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Strummer: Punk pioneer who defined generation

The Clash: From left, Simonon, Jones, Strummer and Headon
The Clash: From left, Simonon, Jones, Strummer and Headon

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LONDON, England -- The Clash were for many THE punk band of the 1970s and in their lead singer and songwriter Joe Strummer had a voice that spoke for a generation.

Strummer, who has died aged 50, was an intelligent, passionate musician who with Mick Jones, the other creative force in the band, absorbed a range of influences from reggae to rockabilly but distilled a uniquely British sound.

Strummer and the Clash burst onto the British punk scene in the late 1970s on the heels of fellow countrymen and punk rockers The Sex Pistols.

But they transcended the three-chord aggression to deliver messages of anti-racism and social consciousness in such songs as "London Calling," "Rock the Casbah," and "Should I Stay or Should I Go."

The Clash are scheduled to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 10, along with AC/DC, the Police, Elvis Costello and the Attractions and the Righteous Brothers.

Strummer also enjoyed a successful solo career after the Clash broke up in 1985, dabbling in acting and writing music for films.

Born John Mellor when his diplomat father was stationed in Ankara, Turkey, he was sent to the City of London Freeman School in Ashtead Park, Surrey and would visit his parents in Tehran during school holidays.

Back in England he went to art school but dropped out and spent his time busking on the Tube during the early 1970s before forming a pub-rock band called the 101'ers.

A turning point in his life came when he saw the Sex Pistols in 1976 and decided the pub-rock scene was dead.

He immediately left the 101'ers and joined up with three musicians he had met earlier, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky "Topper" Headon who were in a band called London SS.

The group changed their named to The Clash and later that year signed to CBS Records.

The Clash's self-titled debut a year later had the seeds of the sound that would bring them international success within a few years. Rolling Stone magazine called it "the definitive punk album."

It included the frantic sound of "White Riot," which became a punk anthem, and a cover of Junior Murvin's reggae classic "Police and Thieves."

The band followed the release with "Give 'Em Enough Rope" in 1978, then "London Calling" the following year.

Strummer: Rebel with a cause
Strummer: Rebel with a cause

This double album was reckoned to be the band's best. The next release, the triple-album "Sandinista!," finally brought The Clash major recognition in America, which continued with 1982's "Combat Rock," and the hit single "Rock the Casbah."

But at the height of success, things started to go wrong. Mick Jones left the band in 1983 and "Cut the Crap," the final album released by The Clash, was a commercial failure. By 1986 the group had disbanded.

Strummer reunited with Mick Jones and his new band Big Audo Dynamite (B.A.D.) for songwriting before taking film roles with Alex Cox in "Straight To Hell" (1986), Jim Jarmusch in "Mystery Train" (1989) and Aki Kaurismaki in "I Hired A Contract Killer" (1990).

He also worked on soundtracks for the films "Permanent Record" (1988) and "Grosse Point Blank" (1997).

In 1989 Strummer released his first solo album, called "Earthquake Weather," and spent a long time on tour with The Pogues, playing with the Levellers and the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

He also recorded the single "England's Irie" with Shaun Ryder's group Black Grape and worked on South Park's "Chef Aid" album and Keith Allen's Fat Les project.

After a decade without a release under his own name, Strummer brought out the album "Rock Art" and the "X-Ray Style" which he recorded with his band The Mescaleros.

The second album of Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros, "Global A Go-Go" followed in 2001 and was described as probably his most eclectic effort. Strummer is survived by wife Lucinda and three daughters.



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