Keith Levene, a founding member of and guitarist for The Clash dies at 65

Keith Levene was only 18 when he formed The Clash with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.

Keith Levene, a founding member of and guitarist for The Clash and Public Image Ltd, has died. He was 65.

News of his death was first shared by author Adam Hammond, with whom Levene was working on a written history of Public Image Ltd, according to The Guardian. The British rock star had liver cancer and died in his sleep at his Norfolk home on Nov. 11, the newspaper said.

“There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time,” Hammond tweeted, describing Levene as a “close friend.”

After leaving The Clash, Leven formed Public Image Ltd with John Lydon and John Wardle.
After leaving The Clash, Leven formed Public Image Ltd with John Lydon and John Wardle.

After leaving The Clash, Leven formed Public Image Ltd with John Lydon and John Wardle.

Levene was born in London on July 18, 1957. He was only 18 when he formed The Clash with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. Joe Strummer, who was freshly inspired by punk music after seeing the Sex Pistols perform in London around that time, joined The Clash at Levene’s request.

Despite contributing to some of their greatest successes, including “What’s My Name” from their 1977 debut album, Levene grew tired of the band. When the Sex Pistols broke up the following year, he formed Public Image Ltd with John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon and John “Jah Wobble” Wardle.

“Keith sought to create a new paradigm in music and with willing collaborators John Lydon and Jah Wobble succeeded in doing just that,” Hammond added. “His guitar work over the nine minutes of ‘Theme,’ the first track on the first PiL album, defined what alternative music should be.”

That album, “Public Image: First Issue,” charted at No. 22 with a self-titled single that broke into the top 10. Fans and music historians consider it a classic of the post-punk genre, with Levene revealing to The Guardian in 2012 that “people thought I was classically trained, which was bollocks.”

“The Flowers of Romance” in 1981 marked Levene’s third and final outing with Public Image Ltd, according to People. Levene officially left the group two years later, citing creative differences during production of their fourth effort, “This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get.”

“There was a lot of vitriol, but it was a magic time and I wouldn’t swap any of it,” Levene told The Guardian. “People said [our second album] Metal Box was avant-garde, but we didn’t expect that in 30-odd years’ time people would be talking about a seminal record.”

Substance abuse, particularly heroin use, derailed Levene’s career for much of the 1980s, according to Variety. Despite that, he moved to Los Angeles and produced the “Violent Opposition” EP with members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1987 and wrote an autobiography.

“So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not,” Hammond tweeted, adding: “The world is a darker place without his genius. Mine will be darker without my mate.”



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