Guitarist Keith Levene, whose chops fanned the ferocious energies of Clash and Public Image Ltd, has died at the age of 65 of liver cancer at his home in Norfolk. Former bandmates Martin Atkins and Jah Wobble announced his death via social media, along with a message from Kate Ransford, who wrote on Twitter:
“RIP Keith Levene, My beloved partner who passed away at our home on 11/11/22 peacefully, painfree, cosy n well loved. he was an iconic guitarist and composer my best friend, my love, my everything, I love you to the moon.”
Around that time, Levene met and befriended Mick Jones. They decided to form a band, The Clash; later recruiting Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes. They debuted in 1976 – but Levene’s time with the group was short-lived. Just months later, he was fired for “disinterest,” but not before contributing several tracks, including “What’s My Name,” on their debut album.
Following the split of the Sex Pistols, Levene joined forces with John Lydon, Jah Wobble, and Jim Walker to form Public Image LTD (PiL)- helping to define the phoenix that would rise from the ashes of the punk era, releasing their critically acclaimed debut album First Issue in 1978. With First Issue, Levene defined himself as one of the architects of this exciting new post-punk sound, mixing raw and powerful energy with opulent theatrics, paving the way for countless musical disciples in the wake of this new movement.
“People thought I was classically trained, which was bollocks,” he once said. “I knew the E chord, and ventured into E minor. We laid the music out on a plate for Lydon.” This served him well later on as music tastes shifted; as the rebellion and novelty of punk evolved into something more sophisticated and nuanced, Levene still had the talent and chops to redirect that musical power.
“I didn’t go out of my way to be different. I just had an ear for what was wrong,” Levene said in an interview. “So if I did something that was wrong, i.e., made a mistake or did something that wasn’t in key, I was open-minded enough to listen to it again.”
By 1983, following the release of classic post-punk albums such as Metal Box, and The Flowers of Romance, Levene called it a day with PiL due to creative differences during the recording of what would become the band’s fourth studio album, This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get. He would then go on to various collaborative efforts and produce artists over a wide gamut of genres, from alternative to hip-hop. He worked with Pigface, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who contributed to his first solo release, Violent Opposition, in 1989. He and DJ Matt Dike showed Ice T and Tone Loc how to sample. His influence, although sometimes overlooked, was massive.
Levene died unexpectedly on 11 November 2022. He had been living with liver cancer for 2 years, and departed this mortal coil at the age of 65.