Keith Levene, co-founder and brief member of The Clash and later a guitarist for Public Image Ltd., died on Friday (Nov. 11) at the age of 65.
The death of the unsung leader of England’s early punk rock movement was revealed by author Adam Hammond. “It is with great sadness I report that my close friend and legendary Public Image Limited guitarist Keith Levene passed away on Friday 11th November,” he wrote in a series of tweets.
“There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious, and influential guitarists of all time,” he continued, recalling: “Keith sought to create a new paradigm in music and with willing collaborators, John Lydon and Jah Wobble 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.”
In his tribute, he added, “As well as helping to make PiL the most important band of the age, Keith also founded The Clash with Mick Jones and had a major influence on their early sound. So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not.
“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,” he concluded. “Mine will be darker without my mate.”
Levene, alongside Mick Jones, founded The Clash in 1976 but left before they started recording music. He went on to form Public Image Ltd. with former Sex Pistol, John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), and eventually struck out on his own.
“The word ‘punk’ didn’t really exist then but we had a bit of a manifesto,” Levene once said in an interview about his early career within the then-fledgling punk scene of the 1970s. “We were trying to tear things down. The Who’s Farewell Tour Part III, Led Zeppelin, the likes of Yes, the likes of these bands that were so fucking incredibly musically talented. But the only reason we were doing that was that it was based on… I know the Sex Pistols get a lot of credit for this “no future” thing but that’s the way Jaime (Reid) put it, that’s the way it was packaged. But we all knew we were fucked. There were no jobs. We just knew that a lot of things were fucked.”
Photo by Tom Hill/Getty Images