keith levene

Keith Levene, Guitarist and Clash Co-Founder, Dies at 65

The death of Keith Levene, the Clash’s former guitarist and one of Public Image Ltd.’s (PiL) original members, was recently announced by his bandmates Martin Atkins and Jah Wobble on social media. The Guardian revealed that liver cancer took his life at 65 years old.

Though his career was derailed by drugs in the early 80s, Levene’s work with Public Imagehad a profound and lasting effect on musical culture: His jagged, discordant chords and rhythms influenced countless bands across genres, well beyond PiL’s postpunk scene In 1991, at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, this writer recalls hearing the band break into PiL’s 1979 classic song “Poptones.” You can hear his sound today in the work of Franz Ferdinand to LCD Sound system.

Keith Levene

inning. In his teens he liked to listen to progressive rock bands, one group even being Yes which he roadied for in the early 1970s. He admired guitarists like Steve Howe from Yes, but as told Furious.com in 2001, once he became good at playing guitar himself “I didn’t want to be like any other guitarist. I wasn’t actively trying to be different from others; I just had an ear for what sounded wrong. So, if I did something that was incorrect- like make a mistake or do something out of key- I would listen to it again and try to fix it.

In the mid-1970s, he met Mick Jones and together they founded The Clash. He co-wrote “What’s My Name,” from their 1977 debut album, but left soon after because he was unimpressed with the band’s musical abilities.He briefly played music with Sid Vicious (who soon joined the Sex Pistols) before joining forces with Lydon, drummer Jim Walker and bassist Jah Wobble in Public Image Ltd. when the Pistols fell apart.

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Some people initially thought PiL would simply be a second version of the Pistols, but they soon found out that this band was entirely different. With strong influences from early ’70s experimental “Kraut-rock” groups such as Can and Neu, the group sounds like Levene’s brittle guitar paired with Wobble’s booming, reggae-influenced bass beneath Lydon’s vocals.Public Image Ltd’s second album, “Metal Box” (titled “Second Edition” in the U.S.), was a much more ambitious work than their self-titled 1978 album.packaged In the UK in a metal tin box resembling a film cannister, it consisted of three 12” singles pressed onto vinyl, resulting in such deep bass tones that they could cause turntable styluses to jump out of the vibrations. The album shifted the perception of post-punk music with hits such as “Poptones,” “Careering,” “The Suit” and “Graveyard.” For example, “Another” was an instrumental B-side that became popular because the group decided to ditch the vocal track.

The group’s sound cannot be accurately compared to punk, however their aggressive attitude certainly was. Their concerts were messily uncoordinated, as seen on the live album “Paris au Printempts,” and they didn’t bother faking it during a surreal performance in the U.S.

Keith Levene

The group’s popularity increased when they performed on the pop-music TV show “American Bandstand.” Lydon led the audience onto the stage to dance with the band as they played their songs. However, Wobble had left by the time that third LP was released, titled “Flowers of Romance.” This album was mostly percussion and featured foreign instruments; Levene only played guitar on one song.The group fought on to make a fourth album but Levene bailed during the sessions; the resulting 1983 album, “This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get” features many songs co-written by him but none of his playing. A bootleg of early recordings featuring him called “Commercial Zone” has been available for years. Lydon continued PiL as a fairly straightforward rock act over time, though the Boundary-pushing had already been done.

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Levene took a step back from the limelight due to personal struggles, but eventually moved to Los Angeles and met other musicians. In 1987, he released “Violent Opposition” EP with help from members of the Chili Peppers, Fish bone, and The lonious Monster. He also produced demos for Chili Pepper’s second album “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan,” which ironically was directed by Andy Gill of Gang of Four whose style resembles Levene’s .

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