VT RADIO: Punk Anthem ‘Saint Joe’ Debuts on 20th Anniversary of Joe Strummer’s Passing

Joe Strummer 20 Years Gone: a 3-Part Series Celebrating the life of Joe Strummer; Part 1 of 3.

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Joe Strummer 20 Years Gone

Part 1 of 3:  Saint Joe

Part 12  – 3

Douglas Bales

Host Johnny Punish welcomes songwriter and musician Douglas Bales.  Bales debuts his SAINT JOE song, an anthem tribute to the great White Man in Hammersmith Palais.  Douglas tells how he came to write the song and how much Joe influenced his whole life.

John Graham Mellor (21 Aug. 1952 – 22 Dec. 2002), known professionally as Joe Strummer, was a British singer, musician, and songwriter. He was the co-founder, lyricist, rhythm guitarist, and co-lead vocalist of the punk rock band The Clash, formed in 1976.

The Clash’s second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978) reached No. 2 on the UK charts. Soon after, they achieved success in the US, starting with London Calling (1979) and peaking with Combat Rock (1982), which reached No. 7 on the US charts and was certified 2× platinum there. The Clash’s explosive political lyrics, musical experimentation, and rebellious attitude had a far-reaching influence on rock music in general, especially alternative rock. Their music incorporated reggae, ska, dub, funk, rap, and rockabilly.

Strummer’s other career highlights included stints with the 101ers, the Latino Rockabilly War, the Mescaleros, and the Pogues, as well as solo music. His work as a musician allowed him to explore other interests such as acting, scoring television shows and films, and hosting the BBC Radio show London Calling. Strummer and the Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 2003.

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Lil’ John Mellor, aka Joe Strummer, and his older brother David circa 1955

STRUMMER ORIGINS

Strummer was born in Ankara, Turkey on 21 August 1952, the son of a Scottish mother and an English father. His mother, Anna Mackenzie (1915–1986), was the daughter of a crofter and was born and raised in Bonar Bridge; she later became a nurse.

His father, Ronald Ralph Mellor MBE (1916–1984), was born in the Indian city of Lucknow, India, where his own father worked as a railway official, and became a clerical officer who later attained the rank of the second secretary in the foreign service. Through his father, Strummer had an Armenian great-grandfather and a German-Jewish great-grandmother.

Joe Strummers Parents: Ronald Ralph Mellor and Anna Mackenzie

At the age of nine, Strummer and his 10-year-old brother David began boarding at the City of London Freemen’s School in Surrey and rarely saw their parents during the next seven years. He later said, “[A]t the age of nine I had to say good-bye to them because they went abroad to Africa or something.

I went to boarding school and only saw them once a year after that – the Government paid for me to see my parents once a year. I was left on my own and went to this school where thick rich people sent their thick rich kids. Another perk of my father’s job – it was a job with a lot of perks – all the fees were paid by the Government.”

Strummer developed a love of rock music by listening to records by Little Richard, the Beach Boys, and Woody Guthrie. Strummer would even go by the nickname “Woody” for a few years.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967), aka Woody Guthrie, was an American singer-songwriter, one of the most significant figures in American folk music. His work focused on themes of American socialism and anti-fascism. He has inspired several generations both politically and musically with songs such as “This Land Is Your Land”, written in response to the American exceptionalist song “God Bless America”.

He would later refer to the Beach Boys as “the reason [he] played music”.

By 1970, his brother had become estranged from the family. His suicide in July of that year profoundly affected Strummer, as did having to identify his body after it had lain undiscovered for three days. Strummer said, “[David] was a year older than me. Funnily enough, you know, he was a Nazi. He was a member of the National Front.

He was into the occult and he used to have these deaths-heads and cross-bones all over everything. He didn’t like to talk to anybody, and I think suicide was the only way out for him. What else could he have done[?]”

SAINT JOE song by Douglas Bales


After finishing his time at the City of London Freemen’s School in 1970, Strummer moved on to the Central School of Art and Design in London, where he briefly considered becoming a professional cartoonist and completed a one-year foundation course.

During this time, he shared a flat in Palmers Green with friends Clive Timperley and Tymon Dogg.

He said, “I bought a ukulele. No kidding. I saved some money, £1.99 I think, and bought it down Shaftesbury Avenue. Then the guy I was busking with taught me to play ‘Johnny B. Goode’. […] I was on my own for the first time with this ukulele and ‘Johnny B. Goode’. And that’s how I started.”

In 1973, Strummer moved to Newport, South Wales. He did not study at Newport College of Art, but met up with college musicians at the students’ union in Stow Hill and became the vocalist for Flaming Youth before renaming the band the Vultures.

The Vultures included three former members of Rip Off Park Rock & Roll Allstars, the original college band co-founded by Terry Earl Taylor. For the next year, Strummer was the band’s part-time singer and rhythm guitarist.

During this time, he also worked as a gravedigger in St Woolos Cemetery. Whilst in Newport, he wrote and recorded on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder “Crumby Bum Blues”, which was later used in Julien Temple‘s 2007 film Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.

Who knew this gravedigger would become one of the greatest troubadours and poets of a generation

In 1974, the band fell apart and Strummer moved back to London, where he met up again with Dogg. He was a street performer for a while and then decided to form another band with his roommates called the 101ers, named after the address of their squat at 101 Walterton Road in Maida Vale.

The band played many gigs in London pubs, performing covers of popular American R&B and blues songs. During this period Strummer worked a number of occasional temporary jobs to fund the purchase of musical equipment, including time spent as a gardener in Hyde Park “to get the money for the guitar”.

In 1975, he stopped calling himself Woody Mellor and adopted the stage name Joe Strummer, subsequently insisting that his friends call him by that name.

The surname “Strummer” apparently referred to his role as rhythm guitarist in a self-deprecating way. Strummer was the lead singer of the 101ers and began to write original songs for the group.

One song he wrote was inspired by the Slits‘ drummer Palmolive, who was his girlfriend at the time. The group liked the song “Keys to Your Heart”, which they picked as their first single.

Then Came The Clash!  Read More >>>>  Part 2: Street Joe


Resources

THE MAGNIFICENT JOE STRUMMER written, performed, and produced by Johnny Punish

  • Soundcloud: Download Song
  • YouTube Music Video
  • Available on all Streaming Platforms ie…Spotify, Apple Music …
  • Additional vocals by the effervescent Lola Vinsentini (Buenos Aires, Argentina), lead guitar Stefano Andrigo (Milano, Italy)

COMMERORATIVE STRUMMER TEE-SHIRT and MUG
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