“The toughest thing is facing yourself. Being honest with yourself, that’s much tougher than beating someone up. That’s what I call tough.”
– Joe Strummer from New Wave Punk Rock Explosion.
The Clash frontman Joe Strummer was an activist with a philosophical bent. The songs he wrote with the Clash in the 70s protested the establishment in London and the world.
Born in Ankara, Turkey on August 21, 1952, Joe Strummer’s family moved around to many places. His dad was a diplomat who finally decided to settle in London.
Strummer listened to Little Richard and the Beach Boys. He loved Woody Guthrie so much he even took the nickname “Woody” for a bit.
After trying art school and dropping out, Joe married a South African woman (Pamela Moolman). He was paid for this deal and used the money to buy a Fender Telecaster guitar. Some friends in the neighborhood joined him in a band called the 101ers.
After seeing a Sex Pistols concert in 1976 Joe Strummer started the Clash.
The Clash took the punk tone from the Pistols, but the lyrics were more socially conscious and deep.
The Clash were top-notch musicians (with the exception of Paul Simonon at the beginning, who was still learning the bass). They’d become one of the first punk (or rock) bands that would delve into the styles of funk, hip-hop, reggae and electronic music.
Before the band split up in 1986, the six studio albums they made would impact all of rock history.
After stints working with the Pogues, soundtrack master Ennio Morricone and reggae legend Lee Scratch Perry (among others), Joe would release his first record under the name Joe Strummer and the Mescalaros in 1999.
On December 22, 2002 Joe Strummer passed away due to a hereditary heart defect. Learn more about this legendary man in the film documentary Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten or in this short radio story my team and I produced for KEXP Documentaries.
Here’s Joe Strummer fronting the Clash in a live performance of “Police and Thieves.”
For more on the Clash visit our Soulful Alternative blog on the history and best songs of the band here.
Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP 90.3FM Seattle, kexp.org. Music historian and producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s also written scripts, lesson plans and features forThe Smithsonian, Experience Music Project, the University of Washington and NPR.