market Clash, the “Bob Marley Centre” was nothing more than an immense gravel parking lot with a stage at one end. Earlier acts of the evening included Rick James, Jimmy Buffett, the English Beat, and Bob Weir’s band, Bobby and the Midnites. By the time the Clash came on, it was closing in on dawn.
So enjoy the show, and pass it on to those snot-nosed shits who think they know music, but can’t tell you who Joe Strummer is.
Police on My Back
The Guns of Brixton
The Magnificent 7
One More Time
Train In Vain
This is Radio Clash
Should I Stay or Should I Go
Rock the Casbah
Straight to Hell
I Fought the Law
If you or any of your friends question the quality of new music today, grab them (or yourself) by the ear and take ’em to see The Gaslight Anthem when they come to your town.
Tuesday was our first 100 degree day here in the Phoenix area, and the temp hadn’t cooled inside the small n’ sweaty Clubhouse in Tempe. It was steamy, it was sweaty, and the Gaslight Anthem cranked the heat up even further with their searing 90 minutes of uptempo Strummer/Boss-inspired rock n’ roll.
Standing a few feet back of stage left, it was impossible not to be swept right into the experience. First off, each of the four members of Gaslight are characters in their own right: drummer Benny Horowitz and his steady rapid-fire machine gun rhythms; lead guitarist Alex Rosamilia – bearded, hat low over his eyes and cocked to the right just a touch – alternately slumping over his guitar and thrashing about in short bursts; bass player Alex Levine, who reminds me of Paul Simonon, with his cool rock star bass pose: legs spread wide, bass slung low…
And then there’s Brian Fallon. White t-shirt, arms sleeved with ink, and a confident, strong demeanor on stage. Not cocky – completely gracious and interactive with the audience, actually. Example: during one of the encore tunes (“Angry Johnny And The Radio”, I think), he noticed one of the fawning girls in front of the stage looking especially thirsty (how I don’t know, a front man’s sixth sense?). He managed to gesture for a water bottle, sing the lyrics, play his guitar, and signal toward the girl – all in that smooth rock star swagger. Impressive!
Fallon is as magnetic and commanding of a front man as I’ve seen in a young band. But hell, if you’re raised on Strummer and the Boss, you’ve got two of the best to model yourself after.
The electricity that occurs when these four guys play a song – just incredible. The examples are too numerous to mention. But they had me completely by the balls during songs like “The ’59 Sound” and “The Patient Ferris Wheel”. When Rosamilia ch-ch-chunked his guitar to lead off “Ferris Wheel”, it reminded me of a chainsaw firing up – the FORCE of these guys playing together. There is a clear chemistry that these four share, and they need to keep this band together and evolving as this unit – at all costs.
Do I sound excited yet? Well, that’s what a hot night of real rock n’ roll does to me. Sounds so cliche, but some of ’em ring true.
The guys played the lion’s share of songs from their great label debut, The ’59 Sound. They also dipped back into their first full length, Sink or Swim, which I just picked up tonight on eMusic (I HAD to have these tunes). They wrapped up the night with a fired up take on the Tom Waits-penned “Downtown Train” – hardly recognizable compared to the original, save for the lyrics.
Taking in this amazing live band, and scanning the young crowd around me, fists pumped in the air and singing along to every song, it was all pretty damn refreshing, and renewed my spirit. Hell, it’s been a very spiritually renewing month of live music for me – Springsteen, Cockburn, the Gaslight Anthem – thanks April!
If you’ve been around here a while, you know full well of my adulation for John Graham Mellor, aka Mr. Joe Strummer. Well, on Sink or Swim, and played during the encore last night, there’s a tune that shows how in synch I am with Mr. Fallon and the boys. It’s a song called “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”…
And I never got to tell him so I just wrote it down,
I wrapped a couple chords around it and I let it come out,
When the walls of my bedroom trembled around me,
To this ramshackle voice over attack of a bluesbeat,
And a girl, on the excitement gang.
That was the sound of the very last gang in town.
The Gaslight Anthem – I’da Called You Woody, Joe (mp3)
Quick Primer: if you want very quickly to become a Gaslight Anthem fan, watch this January performance of “The ’59 Sound” on Letterman. Click the HQ button for some high quality action. You’re welcome.
The Olympics got under way today. I haven’t been too in tune with who to watch out for this year, but I will undoubtedly get in the spirit over the next couple of weeks. All I’ve really seen is Michael Phelps’s Village People-riffic mustache!
So let’s forget about that pesky issue of China’s horrific human rights record, and let’s focus on cute panda bears or something.
Let the games begin!
Smog smog go away!
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros – Forbidden City (mp3)
I had December 27th marked on my calendar since early November. A Joe Strummer Tribute & Benefit in my own hometown? Yes please! I headed down to my favorite small club in Phoenix, the Rhythm Room, and caught the last two bands, the Jeff Dahl Band and headliner Glass Heroes. Keith Jackson is the lead singer and guitarist in Glass Heroes (that’s him with Joe Strummer above), and this is the fourth year in a row he has organized a local Strummer tribute to benefit Strummerville.
I was impressed by both bands. They’re both veterans of the Arizona punk scene, which is alive and well. Dahl’s four piece power combo tore through their set, the rhythm section of Jason Smith (bass) and particularly Russ Covner on drums laying down some ferocious punk beats. Really impressive. They kicked off the set with “Janie Jones”, then concentrated on their own material for the next 35 minutes or so.
Keith Jackson and his Glass Heroes were next. They offered up great versions of “What’s My Name”, “Tommy Gun”, another “Janie Jones”, and “Police on my Back”. Their originals definitely showed the Clash influence. One of my faves was “Kick Down the Doors”, which I grabbed off their MySpace page. Check it out below.
Kudos to Keith for keeping Joe’s spirit alive, and gathering the local Strummer faithful for a great evening.
Have you guys and gals checked out imeem yet? It’s a social music site where you can stream music & videos. The extra bonus is that they have licensing agreements with 2 out of the 3 major labels, so you can find and listen to full songs, make your own playlists, and basically waste several additional hours of your life on another music site. Here’s a lil’ Strummer / Clash mix I put together.
If you’ve been hanging around here a while, you know I’m a hugeadmirer of JoeStrummer. I never knew Joe, but through his music, video footage, and the occasional anecdote in interviews and articles, you get a good idea of what the man was all about: compassion for humanity (especially compassion for the underdog), a genuine and fierce inclination to question those in power (for good reason), and the craftsman of some of the most groundbreaking and eclectic music out there. What hasn’t been written about the impact of the Clash? They were one of the pioneers of punk; and by London Calling and Sandinista!, they really started to stretch out and show their true colors – their appreciation for all kinds of music: reggae, blues, soul, even early hip-hop.
After a long hiatus from making music, Joe returned in the late 90’s with a new band: the Mescaleros, which truly was a showcase of Joe’s passion for the music of the world. In what would tragically be his last years, Joe released two albums and toured the world with the Mescaleros (one album, Streetcore, was released posthumously). Thankfully, Joe’s good friend, filmmaker Dick Rude, was along for the ride over the last 18 months of Joe’s life – documenting life on the road with Joe and the Mescaleros.
The result was a terrific film called Let’s Rock Again. After the film was screened at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, Let’s Rock Again was released earlier this year. The film documents Joe’s tour supporting 2001’s Global a Go Go album. We see Joe and band trucking through the U.S. and Japan. In between the amazing live stage footage, we get a rare glimpse into the do-it-yourself rock n’ roll lifestyle: in-store appearances, interviews with the media, photo shoots, and down time spent chatting it up with some fans.
There are two of these moments that really stand out. The first is watching Joe Strummer, rock n roll hero, hand out show fliers on the Atlantic City boardwalk. If you’re a fan of Joe’s like I am, it’ll drive you crazy watching people ignore – and even go out of their way to avoid – the great Joe Strummer. But like Rude says in the Q&A below, you can’t expect everyone to know who Joe is. It was just my primal reaction as a huge fan of Joe’s.
The other is when Joe goes to an Atlantic City rock station unsolicited. He’s on the intercom outside the station trying to convince them to play a track off his new album and plug the upcoming show. He’s finally allowed entry when he tells them he used to be in a rock band called the Clash.What most affected me about the film, though, is the intimate portrait of Joe Strummer the man. As a good friend of Rude’s, Joe has a comfort level in front of the camera that lets us, the viewers, peer into his soul. The fact that he would be gone a few short months after the footage was shot makes it even more special and bittersweet.
The feature clocks in at just over an hour. But don’t overlook the bonus features. They include several interview clips of Joe discussing politics, touring, songwriting, and life in general. It is such a treat to get to know the man better.The bonus section also includes several live tunes that did not make it into the film, among them: “Armagideon Time”, “The Harder They Fall”, and “Rudie Can’t Fail”.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the bonus features was a 15-minute Q&A session with Dick Rude at the Tribeca Film Festival. It inspired me to reach out to him with some additional questions, and he was kind enough to respond…
Dick Rude was born and raised in Los Angeles. His film career began at the age of 15 when he attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. As an actor he has appeared in several films including “Sid and Nancy”, “The Wild Life” and “Repo Man,” which he also participated in as a contributing writer. Rude left UCLA Film School to co-write and star in “Straight to Hell,” which features such notables as Dennis Hopper, Courtney Love and Elvis Costello.His other writing credits include a pilot for Sophia Coppola, “Hi Octane” and an un-produced script commissioned by River Phoenix. As a Producer/Director, Rude has done several music videos. His latest accomplishments have been music documentaries for Blonde Redhead: “Nothing Something,” Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Off the Map” and “LA Punk – The First Five Years,” featured on the “Punk Attitude” DVD.
Pete: How did the idea for the project come about? Was it something you and Joe had talked about over the years?
D.R.: I had some free time in between gigs and I called Joe. I said it would be great to hang out and maybe I should come to England and we could make a documentary. He said that he was just sitting around the campfire and that it might be a bit boring. Several months later, he rang me up and said The Mescaleros were going on tour and wanted to know if I wanted to come along and be a part of it. Our whole intention had always been to get the word out on the new music.
Pete: You shot all the way up to the months preceding Joe’s death (the Japan footage). Were you done shooting when Joe passed on, or were you planning on getting more footage?
D.R.: I had completed shooting a year earlier. Joe was excited about the Japan tour and insisted that I come out for that. I’m happy I did, because some of the best footage came from that tour. On a personal level, I am grateful I got to spend that extra time with him.
Pete: Was Joe involved in the project all the way up to his death? Or, what was to be Joe’s overall involvement?
D.R.: Joe was a huge promoter of my art and never wanted any hands on involvement. Some of the financing and tour support came directly from him. I had mixed all the live tracks before we met in Japan and I brought the cds for him to listen to. His response was, “Dick, I trust your judgment, just make your movie”. I practically cried. I have never had such love, faith and support from any artist I’ve worked with before. Imagine trusting someone else with the way your music sounds. He truly believed in me.
Pete: Growing up in L.A., what came first for you personally, an appreciation for L.A. punk or British punk?
D.R.: Punk rock was simultaneous for me from all geography. I knew of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, The Damned and a few others. I would go the shows when they all came to town. I was equally turned on by the New York scene. My roots were in Los Angeles. I was tape recording Rodney Bingenheimer’s show every week and hanging out at The Starwood. It was a very formative period for me and I was hungry for all I could get.
Pete: I discovered the Clash through my older brother. I was 11 years old, playing a tennis racket into the mirror, singing “Death or Glory”. How did the Clash first enter into your consciousness?
D.R.: I must have heard them on the radio. I remember going to see them early on at the Santa Monica Civic. When I was up front, Joe was spitting on me the whole time due to his singing style. I moved towards the back and later caught Topper’s drumstick at the end of the show.
Pete: You saw Joe & the Mescaleros a bunch of times. Were you lucky enough to catch the Clash live? Did you ever see Joe play with the Pogues in the early 90’s?
D.R.: I went with Joe to the Pogues show in Los Angeles when he was singing for them. I think he dedicated a song to me. It was a great to see him performing with them. He really loved those guys and their music.
Pete: You met Joe during the post-production of ‘Sid & Nancy’. It led to working with Joe on films like ‘Walker’ and ‘Straight to Hell’. You guys must have hit it off. How did your relationship with Joe develop?
D.R.: I think Joe and I were kindred souls. We had a very natural rapport with each other. From all the letters and stories I have heard over the years, I guess everyone felt this way about him. Somehow we had a connection that never died. It’s hard to explain why or how you become best friends with someone.
Pete: Were you as mystified as I was while shooting the scenes of Joe on the Atlantic City boardwalk, handing out fliers to his show that night? As people ignored and avoided the great Joe Strummer, how did you resist the urge to put down the camera and give these people the good slap they deserved?
D.R.: I didn’t feel that way at all. Joe and I were having fun. There was nothing serious about what we were doing. You can’t expect everyone in the world to be your fan and it wasn’t exactly like we were in a Rock and Roll environment. Ghandi could have been there doing the same thing and gotten the same lack of attention. As a Strummer fan, it would be a gift to have that opportunity, but there are billions of people in the world and not all of them have pictures of Joe on their walls or really even give a fuck. He meant a lot to a lot of people. He was a hero on many levels, but he refused to be bowed down to. How can we be angry at people for not knowing about someone or something. Now if they would have been saying you suck, that might have been a different story.
Pete: You mentioned in the Q&A part of the DVD that Joe seemed invigorated, almost like a kid, during the last leg of the Mescaleros tour in Japan – only a couple months before his death. Can you share more about how these last shows seemed different to you? Do you think it was a matter of him getting his self-confident stage persona back, and hitting his stride once again?
D.R.: The music towards the end was really coming back to the rock roots in my opinion. Joe’s security in what he was doing and his lust to perform were clearly evident in the way he was abandoning himself to the music and audience. As you see in the film, he was rolling on the floor and giving it his all. I don’t think his confidence really ever waned that much but I do believe he was loving the experience in a way that a teenager would.
Pete: You and Joe had a show on MTV2 called Global Boombox. I share your and Joe’s passion for keeping an open mind about music, and seeking out the “weird” stuff, like he says in your film. Did Joe introduce you to a lot of new music? Vice versa? You mentioned Manu Dibango. What else?
D.R.: It seemed like one of Joe’s purposes in life was to turn people on to music, whether it was his own or someone else’s. I certainly was a recipient of his eclectic tastes. He didn’t seem to know too much about LA Punk and I think I was able to turn him onto some of that. He liked the Minutemen, who for me were one of the most influential bands of my life.
Pete: What are you working on these days? What should we be on the lookout for? I see you’re currently working on a new project with your friend Jim Jarmusch?
D.R.: I’ve got a film called The Asshole, which I’ll be shooting next year. It’s a piece I wrote awhile back with Alex Cox. It is Repo Man times one hundred but quite a bit more accessible. Also gonna be shooting another film before the end of this year called Quit, which I am equally excited about. It is the story of a couple who go away to the desert together to quit smoking, which becomes a metaphor for their relationship.
If you’ve been checking in with Ickmusic for a while, you know by now that I can’t go very long without a Clash or Joe Strummer post. So without much setup, here’s a great audience recording of a late 1978 gig at London’s Lyceum Ballroom. Find out a lot more background on the show at Black Market Clash (a fantastic live Clash / Strummer resource – click here for the home page with the frames).
RIP Joe. We miss you.
The Clash – Buy or Die !!!
From the Sort It Out” Tour
December 29th, 1978
1. Safe European Home
2. I Fought the Law
3. Jail Guitar Doors
4. Drug Stabbing Time
6. The City of the Dead
7. Clash City Rockers
8. Tommy Gun
9. White Man in Hammersmith Palais
10. English Civil War
11. Stay Free
12. Guns on the Roof
13. Police and Thieves
14. Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad
15. Capital Radio
16. Janie Jones
18. Complete Control
19. London’s Burning*
20. White Riot*
* The last two tracks come from the 12/28/78 show at the Lyceum
If London Calling was the Clash’s masterpiece, Sandinista! – a three-LP, multi-genre assault on the senses (and the follow-up to London Calling) – was its stoned out red-headed stepchild. Thirty-six songs strong, Sandinista! was their chance to completely let loose and record whatever it is they felt like recording. I like the way The All Music Guide review puts it…
The Clash sounded like they could do anything on London Calling. For its triple-album follow-up, Sandinista!, they tried to do everything, adding dub, rap, gospel, and even children’s choruses to the punk, reggae, R&B, and roots rock they already were playing…
As loose and scattered as it is, there are some killer tracks on the album: “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Call Up”, “The Leader”, and Eddy “Electric Avenue” Grant’s “Police On My Back”.
So music journalist Jimmy Guterman had a vision as a Clash fan: a tribute album. What he pulled together with The Sandinista! Project is pretty damn impressive. There are some well known names involved: The Smithereens, Camper Van Beethoven, Jason Ringenberg (Jason & the Scorchers), Katrina Leskanich (Katrina & the Waves), Matthew Ryan, Wille Nile, and the Mekons’ Jon Langford (who also designed the album cover).
Many of the artists I had not heard of: Sex Clark Five (great name!), The Hyphens, Haale, the Coal Porters, and many more. So I thought I would share a couple from the tribute album, paired with the Clash originals.
Two of my favorites from the album are “The Call Up” and “The Leader”. On the tribute, theremin – yes theremin – ensemble The Lothars take on “The Call Up”. This would fall under the category of totally and completely devoid of resembling the original. But there’s something very strange and alien about it that pulls me in. You want originality? Here you go…
The Lothars – The Call Up (mp3)
The Clash – The Call Up (mp3)
On Sandinista!, The Clash pack a whole lot of rock, urgency, and great lyrics into the minute and forty-one seconds of “The Leader”. Amy Rigby offers up a respectable version true to the original. Though there’s something about her “on a Sundayyy…” lyric that I’d like to tweak, but nice overall…
Amy Rigby – The Leader (mp3)
The Clash – The Leader (mp3)
I can’t really say that someone not familiar with Sandinista! and the Clash would really “get” or appreciate this tribute. But if you’re a Clash-ophile who worships at the altar of Strummer, as I am, you should hear this album. And if you’re new to both, why not pick up both?
I recommend getting the CD itself just for the DIY punk packaging. It’s very well done, and includes a booklet put together by Guterman called “2007 – The Armagideon Times Update.”
I’ve always enjoyed reading books. But damned if it doesn’t take me an eternity to read one. Especially over the last decade, as the internet has consumed any free time I previously devoted to books. And maybe it has something to do with reading right before bed. Four, five pages and I’m too tired to go on.
So my intent is to do my first book review, since I was just sent Chris Salewicz’s new book, Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. But since it may take me while to get through it, I wanted to at least make you good people aware that this book is out there. Chris Salewicz was a music journalist in the seventies, covering the exploding punk scene for several publications, and befriending many of the bands, including the Clash – so he has a unique insider’s perspective on Joe Strummer.
Joe’s been gone for more than four years now. He left us too early at the age of 50. Shitty thing is, he was just hitting his stride again with the Mescaleros. After a long hiatus, he had formed the band in the late 90’s, and released Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, their debut album, in 1999. A tour followed, and as you’ll hear, Joe was back in prime form. With healthy doses of Clash favorites, old reggae songs, and new Mescaleros tunes, the live shows were great.
Interspersed between the songs is the classic Strummer stage banter. Before launching into Toots & the Maytalls’ “Pressure Drop”, he introduces it this way:
“We’re doing it by a Clash arrangement where we fuck the whole song up completely. But what can you do? I’m a great believer in tradition.”
Enjoy the show. I should have a quality book review to you by, oh – let’s say, Christmas.
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
Theater of the Living Arts
November 24, 1999
Diggin’ The New
Rock The Casbah
Ishen > Brand New Cadillac
The Road To Rock n’ Roll
White Man In Hammersmith Palais
Safe European Home
Rudie Can’t Fail
Straight To Hell
I Fought The Law