Keith Levene, Founding Member Of The Clash And Public Image Ltd. Passes Away

14 November 2022 | 9:35 am | Mary Varvaris

He was 65 years old.

Keith Levene, Founding Member Of The Clash And Public Image Ltd. Passes Away

(Pics by Dennis Morris)

Keith Levene, the influential guitarist and founding member of two of the UK's beloved punk acts, The Clash and Public Image Ltd. (PiL), has passed away. He was 65 years old.

Levene died in his Norfolk home; at the time of his death, he had liver cancer. His family have asked for privacy.

He formed The Clash in 1976 at 18 years old with guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon. Levene, alongside the band's manager Bernard Rhodes, convinced vocalist Joe Strummer to leave The 101ers and join The Clash. Coincidentally, Strummer had just witnessed the Sex Pistols at the Nashville Rooms in London and believed that punk music was the way forward. 

Although he left The Clash before they hit the recording studio, Levene was a co-writer on What's My Name?, featured on the band's first album.

After the Sex Pistols disbanded in 1978, Levene and legendary singer John Lydon (formerly known as Johnny Rotten) co-founded PiL with bass player John Wardle (known as Jah Wobble).

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Levene was involved in the writing, creating, and producing of PiL's earliest albums: First Issue (1978), Metal Box (1979), and Flowers Of Romance (1981). 

The PiL debut landed at #22 on the UK Albums Chart, and the album's renowned single, Public Image, reached the Top 10. First Issue is considered one of the pioneering records of the post-punk genre. 

At the time, the album was labelled too non-commercial for an American release; the band were asked to re-record parts of it. The album was not released in the US in 1978, but in 1980, Warner Bros featured the track Public Image on the compilation album Troublemakers. The album was finally released in the US on 18 June 2013 via Light In The Attic Records.

Metal Box is known as a post-punk classic and featured Levene's abrasive, "metallic" guitar playing.

Levene told The Guardian in 2012, "People thought I was classically trained, which was bollocks. I knew the E chord, and ventured into E minor. We laid the music out on a plate for Lydon. He was very hip at the time and did really good work."

Tributes have begun pouring out for Levene. Author Adam Hammond, who was working on a book with the guitarist before he died, wrote on social media: 

"The world is a darker place without his genius.

"Mine will be darker without my mate."

Massive Attack, Gilla Band, Andy Bell of RIDE, and more have posted tributes online.