Why Did Joe Strummer Of The Clash Disappear For 3 Weeks In 1982?

By | August 20, 2019

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Joe Strummer of The Clash performs on stage at the Brixton Academy on March 8th, 1984 in London, England. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns)

Just as the band was releasing their biggest album, Joe Strummer of The Clash went missing -- for nearly a month. What seemed like a publicity stunt soon proved to be a real problem. Strummer was missing, and Combat Rock's release date was looming, and the band was having to cancel tour dates. This didn't help the growing rift between Strummer and co-founder Mick Jones. For a fiercely independent musician uncomfortable with success and adulation, it seemed like Strummer was trying to torpedo the band at its moment of triumph.

By 1982 The Clash was one of the most important bands on the planet -- "the only band that matters," they had been called. The blistering political anthems of their first three albums inspired fans across the world to pick up guitars and lose themselves in the band’s no rules philosophy, and after the massive success of London Calling the group leaned into full rock star excess.

The band did everything a group of self-destructive rockstars is supposed to do. They recorded Sandinista!, a triple album packed full of different influences and styles; they fired their management, and before the release of their most successful album ever their frontman disappeared. Joe Strummer’s relationship with the rest of the band, especially with Jones, was strained. When an opportunity presented itself for Strummer to ditch his warring band and take some time off, he jumped at it. On April 21, 1982, he vanished without a trace for three weeks. In an era before cell phones and social media, it was as if he was a ghost. 

The Clash Were At Each Other's Throats While Recording 'Combat Rock'

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Following the creative drift of Sandinista!, The Clash once again found themselves working without a tether. They returned to Electric Lady Studios - where they'd holed up to record the triple LP - and spent two months recording whatever came to mind. Drummer Topper Headon laid down most of the music for “Rock The Casbah” on his own while in the middle of heroin addiction, and Strummer convinced his bandmates to fire their management company in favor of Bernie Rhodes, the punk impresario who'd managed the group in its early years.

When The Clash finished recording they had another multi-album collection on their hands so they recruited producer Glyn Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, etc.) to mix the album and help cut it down to a more cohesive single LP. The band now had Combat Rock. Jones and Strummer even re-recorded their vocals for a few songs to maximize their potential as singles. Everything was pointing towards the band regaining their place at the top of the mountain.