The Only Guitar That Mattered…

retrieving guitar2

The old ‘Ignore Alien Orders’ Tele coming back on-stage.

I had an interesting question regarding Joe’s old trusted Telecaster from John McGill. It reads:

“….Hi Baker,

I’ve always been fascinated with the history, iconic look, and electronic voice of Joe Strummer. That being his famous telecaster! Some day I would love to hear the stories that surrounds that particular instrument. It has to be one of the most recognizable instruments in the music business not to mention the “Only guitar that mattered!” for the Clash.

During its infancy it was just another guitar, but boy as the years went on I’m sure you have some interesting stories about all the fans who may have wanted to get their hands on it. Not to mention it getting misplaced with airport baggage and or Joe heroically tossing it 10 feet across the stage with hopes that the roadie would catch it! And what the hell would have happened if it ever got stolen or lost on a roadies watch?!!

I read years ago, shortly after Joe’s passing, that a wealthy Japanese fellow (if I recall accurately) wanted to pay his wife over a million to purchase it.

Personally I was able to get up to it as it sat backstage at a Mescalaros show in Philly in the early 2000’s. I was fascinated and star struck by what lie in front of me. I respected it to much that I did not want to put a finger on it. The road crew was setting up but did not bother me as I looked at it. It really is a piece of art!

I also had a chance to strum it as Joe held by the side of his leg at a show in El Paso, 1983 I believe. These were the final warm up shows leading to the U.S Festival. Straight to Hell was the song being played and Joe just let me strum “dampened” strings as it sat at the front of the stage. Meanwhile another fan began to pick and attempt to peel the “Aliens” sticker before I shoved his hand away. Unfortunately I can’t find a bootleg of that show, although trust me, I’ve tried my damnedest though out the years looking for one! Just some small fans stories in an evolution of that iconic Fender.

Sadly now that same guitar happens to be the closest we’ll ever get to feeling Joes presence.

Thanks Baker, and you have a God given gift of telling stories with such a magnificent aptitude! Always refreshing and colorful. You put us all in the mosh pit through your story telling.

PS; What was your timeframe with the band? I know you were there in the beginning.

Thanks, 

John McGil….”

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Well, it truly was an incredible instrument, seemingly with a soul of it’s own. It’s provenance is well-known having been explored by many of the biographical writers of the band. We did try to replace it many times but were never able to replicate it’s sound and ferocity.

First came a shiny, black Telecaster provided by CBS from the store in Soho Square. But Joe didn’t even like the look of the high-gloss curiosity, much less the sound. We may have used it for a back-up but it very quickly disappeared from the inventory.

blond

Joe’s ‘blond’ Telecaster.

Next up came the ‘blond’ Telecaster which ran a close second for sound. Despite taking it to quite a few guitar repairers and wizards, we could never duplicate the sound of the original 1966. No matter what ‘pick-ups’ or strings or electronics we tried out Joe always came back to his original. It was much the same with his old Fender Twin Reverb amp – although we eventually switched to ‘Music Man’ we could never achieve the ‘cut’ of the “Twin”. So, the ‘blond’ became his 2nd back-up guitar.

holiday

Joe and Mick with white ‘Holiday’ Telecaster.

The last of the three main Tele’s was the white “I Need A Holiday” Telecaster. It came close to the 1966 but no cigar. We tried ‘tweaking’ it as we had done the ‘blond’ before but again it never quite felt or sounded quite as fierce or heated. So it remained No. 2 and Joe decorated it according to his mood at the time.

Joe was always quite curmudgeonly when it came to equipment and looked upon ‘new’ items with suspicion. He refused to use a wireless pickup which would have meant he could have run all over the entire gig. But he insisted on being plugged-in to his amp, maintaining that it gave him a sense of where he was (and should be). The rest of the band followed suit.

Likewise, the only plectrum he would use was a CMS number two. These were made by only one place….Cardiff Music Stores. But such was the lack of quality control we had to order as many as possible and I would physically test them out to find as close to ‘good’ as possible. Too hard, and he would go through a set of strings in one number. Too soft, and his hand would end up as a bloody mess. No matter where we were playing, I would try all the local music stores for CMS picks….we could never get our hands on enough and many times Joe would drop it into the audience and then bend down demanding to be given the plectrum back! (lol).

 

strummer_1966_fender-telecaster-featured

‘Old Faithful.’

 

And he played this battered old instrument until the end, wielding it like a weapon in battle. In anyone else’s hands it would have probably sounded like any other old ‘Tele’ but when the two of them were paired it sounded like nothing else.

Now you get the chance to send me strange pictures of unknown guitars that passed through his hands over the years like when we played the Bilsen Festival in Belgium and we had no spare. I ran to The Damned’s caravan backstage to get any kind of guitar I could lay my hands on. Brian James immediately handed over his Gibson SG for Joe to use (all credit to him knowing full well the punishment that Joe would heap upon it.)

Or this strange looking article Joe was playing back in the very early days at Rehearsals….

oddity

Weird Telecaster and even weirder hair by Mick.

Thanks for the question John. Your questions, comments and ideas are always welcome and I will endeavour to answer them as truthfully as possible (or memory allows).

The Baker.

PS. John – I turned up at Rehearsal Rehearsals around the beginning of August in 1976 (before the press-only gig on 13th), and gave up the ghost a week after Mick was sacked the first week of September 1983. There was hardly a day off in-between.

20 thoughts on “The Only Guitar That Mattered…

  1. Fabrice

    Hello there Baker hope yer well and keeping warm! Trawling YouTube as I do, I once saw a terrible picture or even a short film extract, forgot, it showed Joe sporting a…STRATOCASTER!!
    Flipping neck! Jesus weep…Strummer playing a Strat? What a disturbing sight…I can only assume someone was fixing a broken string on the legendary Tele whilst Joe had to make do with playing that entirely different instrument. Jones’ best git in my humble opinion was the Black Les Paul with the big black panther sticker over it. Also, while we’re discussing instruments here…I love the story behind Joe’s White Falcon and of course its origin, being Genzale’s guitar for a while, passed on or sold cheap to Punk Icon Number One! Salut !!

    Reply
    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Like you surmise Fabrice, it was probably an emergency….if you had the photo I might be able to identify the gig. But like you say, “Jessus weep.”

      The Baker.

      Reply
      1. thebaker77 Post author

        That would make sense….the truck was impounded at customs and never made it to the Vienna gig – we had to rent all the equipment on the spur of the moment. What a shambles! From the video though it looks like Paul has his bass….I cannot figure out that one. Thanks for the comment and clearing up the Stratocaster mystery….

        The Baker.

      2. Fabrice

        I have an idea for your BLOG topics, I just need to remember it…wait…why did I think all these years that REVOLUTION ROCK was a strummer/jones tune and it s not !!! silly me. Those guitar arrangments are absolutely incredible Jones…what a great idea Mingay and Hazan had to reuse THE RIFF here or there in their film! I love that song

  2. John McGill

    Great read Baker! The strings and pick story are ones that add another interesting caveat and can only be told by those in the midst of it. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. thebaker77 Post author

      My pleasure Jon. If you have any questions about those times or ideas for blog topics don’t hesitate to pass them on….(including ‘London Calling’ questions), as there seems to be a surprising amount of chatter crossing the pond lately and from what I’ve seen some quite astounding effusive hyperbole….

      The Baker.

      Reply
  3. radiovalvular

    Hi Baker

    I think the weird sunburst Telecaster is “the” Telecaster. Joe just hadn’t painted it black and put the stickers on yet. He used the sunburst Tele with the 101’ers and that photo Is from an early Clash rehearsal, before creating all their new looks (instruments includes) and even before their debut. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. thebaker77 Post author

      If it was before I was there I cannot speculate. I do not know of this process you speak about regarding “painting a guitar black”….that would be an extremely difficult process and way beyond Joe’s practical or financial means. Not being a paint expert I would think it would involve:
      * removing the neck and all hardware
      * sanding it down to remove all gloss paint
      * applying a primer coat, then a first coat
      * sanding that coat before at least a couple of top coats
      * reassembling the whole guitar including perfect alignment of the neck

      It would be impossible for Joe to do this as far as I can see. The guitar was never repainted all throughout it’s working life and remains with it’s original matt black finish worn down to the wood through use.

      I once tried to paint my own van camoflage olive drab without preparing it first….it was a disaster! Stripping down paint and repainting an object is a very complicated and specialised procedure in my book. If there are any Clash fans out there who work in the repainting business I would love to hear theories on how he could have done this back in those crude, penniless times. Sadly the only other person that would know would be Mickey Foote who has passed away.

      Once we got the advance from CBS, I found a guitar technician to service the guitars between tours -a bloke called Barry Magee who lived out in Hounslow. He had a workshop in one of his upstairs bedrooms.

      Thanks for the comment radio…

      The Baker.

      Reply
      1. Fab

        Hello gain. Sorry I have hdhd of the Internet I also have a theory. The paint wore out in a rather strange way, unlike a Fender factory job. I have the feeling Joe might have persuaded the garage guys who did the Clash stencils in the early days, to repaint his priceless instrument . Meaning it could be the heavy duty polly-esther based paint one would use for cars. Of course all the electrics had to have been taken out and necks on these unbolt easily .

      2. thebaker77 Post author

        Hi Fab, that’s an interesting theory and quite plausible although I have two main problems with it:

        1. Joe only became their singer about a month before I arrived there with the Subway Sect (we first went to rehearse at the beginning of August, 1976). Although I wasn’t physically involved with their gear at the time (being the Subway Sect roadie), I don’t remember ever seeing Joe with a sunburst Tele and I don’t think he would have had the time, or the inclination at that particular juncture to have such a detailed procedure carried out by a bunch of auto mechanics.

        2. ‘Harry Motors’ and their workers were no friends of ours. They were further down the yard and went out of their way to avoid us – they probably eyed us with suspicion and contempt at the weird haircuts and gaily spatter-painted Oxfam clothing. They probably thought we were a bunch of poofs…..
        I remember one night in 1977, I was upstairs in the office of Rehearsals. I was on my own – I don’t remember where everyone else was. The Clash would have gone home as they rehearsed during the day and the Subways at night. Suddenly, a bunch of Harry Motors heavies came crashing through the door and proceeded to give me a good kicking. I had no idea what it was for! They smashed the place up a bit (though there wasn’t much to really smash), so I took the brunt of it.

        Afterwards I just picked myself up, checked nothing was broken (on me), and just forgot about it. Such was life back in those days! I avoided their garage whenever possible (not hard as they were further down the arches). Even to this day I have no idea what the beef was….maybe Bernie had done the dirty on them….maybe one of the band had spat at the wrong time in the wrong place….who knows?

        A year later, in the ‘Gun’s On The Roof’ incident, I believe it was one of the mechanics who owned some of the racing pigeons that allegedly got shot and that’s probably why such a big stink was made of it. I can’t be sure after all this time but I’d like to think so….

        Thanks for the brilliant inspiration though Fab. The only way we could really know is I asked someone like Tymon Dogg or Richard Dudanski from the 101’ers if they remembered the sunburst Tele. Mickey Foote would have definitely have known but is sadly no longer with us.

        Cheers,

        The Baker.

      3. radiovalvular

        Hi!
        I think in the photo you captioned “old faithful” there’s some sunburst below the black paint near the pickguard. That’s why I was almost sure about that. But I didn’t know all the process. Thanks!

      4. thebaker77 Post author

        Yes, I see where you mean radio. That’s actually a very low-res photo I put up so it’s hard to tell (my fuck-up). There’s definitely some light brown colour coming through on that photo although it looks to me like it’s been over-saturated in Photoshop to enhance the colours. That’s the problem today – using software you could make it look convincingly rainbow-coloured in five minutes. But we’ll keep digging.

        Cheers,

        The Baker.

    1. thebaker77 Post author

      Hi radio, Yes that’s about as hi-res as you can get. I still can’t make out what the light brown bits are though. Just one search on the internet gave me dozens of companies selling exact replicas…full-size, miniatures, – all pretty indistinguishable from the original in a photo.
      I also came across this website:
      https://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/untold-story-punk-hero-joe-14847627?utm_source=sharebar&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sharebar

      Plenty of inaccuracies, but probably some little-known truths in there.

      Another site just says: “After he acquired the guitar in the early 1970s, Strummer took the guitar to an auto-body shop, where he had it spray painted with gray primer.” Again, removing all the hardware, electronics, wiring and neck is not really within the expertise of an auto-mechanic. Getting that neck back on, aligned so it stays in tune, requires much adjustment – the neck will bend as the strings tighten so the tiny increments of fine-adjustments to be made.
      No details, and it’s five years out of date. The picture just looks to me like its the light brown of the wood exposed after years of abuse. But who can say for certain. I have an e-mail into Richard Dudanski asking if he or his brother Pat Nother remember the colour of the Tele Joe first bought after marrying that girl to get her a visa.
      https://www.newseum.org/exhibits_rockhall_strummertelecaster/

      The only thing we know for certain is that the original sits in Lucinda Tait’s collection of memorabilia and so far she has resisted all attempts to buy it. I’m sure it will get auctioned off at some point.

      Just like the flight-cases – the tall guitar flight-case we called “The Pilgrim” is sitting in some guys basement in the midlands underneath a tarpaulin. I offered to buy it on behalf of a big-shot music guy in NY but he refused to part with it for less than thousands of pounds. He only bought it for 460 pounds, I looked it up on the internet.

      My own drum-spares flight-case presently sits in the warehouse of a lighting firm in South London called “Supermick” where it houses a large disco ball….

      Cheers,

      The Baker.

      Reply

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