Joe Strummer Remembered

On the anniversary of The Clash frontman's death

Today marks the sixth anniversary of Joe Strummer’s untimely death.

The former Clash front man was a legendary figure in music, a magnificent frontman and, by all accounts, a thoroughly decent man with time for everyone he met.

Way back in September 2004 Clash gave over an issue to the 25th anniversary of the band’s ‘London Calling’ album and was lucky to speak to all of the remaining band members and associates.

Below are the responses to the question ‘What was Joe’s best quality as a friend?‘. The answers pay a worthy tribute to Strummer and offer an insight into the off duty side of one of music’s great performers.

Mick Jones:

He was a really human guy and he had a fantastic amount of that heart. He made us all think about things that we hadn’t really thought about so much before. He was a big influence of all of us.

Paul Simonon:

Support, I suppose. You have to realise that in the beginning of the group I’d never been in a group before. Joe had had that experience and so had Mick, and so in a way Joe was older than me and so he was sort of like an older brother really. That was our relationship to be honest. I suppose because of our past experiences, growing up as children, it was like an instant family really, and Joe was supportive, very supportive.

Topper Headon:

Loyalty. He had lots of qualities. He told it like it was. He was always there if you needed tough love, which now I realise, with the sacking, that’s what he was giving me there. As soon as I started to pull myself together a bit I was working with him again. I still miss him; I still think of him alot. He goes through my head and I think, ‘Fuck, he’s gone.’ I was lucky; I went to see him play the Shepards Bush Empire, it was about a month before he died. It was nice then to have a chat with him backstage. But that’s life, you know?

This time next year one of the rest of us might have gone as well. It was a complete shock when he died. He was just so full of life, you know? Always passionate about everything he got involved in. I mean, he was just involved with the Fire Brigade Union up until he died. That’s when Mick and he got together (for the benefit gig). He was always passionate; he always had a cause and he was always fighting his corner. He was just one of those people who you thought was gonna be around forever. I mean, the first thought I had when I heard he’d died was, ‘Fuck, that should have been me.’ He was a vegetarian, he wasn’t an intravenous drug user, everything that i’d become, and yet he went and died. That was a struggle; there was a kind of guilt feeling there but, you know, that’s just one of those things.

Clash tour manager and Strummer’s longtime friend Johnny Green:

He was a very understanding and kind man, he’d also give you harsh advice, which I think is the mark of a true friend, not just soft soap what you think you might want to hear.

Topper said that, “tough love”.

Yeah, I’d agree with that. He did that myself, in personal aspects of my life. He was immensely quietly generous man. My wife and son died in the early 80s; they both got meningitis and died very quickly – I haven’t actually ever told people about this – but he very quietly sorted me out, both in sending me away for a holiday, standing by me and meeting with me and talking about me and paying for the funerals…He was a brick to me. That’s a corny old word, innit? That’s like that bloke that worked with Diana. But no, Strummer was really that for me at the time I really needed someone. He stood by me; he went out of his way to see how I was and I can never thank him enough for that.

Photographer Bob Gruen:

You kept in touch with the band after their split, and in particular worked alot with Joe Strummer. How did your friendship continue beyond work?

Well, he would sleep on my couch! (laughs) We’d go out drinking together. We talked alot. Joe was a great talker. He loved staying up late and drinking and talking and trying to reason things out. Many nights we’d be out – New York bars are open until 4am and then you’d go to an after hours bar. He loved meeting people and talking to ’em. And then maybe 5 or 6 in the morning, we’d come back to my house and we’d play Dylan albums and drink some more until 9 or 10 or whatever. He was a lot of fun, a LOT of fun to hang out with.

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