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13 November 2022

Keith Levene, PiL Guitarist, The Clash Co-Founder, Dies Aged 65

Keith Levene PiL Clash Dies 65
Keith Levene (right, with John Lydon) - Photo: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo
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Keith Levene, a founding member of The Clash and guitarist in the initial line-up of Public Image Ltd, has died aged 65, his close friend has said.

Author Adam Hammond said Levene, who died on Friday, 11 November was “one of the most influential guitarists of all time.”

Levene founded The Clash with Mick Jones in 1976 but left before they became successful. He then joined Public Image Ltd (PiL), the post-punk band set up by John Lydon after he left the Sex Pistols.

During his time with The Clash, Levene played a central role in persuading frontman Joe Strummer to leave his then band, The 101ers, and join them.

Leaving The Clash after a handful of shows, Levene started Public Image Ltd with Jah Wobble, John Lydon, and Jim Walker. After three albums with the group, including First Issue and the influential Metal Box, Levene left over creative differences over their fourth album, This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get.

In recent years, Levene briefly reunited with Jah Wobble and shared his final album, Commercial Zone 2014, in 2014. It was recorded in Prague after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Levene was also a significant supporter of cryptocurrency, and one of his final interviews was on the podcast ‘What Bitcoin Did.’

While with Public Image Ltd, Levene is credited with helping to pioneer an angular post-punk sound that is still regularly cited as in influence.

Levene left Public Image Ltd in 1983 – before the band’s wave of success in the mid-1980s that saw them return twice to the top 10. He then moved to Los Angeles and in his later career worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a number of hip hop acts.

Hammond said his friend had been living with liver cancer for two years, but his death had been unexpected. “He had so many plans – there were so many things he was doing,” Hammond said.

Levene had just completed a book about Public Image Ltd, co-written with Hammond, and had been working on music to accompany it.

Hammond paid an emotional tribute to his friend, writing on Twitter: “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.”

Tributes have begun to pour in from the wider music world. Former PiL drummer Martin Atkins wrote on Twitter: “A sad time to learn of the passing of guitar giant Keith Levene. We had our ups and downs that had mellowed over time. My respect for his unique talent never will.”

Ride’s Andy Bell added: “RIP Keith Levene – a guitar tone like ground up diamonds fired at you through a high pressure hose.”

Massive Attack, meanwhile, hailed Levene as an “artist, architect and re-inventor of punk rock”.

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