Artist News

Former PiL and Clash guitarist Keith Levene dies

By | Published on Monday 14 November 2022

Keith Levene

Public Image Ltd guitarist – and founder member of The Clash – Keith Levene has died, aged 65. He had been receiving treatment for liver cancer for two years.

In a statement on Twitter, writer Adam Hammond announced Levene’s death, saying: “It is with great sadness I report that my close friend and legendary Public Image Ltd guitarist Keith Levene passed away on Friday 11 Nov”.

“There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time”, he went on. “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”.

“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”, he continued. “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”, he said finally. “The world is a darker place without his genius. Mine will be darker without my mate”.

Prior to his death, Levene and Hammond completed work on a book about Public Image Ltd, and Hammond had been working on music to accompany it.

Born Julian Levene in 1957, the guitarist formed The 101ers with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon as a teenager. The band released one single, ‘Keys To Your Heart’, in 1976 – by which time Joe Strummer had joined and the outfit’s name had been changed to The Clash.

Levene then left the band before they made their first studio recordings – although he has a writing credit on ‘What’s My Name’ from their 1977 eponymous debut album.

John Lydon then invited Levene to join his post Sex Pistols band, Public Image Ltd, in 1978. The guitarist played on the band’s first three albums, before leaving in 1984 over creative differences about the sound of the fourth, ‘This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get’.

Levene later released his own recordings of the songs that had initially been written for that album – five of which made it to the corresponding PiL album – as a solo record called ‘Commercial Zone’.

In later years, Levene worked with artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and LoneLady.