Photo: Helge Øverås

The Clash’s Keith Levene: Dead At 65

One of the founding members of the Clash and Public Image Ltd., Keith Levene died on Friday, November 11. he was 65 years old.

Taking to social media, Levene’s former bandmates Jah Wobble and Martin Atkins confirmed that their fellow musician had liver cancer and passed away at his home in Norfolk, England.

“RIP Keith Levene – a guitar tone like ground up diamonds fired at you through a high pressure hose,” tweeted Andy Bell of Ride.

While Levene’s guitar work helped to shape the sound of punk and post-punk, one of his first jobs as a teenager was as a roadie for the progressive rock band, Yes. Shortly thereafter, he teamed up with Mick Jones to form a band that later became the Clash. Though he departed the group after their 1977 debut album that included his cowritten “What’s My Name,” he continued to perform with the Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious, prior to teaming up with John Lydon, drummer Jim Walker and bassist Jah Wobble to form Public Image Ltd after the Sex Pistols dissolved in 1978.

Levene and the band were integral in turning reggae and dub into punk and post-punk music, as reflected in their sophomore album, 1979’s Metal Box (released under the name Second Edition stateside) and Keith worked on their debut, Public Image: First Issue and their third album, Flowers of Romance.

In a 2001 interview, Levene stated “What happened to me was once I got good enough to know the rules, I didn’t want to be like any other guitarist,” “I didn’t go out of my way to be different. I just had an ear for what was wrong. So if I did something that was wrong, i.e. made a mistake or did something that wasn’t in key, I was open-minded enough to listen to it again.” 

After he cowrote This Is What You Want, This Is What You GetCommercial Zone, but he did not officially play on their fourth album, Levene departed the band in 1984 and moved to Los Angeles, where he produced the 1987’s Violent Opposition EP, featuring members of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone. In 2012 ee rejoined PiL bandmate Wobble to release Yin & Yang.

According to The Guardian, Levene was in the process of working on a book about PiL with author Adam Hammond who took to social media to pay tribute to his friend, Levene.  Hammond wrote:

“There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time.” “Keith sought to create a new paradigm in music and with willing collaborators John Lydon and Jah Wobble succeeded in doing just that. His guitar work over the nine minutes of ‘Theme,’ the first track on the first PiL album, defined what alternative music should be.” “As well as helping to make PiL the most important band of the age, Keith also founded the Clash with Mick Jones and had a major influence on their early sound. ““So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not.”

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Author: Saul Goode

Photo: Helge Øverås