BioThe death of Joe Strummer, at the age of fifty, on December 22, 2002 came as a deep shock. However the colossal response of the media to Joe's passing was a tribute to his enduring status as a musical archetype and legend. For example, in addition to front-page coverage in most major newspapers, The London Times also ran a respectful editorial lamenting his demise; television news carried lengthy tributes; at the Newcastle-Liverpool match at St James's Park on Boxing Day, before a crowd of 52,000 football fans, a minute's silence was held for the former Clash frontman before kick-off, an extraordinary gesture, but one that showed how Joe's combination of toughness and sensitivity touched people's hearts. There is no exaggeration in the way that he is now spoken of as part of a tradition of folk protest singers stretching back to the likes of Woody Guthrie, on an iconic level with the likes of John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley.
In fact, Streetcore, Joe Strummer's new CD,recorded largely with his group the Mescaleros, includes a version of Marley's reflective masterpiece "Redemption Song," which he had recorded with the American producer Rick Rubin; always an adept reinterpreter--you think of such classics as "Police and Thieves," "I Fought the Law," and "Brand New Cadillac"--Joe's version of the song that is perhaps Marley's greatest work is almost as extraordinary as the original, and a tribute to one of his greatest inspirations. Guest musicians on "Redemption song" include Rick Rubin on piano, Smokey Hormel (Tom Waits, Beck and Johnny Cash) guitar and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) organ.
Streetcore features Joe's most immediate and accessible material since his early work with the Clash, evidence of a man at the height of his creative powers. Other than "Redemption Song," the record is comprised of eight original songs, as well as a cover of the 1952 Bobby Charles' classic "Before I Grow Too Old," re-named "Silver and Gold." The titles of the original tunes are: "Coma Girl," "Get Down Moses," "Long Shadow," "Arms Aloft," "Ramshackle Day Parade," "All In A Day" (co-written with Danny Saber), "Burnin' Streets," and "Midnight Jam."
The record was made in several bursts. By the time that the first two-week session began, in February 2002, this last Mescaleros line-up had settled as Martin Slattery (keyboards, guitar, sax), Scott Shields (guitar, also occasionally drums and bass), Simon Stafford (bass) and Luke Bullen (drums).
Setting all the group's gear up in the 2KHZ studio in West London and playing live, the group jammed with Joe until they had several ideas for songs under their collective belt. The idea was to go for an album that sounded contemporary, but that could be played live as a group.
In the meantime, "Redemption Song" and "Long Shadow" were recorded last April at Rick Rubin's house in Los Angeles. Originally intended to be submitted as a song for Johnny Cash to record, "Long Shadow," a thoughtful, almost desperately moving ballad, is ironically in many ways Joe's own "Redemption Song," a tune that contains a measure of prescience in its elegiac reflection upon his own struggles; the song was written on the spot at Rubin's house, over a period of three days, with Smokey, Johnny Cash's guitarist, also working on the number and playing on it with Joe.
During the summer the Mescaleros returned to 2KHZ, pulling together and expanding what they had come up with during that February stint. On each occasion Joe - as was habitually his wont in the studio - would set up his own flightcase bunker and work on lyrics. All these new songs are driven by words that filter an outsider's poetical perception of life through Joe Strummer's habitual wry humour.
During lengthy spells on the road - in Britain, the US, Japan and Europe--two of the most developed numbers, "Coma Girl" (set to be the first single) and the thundering "Get Down Moses"--began to be played live, nailed down as new numbers.
In the autumn there were further UK dates, which concluded at Liverpool University on November 22nd, the last show Joe played. These concerts included Joe and the Mescaleros' now famous performance at Acton Town Hall, a benefit for members of the striking Fire Brigades Union, in which he was joined onstage by former Clash guitarist Mick Jones, with whom Joe had co-written the archetypal punk group's material; it was the first time they had played together publicly for almost twenty years.
Suitably fired up, their playing chops honed, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros spent two weeks at Rockfield Studios in Wales last December, with Martin Slattery and Scott Shields at the producing helm. As there was not time to record vocals for all the instrumental material, the intention was to return there the next month: Joe was feverishly working on more material, anxious to record it.
After Joe's unexpected sad end, Martin Slattery and Scott Shields finished Streetcore at Unit 21 in Hackney, working on it for a month with Cameron Craig, the engineer who had recorded and mixed it. The record and sleeve were put together from detailed notes that Joe, with strange prescience, had elaborately detailed during the early part of December 2002.
After the Clash finally ground to a halt in 1986, Joe Strummer tried acting, with a role in Alex Cox's Straight To Hell (1987), and a minor part in the same director's Walker (1987), for which he also wrote a celebrated soundtrack; he made a much more significant impression in 1989, playing an English Elvis-like rocker in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train. That same year he released an impressive solo album, Earthquake Weather, and toured as part of the Latino Rockabilly War. But apart from briefly filling in as singer with the Pogues, he was hardly heard of for some time. It was almost the end of the decade before he formed the Mescaleros and began recording again, releasing two excellent albums, Rock, Art and the X-Ray Style (1999), and Global A Go-Go (2001), that title a reflection of his interests in world music, about which he presented a regular show on the BBC's World Service.
Joe was once again touring, incessantly and on a worldwide basis, playing to sold-out audiences. After considerable time in the wilderness, Joe Strummer seemed to have reinvented himself as a kind of elder statesman of British rock'n'roll, a much-loved artist and everyman figure. 'I still thought he'd be doing this in thirty years time,' said his friend, the film director Don Letts.