Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros in what was one of their first live gigs, at Glastonbury in 1999. Having only gotten together in June of that year – this set at Glasto took place on June 26th, so they must’ve been fresh out of the rehearsal studio for this gig, having only played one earlier gig, a few days before.
The Mescaleros were the backing band for Joe Strummer, formed in 1999, which went on to make three albums prior to Strummer’s death in 2002.
Many of the band members were multi-instrumentalists. The original line up consisted of Strummer on vocals and guitar, Antony Genn on guitar, Scott Shields on bass, Martin Slattery on keyboards and guitar, as well as flute and saxophone on select songs, Pablo Cook on various percussion instruments and Steve Barnard on drums, using his stage moniker “Smiley”. Richard Flack was also employed to use effects and instruments.
The Mescaleros rose out of Strummer’s work with Pablo Cook and Richard Norris. The three of them originally came together to write the soundtracks for two short films, Tunnel of Love, and Question of Honour. The song “Yalla Yalla” was originally written by this trio, and mixed by Antony Genn. Once Genn was brought on board, a new song “Techno D-Day” was recorded, at which point Strummer, at the behest of Genn, began recording a new record.
The original drummer, Ged Lynch, left the band before recording on Rock Art & The X-Ray Style was complete and Smiley (Robbie Williams’ former drummer) was brought in to finish recording. Shields and Slattery were recruited through a number of contacts with the band. Slattery had also appeared on Robbie Williams’ Life Thru a Lens album, and Scott Shields was a friend of Slattery’s. Oddly enough, in the initial lineup, only Smiley was playing the instrument which he knew best.
Genn reportedly did not have the ability to play sufficient lead guitar, hence Slattery was brought in. He, however, was trained in horns and keyboards and was a multi-instrumentalist. Strummer once joked that Slattery could play a hole in the windshield of the tour bus. Shields had previously been a drummer but was recruited to play bass, and later guitar.
The Mescaleros’ first gig was in Antony Genn’s hometown of Sheffield at The Leadmill on 5 June 1999. They toured extensively for the next six months, including playing the Glastonbury Festival, the U.S., and Europe. 2000 saw the band play Big Day Out in Australia & New Zealand, plus tour Japan.
The band signed with the Californian punk label Hellcat Records, and issued three albums. Following the release of the first, Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, they toured England and North America; sets included several Clash-fan favourites.
Singer-songwriter Tymon Dogg, a longtime friend of Joe Strummer, joined the band in 2000 playing violin and Spanish guitar. He contributed some of the tunes on Global A Go-Go, including “Mondo Bongo”.
Honorary Mescaleros include John Blackburn and Jimmy Hogarth, both of whom played bass in place of Scott Shields on the 2000 tour supporting The Who, which was also Tymon Dogg’s first tour with the band. Andy Boo, Joe’s guitar tec also appeared in the Mescaleros line up in place of Pablo Cook on percussion at a gig in Finland 1999.
Following the departure of Genn and Smiley, Scott Shields moved to guitar, Simon Stafford was brought on board to play bass, and Luke Bullen was recruited to play drums. Pablo Cook left in August 2001 to join Moby.
Following the release of Global A Go-Go, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros mounted a 21-date tour of North America, Britain, and Ireland. Once again, these concerts featured Clash material (“London Calling”, “Rudie Can’t Fail”), as well as classic covers of reggae hits (“The Harder They Come”, “A Message to You, Rudy”) and regularly closed the show with a nod to Joey Ramone by playing The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”.
Musically, the Mescaleros continued the genre mixing that Strummer was known for during his time with The Clash. Elements of reggae, jazz, funk, hip hop, country, and of course punk rock can be found in the three Mescaleros releases.
The band is also the subject of a documentary by Dick Rude titled Let’s Rock Again! which was released on 27 June 2006. The band also appear on many DVDs and have had several of their songs appear in major films such as Black Hawk Down and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. One song, “Johnny Appleseed,” was used as the theme song to the HBO series John From Cincinnati.
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros’ last ever concert was on 22 November 2002, in Liverpool. Strummer died of a congenital heart defect on 22 December 2002 after returning home from walking his dogs.
As a reminder, here is a short excerpt from that concert (I will run the complete show at some point – no worries). Crank it up and check it out.