Joe Strummer: 10 years gone
Recording sessions for a second album soon loomed, but cracks in the band were starting to show. Genn’s heroin habit finally became untenable when he began missing shows, and Strummer reluctantly sacked him in July 2000. When Barnard also left, the singer reshuffled the band, installing Luke Bullen on drums and Simon Stafford on bass guitar. He also enlisted his former Clash cohort Tymon Dogg on fiddle, broadening the band’s Celtic-reggae-folk sound.
Though still clearly a work in progress, old friends were impressed with the maturing Mescaleros sound. “I liked them,” says Mick Jones. “It was a thing that was developing in public, he was actually out there doing it. I would have developed it in private and then come out. It’s just two different approaches. Everybody changes as their journey continues.”
In late 2000, almost two decades after asking The Clash to open for them, The Who offered Strummer’s new band a support slot on their UK arena tour. “I only saw them one time, playing with The Who,” recalls Alex Cox. “I’d also seen The Clash years ago playing with The Who. The Clash blew The Who offstage, but the Mescaleros were about equal.”
Between Who shows, Roger Daltry dropped by the studio to sing backing vocals on the title track to the upcoming second Mescaleros album, Global A Go-Go. More polished and textured than the band’s debut, the new album featured the playful tropical skiffle of Mondo Bongo and the warm Bo Diddley-goes-Afropop Johnny Appleseed, a leftover from Strummer’s Earthquake Weather days.
During the album sessions, Strummer also surreptitiously sent over a collection of lyrics to Mick Jones, hinting that he wanted to make an alternative album with his old songwriting partner. Assuming the lyrics related to the Mescaleros, Jones worked them into songs, but did not hear back from Strummer. Intriguingly, he later told Jones they were for “the next Clash album”. Whether this was a joke or a serious hint that Strummer had a fallback career plan, the duo never broached the subject again.
Released in July 2001 to broadly positive reviews, Global A Go-Go plunged The Mescaleros into another heavy-drinking, hedonistic round of tours and festivals. Strummer even summoned his former Straight To Hell co-star, film-maker Dick Rude, to shoot a tour documentary of the band’s global exploits in 2001 and 2002. Later released as Let’s Rock Again, the film shows Strummer frantically busking, hustling, struggling to find an audience for his new project. But Rude insists The Mescaleros were maturing into a solid commercial prospect.
“I think there was enough momentum and chemistry with that band,” Rude says. “It had finally reached its solidarity musically, the songs were poppy enough to get people’s attention. Had Joe been around to promote that last record I think he could have crossed back over into the Clash category of recognition.”
In the US, at least, Strummer still had friends in high places. Their shows were thronged with famous friends like Jim Jarmusch, Deborah Harry, Matt Dillon, Steve Buscemi, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. “The Mescaleros were so good that last time I saw them,” recalls Jarmusch. “They played five nights here in Brooklyn, and I saw three of the nights. He had really whipped them into a fine band.”