Innovative guitarist Keith Levene, a cofounder of The Clash and later with Public Image Ltd., died Friday at 65 of liver cancer at his home in Norfolk, UK. Author/writer Adam Hammond confirmed the death.
“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,” Hammond wrote. “There is no doubt that Keith was one of the most innovative, audacious and influential guitarists of all time.”
Hammond added, “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. So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith’s work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not.”
Hammond concluded: “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. Mine will be darker without my mate.”
Levene started as a roadie for Yes in the early 1970s, then formed The Clash with Mick Jones in 1976. Together, they persuaded Joe Strummer to join them. Levene appeared at early shows with The Clash and contributed the song “What’s My Name” on the group’s 1977 debut.
But Levene left The Clash before they began recording music. He went on to form Public Image Ltd with John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) after the breakup of the Sex Pistols.
Their first album, Public Image: First Issue, reached No 22 on the charts in 1978, preceded by the single “Public Image,” which reached the Top 10. Their second album, 1979’s Metal Box, is regarded as a post-punk classic. He left PiL in 1983.
He is survived by Kate Ransford, who, with his sister, Jill Bennett, and her husband were with him in his final hours. No information on memorial plans was immediately available.