Before his sudden death on December 22nd, Joe Strummer had been spending time in studios from Los Angeles to Wales, chipping away at a new album while touring with his band, the Mescaleros. "He was working at an energy that wiped us all out," says Mescaleros guitarist Martin Slattery.
Most of the songs are not finished, but Slattery says the band plans to go back in the studio and complete the album for release later this year. "There are definitely songs waiting to be finished, just in terms of production -- not in terms of lyrics, vocals and melody," he says. "I want it to be as close to what Joe wanted as possible. I think I know what that is."
Strummer, 50, died as a result of congenital heart failure, with no warning signs. "We feel like the rug has been pulled from under our feet," Clash bassist Paul Simonon told Rolling Stone. "Joe was really healthy."
On December 30th, the Mescaleros joined Strummer's family as well as Simonon and Clash members Mick Jones and Topper Headon for a memorial service at the West London Crematorium. Earlier that day, Strummer's widow, Lucinda, his two daughters and a step-daughter joined a procession that wound through many of the singer's old haunts in London's Ladbroke Grove area, including the pub where Strummer played gigs in the mid-Seventies with his band, the 101ers. His casket was adorned with bumper stickers reading "question authority" and "vinyl rules."
Simonon says that Strummer loved old vinyl LPs. "Joe had moved to the country," says Simonon. "He rented my basement to keep a base in London. We spent many an evening spinning everything from Lee Hazlewood to Anthony Newley, only to be found asleep in the morning by my wife, with the table still turning."
At the service, Strummer was eulogized by Simonon. "It was a really positive vibe," says Slattery. "People were standing out in the rain. After Paul spoke, I played 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais,' and a cheer went up outside. There was a connection."
The Clash will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, but Simonon insists that even if Strummer were alive, the band would not have performed at the ceremony. "I think it's obvious that we wouldn't play it," says Simonon. "The tickets are, like, $1,500. Can you see that as a right-minded place for a group like the Clash to reunite? I think it's a much better story, in a romantic way, that we didn't get back together. It's harder, but it's better."
In other Clash news, a two-CD compilation, The Essential Clash will be issued by Legacy on March 11th.