Born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, on August 21, 1952, Joe Strummer was a British musician, singer, songwriter, composer and actor who’s most known for his work with The Clash as rhythm guitarist and co-lead vocalist. The Clash is credited with lighting fire to the punk rock revolution of the 70s, which gives us a good sense of just how influential Strummer was.
In the mid-70s, Strummer was approached by Mick Jones from the band London SS, to join his band as the lead singer. At the time, Strummer was a part of the 101ers, which he left, and along with Jones, joined bassist Paul Simonon, drummer Terry Chimes and guitarist Keith Levene to create The Clash. They made their debut on July 4, 1976 in Sheffield. They opened for the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan.
On January 25, 1977, The Clash signed with CBS Records. Levene was fired from the band and Chime left, leaving the band a three-piece. But Topper Headon would later join as the band’s full-time drummer.
Between 1977 and 1985, the band would go on to release several important albums, including the self-titled The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, London Calling, Sandinista!, Combat Rock and Cut the Crap, with each album going at least Gold and some going Platinum or even Multi-Platinum.
Before the release of Combat Rock in 1982, however, Strummer would go into hiding. Reportedly, the band’s manager, Bernie Rhodes convinced him to disappear because tickets in Scotland were not selling as quickly as they’d hoped for an upcoming tour. Ultimately, both the public and the band’s management lost track of Strummer and for a while, no one knew his whereabouts.
Tensions in the band began to grow and in September 1983, Strummer would fire Mick Jones. Topper Headon had already been kicked out of the band due to heroin use and Terry Chimes was brought back temporarily until they replaced him with Pete Howard. Strummer and Simonon added two new guitarists and with the new lineup, released Cut the Crap in 1985. This album, however, was not received well, and the band broke up.
From 1986 to 1999, Strummer would engage in solo and soundtrack work. During this time, Strummer would also form The Mescaleros, who had several successful releases and tours. Strummer died suddenly on December 22, 2002 in his home at Broomfield in Somerset, due to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.
As we’ve explored before, sometimes an artist’s guitar ends up becoming just as iconic as the artist, if not more. Joe Strummer’s 1966 Fender Telecaster would certainly fall under this category. This battered, beaten and modified axe served as one of Strummer’s main guitars during his time with The Clash as well as his solo career. Reportedly, this guitar had a sunburst finish upon purchase.
Strummer, however, decided to take the guitar to a car repair shop. The body and pickguard were then sprayed with grey primer and a top coat of black automotive paint were applied.
The guitar, of course, was also decorated extensively with stickers (what could be more punk rock?), with many of them wearing off over time. Earlier, we referred to the fact that the guitar had also been modified. The main things Strummer swapped out were the tuning machines and bridge.
Today, the Telecaster isn’t in the best condition, because a) it had been used extensively by Strummer and b) the guitar had been stored in a barn for a few years, leaving the hardware rusted.
Still an iconic guitar, the 1966 Fender Telecaster will continue to epitomize the punk spirit.