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Strummer's 101ers Calling

Pre-Clash bandmate revisits punk icon's early days

May 25, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Joe Strummer often spoke of reissuing the lone album from his mid-Seventies pre-Clash band, the 101ers. But the punk legend's untimely death of a heart attack in 2002 gave the project a new urgency that will finally land it in shops again on June 14th, almost twenty-five years after its original release.

Richard Dudanski, Strummer's longtime friend and former 101ers drummer, is overseeing the release of Elgin Avenue Breakdown (Revisited) (Astralwerks), which features newly unearthed live tracks that showcase Strummer's raw, R&B beginnings.

"Sometimes I put it on, and I can remember every detail of the gigs," says Dudandski, who later played with Public Image Ltd. and the Raincoats. "It was a very special time."

During their two-year career, the 101ers (named for the address of the London squat where they formed) became known as one of the city's top R&B acts. They boasted a Chuck Berry jones and colorful, Strummer-derived nicknames -- Richard Nother became "Snakehips Dudanski," a handle that partially stuck.

Contemporaries of such bands as Dr. Feelgood, the Strummer-fronted 101ers were part of a back-to-basics movement that cleared the decks for punk -- which ultimately enticed Strummer to leave the group and join the Clash.

But Elgin Avenue Breakdown remained a favorite of fans, who bootlegged it steadily after its 2,000-copy 1981 release. "At one point during the Nineties, we nearly brought [a reissue] out," Dudanski recalls. The project began in earnest, however, "literally a few days after Joe's funeral," during a discussion with Strummer's widow, Lucinda.

"She said, 'You know, it'd be great to have all Joe's deleted stuff available,'" Dudanski, who now lives in Spain, explains. "So it had her moral support, and I started organizing it."

The original studio sessions are augmented by live material from a pair of cassettes Dudanski uncovered. The album's recording of the Rolling Stones' "Out of Time" comes from a high-energy show the 101ers played at Wandsworth Prison in 1976. "The last time Joe and I spoke was about four months before he died, here in Spain, and I talked about that actual gig as the best one ever, and he kind of agreed," says Dudanski. "So that was one of the reasons I wanted to put it on there."

Elgin Avenue Breakdown, which also features two versions of the band's single "Keys to Your Heart," was remastered at London's Abbey Road Studios with help from the 101ers' old road manager and soundman, Micky Foote. Foote later followed Strummer to the Clash and produced the group's debut.

When Strummer left the 101ers, Dudanski says that he was also invited to join the fledgling Clash. He refused, he says, because he didn't trust the band's manager, Bernie Rhodes. And, according to Dudanski, Rhodes' insistence on erasing all aspects of Strummer's "supposedly dubious past" -- including any acknowledgment of the 101ers -- left him feeling "really pissed off with Joe."

By the early Eighties, however, "I think Joe kind of came back down to earth, and was happy to acknowledge his roots." He and Dudanski renewed their friendship, working together on the original release of Elgin Avenue Breakdown, and the traditional tune "Junco Partner" -- covered first by the 101ers -- turned up on the Clash's 1981 triple album, Sandinista!.

Although the 101ers regrouped to play a pair of tribute gigs after Strummer's death, Dudanski says the band won't reconvene to promote the Elgin Avenue reissue.

"Those gigs were special because of Joe," he says. "I wouldn't want to do it anymore without him."

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