She photographed the biggest stars. But it was the Clash she clicked with. Pennie Smith relives their first explosive US tour – and reveals how she took ‘rock’s greatest photo’
Pennie Smith was standing less than six feet away when Paul Simonon, bass-player with the Clash, smashed his guitar to pieces on stage at the Palladium in New York. She’d been on the road with the band for two weeks, photographing their first US tour, but she’d always stayed on the other side of the stage, next to lead guitarist Mick Jones.
That night, to mix it up, she switched sides and remembers Simonon suddenly spinning toward her. “He was in a really bad mood,” she says, “and that wasn’t like him.” She took a step back to get a better focus with her 35mm Pentax – and then all hell broke loose. Simonon, seething, raised his Fender Precision like an axe, turned his back to singer Joe Strummer, and brought it crashing down. “It wasn’t a choice to take the shot,” Smith says. “My finger just went off.”
The photograph immortalised Simonon’s rage in grainy black and white. It was an emotional response, he later said, to a stiff New York audience that sat all night in their seats and didn’t move. “You can’t really tell it’s Paul,” says Smith. “But I guess that’s the point.”
On the tour bus the next day, Strummer chose the image for the cover of London Calling, the 1979 album that was to prove the Clash’s masterpiece – an exuberant outcry that is still regarded as one of the greatest, most influential albums of all time. Its slick mix of punk, reggae, blues and rockabilly – with lyrics Strummer rarely bettered – has been cited by everyone from U2 to Springsteen, Nirvana to the Beastie Boys, as a seminal moment. “They’re the band that changed everything,” Chuck D recently said, revealing that Public Enemy set out to be a rap equivalent of the Clash.
His work inspired devotion around the world – prompting more than one fan to tell him he had changed their lives – but for a long time after his untimely death Lucinda Tait could not bear to hear her husband’s Joe Strummer’s voice. Her grief was simply too raw and his singing only served as a cruel reminder of what she had lost.
“When Joe died I was so immersed in grief and trying to find a way to move on that I couldn’t listen to his voice. It was just too much to hear him”
So it was only in recent years that Tait could bring herself to listen to the previously unreleased recordings by the former lead singer of The Clash which she had discovered in their Somerset barn, shortly after he died of an undiagnosed heart defect in December 2002, at the age of 50,Now 32 songs from that stash of long lost Strummer tapes have been released as part of a new collection of work by a man who inspired [ . . . ]
Joe Strummer will always be known first as the fire-breathing frontman of the British punk quartet The Clash, but he also led a richly productive creative life apart from that great band. Collecting nearly three dozen tracks from before and mostly after the group, “Joe Strummer 001” offers highlights of his solo efforts, including film and TV work (such as “South Park”), collaborations (with Johnny Cash and Jimmy Cliff), and a generous helping of obscurities and previously unreleased recordings. The range is dazzling, from foot-stomping rock and roll to Latin-shaded dance grooves to reggae (a Clash staple) to folksy acoustic ballads—and much more. For all the stylistic variety, his familiar sandpaper voice, capable of gruff urgency and tender reflection in the same breath, is consistently electrifying. Joe Strummer died in 2002, but his mighty legacy remains. [ . . . ]
Joe Strummer 001 features a full album of unheard songs and rarities
Joe Strummer—the English punk legend best known for his work with the Clash—archived his own work before his sudden death in 2002. Following his passing, his widow and Robert Gordon McHarg compiled over 20,000 items spanning Strummer’s career. Now, Ignition Records has announced Joe Strummer 001, a career-spanning compilation. The 2xCD and box set features his solo albums, recordings with the 101ers, the Mescaleros, soundtrack work, and a full album of unreleased songs including outtakes from “Love Kills” from the 1986 film Syd and Nancy. It’s out September 28.
With a sound that merges Celtic folk and ’60s rock, you may be surprised to learn that Mike Scott of The Waterboys cites The Clash as an early influence. In this exclusive International Clash Day interview, Scott tells KEXP about discovering The Clash, his song about Mick Jones, and the times he ran into Joe Strummer.
“Well, when I first heard The Clash I thought they sounded like The Glitter Band. And The Glitter Band was a British pop band who used to back Gary Glitter and they specialized in this kind of buzzy guitar sound, dull drums and “OH YEAH! OH YEAH!” kind-of vocals. And when I first heard The Clash doing “White Riot”, that’s what I thought they sounded like. But then I went deeper and I listened to the first Clash album. And slowly it had an electrifying effect on me. And unlike most Clash listeners I had never listened to The Ramones. I was never interested in the Ramones. And I realize now that The Clash really lifted about 50 percent of their sound from the first Ramones album, but I was blissfully unaware of that. And so to me that first Clash album is like a bolt from the blue. All those fantastic short, super fast songs. And then I went to see them live at Clouds in Edinburgh, which is a big disco, and they were the most incredible band I’d ever seen. Now, I’d seen The Rolling Stones, The Who. Lots of the great bands of rock as a teenager, but The Clash blew them all away. The energy of The Clash was so exciting and so dangerous and so unrestrained. And they were like an army on stage. Beautiful in their power.”
– Mike Scott | Read Full Interview at KEXP Website