'Clash' Frontman Strummer Dies

File photo dated June 8, 2002, of Joe Strummer, frontman of the British punk band The Clash, who has died at the age of 50, his official website said Monday, Dec. 23, 2002. Strummer, born John Graham Mellor, helped make aggressive punk music a worldwide phenomenon with hits like 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' and 'London Calling'. AP

Joe Strummer, the gravel-voiced lead singer of the legendary band The Clash, whose hits "London Calling" and "Rock the Casbah" electrified the punk scene, has died at age 50.

The singer, guitarist and songwriter died Sunday at his home in Broomfield, in the southern county of Somerset, his record company said. The British Broadcasting Corp. quoted The Clash's video director Don Letts as saying Strummer died of a heart attack.

The Clash was the politically militant face of the British punk rock movement, enjoying chart success both in Britain and the United States until they split in the mid-1980s.

Their biggest British hit was "London Calling," which reached No. 11. They cracked the Top 30 in the United States in 1980 with "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" and had later hits with "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" which was used in a Levis commercial.

"The Clash was the greatest rock band. They wrote the rule book for U2," U2's lead singer Bono said Monday.

Strummer — his real name was John Graham Mellor — was born in Ankara, Turkey, the son of a British diplomat.

He dropped out of art school and later formed a pub-rock band called the 101'ers. After seeing The Sex Pistols perform in 1976, the young musician was captivated by the punk scene, and joined up with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky "Topper" Headon to form London SS, quickly renamed The Clash.

Between 1977 and 1982, Strummer and Jones composed, performed and recorded dozens of songs, using musical ideas from reggae and rockabilly as well as punk. With Jones' crisp guitar and Strummer's distinctive Cockney-accented vocals, the band, which also included Keith Levene and Terry Chimes, became hugely popular.

The double album, "London Calling," represented their peak and is generally considered one of the best in rock history.

"Their music is primitive and aggressive," says the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, "but the chemistry is combustible. On stage they are a complete audiovisual experience, driven forward on a wave of passion and pure energy."

In 1980, a fight erupted during a concert in Hamburg, Germany and Strummer was arrested after hitting a fan with his guitar.

In 1982, he disappeared for three weeks, forcing the band to cancel their UK tour. Strummer later explained that he had doubts about his career, so he went to Paris where he tried "living like a bum."

The band signed with CBS Records for $200,000, and their first album "Clash," was released in the United Kingdom in 1977. The record company considered the album too crude for U.S. release, however. It wasn't until 1979 that a compilation album would be released as "The Clash" in America.

"Here was a record that defined rock's risks and pleasures, and told us, once again that this was music worth fighting for," wrote Tom Carson in Rolling Stone of the album.

The band split in the early 1980s after a dispute between Strummer and Jones, who subsequently formed the group Big Audio Dynamite (BAD).

Strummer formed a new band, The Mescaleros, in the late 1990s and toured with them in Britain as recently as November. Hein van der Rey, managing director of Epitaph Records, said Strummer had been working on a third album with The Mescaleros.

Billy Bragg, the British folk-rocker and political activist, noted that punk bands such as The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers and The Ramones weren't very political.

"It was The Clash that struck the strong political stance that really inspired a lot of people, and within The Clash he was the political engine of the band," Bragg said.

"The thing about Strummer was he walked it like he talked it. He didn't cop out. He didn't show one face to the public and have a different face in himself," Bragg said.

The Clash was voted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is due to be inducted in a ceremony in New York City next March.

Strummer recently collaborated with Bono of U2 and Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics on a song in honor of former South African President Nelson Mandela. Titled "48864," Mandela's number in prison, the song is to be played Feb. 2, at an AIDS benefit concert Mandela is sponsoring at his former prison on Robben Island.

Strummer is survived by his wife Lucy, two daughters and a stepdaughter.

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