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Keith Levene, Founding Guitarist of Public Image Ltd, Dead at 65

Levene was also an early member of The Clash

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Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd dead at 65
Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd, photo by Tom Hill/Getty Images

    Keith Levene, an early member of The Clash and founding guitarist of Public Image Ltd, has died at the age of 65.

    Author Adam Hammond shared news of Levene’s passing on Saturday, writing: “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.”

    After working as a roadie for Yes as a teenager, Levene pursued his own career in music by starting a band with his close friend, Mick Jones. Alongside singer Joe Strummer, bassist Paul Simonon, and drummer Terry Chimes, they formed The Clash in Summer 1976.

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    Levene’s tenure in The Clash was short lived, as he was fired from the band in September 1976. However, prior to his departure he helped write a few early songs, including “What’s My Name.”

    In 1978, Levene teamed up with Sex Pistols singer John Lydon, bassist Jah Wobble, and drummer Jim Walker to form Public Image Ltd.

    “There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time,” Hammond wrote in his obituary for Levene. “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.”

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    Between 1978 and 1983, Levene released three well-received albums with Public Image Ltd: 1978’s First Issue, 1979’s Metal Box, and 1983’s The Flowers of Romance. However, following the release of the latter album, he departed PiL over creative differences with Lydon. Levene later recorded his own versions of songs that would appear on PiL’s fourth album and released them under the title Commercial Zone.

    In his later years, Levene collaborated with Red Hot Chili Peppers (producing an early version of The Uplift Mofo Party Plan) and Pigface (contributing guitar to the album Easy Listening…). He also released several solo records.

     

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