Guitarist Keith Levene, founding member of The Clash and PiL, has died aged 65

Keith Levene
(Image credit: Keith Levene)

The British guitarist Keith Levene has died at the age of 65, he had been suffering from liver cancer.

London-born Levene was a founder member of two seminal bands; first The Clash, in which he recruited Joe Strummer as vocalist with guitarist Mick Jones and was part of the lineup that played their legendary debut gig supporting the Sex Pistols on 4 July, 1976 at the Black Swan pub in Sheffield. It was there he approached Pistols vocalist Johnny Rotten / John Lydon to suggest they form a band if the Pistols ever split up.

Although the former teenage Yes roadie never recorded with The Clash before his departure from the fledgling band, Levene would co-write What's My Name with Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, later featured on their 1977 debut. 

"I knew what I was doing when I did it, I knew they were going to make it," Levene reflected to Louder Than War in 2014 on his decision to leave the band early on.  "If I had to do it all again – yeah, I’d do everything I did. I’m saying it a bit reluctantly because I haven’t had the easiest time but I think I knew at the time I was choosing the less travelled path every time I made a decision. The fact I’m sitting talking to you means that I’m ok and the fact I’m still here means that I can."

In 1978 The Sex Pistols disbanded and Levene got his opportunity to collaborate with Lydon; forming Public Image Ltd. (PiL) with bass player John Wardle (who would be known as Jah Wobble) and featuring on their first three albums – First Issue, Metal Box and Flowers Of Romance – before departing over creative differences relating to fourth album, This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get, in 1983. 

The band ended up re-recording the Levene-produced version, but the guitarist would later release his own versions of that albums songs in 2014 under its original title, Commercial Zone. The original 1983 version Levene produced is available in bootleg form that you can hear below. 

After his departure from PiL, Levene would go on to produce the demos for Red Hot Chili Peppers' third album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan in 1986 and released his first solo album, Violent Opposition, in 1989 with Chili Peppers members Jack Irons, Flea and the late Hillel Slovak contributing. 

Though he would perform PiL's music with Wobble in more recent years, Levene never reunited with Lydon as a member of the band. After self-releasing a book on his time with The Clash, called I Was A Teen Guitarist For The Clash!, he was reportedly working on a book about the PiL with writer Adam Hammond.

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.