Keith Levene, The Clash Founding Bandmember, Dead at 65

by Samantha Whidden
(Photo by David Corio/Redferns)

Keith Levene, who is known as a founding band member of The Clash, has reportedly passed away at the age of 65 after a battle with liver cancer. 

According to Deadline, author and writer, Adam Hammond, confirmed that the musician passed away at his home in Norfolk, UK. “It is with great sadness I report that my close friend and legendary Public Image Limited [PiL] guitarist Keith Levene passed away on Friday 11th November. There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious, and influential guitarists of all time.” 

Hammon also stated that Keith Levene sought to create a “new paradigm” in music. With his collaborators John Lydon and Jah Wobble, he 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.”

Hammond further acknowledged Keith Levene’s founding of The Clash with Mick Jones. He noted that Levene had a major influence on the group’s early sound. “So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work,” Hammond continued. “Some of it acknowledged, most of it not.” 

Hammond went on to add, “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.”

Keith Levene & Mick Jones Formed The Clash in 1976

Deadline further reported that Keith Levene originally started out as a roadie for Yes in the early 1970s. He then formed The Clash with Mick Jones in 1976. The duo ended up persuading Joe Strummer to join the group. Levene appeared at each shows of the band and even contributed the song What’s My Name on the group’s debut in 1977. 

Prior to The Clash beginning to record music, Keith Levene left the group. He ended up forming Public Image Ltd with John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) following the Sex Pistols breakup. The band’s first album Public Image: First Issue ended up at No. 22 on the music charts in 1978 and its single Public Image hit the Top 10. 

In 2011, Keith Levene spoke about why he quit The Clash. “My heart wasn’t in The Clash sound at all,” he explained. “I remember going to rehearsals and just being so depressed about their sound. They got it so wrong man, they thought I was depressed because I was having a bad amphetamine come down.”

Recalling how he quit the band, Keith Levene said, “So it happened like this: one day, I get to the rehearsal room which is this dark, damp room – [the band was] waiting for me to arrive cos I’m late as usual.”

Keith Levene said as the bandmates plugged in and start playing he remembers Strummer asking what was wrong. “[He said], ‘Look Keith, just what is wrong with you man, are you into this or not?’ I’m not into it, so I just leave my guitar up against my amp, feedback holing back like mad, like white noise, and I just walk out.  I can still hear that feedback whine as I leave the studio and walk onto the street. F— them.”