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Keith Levene

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Keith Levene
Levene in 2012
Levene in 2012
Background information
Birth nameJulian Keith Levene
Born(1957-07-18)18 July 1957
London, England
Died11 November 2022(2022-11-11) (aged 65)
Norfolk, England
  • Musician
  • composer
  • record producer
Years active1974–2022
Formerly of
Spouse(s)Lori Montana (divorced)
Shelly da Cunha (divorced)

Julian Keith Levene (18 July 1957 – 11 November 2022) was an English musician who was a founding member of both the Clash and Public Image Ltd (PiL).[1] While Levene was in PiL, their 1978 debut album Public Image: First Issue reached No 22 in the UK album charts, and its lead track "Public Image" broke the top 10 UK singles chart.

Levene was born and raised in London, and although initially influenced by progressive rock, his musical taste changed after meeting fellow Clash founder Mick Jones. His punk and post punk guitar sounds have been described as "both melodic and discordant, sonorous and violent".[2]

Early years and success[edit]

Levene was born in Muswell Hill, London on 18 July 1957. His father was Jewish.[3][4] He was an early fan of ska, The Beatles and progressive rock; at fifteen he worked as a roadie for Yes on their Close to the Edge tour, "cleaning Alan White's cymbals" amongst other mundane duties.[5][6]

He became a founding member of the Flowers of Romance and notably the Clash, when in 1976, he helped persuade Joe Strummer to leave the pub rock band the 101ers and join the Clash.[7][5] Although he left the band before their first studio recordings, he co-wrote "What's My Name", which appeared on their first album.[8] Levene would later document his time with the Clash in his autobiography "I Was a Teen Guitarist 4 the Clash!"[9] When interviewed about "I Was a Teenage Guitarist 4 the Clash, Levene recalled "I was a kid, I was into all sorts of music, The Beatles, reggae, and at the time, prog rock. I’d just finished a tour with Yes as a roadie, which is another story also explained in the book. So basically you’re hanging out with me from when I was about 15 when I got a job with Yes, and then I didn’t get kicked off the tour, but I kinda got told not to come back on another one. It was amazing for me and then, unplanned I started making this migration to West London and I tell you what happened, I take you there. Like when I met Mick Jones and how I talk about the scene that was emerging..."[10]

After the late 1970s British punk group the Sex Pistols disbanded, Levene and their lead singer John Lydon co-founded Public Image Ltd (PiL) in May 1978.[11] He played on Travis Bean metal-neck guitars.[12] He was involved in the writing, performing and producing of PiL's early albums: First Issue, Metal Box and Flowers of Romance.[13][14] While playing with PiL, their 1978 debut album Public Image: First Issue reached No 22 in the UK album charts, while the lead track "Public Image", broke the top 10 single chart.[13]

Levene left PiL in 1983 due to creative differences over what would eventually become the band's fourth album, This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get. In 1984, he released the original versions of the songs on his own label[15] under the title Commercial Zone; the original working title of the album. In 1985, he moved to Los Angeles where he formed a company with his second wife, journalist Shelly da Cunha.[16]

Later years[edit]

In mid-1986, Levene was asked to produce demos for the album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan by the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Master Control in Burbank with engineers Steve Catania and Dan Nebenzal. Also in 1986, Levene worked with DJ Matt Dike, experimenting with sampling techniques and hip-hop for Ice-T and Tone Loc on their early recordings for Delicious.[17] In 1989, he released his first solo release, Violent Opposition, on which members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed.[18]

At an impromptu appearance at the Musicport Festival in Bridlington Spa on 24 October 2010, where they were joined by vocalist Nathan Maverick, Levene returned with former PiL bassist Jah Wobble. In 2011 Levene contributed to three tracks on the album Psychic Life, a collaboration between Wobble and Lonelady.[19]

In early 2012, after some planned Japan gigs were cancelled because of visa issues, Levene and Wobble played various venues in England, Wales and Germany as Metal Box in Dub, followed by the release of a four-song EP,[20] Yin & Yang.[21] In 2014, Levene travelled to Prague to record the album Commercial Zone 2014, funded by a crowdsourcing campaign at Indiegogo.[22] Tim Peacock of Record Collector noted that it was "recorded in isolation at Prague's Faust Studios", and that the album is in actuality an offering of new material. Peacock stated: "It's primarily instrumental in design, veering from the chilled, scene-stealing Behind the Law to the synth-heavy Kraftwerk-ian noir of They Came to Dance."[23]

In a 2014 interview from Prague regarding Commercial Zone 2014, Levene stated:

"People kept asking 'when are you doing an autobiography?' I said 'I’m not, why would I do one?' Well, that all changed and I started doing a ton of interviews with Kathy DiTondo, talking about the times, the people, the places and it was quite fucking heavy therapy. She’d be asking me questions and some of it would be the same old story, and I’d think I’ve told this story a million times, boring, but I’m telling her because she wants to know genuinely and she thinks its important. Then I’m realising, fuck – this is heavy duty, this hurts. So what it evolved into was quite good for me. We were doing Diary of a Non-Punk Rocker, we were zooming in on areas of my life... We didn’t plan it this way, it fell into place this way. We were doing this Commercial Zone 2014 campaign, and offered previews from Diary. Kathy DiTondo came up with 'I was A Teenage Guitarist 4 The Clash' and I said 'fucking good'. Then I said “let’s do it Commercial Zone style” hand made and with the covers and so on."[24]


Levene died from complications of liver cancer at his home in Norfolk on 11 November 2022, aged 65.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Levene married his first wife, Lori Montana, an American musician. The two had a son named Kirk and later divorced.[25] Keith's second marriage was to Shelly da Cunha, though it also ended in divorce. He later lived with his partner, Kate Ransford.[26]

Influences and style[edit]

Levene cited guitarist Steve Howe of Yes as one of his main influences and "the greatest fucking guitarist in the world", and prog rock as a genre he particularly liked.[27]

Describing the evolution of his style, he said in a 2001 interview that "once I got good enough to know the rules, I didn't want to be like any other guitarist. I didn't go out of my way to be different. I just had an ear for what was wrong. 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."[28]


According to John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Levene's style was "spectacular... [and he]...explored the possibilities of what you can do with the guitar".[7] Upon his death, Massive Attack described Levene as an "artist, architect and re-inventor of punk rock".[7] Andy Bell of Ride and Mike Scott of the Waterboys also paid tribute to him on social media.[7]


Studio albums[edit]

  • Violent Opposition (Taang!/Emergo/Rykodisc 1989)[29]
  • Murder Global Demos (Archive 2008)[30]
  • Yin and Yang (Cherry Red 2012) (Jah Wobble & Keith Levene)[31]
  • Search 4 Absolute Zero (self-released 2013, Gonzo Multimedia 2014)[32]
  • Commercial Zone 2014 (self-released 2014)[22]

Extended Play[edit]

  • Back Too Black (Iridescence 1987)[33]
  • Keith Levene's Violent Opposition (Fundamental/Taang! 1988)[34]
  • Looking for Something (Taang! 1988)
  • Murder Global: Killer in the Crowd (self-released 2002, Underground, Inc. 2004)[35]
  • EP aka Mississippi (Pressure Sounds/30 Hertz 2012) (Jah Wobble & Keith Levene)[36]


  1. ^ Di Tondo, Kathy (3 May 2013). "Recalling PiL: The Commercial Zone Era with Keith Levene and Maureen Baker". Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  2. ^ Aswad, Jem (12 November 2022). "Keith Levene, Public Image Ltd.'s Pioneering Guitarist and Clash Co-Founder, Dies at 65". Variety. Retrieved 13 November 2022.
  3. ^ "The Unsung Jewish Roots of Punk". Haaretz.
  4. ^ "Search birth records 1837–2006 | Fully indexed birth records". Findmypast.co.uk. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  5. ^ a b Corcoran, Nina. "Keith Levene, the Clash and Public Image Ltd Guitarist, Dies at 65". Pitchfork, 12 November 2022. Retrieved 14 November 2022
  6. ^ Reynolds, Simon (18 February 2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. Penguin Books. ISBN 0143036726.
  7. ^ a b c d "Keith Levene: The Clash guitarist and founding member dies age". BBC, 13 November 2022. Retrieved 14 November 20223
  8. ^ Gross, Jason (February 2001). "Keith Levene Interview". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  9. ^ Laing, Rob (12 November 2022). "Guitarist Keith Levene, founding member of The Clash and PiL, has died aged 65". MusicRadar. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  10. ^ Keith Levene: I Was a Teenage Guitarist 4 The Clash! The Interview. http://www.philjens.plus.com/pistols/pistols/keith_interview2014.html
  11. ^ Spencer, Neil (27 May 1978). Introducing Johnny Rotten's Lonely Hearts Club Band. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  12. ^ Gluckin, Tzvi (14 September 2017). "Post-Punk Guitar Antiheroes: Andy Gill, Keith Levene, and Gareth Sager". Premier Guitar.
  13. ^ a b c Thorpe, Vanessa; Simpson, Dave (12 November 2022). "Keith Levene, founding member of the Clash, dies at 65". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  14. ^ Simpson, Dave. "How we made: Jah Wobble and Keith Levene on Public Image Ltd's Metal Box". The Guardian, 13 February 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2022
  15. ^ "PIL Records, Inc". Archived from the original on 7 February 2011. (registered 30 January 1984 by Keith Levene, 1 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10003, dissolved due to inactivity 26 September 1990)
  16. ^ "Multi-Image Group". Archived from the original on 2 April 2010. (registered on 19 June 1986 by Shelly Da Cunha, 830 North Kodak Drive, Los Angeles CA 90026, now suspended)
  17. ^ Dan LeRoy (2006). Paul's Boutique. Continuum. pp. 14, 17.
  18. ^ Fused Magazine | Keith Levene interview (January 3, 2015)"Violent Opposition" | Red Hot Chili Peppers
  19. ^ "Jah Wobble & Lonelady To Explore Psychic Life". The Quietus. 16 August 2011.
  20. ^ "Jah Wobble & Keith Levene EP". 30 Hertz Records. February 2012. Archived from the original on 18 June 2013.
  21. ^ "Jah Wobble and Keith Levene – Yin & Yang". Cherry Red. CDBRED540. 2012.
  22. ^ a b "Public Image Ltd founder to relaunch 'lost' fourth album via crowdfunding". the Guardian. 22 April 2014.
  23. ^ Peacock, Tim. "Commercial Zone 2014: Keith Levene". Record Collector, 23 December 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2022
  24. ^ "God Save the Sex Pistols - Keith Levene: Interview - I Was a Teenage Guitarist 4 the Clash!".
  25. ^ Sweeting, Adam (12 November 2022). "Keith Levene obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  26. ^ "Keith Levene, guitarist who sounded like no one else and found fame alongside John Lydon in Public Image Ltd – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 17 November 2022. Retrieved 17 November 2022.
  27. ^ Corcoran, Nina. "Keith Levene, the Clash and Public Image Ltd Guitarist, Dies at 65". pitchfork.com. 3 November 2022. Retrieved 14 November 2022
  28. ^ Gross, Jason. "Keith Levene". Furious.com, 2001. Retrieved 14 November 2022
  29. ^ "Keith Levene – Keith Levene's Violent Opposition Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic.
  30. ^ "Keith Levene – Murder Global Demos". 2008 – via www.discogs.com.
  31. ^ "Jah Wobble, Keith Levene – Yin & Yang Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic" – via www.allmusic.com.
  32. ^ "Keith Levene – Search for Absolute Zero Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic" – via www.allmusic.com.
  33. ^ "Keith Levene – 2011 – Back Too Black". November 1987 – via www.discogs.com.
  34. ^ "Keith Levene – Keith Levene's Violent Opposition". May 1988 – via www.discogs.com.
  35. ^ "Keith Levene – Murder Global: Killer in the Crowd". Discogs. 2004.
  36. ^ "'Mississippi' by Jah Wobble and Keith Levene – Free MP3". Rolling Stone, 8 November 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2022


External links[edit]