Mescaleros Piece Together Strummer's Swan Song

When an undiagnosed congenital heart defect claimed Joe Strummer's life last December, legions of music fans were left not only stunned but feeling as though the life had been suckerpunched out of them as well. To these people, Strummer was not just a singer, but a hero of gigantic proportion.

Considering how hard the 50-year-old ex-Clash frontman's passing hit strangers, it must have been even more difficult for his family, friends and former bandmates.

But his widow, Lucinda, would have none of that. At her insistence, literally two weeks after Strummer's death, Martin Slattery and Scott Shields -- of the Mescaleros, the band Strummer played with during his last five years -- were back in the studio piecing together the album they and Strummer were working on when he died.

The fruits of their and others' efforts were delivered Oct. 21 with "Streetcore" (Hellcat/Epitaph), Strummer's third album with the Mescaleros.

While Slattery and Shields were certain there would be a posthumously issued Strummer album, exactly what it would include was a bit of a mystery at first.

A handful of tracks was captured at two previous sessions, the second of which was wrapped just days before Strummer's death. But the band was probably going to have to augment those with an instrumental and a few live tracks, Slattery figured.

Thankfully, he says, noted producer Rick Rubin had cut a pair of sparse acoustic tunes while Strummer was sitting in on the 2002 sessions for Johnny Cash's last studio set, "American IV: When the Man Comes Around."

While the sometimes sprawling songs on his previous Mescaleros set, 2001's "Global a Go-Go," were often a product of a spontaneous outpouring of inspiration, "Streetcore" was meant to follow a more straightforward, mainstream-leaning approach.

Over the course of the band's final tour last year, and during its two studio stints for "Streetcore," it appeared as though the unit's future was bright. Strummer was feeling more fulfilled than ever before.

"He started saying things like, 'This is the f***in' best shit I've ever been involved with,'" Slattery says. "And Joe doesn't just say those things."

In fact, when Strummer's former Clash bandmates Mick Jones and Paul Simonon approached Lucinda about backing her husband on the tracks he left behind -- thus igniting the reunion Clash fans have wanted for two decades -- she declined.

"She's really kept his mentality with regards to the record; it would have been very easy for her to accept an offer from [ex-Eurythmic] Dave Stewart to help, or Rick or Mick and Paul," Slattery says. "But she was quite strong about Scott and I carrying on as much as possible and not bringing in the history."

In terms of cohesiveness, Lucinda -- who also even made a few key mixing calls -- seemed to make the right decision, as Slattery and Shields arranged, wrote and produced the Mescaleros' work equally with Strummer.

Reflecting on his time with Strummer, Slattery says the singer always instilled a sense of invincibility in those around him.

"Whether you were going around the world, or just walking about Soho, when you were with him, you felt like you were in a gang," the multi-instrumentalist says. "He was into the tribal thing, the posse; he was really into that, and it felt great being a part of it."

By Wes Orshoski
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