Born John Graham Mellor, the world would fall in love with him under a more fitting moniker, Joe Strummer. Joe Strummer was born in Ankara, Turkey on August 21, 1952, and after a series of moves in his childhood, began attending boarding school in London as a nine year old. Once he finished primary school, Joe Strummer briefly attended art school in Wales but opted to drop out and form a band with his friends. In the early '70s he formed a group called the Vultures, which was short-lived. He returned to London and formed a new group called the 101'ers, which mostly played covers in local pubs. After a show in which the group were supported by a then-unknown punk band called the Sex Pistols, Strummer was approached to join an existing group called London SS. Strummer obliged, and the group quickly folded, but Strummer continued with Mick Jones to form the Clash.
The Clash went on to become one of punk rock's most legendary groups. The quartet—rounded out by Keith Leverne and Terry Chimes—toured with the Sex Pistols on the famed Anarchy Tour in 1976, which proved to be a great starting point in leading the Clash to a record deal. The Clash raised hell on a level that showcased disenfranchised youth, but not to the extreme of the Pistols. In their prime, the Clash, with their three-chord "easy listening" punk appeal, were dubbed "the only band that matters." That compliment stuck with them through history, and they are still highly regarded in punk rock circles, decades after their prime.
Joe Strummer ended the Clash's 10-year run in 1986, but remained busy. Over the next few years, Strummer spent time producing albums for groups like the Latino Rockabilly War and the Pogues and trying his hand in acting—most notably on Jim Jarmusch's brilliant 1989 film Mystery Train. He also wrote new music here and there, but he didn't form a new band until 1999, when he formed the Mescaleros.
Very much back in the music scene, the music legend's comeback was cut agonizingly short three days before Christmas, 2002. Joe Strummer passed away at his home in Somerset, England, due to a congenital heart defect. He was 50 years old. Strummer's death reverberated around the music community, and the outpouring of love and admiration was massive. Musicians and journalists alike mused about Strummer's indelible influence on modern music, and at the 2003 Grammy Awards Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and others performed the Clash classic "London Calling" in Strummer's honor.
From his signature telecaster to his iconic snarl, Joe Strummer will undoubtedly go down as one of the preeminent figures of his era, and the music he made—particularly with the Clash—will be treasured for decade's to come. Strummer was never afraid to speak out on what he believed, and his unabashed "Combat" rock still sounds fresh and revolutionary today.
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