Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Letsagetabitarockin'....The Joe Strummer Story & Joe Strummer Day CJAM Special

The years 1986 until 1999 are commonly referred to as The Wilderness Years in regards to former Clash front man Joe Strummers artistic output, musically and in film. In 1986, Joe Strummer contributed two songs to the soundtrack for the movie Sid & Nancy. The two songs featured on the soundtrack were “Love Kills” and “Dum Dum Club”. While these two songs were labelled under Joe Strummer he contributed further music to the project under a different name due to the fact that he was limited contractually for two songs only on the soundtrack album. The film was made by director Alex Cox, who met Strummer after part of Sid & Nancy had been filmed (the London scenes). This encounter would lead Joe Strummer to further soundtrack work and acting roles. In the same year Joe reconnected with former Clash band mate Mick Jones producing and co-writing several tracks on the Big Audio Dynamite album No.10 Upping Street, Jones’ post-Clash band. When 1987 hit, Joe Strummer had a small acting role as “Faucet” in the Alex Cox film Walker, he also wrote and performed the score/soundtrack to the film. The movie Straight to Hell was made in the very same year by Alex Cox. Joe played a character named “Simms”, the movie also featured members of The Pogues. Soundtrack work to this Western, which has often been called bizarre was done by Joe Strummer with contributions by The Pogues. Around this time The Pogues needed a fill in for their 1987/1988 tour. Joe filled that role bringing him back into the realm of touring with a band.

A band was put together in 1988 known as The Latino Rockabilly War. Consisting of Zander Schloss, Lonnie Marshall, Jack Irons and Willie MacNeil, this group contributed five songs (“Trash City”, “Theme From Permanent Record”, “Nothin’ Bout Nothin”, “Baby The Trans” and “Nefertiti Rock") to the soundtrack for the film Permanent Record, which featured Keanu Reeves. A full length album was also recorded in 1989. The album featured The Latino Rockabilly War as Joe’s backing band and was entitled Earthquake Weather. The album was a passionate fourteen track collection of songs drawing on a variety of influences such as Folk, World Music, Dub, Rock and there are even hints of Spanish guitar. The album featured songs such as “Gangsterville” and “King of the Bayou” which are quick Rock songs containing Dub elements. There are standout tracks such as the tropical charm of “Island Hopping”, and the soulful “Sleepwalk” which ends the album. Earthquake Weather was an eclectic mix of styles falling within the Rock realm that was a very unique artistic statement and still is. At the time of its release it was panned by critics. The album did not sell well and as a result Joe Strummer was dropped from his contract with Sony records.

In 1989, Joe Strummer played a character named Johnny, alongside Steve Bushemi in the Jim Jarmusch film Mystery Train. The album Hell’s Ditch by The Pogues (which would be released in 1990) was produced by Strummer in the same year. In 1990, Joe Strummer had a small part in a movie by Aki Kaurismäki entitled I Hired A Contract Killer. In the film Joe plays a guitarist performing two songs in a pub. The two songs (“Burning Lights” and “Afro-Cuban Bebop”) were released on a promotional seven inch single. The songs are credited to Joe Strummer & The Astro Physicians, which were actually The Pogues. In 1991, Joe Strummer temporarily replaced Shawn McGowan (singer of The Pogues) for their tour that year. Doubling as vocalist and rhythm guitarist, the band played several Clash songs on that tour. One night of the tour was recorded professionally and three of the tracks (“London Calling”, “I Fought the Law”, and “Turkish Song of the Damned”) can be found on The Pogues 2008 box set. For much of the early years of the 90’s Joe Strummer went under the radar not really doing anything musically. In 1993, Joe Strummer wrote material for the film When Pigs Fly. He scored the entire film, but had issues with distribution resulting in the film and soundtrack being unreleased. He returned in 1994 to live music for a benefit concert known as “Rock For Refugees” for people that were left displaced by war in Bosnia. Taking place in Prague, Joe played a live set backed with Dirty Pictures, a Czech American band that featured many Clash songs that he had not played in a decade. In 1995, Joe Strummer played piano on the song “Just The One” by the UK band The Levellers and then made an appearance on the 1996 Black Grape single “England’s Ire”. Around this time a dispute occurred with Epic Records which lasted almost eight years. The label finally agreed to let Strummer record solo material with another label, but if The Clash were to reunite, they would have to record for Sony. In 1998, Joe Strummer contributed a song entitled “It’s A Rockin’ World” to Chef Aid: The South Park Album. This positive Rock song featured Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nick Hexum of 311, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, DJ Bonebreak and Benmont Tench.

In 1999, Joe Strummer began working with a trio for some short movie soundtracks, for Tunnel of Love and Question of Honor. These other musicians were Pablo Cook and Richard Norris which would lead Strummer to Antony Genn. Strummer would then begin recording a new album at the insistence of Genn, this album would become Rock Art and The X-Ray Style, the first album by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros. The original band line up consisted of Joe Strummer on guitar/lead vocals, Scott Shields on bass, Antony Genn on guitar, Martin Slattery on keyboards, additional guitar/various instruments, Pablo Cook on percussion and Steve Banard on drums. Produced by Antony Genn and Richard Norris with Richard Flack doing some engineering and other effects in the studio, Rock Art and The X-Ray Style was Joe Strummer first full length album since 1989’s Earthquake Weather. The album mixed a variety of styles, but also this time adding in a various electronic elements. The album opens with the song “Tony Adams” a powerful song with reggae styled guitar riffs and saxophones that lyrically deals with a catastrophe hitting New York. The song was also named after English Football (or Soccer in the US) player Tony Adams, who Strummer thought should have been the captain of the England Football team. The song doesn’t necessarily deal with Adams directly, but its title can be seen as being more of a dedication to the athlete. There are also songs such as “Sandpaper Blues” which delves into African beats, “The Road to Rock and Roll” which features almost Hip Hop styled drumming and “Techno D-day” a high energy Rock song with electronic elements. The album also features the song “Yalla Yalla, a song that was actually written prior to the recording of Rock Art and the X-Ray Style. The song is richly layered and features synths, guitars, bass, and drums as well as sustain provided by an e-bow. The song was once described by Strummer himself as “An ancient British Folk song … written in the year 1999”. The album ends off with “Willesden to Cricklewood” a song that poignantly looks back at someone who is growing up. The song touches on London, being home, and watching your children grow.

Following the release of Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, Joe Strummer toured across Europe, England, and North America, the bands live sets featured many Clash fan favourites. In 2001, Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros signed to the California Punk label Hellcat Records. The bands follow up to Rock Art was Global A Go-Go, which was released in 2001. This album had contained more of the genre bending flavours that Joe had been experimenting with on the bands previous efforts. Notable influences are apparent on this album. There is a big World Music influence along with Folk, and other exotic rhythmic elements found here. Dominated by mostly acoustic guitars, Global A Go-Go is like no other album in Strummers catalogue. The album opens with Folk Rock of “Johnny Appleseed”. The song takes on an apparent Bob Dylan influence featuring thought provoking lyrics such as “If you’re after getting honey/then don’t go killing all the bees”, which can be read on many levels, relating to workers rights and ideas within the social contexts of the freedoms of society. The song is easily one of the strongest in Strummer’s catalogue and was used as the theme song to the HBO television series John from Cincinnati. Other interesting tracks include “Cool ‘n Out’, which has prominent electric guitar, the Folk and World Music mix of “Global A Go-Go”, “Mega Bottle Ride”, and “Mondo Bongo”. The album also features the almost eighteen minute epic track “Minstrel Boy”, which reflects an Irish Celtic Folk influence. While these are just some of the nuggets found on this album, there are some other facts that are worth mentioning in regards to Global A Go-Go. The album features guest vocals from Who front man Roger Daltrey, and fiddler Tymon Dogg, who was involved in The Clash’s album Sandinista!, and who has musical connections back to Joe Strummers 101’ers days. On Global A Go-Go Joe Strummer re-invented himself separate from his Clash past. While Joe had been experimenting with his unique blend of Folk and World Music from as far back as 1989’s Earthquake Weather, this album easily stood out from the rest and garnered Strummer with new recognition from his peers, fans and critics alike.

The Mescaleros embarked on a 21 date tour in support of Global A Go-Go, touring in North America, England and Ireland. The bands live set usually featured Clash material (as did his previous Mescaleros tour), along with a mix of covers such as “A Message To You Rudy”, “They Harder They Come”, and “Blitzkrieg Bop”. Around this point The Mesaleros were on their Bringing it All Back Home Tour, which was an extensive tour of the UK. It was also around this time where rumours of a Clash reunion started to take place. It was announced that The Clash were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 2003 and the band were talking again. Nothing was ever confirmed, but when Clash guitarist Mick Jones joined Joe Strummer on stage on November 15th, 2002 for a few live Clash songs at a Mescaleros show, hopes were raised high. Mick joined the Mescaleros for three Clash numbers on stage during that show (“Bankrobber”, “White Riot”, and “London’s Burning”), which was the first time that Mick Jones played on stage with Joe Strummer since 1983. The performance was unplanned. Afterwards Jones was quoted as saying that he felt compelled to join Joe on stage. This was one of the last gigs that Joe Strummer played with the Mescaleros, on December 22, 2002 Joe Strummer passed away due to an unknown congenial heart defect at the age of 50.

In 2003, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros released Streetcore posthumously. The ten track album was a combination of the final studio sessions that Joe Strummer had done with the Mescaleros prior to his death. The album was critically acclaimed at the time of its release being called an album as accessible as some of Joe’s previous Clash efforts. Many of the songs on Streetcore feature a return to Rock basics that had not been found to a large degree on previous Mescaleros albums. At the time of the first recording session for the album, in February 2002 The Mescaleros band line up included Martin Slattery (guitar, keyboards, sax), Scott Shields (guitar, percussion), Luke Bullen (drums) and Simon Stafford on bass. While the band recorded several songs in preparation for the album, many of the songs did not have vocals recorded. One can’t be known for sure, but it has been said that vocals were never recorded for “Dakar Meantime”, and “Guitar Slingerman”, two songs that quickly began to be integrated in the Mescaleros live sets prior to Joe’s passing. Overall the album mixes elements of Folk, Blues, Reggae, Dub and Rock. The album kicks off with the almost Garage Rock “Coma Girl”, a song that has been said to have been the last studio recording to feature Joe Strummer on guitar. The second song on the album is the soulful Reggae Rock hybrid of “Get Down’ Moses”. Other high energy songs on the album include “All in a Day”, and “Arms Aloft”. In addition to the rocked up Mescaleros tracks there are also some ballads that can’t help but remind the listener of The Clash and influences. “Burning Streets” especially emphasizes this point, it seems to draw on a previous Clash based work ethic and at the same time step forward in a new direction with The Mescaleros. "Ramshackle Day Parade”, is the other ballad provided here. The song was recorded for the movie The Diving Bell and Butterfly. “Midnight Jam” is a song that has no lyrics, instead clips of Joe Strummer talking from his London Calling BBC radio show (which ran from 1998-2001) are inter-spliced between the notes of this moving piece.

There are also several acoustic songs on the album one of them being “Long Shadow”. This passionate acoustic number was recorded by Rick Rubin in consideration for Johnny Cash, but wasn’t recorded by Cash. It was recorded by Ruben with Strummer and Smokey Hormel on guitar. Another acoustic song recorded by Rubin was “Redemption Song”. This cover of a song originally done by Bob Marley features Joe’s passionate vocals and a lone acoustic guitar, it was also recorded as a duet with Johnny Cash on vocals (it can be found on Cash’s Unearthed Box Set). The final track on the album is a joyous cover of the Bobby Charles song “Before I Grow Too Old”, renamed “Silver and Gold” on Streetcore. With lyrics emphasizing that one should live their life before they’re too old and it’s too late, leaves Streetcore to end the album on a rather poignant note.

Joe Strummer left behind detailed notes about Streetcore and how it should be organized prior to his passing. The cover art can be best described by strummer himself as: "A distillation thru the mind bending coil..." created by Joe himself, the album is juxtaposed with a bright orange background and on the back features a picture of Strummer sitting cross-legged playing his trademark Telecaster. While the album was released posthumously, it is unknown what was originally intended for the album and what was left out off this album due to Joe’s untimely passing. The album stands as a strong document of his musical efforts, regardless of whether or not it was the bands last album. In 2007 a documentary was made about Joe Strummer entitled The Future is Unwritten by Julian Temple, which further documented the music of Joe Strummer, alongside the Dick Rude documentary Let’s Rock Again!, and Don Letts’ Westway to The World. The music created by Joe Strummer, both in his Clash days and his post-Clash days has gone on to influence and inspire many people to create music that is passionate, meaningful and full of feeling.

If you liked this post check out my Joe Strummer 2011 special, where I did two programs, one program focusing on harder to find recordings from Joe Strummer & The Clash and a second program I did on the album Sandinista!

Joe Strummer Day Play List:

1. Joe Strummer - It's A Rockin' World (Chef Aid: The South Park Album 1998)
2. Joe Strummer – Gangsterville (Earthquake Weather 1989)
3. The Clash - Tommy Gun (Give ‘Em Enough Rope 1978)
4. The Clash - Clash City Rockers (Original Version) (Essential Clash 2003)
5. 101'ers - Letsagetabitarockin' (Elgin Avenue Revisited 2005)
6. 101'ers - Keys To Your Heart (Version 2) (Elgin Avenue Revisited 2005)
7. Joe Strummer - Love Kills (Sid & Nancy Soundtrack 1986)
8. Joe Strummer - Dum Dum Club (Sid & Nancy Soundtrack 1986)
9. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Global A Go-Go (Global A Go-Go 2001)
10. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Bhindi Bhagee (Global A Go-Go 2001)
11. Joe Strummer - Island Hopping (Earthquake Weather 1989)
12. Joe Strummer - Sleepwalk (Earthquake Weather 1989)
13. Joe Strummer - Tennessee Rain (Walker 1987)
14. Joe Strummer - Pouring Rain (When Pigs Fly 1993)
15. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Yalla Yalla (Rock Art & The X-Ray Style 1999)
16. The Clash - The Leader (Sandinista! 1980)
17. The Clash - Jimmy Jazz (London Calling 1979)
19. The Clash - (Whiteman) In Hammersmith Palais (The Clash (US Version) 1979)
20. The Clash - Hateful (London Calling 1979)
21. The Clash - London Calling (Live Amsterdam 1981)
22. The Clash - Bankrobber (From Here to Eternity II)
23. The Clash - This Is England (Cut the Crap 1985)
24. Joe Strummer & The Pogues - Turkish Song of the Damned (Live (Pogues Box Set 2008)
25. Joe Strummer & The Astro Physicians - Burning Lights (I Hired A Contract Killer 1990)
26. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Road to Rock and Roll (Rock Art & The X-Ray Style 1999)
27. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Techno D-Day (Rock Art & The X-Ray Style 1999)
28. Joe Strummer - Passport To Detroit (Earthquake Weather 1989)
29. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Cool 'n' Out (Global A Go-Go 2001)
30. The Clash - Safe European Home (Give ‘Em Enough Rope 1978)
31. The Clash - Rock The Casbah (Live at the US Festival 1983)
32. The Clash - Police & Thieves/Blitzkrieg Bop (Rockers Galore Promo 1999)
33. The Clash - Garageland (Demo) (Rude Boy: The Directors Cut 1980)
34. The Clash - White Riot (The Clash (US Version) 1979)
35. The Clash - Know Your Rights (Combat Rock 1982)
36. The Clash – Magnificent Seven (Live From Here to Eternity 1999)
37. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Johnny Appleseed (Global A Go-Go 2001)
38. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Coma Girl (Streetcore 2003)
39. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Get Down Moses (Streetcore 2003)
40. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Dakar Meantime (Live Streetcore Outtake 2002)
41. Latino Rockabilly War - Trash City (Permanent Record Original Soundtrack 1988)
42. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Long Shadow (Streetcore 2003)
43. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - Redemption Song (Streetcore 2003)

To download this program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Joe Strummer Day and download the files for 12 AM & 3 AM.


Nazz Nomad said...

nice job

Dave said...

Thanks Nazz, I enjoyed your Kovers post.