Don Letts

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Don Letts
Don Letts during his time with Big Audio Dynamite - San Francisco, 1987
Background information
Birth name Don Letts
Born (1956-01-10) 10 January 1956 (age 59)
London, England
Genres Reggae
Occupation(s) Disc jockey
Film director
Years active 1975–present
Associated acts

1978 -Steel Leg v the Electric Dread
1984 - Big Audio Dynamite

1990 - Screaming Target
Website Don's BBC6 show

Don Letts (born (1956-01-10)10 January 1956) is a British film director, DJ and musician.


Letts was born in London, and educated at Tenison's School in Kennington. In 1975, Letts ran the London clothing store Acme Attractions selling, "electric-blue zoot suits and jukeboxes, and pumping dub reggae all day long."[1] Letts was deeply inspired by the music coming from his parents' homeland Jamaica, in particular Bob Marley. After seeing one of Marley's gigs at the Odeon in Hammersmith (June 1976) he was able to sneak into the hotel and spent the night talking to and befriending Marley.[2] By the mid 1970s Acme had quite a scene attracting all the like of The Clash, Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Deborah Harry and Bob Marley.

Seeing the crowd at Acme, the then promoter Andy Czezowski started up the Roxy, a London nightclub during the original outbreak of punk in England, so that people could go from the store and have some place to party. As most bands of that era had yet to be recorded, there were limited punk rock records to be played. Instead, Letts included many dub and reggae records in his sets, and is credited[by whom?] with introducing those sounds to the London punk scene, which was to influence The Clash and other bands. As a tribute, he is pictured on the cover of the EP Black Market Clash and the compilation Super Black Market Clash. He was able to use the fame and money from DJing and the Acme story to make his first film, The Punk Rock Movie (1978).

Letts quit the retail business to manage the band, The Slits. He was able to get The Slits to open for The Clash during the White Riot tour. While on the White Riot tour he decided that management was not for him, but continued to shoot material for The Punk Rock Movie.[3]

Letts went to Jamaica for the first time when, after Sex Pistols broke up, Johnny Rotten decided to escape the media frenzy by going with Richard Branson to Jamaica. It was on this trip that Branson was inspired to start up Virgin's Frontline reggae record label.[1]

A true music fan, Letts confesses to love music so much, he actually falls asleep with the radio on.

A portrait of Don by photographer Dean Chalkley featured in the exhibition Return of the Rudeboy at Somerset House in the summer of 2014.


In 1978, Letts recorded an EP, Steel Leg v the Electric Dread, with Keith Levene, Jah Wobble and Steel Leg. After Mick Jones was fired from The Clash, he and Letts founded Big Audio Dynamite in 1984. In 1990 Letts formed Screaming Target.[5] As of 1 April 2009, Letts is presenting a weekly show on BBC Radio 6 Music.


In 2006, he published his autobiography, Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers.[6]


Since his first movie, The Punk Rock Movie, Letts has expanded to doing documentaries and music videos for multiple bands. In 1997, he travelled to Jamaica to direct, Dancehall Queen.[3] His film Westway to the World won a Grammy Award in 2003.

Filmography (as director)[edit]

Year Title Notes
1978 The Punk Rock Movie
1982 "Pass the Dutchie" Video for Musical Youth
1985 "E=MC2" Video for Big Audio Dynamite
1988 The Pretenders: The Singles Video "Back on the Chain Gang"
1997 Dancing in the Streets: Planet Rock TV movie
Dancehall Queen
2000 The Clash: Westway to the World Video
The Pretenders: Greatest Hits Video "Back on the Chain Gang"
2003 The Essential Clash Video
One Love
2004 Making of 'London Calling': The Last Testament Video
2005 Punk: Attitude TV movie
The Right Spectacle: The Very Best of Elvis Costello - The Videos Video
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Gil Scott-Heron
Brother From Another Planet: Sun Ra
2006 The Making of All Mod Cons: The Jam
Tales of Dr. Funkenstein: George Clinton
Rock It To Rio: Franz Ferdinand
2007 Soul Britannia
2008 The Clash Live: Revolution Rock TV movie[7]
2009 Carnival!
2010 Strummerville
2011 Rock 'N' Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen
2012 Subculture


  1. ^ a b c Don Letts (24 October 2001). "'Dem crazy baldheads are my mates'". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 December 2007. 
  2. ^ Don Letts (24 May 2007). "Don Letts: In his own words - Special to". pub. Retrieved 16 December 2007. 
  3. ^ a b Charlotte Robinson (12 July 2002). "DON LETTS". popmatters. Retrieved 16 December 2007. 
  4. ^ Cite error: The named reference was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  5. ^ "Don Letts Biography". Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Letts, Don; David Nobakht (2008) [22 January 2007]. Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers (3rd ed.). London: SAF Publishing. ISBN 0-946719-99-3. OCLC 181422771. 
  7. ^ Letts, Don; The Clash, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon (15 April 2008). The Clash Live: Revolution Rock (Documentary/TV movie). New York, NY: Legacy Recordings. OCLC 227211002. 

External links[edit]