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Thread: Keith Levene of The Clash is Dead

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    Keith Levene of The Clash is Dead

    Keith Levene, founding member of the Clash, dies at 65
    Innovative post-punk musician was an original member of the Clash before founding PiL with John Lydon and Jah Wobble


    Keith Levene, left, with John Lydon in 1981. Photograph: Mirrorpix/Getty Images
    Vanessa Thorpe and Dave Simpson
    Sat 12 Nov 2022 13.14 EST

    Keith Levene, the innovative guitarist who was a founder member of both the Clash and Public Image Ltd, has died at the age of 65.

    Levene, who had liver cancer, died at his home in Norfolk , leaving a lasting legacy of influence on British rock music.

    His influence on the post-punk music scene was hailed by musicians as news of his death broke. Among his fans is Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, who once described his style as “spectacular”, saying “he explored the possibilities of what you can do with the guitar”.

    Forming the Clash with guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon when he was only 18, it was Levene, alongside the band’s manager, Bernard Rhodes, who asked Joe Strummer, frontman with the 101ers at the time, to join them. Luckily for the Clash, Strummer had just seen the Sex Pistols play at the Nashville Rooms in London and had become convinced that punk was the way forward.

    Levene, who was born Julian Levene in Muswell Hill, north London, remained in the Clash long enough to appear in early gigs and to contribute to songs, including What’s My Name on their 1977 debut album. But he grew apart from the Clash’s increasingly political direction and went on to greater success with PiL.

    When the Sex Pistols disbanded in January 1978, singer John Lydon (previously known as Johnny Rotten) and Levene formed the new band with bass player John Wardle (known as Jah Wobble). “John made a wise choice getting Keith,” Wobble said in 2012.

    Their first album, Public Image: First Issue, reached No 22 in 1978 and was preceded by the classic single Public Image, which reached the Top 10. Their second album, 1979’s Metal Box, is regarded as a post-punk classic. With various drummers, the lineup took inventive new forms of post-punk, dub, freeform jazz and classical music into the Top 20.

    Levene said in 2012: “People thought I was classically trained, which was bollocks. I knew the E chord, and ventured into E minor. We laid the music out on a plate for Lydon. He was very hip at the time and did really good work.” He played synthesiser on 1981’s The Flowers Of Romance, which was his last released work with PiL, but he played with Wobble again in subsequent years.

    In 2021, the website the Quietus described him as “one of the architects of the post-punk sound, his guitar style occupying a space between angular abrasion and pop opulence”.

    Levene enjoyed building guitars and had been working on a book about PiL with writer Adam Hammond. His partner, Kate Ransford, who, with his sister, Jill Bennett, and her husband were with him in his final hours, said he had died “peacefully, settled, cosy and loved”. The family have asked for privacy.

    The death is the second high profile loss to rock music to have been announced in 24 hours. A spokesperson revealed on Friday that Nik Turner, the co-founder of the British space-rock band Hawkwind, had died at 82.

    Announcing the death of the Oxford-born multi-instrumentalist, a statement released on social media said that “the Mighty Thunder Rider” had “passed away peacefully at home,” adding: “He has moved onto the next phase of his cosmic journey, guided by the love of his family, friends, and fans.”

    When Turner was 13, his family moved to Margate, Kent, the town where he was first exposed to rock music. After a period in the merchant navy, he travelled and worked around Europe, studying the saxophone in his early 20s.

    In Berlin, he was introduced to free jazz and, became convinced that self-expression in music was more important than technique. “I decided that what I wanted to do was play free jazz in a rock band. What I was trying to do in Hawkwind, basically,” he told Mojo magazine in 1999.

    The Guardian
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    Keith Levene wasn't actually in The Clash long enough to play on any of their official releases, though he did have a writing credit on "What's My Name"?

    Here's a bootleg recording of an early Clash show with him on guitar

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    Levene was better known for his time in Johnny Rotten's Public Image Limited, of course. The idea for their collaboration actually came from a gig in early 1976 when the Sex Pistols & the Clash were on the same bill. Lydon & Levene got into a discussion about their respective dickhead managers Malcolm McLaren & Bernard Rhodes, and joked about quitting and forming a band together. Levene actually did leave The Clash not long after that, but it would be another couple years before Johnny was available....


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    From a solo album in the late 80s with Flea on bass.... guess Keith never found what ever it was he was searching for.....


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    It is a little known fact - but known by me! - in 1980, VH and PiL were on tour in the US at the same time and shared WB staff or PR people or something of that order. You will have seen the photo of Lydon with Eddie and Alex, I'm sure. Well, that was from that time.

    This is what Keith Levene said in an interview, speaking about PiL's first US tour in 1980:

    'Our first tour was because Warners put out Metal Box [as it was originally titled in the UK, cos it came in a film can] as Second Edition. They said 'hey guys, you gotta promote this.' The next thing we know, we got a tour manager and a fucking tour. What we did was, and they really didn't like this... (laughs) We'd end up in New York and do the gig at the Palladium. Then we'd arrange another gig and another gig and that really pissed them off! After the Palladium, we did Gildersleeves, this Hell's Angels joint on the Bowery. It was bad, killer gig. Of course, I didn't see a penny for the Warner gigs but the ones we were getting together were good. We were touring with Van Halen, of all people. David Roth is a friend of mine now but then, it was just so weird.

    I didn't know who Eddie Van Halen was. I didn't know that he was supposed to be God on guitar. The first time I met him, we nearly had a fight. That doesn't happen with me. They were running this tour in synch with Van Halen and with us. If we playing in Pittsburgh, they'd be playing in the area too. It was just funny. When we played some gig in L.A. that we arranged, we went there the night before and these punks took over the Continental Hotel and we got kicked out. We really had fun with the tour.'

    https://www.furious.com/perfect/keithlevene2.html

    The guitar work on the first PiL single, 'Public Image' is tremendous. I think you have to say that Levene had his own sound and style. And interesting that before he was in the Clash he would turn up at Yes gigs begging to roadie for Steve Howe. That was his hero.
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