Paul Simonon-The Clash: The Bass of Brixton

The Clash, "The Only Band that Matters" that was actually a phrase that the CBS record label used for the band. But it fit, this was the band who while dealing with the "sell out" label, truly gave a shit about their fans and how they were perceived by the audience. They approach the business of rock and roll from a fan's point of view. Because no matter of the level of success they achieved, they always viewed themselves as fans more so than a product to be marketed. A band whose artistry and creative output was so fruitful, that they would record multi- disc record albums and insist that they be priced as a single record. A punk band in the truest since, their sound (and image) was only limited by their own imaginations. And this punk rock juggernaut was propelled by Paul Simonon, with his below the hip, slung bass guitar!!

Simonon grew up in the Brixton district of South London. An community mostly made up of African-Caribbean immigrants, to be straight forward, he was a white kid in a black neighborhood. He was surrounded by the music of West Indian culture, predominantly, reggae and ska. And although he loved music, his plan was to be a artist and he even attended the Byam School of Art before fate took over and placed him in the role as bass player in a punk rock band.

In 1976, Mick Jones ask Simonon to join his new band, Paul had auditioned for Jone's prior band, "London SS", as vocalist but didn't make the cut. Jone's had intended for Simonon to play guitar, but after attempting to teach him the instrument ( Simonon had no musical abilities to speak of, at the time), decided that bass might be easier for him to pick up on. In the early days, Mick would just show Paul what to play on bass, but what Jones was smart enough to realize early on was that Simonon had a passion for music and art and harnessed that energy for his band. Not only did Simonon come up with the band"s name, he was responsible for the band's visual imagery and look. In the early years, his Jackson Pollock inspired "splatter" look became one of the most often copied and used "punk" styles to seep from the punk culture to mainstream fashion.

As a musician, and bassist, Simonon is a giant. His strength, playing for the song, find that sweet spot where the bass should fit and plant the notes deep. He's not the flashiest or fastest, but he is definitely one of the heaviest! By the time of the bands third album, London Calling, he had developed his voice on the bass, this was the beginning of the ever expanding and experimental stage of the band and Simonon stepped up the plate and hit it out of the park everytime. The band was treading through territories only skirted before, reggae, ska, funk, rockabilly and soul, all the time never compromising their punk rock beginnings. And how can I not mention this record without referencing the cover art, an image of Simonon smashing his bass onstage. Without a doubt, one of the most iconic rock photos ever....of all time...FOREVER!!!

The foray into uncharted waters continued with Sandinista! A three record collection expanding even more in such styles as calypso, jazz, folk, Gospel (of sorts) and blues. The Clash were progenitors of world music in a pop context, in the guise of a punk band. Even more groundbreaking, was a punk band ( or any form of rock) that delved in the underground urban music style of rap, pre-dating today's popular hip hop culture!! And Simonon sailed these sea, on bass, without missing an ebb or flow, all with understated cool, style and swagger.
By the release of Combat Rock, Simonon had once again restyled the band visually with the para-military look. Which once again, flooded over to mainstream cuclture in the early to mid '80's fashion. and even now, starting to make a comeback.
But this was pretty much it for "The Only Band that Matters", Jones was fired from the band and was replaced with two other guitarist and they released the very forgettable "Cut the Crap" album, mostly recorded with studio musicians. Up to his death, even Joe Strummer dismissed the album as "not a Clash record". Simonon went on to start his own band Havana 3am,  he also collaborated with Bob Dylan on his Down On the Groove album. Since the dissolution of the Clash, Simonon has also revitalized his career as a visual artist with several gallery showings in Europe. Musically, his most recent work includes work with the Gorillaz on the Plastic Beach and as a touring member of the band, reuniting him with former Clash band mate, Mick Jones. He has also collaborated with Damon Albarn (Blur/ Gorillaz, etc....) on the Good, the Bad and the Queen project.

 

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