“And I heard it in his chain gang soul.
It wasn't just the same sad song.
Saying, 'Let it out, you're doing all right.'
And I'm doing all right, are you doin' all right?
And I carried these songs like a comfort wherever I'd go.” – Gaslight Anthem “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”
Born John Graham Mellor on August 21,1952 in Ankora, Turkey, the man who would become Joe Strummer would grow up like a gypsy constantly traveling around the world due to his father’s profession as a British Foreign Service diplomat. By the time Mellor was nine he was at boarding school in London and began taking and interest to American rock and roll. The music of Woody Guthrie, The Beach Boys and Little Richard would play a huge role in Mellor wanting to make music. After stints at some schools, Moller found himself in Wales when he was 21, hanging out with students from Newport College of Art. After singing in various bands, he eventually moved back to London and formed the 101ers and was known as Woody Moller. Adopting the name from Guthrie, a man who had a major impact on his songwriting and life, the 101ers became a buzz band known for their furious live shows and Moller’s passionate on-stage antics.
By 1975, the 101ers had a little band at the time that was causing a big stir known as The Sex Pistols open for them at a London gig and it was there that London SS member Mick Jones saw Moller. Jones approached Moller about starting a band and just after a few practices, Moller left the 101ers and changed his name to what we know as, Joe Strummer and the band became The Clash.
The legacy of The Clash needs no explanation and can still be seen and heard today. Yet, it was Strummer who still stands apart as Joe Strummer the front man of The Clash, or later The Mescaleros, and Strummer - the icon.
Strummer was just more than a singer and guitarist in a few rock and roll bands, he was more than just one of the founding fathers of punk, he was a man of the people. Like the men he admired, Guthrie, John Lennon, Joey Ramone and Bob Marley, Strummer gave a voice to those that needed one. His causes for social justice and change took him outside of his music with organizations like Rock Against Racism, Anti-Nazi league and was causing a stir for Apartheid to end and Nelson Mandela be free in the 80’s. In 1980, he was inspired by the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua, that he titled The Clash’s London Calling follow-up, Sandinista. It is action on various levels from grassroots to big stages to radio, Strummer fought for justice where it needed fighting. It is for this and what he stood for is what he will always be remembered most, just as important as Joe Strummer was to music, Joe Strummer was a significant part to the public. He had given poetry to the people with his words, emotion in his music and love and integrity in his actions.
Before his death, Strummer had said “I wake up everyday and thank God for punk rock.” A clear shining light on his importance and inspiration can be found in the artists of today and the punk offspring they bring to the music world. He showed that in order to be a musician you must take up more than music, you have a voice that is being heard the world over and you can use it in very positive ways.
John Moller changed his name to Woody Moller then changed it to Joe Strummer for a more rock and roll sound and to be cool. Yet, what John, Woody and Joe never realized is that we would have called him just about anything. Today he goes by a different name, as Craig Finn of The Hold Steady has given him, “St. Joe Strummer,” a fitting tribute to an icon that was more than rock, more than punk, but Godly. In the year that would have been his 60th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his passing, his words and wisdom speak louder now than they ever have before.