Keith Levene, The Clash And P.I.L. Co-Founding Guitarist, Dead At 65

Martin Atkins / @marteeeen

Keith Levene, The Clash And P.I.L. Co-Founding Guitarist, Dead At 65

Martin Atkins / @marteeeen

Keith Levene, who co-founded the Clash and was an original member of Public Image Ltd., has died in Norfolk, U.K. His death was confirmed by former bandmates Martin Atkins and Jah Wobble on social media. The Guardian reports that Levene died of liver cancer. He was 65.

An influential guitarist, Levene formed the Clash alongside Mick Jones and Paul Simonon when he was just 18. He and the band’s manager, Bernard Rhodes, memorably asked Joe Strummer to join them.

Born Julian Levene in Muswell Hill, north London, Levene appeared on the Clash’s 1977 debut album (“What’s My Name”). As the Clash moved into a more political direction, however, Levene left and formed P.I.L. with former Sex Pistols member John Lydon and Jah Wobble. Levene appeared on 1978’s Public Image: First Issue, 1979’s Metal Box, and 1981’s The Flowers Of Romance.

Levene left P.I.L. in 1983, and two years later he moved to Los Angeles. In 1986, he produced demos for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan by with engineers Steve Catania and Dan Nebenzal. Levene also worked with DJ Matt Dike, creating samples for Ice T and Tone Loc. In 1989, he released his first solo release, Violent Opposition, which also featured members of the RHCP.

As the Guardian writes, Levene apparently enjoyed building guitars and had been working on a book about P.I.L. with writer Adam Hammond, who wrote in a tribute: “It is with great sadness I report that my close friend and legendary Public Image Limited guitarist Keith Levene passed away on Friday 11th November.”

Hammond continued:

There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time.

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

As well as helping to make PiL the most important band of the age, Keith also founded The Clash with Mick Jones and had a major influence on their early sound. So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not.

Our thoughts and love go out to his partner Kate, sister Jill and all of Keith’s family and friends. The world is a darker place without his genius. Mine will be darker without my mate.

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